Nom de guerre Nemo
Exclusive interview: The Italian commander of InterUnit, the team of Donbass internationalists, speaks
By Fabrizio Rostelli
“Alias” supplement to Il Manifesto, December 9, 2017
He fought for two years, arms in hand, alongside the people of Donbass in the name of socialism. This is his first interview since he returned to Italy in July 2017. His nom de guerre is Nemo, and he was commander of InterUnit, the internationalist unit founded in September 2015, and fought for the Donbass People’s Republics (Lugansk and Donetsk), which unilaterally declared independence from Ukraine on May 12, 2014, following a popular referendum. InterUnit, operating on the front line in the northwest of the Lugansk People’s Republic, suspended military activities in January 2017. The conflict, however, does not cease; the civil war has continued for nearly four years, and according to official estimates has already caused more than 10,000 deaths. Nemo prefers to keep his anonymity. I met him in Rome, his hometown, on the sidelines of a public meeting on the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Among those present, the ambassadors and delegates of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua followed his intervention with interest.
|Nemo in Rome.
Photo by Marco Marega
The situation in Donbass is extremely clear — we have won. We have defeated the fascists, we have liberated a territory and we are trying to build a socialist state. It must be clear that the detonator of the insurrection in Donbass was the fascist coup in Kiev; the people, however, did not rise only against fascism but also against capitalism, which failed in Ukraine and now shows its worst face. Despite the Minsk II agreements, there is still fighting and the People’s Republics continue to be under attack. The Kiev government has understood that its frontal assaults have failed and a low-intensity war is now taking place which, however, causes on average the death of 2-3 Ukrainian soldiers a day; a significant amount. In Ukraine there is a military draft and they have exterminated a lot of “cannon fodder.” We absolutely do not like this situation, of course, we have our own dead and we think about them. Right now the Ukrainians are attacking with unconventional methods, especially with car bombs in city centers; it must be said that they do it professionally, with well-calibrated charges, and rarely are there casualties among civilians, but it is something that must be stopped and that we cannot accept. Kiev must understand that if it continues on this path there will be an inevitable resurgence.
Why do you maintain that the Kiev government is a fascist government?
The Kiev government implements a fascist policy in continuity with previous governments, but relies on Nazi apparatuses that played a decisive role in Euromaidan. The Nazis obtained, in exchange for their support, an unconditional mandate to carry out “cleansing” operations against the population, but also within the Ukrainian army, going to attack those who refuse to fight. In addition, the Nazi militias, such as the Azov battalion, are not dependent on the Ministry of Defense but on the Ministry of the Interior. In the cities of Kharkov and Mariupol, which were formerly part of our territories, the Nazis made ferocious reprisals when they reconquered them. Today, for these reasons, the Nazis are also hated by ordinary people. The revolt in Donbass was triggered emotionally by seeing the fascists in power, then it became an anti-capitalist struggle.
How much time did you spend in Donbass?
From 2015 to 2017 I spent a year and a half on the front line and six months in the rear. I had 14 days of rest and I am one of those who had the most; some comrades have been fighting for four years and this also means four icy winters. There is no respite from the cold, the fighting and the death, and after four years it starts to get very hard. There are those who have been wounded three times but continue to fight. Nobody wants to take days off because if the person who replaces you lost their life you would live forever with a sense of guilt. Unfortunately it happened to some.
What is the InterUnit and who is it composed of?
