KYIV -- Three volunteer battalions that for years fought for Kyiv against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have handed over their weapons to law enforcement.
The Sheikh Mansur battalion, the battalion of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and the 8th battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army voluntarily surrendered their arms to the National Police in the Donetsk region on September 11, according to a police statement.
Photographs published by the National Police showed artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades, boxes of bullets, and crates of explosives that were turned in.
National Police First Deputy Chairman Vyacheslav Abroskin oversaw the transfer along with members of the military and the country’s security services.
The battalions were among the last units comprised purely of volunteer soldiers fighting in the 5-year war that has killed more than 13,000 people. Most of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions were incorporated into military and police structures in 2014 and 2015.
The Ukrainian military, neglected for years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, was caught flat-footed when Russia sent soldiers to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backed separatists fighting Kyiv in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. Kyiv relied heavily on volunteer fighters funded by powerful businessmen to slow the advance of the separatists.
As the Ukrainian military expanded its ranks, its forces fought alongside the volunteers. Many of the volunteers eventually enlisted in the military.
The Sheikh Mansur battalion, named after the Chechen military leader who led forces against Catherine the Great in the late 18th century, was comprised of Chechen fighters who opposed Moscow. Many of its members fought in one or both of Chechnya’s wars with Russia.
Right-wing nationalists filled out the ranks of the OUN battalion and the 8th battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army.