In a field in eastern Ukraine, young recruits to the rebel army of the Donetsk People’s Republic are busy attaching photographs of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko to the backs of empty ammunition boxes.
“Our beloved president is a war criminal,” one of them declares, before firing rapidly at the portrait of Mr Poroshenko with his AK-47 for target practice.
These men accuse Mr Poroshenko and his pro-Western government in Kiev of turning against the Russian-speaking east. In return, Mr Poroshenko’s government accuses Russia of being behind an imperialist war aimed at splitting Ukraine.
According to one of the recruits’ instructors, Sergei, Donetsk is now part of a region where the divisions of World War II and the Cold War have re-emerged.
“NATO continues to encircle Russia from all sides. The Cold War is not really finished because the United States continues its aggression against us,” Sergei says.
“Since the collapse of Soviet Union, Ukraine has been a totally corrupt society where the police and the government are just like a mafia that controls the country.”
The Donetsk People’s Republic likes to portray its fight as a war against fascism — and it is an ideological definition that has drawn hundreds of foreign fighters eager to take up arms for its cause.
One of the more unusual recruits is American Russell Bentley, a 56-year-old convicted drug smuggler from Texas.
He has become a poster boy for the rebel cause.
“I finally decided that there was no other place in the world that I could be,” he says.
“What we’ve done here in Donetsk has really thrown a wrench in the years of the plans of the fascists.”
Mr Bentley, who is known here as Tex, tells Foreign Correspondent he spent the first few months of this year fighting for the rebels as they re-took Donetsk’s embattled airport.
“Every day here there were gunfights with thousands and thousands of rounds from each side,” he recalls.
Not just another ‘junior Rambo wannabe’
As an American, Tex says he was not taken seriously when he first arrived.
“A lot of the Russian soldiers, they thought you know, just another American tourist, junior Rambo wannabe,” he says.
“But my work spoke for itself here and I’ve won the respect of some good, hard, brave soldiers. It’s the proudest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Tex has a colourful past. He spent several years in a US federal prison after being convicted of smuggling 500 pounds of marijuana across the Mexican border, but says that is all behind him now.
“You know there’s a good guy and there’s a bad guy, and we’re the good guys here,” he says.
Tex is not the only foreigner putting his life on the line for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
“We’ve already got many guys from Finland here,” he says.
“We have Spaniards, we have guys from Columbia, India, Italy, France. I’m not the only American here either. There are also many Serbian fighters. The Serbians especially, feel part of this conflict because they experienced it themselves back in the ’90s under Clinton when the US attacked Yugoslavia.”
The new French Foreign Legion
In recent months, hundreds of foreign volunteers have reportedly joined the rebel ranks, and have been assembled into a new fighting unit known as the Novo Russian Foreign Legion.
Tex claims the new unit is “going to be equally tough as the French Foreign Legion”.
“There are some great people here and we really want more people to come here,” he says.
The rebel Foreign Legion’s chief instructor, Sergei, emigrated from Ukraine to France and was trained by the French army before going back to Donetsk this year.
“I want to return to France and to continue living there, but right now I must fight for my homeland,” Sergei says.
After more than a year of fighting, the success of the rebel separatists in retaining their grip on eastern Ukraine has been put down to the support of Russian troops and weapons flowing across the porous border.
But Sergei denies that is the case.
“There aren’t many of us, and we’re almost always outnumbered by the Ukrainians,” he says.
“The new recruits don’t know much yet and we can’t provide really high-quality training, but they compensate through their extreme bravery in combat.”
The ‘best’ and the ‘bravest’ are joining the rebels
On the outskirts of Donetsk, Tex takes us to observe a group of newly-arrived volunteers from Finland undergoing intensive training before heading off to take up positions on the frontline.
“The best people in the world are coming here now,” he says.
“I mean the bravest, the ones who understand that this is a war for the future of humanity.
“It’s not just a fight for you know, from here to the Russian border. It’s a fight against fascism here, and as goes Donetsk — so goes the world. If we lose here, then fascism takes over the world.”
For more than a year Donetsk’s suburbs have been the frontlines of a bitter conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced more than 1.5 million people.
Since early September there has been a small respite, as a new ceasefire agreement appears to be holding.
Finnish volunteer Evon says he was motivated to join the rebels after watching TV news reports about the war.
“When I saw what was going on here, I decided to come and help these people, and it was first right decision in my life,” Evon says.
“I’ll do what I can, I’m not a superman, I’m just one small man, but I can fight.”
Donetsk was once the most populous city in eastern Ukraine but now it is a shadow of its former self.
The tree-lined boulevards of the city centre are mostly empty.
In some ways Donetsk seems like it is caught in a Soviet time warp — there are propaganda posters everywhere and most people here refer to their republic as Novo Russia, or new Russia.
But the Donetsk People’s Republic is an entity not recognised by any state, including its sponsor in the Kremlin.
None of that bothers Tex, who said he will never return to the United States.
“I’m not going back. I am a patriotic American,” he says.
“I love America. I love the American people. But I’m not going back.
“They might kill me here but they’re not going to capture me, here or there.”
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