In Ukraine, Sworn Enemies With So Much In Common

Parallel portraits in the making of a civil war: one man is fighting for Kiev, the other is a Russian separatist.

Ukraine forces near Sloviansk in April 2014
Ukraine forces near Sloviansk in April 2014
Emmanuel Grynszpan

DONETSK — Bouchouï fights for Ukraine’s unity and against the Russian invader. Faria, instead, is a separatist, and stands against fascism and international mercenaries. They’ve both enrolled voluntarily in a conflict that personally affects them. Each is convinced that he is defending their homeland.

These two enemies in this peculiar war have so much in common, offering a parallel portrait of a country that has all too quickly slid into a virtual civil war.

Both men are former business executives, married with children, now immersed in combat, on opposite sides, Ukrainian citizens killing Ukrainians.

To ensure their loved ones’ security, they won’t disclose their identities. Their soldiers know them as Bouchouï (meaning “quick-tempered”) and Faria (an imaginary Russian character), their military pseudonyms.

Bouchouï, 45, stands tall and slim, with a seemingly calm disposition that doesn't match his combat name. He smiles easily and talks freely, giving a detailed account of his military life under the eyes of his 30 soldiers perched on armored vehicles. The scene takes place in the heart of Sloviansk, a pro-Russian bastion taken back by Ukrainian forces on July 7. “Don’t be fooled by appearances. My men know my tolerance limit. Once it’s crossed, I’m unstoppable,” he says, prompting some chuckles from soldiers in his unit.

“What bothers me the most is that I’m being called a fascist. It’s beyond me. I’ve done my military service during the time of the USSR, with Chechens, Kyrgyz, and Russians. We were all like brothers. Now, I’m only defending my country against a foreign invasion.”

Bouchouï knows that many of the locals here in eastern Ukraine are against him. “They’re being manipulated by Russian TV.” He stresses the fact that his enemies are professional Russian soldiers. “Those we see during daytime are unprepared locals. At night, our heavy losses are inflicted by highly-trained soldiers.”

Bouchouï has his own thoughts about the ins and outs of the conflict: “Russia needs to send men to a military theater of operations so that they’re trained for combat. Donbas is ideal; a near territory, with a geostrategic interest. It’s perfect for the Russian army.”

Enemies everywhere

Fighting on the opposite side is 51-year-old Faria, a small, podgy, red-headed man with sharp gestures. He says that he must fight against an array of enemies: “Ukrainian fascists, oligarchs, the U.S., and all the mercenaries they send, negroes and Polish.”

He’s in charge of a small artillery unity that fought for weeks in Sloviansk prior to withdrawing to Donetsk. That’s where he’s established himself, in mine #421. “I lost six men when a mortar shell hit us. They were killed on the spot but I’ve miraculously made it out alive,” he says, kissing an Orthodox cross wrapped around his neck. “God spared me because he has important plans for me," he says repeating the gesture.

Impulsive by nature, he explains loudly that he is “infuriated by the Ukrainian state which has been stealing from us for its 24 years of existence.”

The owner of a small road transport company, he bitterly regrets the collapse of the USSR. “Nowadays communists are being spit on, but back then we had everything: social welfare, health insurance and free education.”

Faria says he had no other choice but to sell his trucks because of corruption. His wish now is for Donbas to join Russia. “Donbas has always been Russian," he insists in spite of history. “I have total trust in our chief Igor Strelkov leader of the separatist armed forces. We will prevail for God is on our side!”

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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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