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What you will read in the analysis
- The Czechs who went to fight against the Ukrainian forces in the ranks of the separatists are people from the margins of society, with a criminal past.
- As a rule, according to experts, it is unbalanced, explosive personalities, which need to get some recognition, award.
- But some do not run from the past. They are united by the desire to help the separatists in their terrorist activitieswhich look crooked through the lens of pan-Slavism. They believe that their actions are correct.
- At the same time, they know that from the point of view of our criminal code participate in the activities of terrorist groups. It cannot stop them – massaged with misinformation.
Erik Eštu, Pavel Kafka, Oldřich Grund, Alexej Fadejev, Jiří Urbanek, Pavel Botka, Martin Sukup, Lukáš Nováček, Martin Kantor, Alojz Polák. Ten men who, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, went to the east of Ukraine to fight in the ranks of pro-Russian separatists have appeared before the Czech courts in the last few years.
“All those who went to Ukraine to fight against the Ukrainian forces in the ranks of the separatists have in common that they are basically all people from the margins of society. People with a criminal past, who committed criminal activities here to a greater or lesser extent,” describes prosecutor Marek Bodlák.
It was Bodlák and his colleague Martin Bílý, both from the High Prosecutor’s Office in Prague, who got most of these cases on the table. They studied police files, heard witness statements. They had the best opportunity to judge the character and motivation of the pro-Russian fighters.
“They often had problems integrating into society, the possibility of resocialization was less favorable for them,” Martin Bílý describes what these people have in common.
However, he does not think that the main motive is to escape from the past. First of all, they freely chose to fight against a sovereign, democratic state.
“They are probably united by the desire to fight against the legitimate Ukrainian government, the desire to help the separatists in their terrorist activities, which they view through their distorted lens, perhaps a kind of pan-Slavism. They believe that their actions are correct,” says Bodlák.
SPD demonstration and Russian propaganda
Alojz Polák flew to Rostov-on-Don at the end of 2016, from where he took a taxi to the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic.
He had himself armed and equipped and was soon engaged in combat action. First as a sniper, later as a platoon leader. According to the verdict, he shot at least four Ukrainian soldiers as a sniper. The Pole apparently belongs to those who succumbed to pro-Russian propaganda.
“Mostly they were subject to disinformation websites, a disinformation campaign in the period after the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014,” describes prosecutor Bílý.
The Pole had compulsory military service, trained in karate in Brno and worked in a security agency. According to his friend from the gym, he became radicalized around 2012. He constantly talked about politics, gravitated towards the SPD movement, went to its demonstrations.
With a group of like-minded people, he started going to the forest to practice with an airsoft rifle, became interested in military tactics and started following nationalist pages on Facebook.
The Pole likes cars, women, wants to be the center of attention and shows off, described his colleague from the security agency. He was a street brawler. In 2016, he sold the house, asked a colleague to pay alimony for him and disappeared to Ukraine.
He is dead to his mother
The ex-wife described to the police that the Pole beat her, especially when he returned from one of his lovers. He gradually began to gravitate towards Russia and went to meetings of “patriots” with his son. Then he disappeared from her life. Polák’s sister wants nothing to do with her brother, her mother said he is dead to her.
But he became a star in his own way on the Internet. He took pictures with weapons, boasted about accurate hits. In an interview with the Czech media, he let it be known that he would only return to the Czech Republic by tank or parachute. In court, thanks to this documentation, he received a twenty-year sentence, now an appeal is underway in his absence.
Fights and suicide attempts
Martin Kantor is another one of those who should have received the highest sentence from the court. Last fall, the Court of Appeal upheld his twenty-year prison sentence. However, he did not hear the verdict – an international arrest warrant has been issued for him.
Punishment for lying about Ukraine
The court sent well-known figures of the Czech disinformation scene, Patrik Tušl and Tomáš Čermák, into custody. The police accuse them of two crimes – defaming a nation, race, ethnic group and inciting hatred against a group of persons.
In the summer of 2015, Kantor boarded a plane in Ruzyna and flew to Rostov-on-Don, from where he went to the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, which is not recognized by the Czech Republic. He signed a one-year contract in the army of the so-called Novorusk, had himself equipped, armed and trained in laying mines, underwent sniper training and subsequently joined the battles against the Ukrainian army.
He gradually fulfilled the role of a scout – sniper, a team leader of a motorized rifle battalion, as a member of a diversionary group he laid mines and made traps from grenades and earned a medal for it. At the time of the decisions of the Czech courts, he apparently continued to wage war against the Ukrainians. How do those closest to him describe him?
His elementary school friend told the court that they had been going out together since they were fifteen. Kantor was said to cause conflicts and it was no problem for him to beat up three or four guys in an evening.