InterUnit is a military-political subject born of the Prizrak Brigade (the Ghost Brigade created by Alexei Mozgovoi, which fights in the militia of the LPR-DPR). The big difference compared to other past experiences was reuniting the political sphere with the military one, a taboo that has not been addressed in Italy in recent years. We place ourselves on the path carved out by the best internationalist struggles, both the Spanish Civil War and the liberation wars of Latin America. We are normal people, almost all without previous military experience. On the whole, 31 comrades from Italy, France, Finland, the United States and other countries have joined InterUnit. The bulk of the fighters came from Spain, precisely because of the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, something indelible in the memory of the antifascists.
|InterUnit members commemorate Che Guevara, October 2016.|
The Donbass was born as a political project with the aim of building an alternative on the ground that was a continuation of the Soviet Union; in fact, capitalism in Ukraine was fertile ground for mafia and oligarchy. Because of some internal contradictions, the People’s Republics have not developed fully, but the process is underway. The biggest problem from a political point of view is the inability of the communist parties in the Republics to read the situation; initially, in fact, they did not support the insurrection, losing a historical opportunity. In this political vacuum, the forces that seek to restore the previous economic system and the oligarchic political system have asserted themselves. All this led to a “Russianization”, as the current government sees Russia as the only interlocutor. At this stage there is a war within the war, on one side the military war, in which the communists are engaged in the front line, are those who make the most dispassionate and disinterested contribution; but then there are also clashes inside, in the rear, between those who really want socialism and those who seek to restore capitalism.
Why did you decide to put your life at risk by going to fight in Donbass?
I am an antifascist and an internationalist, and those who really believe in these ideas instinctively seek their practical implementation. At this stage, I don’t think the revolution and armed insurrection in Italy are near, so anyone who wants to gain experience in revolutionary armed struggle must turn their attention elsewhere.
Is this your first experience at the front? Where were you trained?
This was my first experience as an operative at the front. Actually, my training dates back several years and took place in Yugoslavia, during the Kosovo crisis. Here too there was an attempt to establish internationalist units to defend a socialist experience, but unfortunately we arrived too late, when the wind had already changed. We lost a lot of time at the beginning because at that time the internet was only in its infancy, we had not mastered it and we could not take full advantage of its potential, because it was still underdeveloped. In Donbass we have perfected this and connected with the local comrades, both in terms of techniques and in terms of general fellowship.
Why this codename, and what were your tasks?
The name Nemo comes from literature; there are two extremely well-known cases. The first is in The Odyssey. The other Nemo is that of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” an internationalist militant ante litteram who went out into the world to fight imperialism with somewhat sci-fi but effective methods. As soon as I arrived in Donbass I was placed in an infantry unit, a couple of months later the military-political project was developed, and in InterUnit I assumed the task of political commissar. In the first two years of the war the partisan fighting system was used with a double command: political commissar and military commander. At the time I was a political commissar for a very specific reason — I did not know the Russian language — and when I got to a sufficient level of knowledge I took command of the unit. The classic tasks are those of territorial control. There were no big advances; however, I helped to extract pieces of territory from Ukrainian control, including two villages and a strategic hill.
The media have often emphasized the battalions of the extreme right, which also include Italians, who fight in Donbass for the independence of the People’s Republics. Is this a partial narrative?
It is not only a partial reading, it is simply a dance mounted by the media. There are fascists fighting for Kiev, and then there are some who are part of the popular militias, the latter of two types: local fascists and European ones who for their own reasons have decided to go to fight against NATO. None of them are part of a fascist battalion; there are absolutely no fascist military formations that fight for the People’s Republics, this is an invention. There were attempts to establish them and they were immediately dismantled because they were totally incompatible with the antifascist nature of the Donbass people. Unfortunately, however, these characters are very good at camouflaging themselves to fit into the interstices of power by assuming the role of “red-brown populism.” For example, in the Lugansk People’s Republic, they occupied all the posts of the official press agency. The information that comes out is largely filtered through the fascists, and this is another great contradiction.
The fascists who actually fought alongside the Ukrainian Armed Forces are no more than 10, and then there are about 20 others who fought for short periods. But there is a black hole, because it is impossible to quantify how many Europeans have gone through the training centers of the Ukrainian punitive battalions. We know for sure that the Ukrainian Nazis gave military training to Italian fascists and perhaps even weapons. For example, we know that the Ukrainian army has lost five million light weapons, of which one million were taken by the People’s Republics. The other 4 million? These missing weapons have already appeared in other situations, for example in Romania and Libya. Ukraine is selling everything because the borders are very permeable. Some European fascists have already been found with stolen weapons and this would suggest that some of these may already have arrived here.
