Best-selling, award-winning Russian author Zakhar Prilepin has said the military unit in which he served in the Donbas conflict of eastern Ukraine “killed many people” and that he has no regrets having fought.
Speaking to Russian TV journalist Aleksei Pivovarov on August 15, Prilepin boasted that the battalion in which he was the deputy commander killed the most people of any other unit.
“When all the documents are looked over, they’ll see the most people died where my battalion was stationed,” Prilepin said.
When asked if he sees ghosts of the dead, Prilepin said, “I don’t agonize over anything.”
However, Prilepin, 44, said he does ponder his combat experience in Ukraine.
“I think about how I will come to terms with this in the future…because I led a subunit that killed many people, so now I think about how I will live with this,” he said.
The writer, who did tours of duty in Chechnya, boasted he could travel anywhere he wants in Europe and that “I’ll never do jail time, no court will send me to prison” for what he did.
The Digital Forensic Research Lab, a project of the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, identified Prilepin’s unit as the 4th Reconnaissance and Assault Battalion.
“My battalion wreaked total mayhem,” Prilepin said in the interview.
Its leader was another Russian, Sergei Fomchenkov, according to the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
He and Prilepin were members of the banned ultranationalist National Bolshevik Party.
When it became widely known that Prilepin was fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s spokesman, said on February 13, 2017 that he wouldn’t comment on Prilepin’s motivation for fighting.
“Russian citizens follow their hearts and go to these unrecognized republics. I can only state this as a fact," Peskov said.
Officially, the Kremlin denies involvement in the Donbas conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
Prilepin also was listed as an adviser to Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the former Donetsk separatist leader, in December 2015. Zakharchenko was killed in an explosion in August 2018.
Prilepin left the conflict and returned to Russia in the summer of 2018, saying “these…years have been like eight or 10 years” and he “grew old, both physically and mentally” during his tour in the Donbas.
However, if fighting escalates, “then I’ll return to the battalion,” he said.
Prilepin had been a critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and even penned a letter in 2010 telling the president to stand down.
After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Prilepin became a Kremlin loyalist and started to praise Putin.
Due to his fighting in the Donbas, his literary agency in Germany has distanced itself from him.
“The agency continues to fulfill its contractual obligations to all publishing partners that publish Prilepin’s works in translations,” Thomas Wiedling, the head of the Wiedling Literary Agency, said in February 2017.
However, Wiedling said the agency “will donate its potential profits from these services to the international human rights company Amnesty International.”
In April 2018, Bosnia-Herzegovina barred Prilepin from entering the country on security grounds.
Ukraine's SBU security service says he is wanted on charges of "taking part in the activity of a terrorist organization" and for "financing terrorism."
Ukraine's Culture Ministry placed Prilepin on a "blacklist" of people who pose a "national-security threat."
He is best known abroad for his 2007 novel Sin. In 2011, Newsweek magazine wrote that “to understand Russia today, you need to understand Prilepin.”