In Front of The Cameras: The Israeli Golani Fighter Who Fights Putin

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The article below was originally published by Edward Doks on ynet

A video interview appeared in the original article

Translated from Hebrew for Fort Russ by Joshua Tartakovsky

In Front of the Cameras: The Israeli Golani Fighter Who Fights Putin

This was the most unexpected place to hear an Israeli soldier speak Hebrew: How did the Israeli Golani fighter end up in a Ukrainian battalion fighting against Russia? Grisha Faivorov studied in a religious high school in Migdal Haemek in Israel, turned into a punk in Dizengoff Square and joined a unit whose members are extremist nationalists.

By Edward Doks, Kiev, 14.12.12  

He speaks fluent Hebrew and uses IDF slang, reminiscent of the days in which he served in the Golani Infantry Brigade. It is a little surprising, even strange, considering the fact that the pleasant man in front of me serves in one of the most frontal units of the Ukrainian Army in the front facing Russia. And further than that: a battalion that many of its members are overt nationalists extremists. Watch Grisha Faivorov speak about fighting in Golani and also about fighting Putin.

What is a Jewish Israeli doing in such a place? The life story of Grisha Faivorov (33) includes more than a few curves and turns that would easily suffice for a thick book. A lost man, who is left without roots, and found a home in the most unexpected place there is. “Most neo-Nazis here have no problem with us”, Grisha tries to explain the contradiction, “they have a problem with whomever is against Ukraine. I met not long ago a person who can be defined as a real Nazi, and he told me ‘Maybe once we were enemies, but it is the past. We need to build the present. Today we are brothers in arms’.

Grisha moved to Israel from Saint Petersburg in Russia at age 9 and went through a very unusual life path: He lived in Haifa, and then in the Malchia Kibbutz up north, from there he went on to live in Kiryat Shmona- and then, after his mother died- graduated from a religious high school in Migdal Haemek. He joined the IDF with enthusiasm and went on to serve in the Golani Brigade. After his discharge, he spent some time living as a punk in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, and made his living from random jobs: a fisherman, a rappelling man, a delivery boy and a cook. In the mean time he managed to produce a boy, with whom he has no contact.

גרישה ואשר. נלחמים בפוטין ()

Grisha and Asher, Fighting Putin.

“My life is very diverse”, he laughs. Tom Holiganov, one of his friends who lives in Israel, keeps in touch with Grisha: “he was always against the system and always helped the weak”, he explained. “We are speaking about a good man who got into a complicated situation in life and live in the street after losing his mother at a young age”.

The IDF Model

At some point Grisha decided to leave Israel. He flew to Russia, then hitchhiked across Europe, and a year ago arrived in Ukraine, exactly in time for the demonstrations that led to the fall of the government and to a civil war. “A friend of mine who was a medic in Maidan Square in Kiev, where the demonstrations begun, told me that there is a mess and that horrible things are happening, and asked that I come to help. I told myself ‘let’s go’ and came.”

"ראיתי דברים שלא האמנתי שאראה". גרישה בצבא האוקראיני ()

“I saw things I did not believe I will see”. Grisha in the Ukrainian Army

Quite quickly, Grisha found himself placed in the Aidar Battalion. It is a unit that supposedly was meant for civil purposes, but in practice its people are blamed both by the Russians and by human rights organizations in war crimes against the civilian population that supports the Russian side in the war.  What is surprising is that Grisha was born in Russia and had no connection to East Ukraine until a few months ago. Grisha does speak fluent Hebrew but does not have a good command of Ukrainian and communicates with members of his unit in Russian.

How did they draft you to the unit? You are Israeli, you have no Ukrainian citizenship and anyway, you were born in Russia.

“Friends, arrangements. If in other battalions that belong to the police they do a check, Aidar is the only unit where such checks do not exist.”  “Aidar is very similar to Golani”, Grisha surprises, “in that we are sent first to seal any hole”. When other units give up, we come and conquer. People here want to take a lot of things from the IDF”.

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גרישה עם מפקדו שנהרג בקרבות וחייל נוסף ()

Grisha along with his commander who was killed in the battles and an additional soldier.

It is a little crazy. Some of your people worship a Ukrainian leader who called to murder Jews and his people did so with enthusiasm during World War II.

“But I can give you different facts. They call us Nazis, but these Nazis look at the IDF as a miracle, as a model for imitation. Senior officers sit next to me and ask me to tell them about the IDF.”

