Ukrainian volunteer battalions (since 2014)

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Ukrainian volunteer battalions mobilized as a response to the perceived state of weakness and unwillingness to counter rising separatism in spring 2014.[1] The earliest of these volunteer units were later formalized into military, special police and paramilitary formations in a response to Russian military intervention in Ukraine.[2][3] Most of the formations were formed by government agencies: Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Internal Affairs, the minority are independent.

As of September 2014, 37 volunteer battalions took active part in battles of the War in Donbass.[4] It is widely believed[by whom?] that they are responsible for the most part of war crimes and atrocities committed by pro-Ukrainian forces[5]. The majority of the battalion fighters are former Euromaidan activists, but their social background is highly diverse. They include students, military officers and even criminals.[6] Nevertheless, they enjoy a high level of support in Ukrainian society ranked second among the most respected institutions in the country. However their close ties with Ukrainian oligarchs bring up a high risk of the volunteer formations becoming politicized or turning into private armies.[7]

In January 2017 Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak stated that 40 thousand volunteers were fighting for Ukraine.[8]

Government controlled volunteer formations[edit]

Ministry of Defence[edit]

Since spring 2014, Ministry of Defence had formed 32 territorial defence battalions.[9] At the end of 2014, territorial defence battalions were reorganized as motorized infantry battalions.[10]

Besides territorial defence battalions, several regular units of Armed Forces of Ukraine were formed from volunteers, such as 3rd Airmobile Battalion "Phoenix" or 54th Reconnaissance Battalion "UNSO".[3] In 2015 the 46th Spetsnaz Battalion "Donbas Ukraine" was created from volunteers of Donbas Battalion who decided to switch from National Guard of Ukraine to Armed Forces.

Ministry of Internal Affairs[edit]

Ministry of Internal Affairs had established 56 special tasks patrol police units sized from company to battalion.[11] After several reorganizations, this number shrunk to 33 units.[9]

The National Guard of Ukraine, subordinated to Ministry of Internal Affairs, had established several reserve battalions, among which were Donbas Battalion and General Kulchytskiy Battalion formed from volunteers and Maidan activists.[12] The Azov Battalion, initially formed as a special task patrol police unit, in October 2014 was moved under National Guard command.[13]

According to Interior Minister Avakov, by mid-April 2016 205 service personnel of the ministry's volunteer battalions had been killed in action, National Guardsmen included.[14]

Independent units[edit]

As of August 2016, up to 5,000 fighters were in ranks of independent volunteer units, that still weren't integrated into government structures.[15]

Ukrainian Volunteer Corps[edit]

Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, 2014

Right Sector had formed several battalions that are known as Ukrainian Volunteer Corps.[16] In spring 2015 there were attempts to integrate Ukrainian Volunteer Corps into the Ukrainian Army or National Guard.[2] But as of August 2016, the process wasn't finished yet and most units were still independent.[15]

Battalion OUN[edit]

Battalion of "Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists" was operating in the area of Pisky, Donetsk.[17]

Foreign fighters[edit]

Foreign fighters mainly from Belarus, Georgia and Russia (about 100 men from each country) have joined the volunteer battalions.[18] They were joined by fighters from the United States, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Georgia, Poland, Spain, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Italy, Albania[19] and Canada.[18]

Foreign fighters from Belarus and Russia have asked for Ukrainian citizenship fearing persecution at home.[18] The Ukrainian parliament passed laws to simplify this for them.[18] Nevertheless, foreign fighters from Belarus and Russia have complained that gaining this citizenship took too long.[18]

Islamic battalions[edit]

According to New York Times, there are three volunteer Islamic battalions fighting for the Ukrainian side.[20]

Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion[edit]

Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion, originally named "Chechen battalion", it was set up in March 2014. It was later named after Chechnya’s first president and insurgent leader Dzhokhar Dudayev and it is based in Novomoskovsk in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.[21] As of late May 2015, the unit was in the process of being legalized as part of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.[21] Its Ukrainian members will join the Zoloti Borota Battalion, while its foreign members are expected to join army units under a bill enabling foreign fighters to get Ukrainian citizenship.[21] Most of the members are ethnic Ukrainians, but there are also Chechens from European countries as well as from Chechnya and it also includes other Muslims like Azeris, Ingush and Tatars, as well as Georgians.[21] The battalion "views the war as part of a broader struggle against Russian imperialism and the Kadyrov regime".[22] The battalion specializes in subversion and countering the subversive groups.[21]