Later, he wanted to become a professional firefighter, but he missed the high school graduation exam. He joined the volunteer fire department and started talking about the military. He bought a gas gun, started going to airsoft. His friend also described that Kantor was mentally unstable. He saved him twice after he tried to commit suicide.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Kantor started talking about going to Ukraine, and after a few months he actually disappeared. According to his friend, he apparently needed to disappear. He later called him several times via Skype.
Another classmate from elementary school describes a similar experience. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Kantor had mental problems, once he tried to hang himself, and the second time he overdosed on pills and alcohol.
“Sometime since 2015, he had problems with drugs, loan fraud and apparently theft,” Kantor’s friend described during the interrogation.
According to his sister, Kantor occasionally took meth. In addition to strangers, he also beat her when she defended their alcoholic father in front of him. She also explained why he didn’t get into the army – he didn’t pass the psychological tests.
“Some of the defendants here had ongoing criminal prosecutions, they were threatened with execution of the sentence, conversion of conditions, delivery to the execution of the sentence,” adds prosecutor Bodlák.
Theft, fraud, support requests
Without a doubt, Jiří Urbanek, who lets himself be called Begemot, escaped from the past. In 2015, he went to the east of Ukraine, where he took part in at least the battles for the cities of Marjinka, Spartak, Krasnohovirka, Staromichaylivka and Trudivske, for which the court sentenced him to a twenty-year sentence. In the Czech Republic, he has already been punished thirteen times for theft and fraud.
What do Russia’s influence operations look like in the Czech Republic?
He wrote his blog on one of the blocked disinformation websites. He is employed as a security dispatcher, but Russian media refer to him as a journalist. In the past, it was also financially supported by money from Russia. This is the story of Ladislav Kašuka.
Urbanek borrowed money and did not return it, his mother told the police. He didn’t stop with it even after escaping to the east. He repeatedly begged his mother, ex-wife or brother to send him money.
“He’s a junkie and a fraud, I got in trouble because of him when he was impersonating me,” his brother told police.
Jiří from Ukraine asked his brother for 1,000 euros, but he did not send him any. But mother sends $100 from time to time.
“He wrote to me that it was cold there and he needed money. At first I didn’t send anything, but then I did,” she told investigators.
She allegedly started sending the money after he wrote that he was injured. When she wrote that she was going to the police because of him, he called her saying that she could say whatever she wanted because she wasn’t coming home. But later he wanted her to refuse to testify.
“My whole life has only caused me problems. I will not send him money anymore, I have nowhere to take it, I had to go to part-time jobs,” Urbanák’s mother described to the police.
Facebook as a catwalk
Together with his friend Pavle “Kavkaz” Botka, Urbanek liked to present himself on the Internet and in the Czech media.
“As a rule, these are unbalanced personalities, explosive personalities who need to get some recognition, awards. A secondary motive was precisely the fact that they wanted a certain acceptance by a reference group that is interesting to them. So that this group recognizes them, that they are something significant, that they did something more than the others in this group,” says Marek Bodlák.
Bohemia on the side of the separatists
Pavel “Kavkaz” Botka fights on the side of pro-Russian separatists. He is also hiding from a Czech prison in Donbass. In an interview for Seznam Zprávy, he offers a view of the war through his own lens, which coincides with official Russian propaganda.
“There is a common need for self-presentation, both in front of family members and in several cases within a public social network, usually Facebook,” admits Bílý.
This also applies, for example, to Martin Sukup, who received the highest sentence of all Czechs so far. He was illegally sentenced to 21 years in prison.
He has already been punished twice in the Czech Republic, for embezzlement and fraud. Before that, he served five years as a professional soldier in the Czech army, and was dismissed in 1997 for violating legal restrictions on professional soldiers.
Sukupa was mainly convicted by conversations with his supporters on Facebook, where he brags about his military achievements. On this platform, he gradually approached dozens of women with whom he unsuccessfully tried to meet. These conversations, in which he describes where he is and what he is doing, served as important evidence in court.
“They know they are involved in terrorism”
Through Facebook, Sukup also met a former girlfriend, with whom he lived in the Czech Republic for four years. During that time, she found out he was married, which he hid from her, claiming to be divorced.
“Then she started acting as a white horse when taking out life insurance policies, for which she was convicted,” the text of the indictment describes.
Sukup even concluded fraudulent insurance contracts for his son and daughter. She last saw him in 2013. A year later, he wrote to her – on Facebook – that he was going to fight in Ukraine.
The stories of Czechs fighting in the ranks of pro-Russian separatists are dominated by several motifs: love of weapons and violence, financial fraud, broken relationships. But it is still true for each of them that they went to war out of conviction. And this despite the fact that they know very well that they are breaking the law.
“They are aware of the basic framework, that they fought on foreign territory against legitimate government authority on behalf of the separatists and that, from the point of view of our criminal code, they participated in the activities of terrorist groups,” concludes prosecutor Bodlák.
In the opening photo, at the time the article was published, Alojz Polák was replaced by a Russian citizen, Arsen Pavlov. We apologize for the error.