And still, also today there are serious claims against you regarding war crimes and severe violations of human rights.

“I will not say that we are so kosher. That’s how it is in a war, everything happens. We got our good name after capturing 12 Russian cossacks in Novoaidar. They say about our battalion much nonsense, but we have proven ourselves as a special unit that is always sent to the front.”



What were your motives to join Maidan?

“In Ukraine I realized that my lifestyle is exactly what people want here, they want freedom. You can call it anarchy, and you can also call it democracy. Personally, my motives are justice and fight against all evil. There is a big difference between a fascist and a nationalist who is for the nation. Anyway, I am an anarchist, an anti-fascist. I speak Russian and not Ukrainian, and everyone knows I am from Israel and my face reveals it, and people accept it.”

“Death or Freedom”

Originally, Grisha’s unit was created as a civil defense unit. In the mission statement of the battalion it was written: “to secure convoys, to guard checkpoints, “and all sorts of nonsense”, says the Israeli-Ukrainian. “But they always sent Aidar ahead, and Aidar advanced. Because of that the Chechens do not take us prisoners but kill us immediately. Our battalion took down the Russian commando unit. Yes, we suffer from loses almost every day but we advance. When I see residents cry to me at checkpoints and tell me “please do not leave us”, it does something to me.


What can you say about the war?

“That the Russians do things that we cannot even describe or tell: robbery, rape, murder. In front of my eyes, in the front, I heard a young woman say how they beat her father and tried to rape her mother, and at the end it was actually Chechen fighters who decided that this girl will serve them.  What the Russian media says is kindergarden. For example, they fire mortars on homes, and then blame the Ukrainian army. I saw things I did not believe I will see”.

Grisha says he is not the only Jew in the battalion and that along him also Muslim soldiers serve. “No one expels anyone or prohibits any language, we are all brothers in arms”.

So far it looks like there is no real resolution. Can you defeat the Russian army?

“Of course we can! The Israeli Defence Forces did not win over the armies of the Arab states? It did. Judah the Maccabee did not rebel and achieve victory against an empire? he did. We are like Bar Kochva, we are ready to resist and fight an empire a few years until we win. That is the spirit of the unit, of all of us”.

גבר אבוד ללא שורשים. גרישה בימיו כפאנקיסט בכיכר דיזנגוף ()
A lost man with no roots. Grisha in his days as a Punk in Dizengoff Square.

The pictures on Grisha’s Facebook profile are numerous enough to fill war diaries of more than a few Israeli army soldiers, and he will continue to fight until the end if it is up to him. Fear, it seems, does not exist in his world of concepts. “Victory or Death” is written on one of his tags on his uniform. “There was a time they asked us to take off our tags”, he admits.

In the IDF everything works in a very organized way. There is someone who takes care of the wounded and reports about the dead. Is there someone to treat you if something happens? Who will tell your family?

“Here everything is a mess. Usually friends from the unit help in the process, but sometimes there are problems of identification. Next to Starovlask, there is a mass grave of 27 fighters from the battalion who were killed and were unidentifiable. There are also many fighters who were killed and we have no idea where. The families of those killed are supposed to get aid, but this is not organized yet. The truth is I was not at all interested in the subject. I did not draft myself for money and until today I did not get a dollar for my fighting. Even my uniform is from volunteers who donated them to us. I am here to fight evil”.

Where do you see your future?

“I am continuing here. This is the place where I belong, this is the place that accepted me, and my spirit suits this place. I could have gone back to Spain, but I feel like here I am doing something that is making an impact. My mother died anyway, and my small sister from my step-father lives in Canada and almost does not talk to me, and my grandfather died too. I am totally alone”.

And still, you have a boy.

“Yes, he is seven years old today. When I left his mother he was two years old. Today she is married and he does not know I am his father, but I did not forget him. I have a surprise for him: savings that he will receive only when he turns 16. In the mean time I am here, and if the war ends I will continue in the Ukrainian army”.

Following the articles published in Yedioth Ahronoth, Grisha met with the ultra-Orthodox fighter Asher Cherkasky and the two hosted the Sabbath together.  Kosher food arrived to the “Dniper” Battalion, where Cherkasky serves, according to his request. The Deputy of the Dnepropetrovsk Governor, Parliament Member Boris Filtov, publicized the picture of Asher and Grisha on his Facebook page and asked that Kosher food be sent also to the “Aidar” Battalion, where Faivarov serves.

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