Sheikh Mansur battalion[edit]

Another Chechen battalion, named after Sheikh Mansur, has been reported defending the front line near Mariupol in 2015.[23] It was created by former Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion members.[21]

Noman Çelebicihan Battalion[edit]

The Noman Çelebicihan Battalion is a battalion of Crimean Tatars based in Kherson region bordering Crimea.[24] The battalion reportedly received assistance from Turkey.[25]



  1. ^ Ilmari Käihkö, "The War Between People in Ukraine", The War on the Rocks, 21 March 2018
  2. ^ a b Pike, John. "Ukrainian Military Personnel". Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  3. ^ a b "Volunteer battalions in eastern Ukraine: who are they? | UACRISIS.ORG". Ukraine crisis media center. 2015-03-16. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  4. ^ "Они воюют за Украину: список батальонов, которые принимают участие в АТО". Слово и Дело (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  5. ^ Hahn, Gordon (2017). Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the "New Cold War". Terror in Donbass: McFarland. p. 281. ISBN 9781476669014.
  6. ^ Albuquerque, Adriana (2015). "Volunteer Battalions". Ukraine. A Defence Sector Reform Assessment. p. 22. ISSN 1650-1942.
  7. ^ Margarete Klein. Ukraine’s volunteer battalions – advantages and challenges Swedish Defence Research Agency Report, RUFS Briefing No. 27, April, 2015
  9. ^ a b c "Heroes or Villains? Volunteer Battalions in Post-Maidan Ukraine" (PDF).
  10. ^ "Структура військ територіальної оборони Збройних Сил України". Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  11. ^ "«Нацполіція і Нацгвардія мають бути, як ви – бійці добробатів», – Арсен Аваков (ФОТО, ВІДЕО)". МВС. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  12. ^ "National Guard volunteer battalions. "Donbass" – the path of formation | НГУ". Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  13. ^ "Батальон «Азов» переходит в подчинение Нацгвардии — Аваков". InfoResist (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  14. ^ "Avakov speaks of losses of National Guard". UNIAN. 18 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  15. ^ a b "За яким сценарієм йде мілітаризація України?". (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  16. ^ "Right Sector leader proposes setting up 'Ukrainian Volunteer Corps' | KyivPost". KyivPost. 2015-05-14. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  17. ^ "Ukrainian army command orders OUN volunteer battalion to leave Pisky, Donetsk region". KyivPost. Archived from the original on 11 April 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d e Foreign fighters struggle for legal status in Ukraine, Kyiv Post (18 October 2015)
    Foreign nationals fighting for Ukraine in Donbas demand passports in exchange for their service, Ukraine Today (19 October 2015)
    Why a Russian Is Fighting for Ukraine, Newsweek (4 August 2015)
    They Came to Fight for Ukraine. Now They’re Stuck in No Man’s Land, Foreign Policy (19 October 2015)
    Georgians in Ukraine fight shadow war, The Moscow Times (19 January 2015)
  19. ^ Cite error: The named reference was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  20. ^ Andrew E. Kramer. Islamic Battalions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels. New York Times. 7 July 2015.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Chechen fighter transfers struggle against Kremlin to Ukraine, Chechen fighter transfers struggle against Kremlin to Ukraine], Kyiv Post (27 May 2014)
  22. ^ Oleg Sukhov. Russia’s war against Ukraine renews Chechen animosities. Kyiv Post. 27 March 2015.
  23. ^ Veteran Chechen fighters locked in fierce battle with Russian-backed militants in east Ukraine. Ukraine Today. May 18, 2015.
  24. ^ "First pictures of the Batallion n.a. Noman Çelebicihan posted". QHA. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  25. ^ "Crimean Tatar battalion got help from Turkey". QHA. Retrieved 21 February 2016.