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6 May, 2022 21:04

RT speaks to Croatian fighter captured in Ukraine

The man insists he joined the ranks of the Ukrainian military to obtain the country’s citizenship
RT speaks to Croatian fighter captured in Ukraine

RT’s Roman Kosarev spoke to Vjekoslav Prebek, a Croatian national who fought in the ranks of the Ukrainian military. Prebek says he was a serviceman in a Ukrainian marine brigade that was holed up in the city of Mariupol. He claims to have been taken prisoner during an attempt to flee the besieged city alongside a handful of other fighters.

“We were leaving Mariupol and we were walking on foot for 260 kilometers hiding, walking only during night, avoiding all contact possible,” he said. The plan flopped when the group ran into an artillery unit and surrendered to it.

Prebek’s unit has had multiple foreigners in its ranks, including three British nationals. Several other foreigners went AWOL from the brigade shortly after the ongoing conflict broke out late in February.

The fighter says he joined the ranks of the Ukrainian military back in 2020, seeking to get the country’s citizenship after serving a three-year contract. Back then, it seemed like a good idea, as the frontline in the Donbass was “stationary,” he said, adding that he “almost” didn’t fire a shot at the time.

“My reason for wanting to achieve the Ukrainian citizenship is because I met a woman here that I got in love. She had sick mother and she did not want to leave Ukraine,” Prebek said, without explaining how exactly he ended up in Ukraine in the first place.

Previously, Prebek served in Croatia’s army for five years. The man insisted he did not have any real battle experience and was merely an “infantryman” in his home country’s army. “I was an infantryman in the Croatian armed forces for five years, that’s all,” he claimed. “I haven’t been involved into any conflicts before.”

The prisoner says he has had little first-hand experience with far-right Ukrainian units, such as the notorious neo-Nazi Azov regiment. While the unit did participate in the battle of Mariupol alongside Prebek’s brigade, they had little communication and an entirely different command, he claims.

“They do participate in defense, but we get separate command line, completely separate. They are not a part of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said.

I heard also that they [Azov] are very fascistic and Nazi. I heard also about terrible things they did to citizens, captured them even probably shooting at us at some time. I’ve heard there are a lot of criminals, drug users [among them]. I’ve not witnessed anything myself, but I’ve been shown videos that are terrible of what they are doing. Huge atrocities.

Prebek insists he would never take up arms ever again, probably joining “some charity” or the International Red Cross should he be set free. Obtaining Ukrainian citizenship through serving in the country’s military was the wrong decision, he admitted.

I believe I should have looked for other means of achieving Ukrainian citizenship and not serving in the armed forces.

“I want to survive, I want to live. I don’t want to take weapons in my hands any time again in my life. I would like to rejoin with the woman that I met here in Ukraine and, maybe, talk more about the truth that I’ve seen what happened here, how I was treated by my captors,” he said. According to Prebek, he has been treated well in custody, well-fed, and provided with necessary medical assistance.

Prebek’s fate however, remains uncertain, given his foreign nationality. In the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) foreigners are widely regarded as mercenaries, and being a mercenary might fetch a fighter a heavy punishment, up to the capital one.

The man himself insists he was a legitimate combatant and a member of the Ukrainian military. “They consider me POW but they are still [saying] that I’m a mercenary, that I’m not officially a member of the Ukrainian  armed forces,” Prebek said. Under international law, foreign volunteers who join – on a personal basis and by their own initiative – the armed forces of one of the parties to an armed conflict are considered combatants.