Geopolitics

How A FARC Loyalist Became A Pro-Russian Rebel Fighting In Ukraine

The unlikely tale of how a young Colombian's communist convictions led him to leave his family in Spain to fight with Ukraine's Putin-backed separatist rebels.

A masked pro-Russian rebel in Ukraine last year
A masked pro-Russian rebel in Ukraine last year
Elisabet Cortiles Taribo

DONETSK â€" Some people wind up finding their tribe, wherever it may be. For "Alfonso Cano," a 27-year-old Colombian, his ideological family turned out to be the Russian-backed rebels fighting the Ukrainian state.

It's an emotional thing, and certainly political, but not unique, as other young activists have joined separatist forces that accuse Kiev authorities of being "fascists." Kiev's pro-Western government doesn't hide its hatred of Russia, which dominated the Soviet Union until the collapse of the communist empire. Cano, who was born in western Colombia"s Valle de Cauca, joined up two years ago with the rebels who most international observers believe are backed by Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

The young man decided to change his name to honor Alfonso Cano, the late leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's primary leftist rebel force, who was killed in army operations in 2011. Cano admires his namesake, but also changed his name to make his identity more difficult to track down if he were caught.

"For me, Alfonso Cano represents the people's fight," he says. "It's a way of telling the FARC they are not alone, that there are people elsewhere in the world who are also resisting injustice."

On the ground in Donbass

Everyone seems to have a pseudonym, or nom de guerre, here. Cano is the only Colombian fighting with the separatists, but there are other fighters from Latin America and Europe. They're not mercenaries or recruits, but instead volunteers who traded their day-to-day routines in Brazil, Chile, Spain, France or Italy for a rifle and a life in the trenches.

"You feel most defenseless when there are bombings, because you hear the noise but don't know where it will fall," Cano says. "If the missile is coming your way, it's no use hiding." He has learned about different missile types from their particular sounds.

Before the war, he lived in Spain. He moved there with his mother when he was 10 because she thought Spain would give them opportunties Colombia couldn't. As soon as he arrived in Europe, Cano says, "I began asking why things were the way they were, why we had to leave Colombia, and I understood about social injustices and class distinctions. I think that is when I began moving toward leftist movements and communism."

The immigrant family lived between Madrid, Murcia and Zaragoza. Cano studied music, served in the army for a while and founded the Movement of Young Murcian Communists.

When war in Ukraine began, he organized pro-separatist protests but felt the efforts weren't enough. Disregarding caution, he traveled to Russia and illegally crossed into Ukraine to join the communist militias in Donbass. Other foreigners had been fighting there for a number of months.

Cano regularly posts photos and videos on his Facebook page, which allow his family and friends to view them: dodging bullets in one post, picking up firewood in another.

If detained by the Spanish government, Cano would face a 15-year jail sentence on terrorism charges, as happened a few months ago with other Spaniards caught fighting with the Donbass rebels.

The Kiev government and the European Union consider these fighters terrorists, which is confirmed by the entry pass we're given to the ATO, or Anti-Terrorist Operations Zone. We're taken to meet Cano at a big camp with a firing range, though it's difficult to interview him amid the shooting and distant noise of bombardments.

It didn't take long for the rebels to discover he had a talent for sharpshooting, and he sports a medal he earned for his actions in the battle for Donetsk Airport. He says he's now accustomed to the sounds of missiles but not the "winter of 30 degrees below zero." He has also learned some Ukrainian and Russian, not like his first months in action when he carried out orders he didn't even understand.

Civil war changes everything. We see homes, ambulances and buses turned into skeletal wrecks. The Donetsk football stadium has become a refugee camp. But as long as there is war here, Cano intends to remain in the Donbass region. "I don't have a return date," he says. "The only date here is the end of the war, which will come, and we shall win."

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Society

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.


Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?


The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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