Returning to the theme of Italians in the popular militias, the antifascists who fought for long periods numbered more than 20, and there are about 10 who did so for short periods. As for the fascists, on the other hand, there were two who actually fought, while there were about 10 who were at the front for short periods. It must also be considered that there were six fascists (who receive a lot of media exposure) who say they are combatants while they have always been in the second line. If we consider the local Ukrainian fascists, the Russian and the European ones, at their peak they reached 0.9% of the fighters in Donbass, and if we add to these nationalists and religious fundamentalists (ultra-Orthodox and neopagans) we get to 2%. Low numbers. If in Italy we represent the struggle of the Donbass by looking only at this 0.9%, we deliberately create a distorted narrative.
How strong is the Soviet tradition in Donbass?
The People’s Republics are in full continuity with the Soviet Union and this also serves to debunk another myth: we are not pro-Russian [i.e., the current capitalist regime of the Russian Federation]. If the population of the Donbass were really pro-Russian, it would never have constituted a People’s Republic, because a reality that contains elements of socialism is in open antithesis with the history of the last 25 years of Russia. The majority of Donbass people consider themselves Soviet. In 1991 there was a referendum in which the population of the Soviet Union expressed itself firmly against its dissolution (77% of voters), which was carried forward anyway with a coup and only with a coup.
What is Russia’s position in this conflict? Did it offer military support?
Russia was only interested in the Crimea and got what it wanted. In fact, there the clashes lasted only two days and resulted in two deaths. In the Donbass, on the other hand, we have been fighting for four years and there has been no Russian military support for our struggle. Russia is not interested in the independence of the People’s Republics. It is not hostile to the cause but tends to represent it as an ethnic cause. The Prizrak Brigade has in fact fought only with Soviet weapons. At the beginning of the insurrection, hunting and self-defense weapons were used, after which the police stations were attacked to seize the weapons. At that point the conflict became high intensity and Kiev sent its army. In many cases, however, the Ukrainian soldiers defected and even joined the popular militias. Later we came into possession of the maps of the old deposits of Soviet weapons secretly buried by the USSR to be used in the event of attack and we fought with those. We took pieces of artillery from parks and many weapons even from museums; they were working weapons that maybe just needed new firing pins. Precision weapons were all taken from museums and were Soviet weapons. My personal weapon was a Kalashnikov, while the position weapon was a ’43 PTRD rifle.
Didn’t Russia offer any financial support?
One must consider that the only commercial relations that the People’s Republics have with the outside world are with Russia, which is, I believe, the only buyer of Donbass coal. The transactions are all in rubles and Russia, by putting in cash from the outside, has helped to reactivate the economy of the Republics that was completely stopped.
How has your life changed today?
My life has not changed much, because I am a revolutionary militant, so for me to make war or carry out normal political activity does not change anything, except the tools.
Do you think you’ll go back to fight?
I continue to fight, it’s just that I’m not participating in an armed struggle; it makes no sense to do it in Italy at this stage, the conditions do not exist, so I make a political struggle. As for the Donbass, if it were necessary, I would be operating there in 48 hours, and many other comrades like me. We stopped because international diplomacy forced us not to go further, but the people of Donbass are not content with having freed a piece of land, no matter how great it may be. The enemy is the fascism that still rages in Kiev and this must be remedied. If the international community does not do it, sooner or later the peoples of the former Ukraine will do it. There is also another aspect to consider. InterUnit is a military subject that is not operating in Donbass at this stage, but it must be clear that if there were an attack on other socialist experiences of the world, the comrades would certainly be ready to intervene at any moment.