‘Fascism must be stopped here’: On the front line with the Ghost Brigade

Ceasefire at the front

The guns are falling silent in eastern Ukraine. The volunteers of the Ghost Brigade (Prizrak) want to fight fascism.

By Susann Witt-Stahl, Junge Welt

September 16: On Thursday night a ceasefire went into effect between the Army and National Guard of the Kiev regime on one side, and the troops of the internationally unrecognized republics of Donetsk and Lugansk on the other. As observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported, the ceasefire was observed by both parties. Since midnight it was quiet, declared Ertugrul Apakan, head of the OSCE Mission, in the morning.

In the hours before the start of the truce, achieved through international mediation by Russia, France and Germany, it didn’t feel that way. In the city of Alchevsk, nearly 40 kilometers from Lugansk, unusually strong artillery fire was heard in the evening. The army of the Lugansk People’s Republic was put on high alert, and instructions for protective measures were issued to the population.

The positions of the Ukrainian army can be seen through the artillery periscope.
Photos: Susann Witt-Stahl
About 25 kilometers northwest of Alchevsk, the Ghost Brigade (Prizrak) holds the front post against the troops of the Kiev regime. When digging their zigzag trenches, the fighters there have uncovered skeletons, coins and the ruins of a bombed shelter. “This was a position of German Wehrmacht soldiers in World War II, which took a direct hit,” suspected an Italian volunteer fighter with the nom de guerre “Nemo,” who joined the Communist unit of Prizrak more than a year ago. “Exactly there, where the 92nd and 93rd Brigades of the regular Ukrainian Armed Forces and the 15th and 39th battalions of the National Guard are, there were units of the Red Army,” he says, pointing to the no man’s land of the front-line. Around a kilometer away are the Kiev troops — too far to observe their movements with the naked eye. An artillery periscope provides a valuable service. “It’s very tiring, because many hours are spent watching intensely,” says one of the brigade members.

With a jump over the ditch and then in single file, approximately 100 meters along a rope stretched across the ground, we go past the otherwise mined field to the former shelter of the German fascists. “We do not want the Ukrainians to get nervous and tempt a reaction,” explains “Nemo.” “We have a kind of gentlemen’s agreement with them. Both sides do not shoot as long as the other side shows no obvious hostile activities.” Here there was already a ceasefire, which was agreed to at the start of school year and has been in force since September 1. “Valentina,” a 28-year-old volunteer from Poland, reported that there are some of her compatriots on the other side: “Many Polish nationalists are fighting for Kiev,” says the Communist, who lost her job in her home country after her solidarity with the Donbass insurgents was revealed: “The boss threw me out.”

A life between boredom and extreme stress: Volunteers of the Ghost Brigade.
The crew of the front-line post, not much more than a dozen men and women, live under almost archaic conditions. People live in small tents in the bush. There is no electricity and no running water. Meals are prepared over an open fire in a large hole in the ground. “Mostly we make soup,” says a local fighter who has kitchen duty. Frequently, as in all military canteens, noodles are on the menu. “The way pasta is cooked here is a scandal,” says the outraged Italian “Nemo.” A small water tank, a mirror and a narrow board for toothbrushes attached to a tree — that’s their bathroom. Everyday life is monotonous, consisting of shoveling trenches and especially wait, wait, wait. Any possibility to pass the time is seized. Videos on a smartphone, music files with Russian metal, hardcore and pop. A soldier listens reverently to the Polina Gagarina tearjerker “Kukuschka” (Cuckoo), a hit from the eponymous war drama.

Whether on rifle butts, sleeping bags or the upper arms of the combatants — the logo of the Brigade is everywhere, the identification with “Prizrak” is strong. The international combatants have joined the organization “InterUnit” and bear the emblem of their role models, the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. Collected from across Europe in a time of war, they therefore refer to the historical importance of their cause: “We carry out the armed struggle, which the Communist Party of Ukraine failed to do in 2014,” explains “Nemo.” “Fascism must be stopped here.”

In general, the conflict in Ukraine is considered a “war of old men,” because a large number of fighters were formed in the Red Army. Here it’s different: Many of the “Prizrak” soldiers are very young, but already look like old frontline soldiers. Their faces are drawn from the rigors of an existence teetering between the agonizing boredom of nothingness on one side and extreme stress during firefights on the other. The fighters show where Ukrainian mortar shells have crashed. Their handguns, rifles and pistols — also Russian PK machine guns — are always at hand. I do not see heavy weapons.

Soup and noodles again: The fighters’ food is cooked on an open fire.
The sunset over the natural landscape, and the magnificent starry sky which soon arches over us, seduces us for brief moments with romantic notions of the trench defenders. But the explosion of one of the innumerable mines lying around in the immediate vicinity catapults everyone back to depressing reality. This time, it was a stray dog or a fox which triggered the explosive device and had to die. Tomorrow morning it might be one of their comrades.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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