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Head Of Donbas 'People's Army' A Wanted Man In Russia

Luhansk-based youth leader Georgy Makaryev is wanted in Russia in connection with the killing of Tajik immigrants. (file photo)
Luhansk-based youth leader Georgy Makaryev is wanted in Russia in connection with the killing of Tajik immigrants. (file photo)

Georgy Makaryev doesn't act like a wanted man.

He leads a high-profile life among the Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's Luhansk region as the head of a "patriotic" youth organization called NADO, or the People's Army of Donbas.

He regularly organizes athletic and cultural events and frequently appears at gatherings organized by the separatist leadership -- often at the side of Ihor Plotnitskiy, the head of the Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Luhansk People's Republic. His NADO has opened three free athletic centers in the separatist-controlled area, where youths can study boxing and martial arts while getting steady doses of "patriotic education."

But the 39-year-old former police investigator from the Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria is wanted in Russia for organizing and participating in a brutal May 2016 fight between hundreds of young toughs and a group of mostly Tajik migrant workers at Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery. That incident left three of the Tajik migrants dead and about 30 people injured.

The case against the first 16 Khovanskoye defendants is expected to go to trial soon, but Makaryev will be tried in absentia. The photograph of him on the wanted list of Russia's Center Against Extremism shows him wearing the black uniform and insignia of NADO.

Apparently, the separatist authorities in Luhansk -- who are entirely dependent on Moscow for military, political, and economic support -- feel no pressure to hand over the fugitive in their midst. Novaya Gazeta reported last month that Russian investigators had traveled to Luhansk to seek Makaryev's extradition but "were unable" to secure it.

Healthy Nation

Representatives of NADO, the Luhansk security forces, and Plotnitskiy's entourage declined RFE/RL's requests for comment on this story.

In 2012, Makaryev founded the patriotic youth organization Healthy Nation in Moscow, based on a network of free sports clubs where youths could train in martial arts and participate in "patriotic events," according to the organization's website.

It was unclear where Healthy Nation's money came from, and Makaryev has no officially registered commercial interests.

"Our organization is involved in the patriotic education of young people, mostly through sport," Makaryev said in a video interview taped just a few weeks before the Khovanskoye violence. "We also are having constant discussions. For the most part, we work with young people from the streets and inculcate them with a proper relationship to their motherland, the memory of their ancestors, and their history."

A Makaryev-penned manifesto on the Healthy Nation site claims at length that the United States is trying to destroy Russia by "actively exploiting the so-called nationalities question."

'Correct Nationalism'

The Kremlin and its surrogates frequently accuse the United States of fomenting and funding so-called colored revolutions in other countries and routinely label Russian democracy advocates as "foreign agents."

Healthy Nation's response to this purported threat is patriotism and "correct nationalism."

"We agree that our bureaucrats take bribes and that the difference in the income of the rich and the poor is enormous," the manifesto states. "But we urge everyone not to do anything about that now, when the enemy is at the borders of our Motherland and when enemy agents on the territory of our country are seducing our young people."

A massive brawl at a Moscow cemetery last year left three Tajik migrants dead
A massive brawl at a Moscow cemetery last year left three Tajik migrants dead

According to Russian prosecutors, the Khovanskoye violence started when a former Moscow police officer named Nikita Moshenko and an official of the Moscow city-owned burial service Ritual named Yury Chabuyev decided they wanted to take over the lucrative work of maintaining graves at the cemetery from the migrant workers. Prosecutors say the business was worth 20 million rubles ($341,000) a month.

Moshenko and Chabuyev then allegedly turned to Makaryev and his Healthy Nation group to intimidate the migrants. According to prosecutors, they promised Makaryev as much as 100 million rubles for helping them take control of the maintenance business at all of Moscow's cemeteries.

​The process of intimidating the Khovanskoye migrants went on for several weeks in the spring of 2016 and culminated in the May 14 incident in which an estimated 200 Healthy Nation members descended on the cemetery. According to the defendants, the activists wanted to check the documents of the Tajiks to make sure they were working legally. A massive brawl ensued in which two migrants were run over by a car and one was shot to death.

Several months ago, Makaryev emerged in the separatist-held Ukrainian city of Luhansk with NADO, an organization clearly built on the same model as Russia's Healthy Nation. The source of his funding is unknown, but NADO has opened sports clubs in Luhansk, Briansk, and Alchevsk. Hundreds of NADO youths can be seen decked out in the organization's trademark black jackets and baseball caps.

"The emblems of our organization open many doors," Makaryev told youths at a recent cultural festival in Luhansk as he presented them with their caps.

'Sort of Spirituality'

At the opening of the Luhansk center in February, Makaryev also presented new NADO inductees with caps and a volume of his own patriotic poetry.

"What do these caps mean?" he asked. "Here is our emblem; here is the name of our organization. If you see a person in this cap, you know that he didn't buy it. It was given to him for a reason: because he is a sportsman, because he comes to training, because he works hard. I am telling you, if our enemies don't stop us, by the end of this year all worthy young men will be wearing these caps. And it will be very uncomfortable if you are not wearing one. It means you are not a sportsman, that there is something wrong with you."

A screen-grab shows Georgy Makaryev handing out baseball caps and poetry to recruits in his NADO youth organization in the Russia-backed, separatist-held Luhansk region.
A screen-grab shows Georgy Makaryev handing out baseball caps and poetry to recruits in his NADO youth organization in the Russia-backed, separatist-held Luhansk region.

In an interview with Luhansk-24 television, Makaryev said NADO is based on "discipline."

"If you miss three training session, you won't be coming back anymore," he said. "A person begins training and a sort of spirituality begins to develop. He sees that the republic is being reborn and begins to understand what is happening in Ukraine. We turn people into patriots."

One NADO member who asked to be identified only as Andriy told RFE/RL that the group's main activities comprise training, maintaining the sports clubs, and recruiting new members. Andriy said he had already attended one demonstration "against the Kyiv junta," echoing a derisive term that Russian officials frequently used for the Ukrainian government that took over after pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled into exile in early 2014.

The United States and European allies imposed economic and other sanctions against Russia after its invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and with Moscow's alleged support for the separatists continuing in other parts of eastern Ukraine.

It remains uncertain whether Makaryev will ever face trial in Russia. Officially, Moscow does not recognize the Luhansk separatists and so cannot file an extradition request. Official contacts are carried out through the administrations of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow has recognized and which, in turn, have diplomatic relations with the region of Luhansk controlled by separatists.

The nongovernmental Russian Center Against Extremism has informed Luhansk of Makaryev's warrant. A representative of the center told RFE/RL that they believe the decision not to hand over Makaryev was made by Plotnitskiy personally.

RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report

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