Buryats Against War
Buryat activists have launched a campaign calling for the end of the Russian war on Ukraine. The campaign aims to break through the Kremlin propaganda.
Since the Donbas war, ethnic Buryats from Siberia have been dubbed as the “Putin’s Buryat warriors.” It all began with the Donbas war, where the Kremlin, advancing its Novorossiya project sent Russian armed forces posing as local Donetsk separatists. And while a soldier from Pskov was visually difficult to discern from a Donetsk miner, Buryats with their clearly Asian appearance, really stood out from the local population. This is when these Buryats were humorously called the Donbass Indians.
In Spring 2015, a 20-year-old Buryat tank crew member Dorzhi Batomunkuev, who had been severely burnt in combat in Logvinovo, gave an interview to the Russian Novaya Gazeta newspaper, in which he characterized Russian President Vladimir Putin as an insidious man who asserts to the entire world that “our military is not there,” and in reality, is pulling a fast one on the sly. Dorzhi confirmed that there are, in fact, Russian soldiers in the Donbas.
In Summer 2015, a Kremlin-backed project “The Net” released a video on behalf of “Putin’s Buryat warriors,” featuring several young men and women who attempted to contest reports in the media that Buryat soldiers participate in the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The crude video address is perhaps most memorable with its assertion that “the Ukrainian economy is free falling into the European pubic area of Concita Wurst,”—amplifying the Kremlin’s narratives tying European values to its supposed moral decay as manifested in acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities.
Members of the Kyiv Buryat community published a civilized counter, but lacking the hype, it did not go viral.
And just like that, we got to the point, where in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and once again, numerous videos featuring Buryat POWs started to pop up on social media. Initially, supporters of the “special operation” dismissed as fake the video with an unidentified young man saying that he is a Buryat. However, the soldier’s mother has confirmed that the video is of her son— Sergey Ochirov. And then she staged a solitary protest on the main square of the Buryat capital, holding a sign “No War.”
In an ironic historic twist, an ethnic Buryat Yuriy Ekhanurov served as Ukraine’s Prime Minister in 2005-2006 and headed Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense from 2007-2009.
Breaking Through the Kremlin’s Propaganda
Buryats who are not thrilled with being appropriated as “the Russian World” mascots, launched a campaign, releasing a new video each week, featuring Buryats who demand for the war to stop.
Due to the absurd new Russian laws, according to which even uttering “No to War” is interpreted as “discrediting the activities of the Russian military”— a transgression that comes with a real and lengthy prison sentence, the videos mainly feature Buryats who live outside of Russia.
Dozens of Buryats have already recorded videos, including Buryats born or living in Ukraine. The campaign’s authors have collected enough materials for a series of videos.
At this point, Buryats are the only ethnic minority of Russia who has initiated this type of campaign.
An activist Victoria Maladaeva who resides in San Francisco could not remain silent having “interacted with many of her friends living in Buryatia and realizing how brutally effective was the Kremlin’s propaganda.”
“I wanted to break through to the Russian citizens, to my compatriots, and to tell them that the war is not about the joy of victory. War is always grief, death, injuries, traumas and fear,”— she explains.
“I hope that from the mouth of fellow Buryats at least some hear the voice of truth, the voice of freedom. I also wanted to support those who in horror had already realized what’s going on and tried to tackle propaganda and its toll among family members. I am now being asked to forward these videos so that others can show them to their mothers, to other family members,”- says Maladaeva who continues to collect videos from others who oppose the war via her Instagram account.
Maladaeva has left Russia a few years ago fleeing racism.
Russia is not Qualified to Lecture Ukraine on Anti-Fascism
Vladimir Budaev who was involved in producing the anti-war videos had himself experienced racism in Russia. He is genuinely incensed that the Kremlin broadcasts as the main purpose of invading Ukraine its de-Nazification. Budaev feels that Putin should start out by “de-Nazifying Russia.”
Aleksei Kim, another participant in the video campaign, also raises the problems of racism and xenophobia suffered by minorities in Russia.
According to Kim, in 2017, in Moscow, “out of the blue, a group of 7 assaulted him, kicking, proclaiming that Russia is for Russians and Moscow is for Muscovites.” None of the bystanders interfered to defend the young man, and when he came to a police department, they recommended that he does “not meander in unfamiliar neighborhoods.”
The participants of the anti-war video campaign are befuddled by the fact that non-Russians are sent to Ukraine to defend “the Russian World.”
“To save “the Russian World” the government is sending people from remote regions, people who are not of Russian ethnicity. This war cannot be justified in any way. It is cruel and senseless, as is the totalitarian regime of Russia, which has persisted for over 20 years. But right now, this regime is harming not only the Russian citizens, but also the citizens of Ukraine,” — points out Dari Mansheeva.
“In Ukraine, the Russian state right now is conducting a senseless war, not needed by anyone, and is sending Buryat soldiers there. And I just don’t understand— why are they supposed to die there! I don’t want the families of my compatriots to receive death notices in the mail. I don’t want my people to pay in blood for someone’s military adventurism! I believe that this war is a crime,”— states Maria Vyushkova.
“I am against my compatriots being shipped over there like cannon fodder to satisfy the ambitions and perverted fantasies of the mentally ill Putin,”— adds Budaev.
Notably, in 2015, in St. Petersburgh, the Russian government hosted an International Russian Conservative Forum, where they hobnobbed with European neo-Nazis who use swastika as their symbol, praise the Third Reich and peddle theories on Jewish conspiracy.
The Kremlin’s efforts to befriend the Western ultra-Rights is a well-known fact, which makes its current demands to de-Nazify Ukraine even more absurd.
Putin Should be Tried at an International Tribunal
Journalist Evgenia Baltatarova who was forced into exile to Kazakhstan underscores: “I am against the war in Ukraine. It is my conviction that Russia is the aggressor in this war. The war must end as soon as possible. And Putin must be subjected to a trial at an international tribunal.”
One of the anti-war campaign’s videos features the daughter of a famous Buryat writer African Balburov—Arina Stivrinya; as well as Kyiv-based Yulia Tsyrendorzhieva, Tatyana Vynnyk and a Buryat-Ukrainian family – the Tikhonovs. Nikita Tikhonov, points out that in Ukraine “there are no fascists, there are no Banderites, and this war is to the benefit of just one person.”
Buryats insist that the war for “the Russian World”— is not their war. And they know all too well what it is like to be “liberated”— within the framework of the “Russian World.”