After opening the door to foreigners, the Ukrainian army has become a plum assignment for clout-chasing mercenaries the world over. Battlefield influencers can gain a significant following and the financial rewards that come with it, by touring the ruins of Ukraine with a camera in hand. The Ukrainian regime not only allows but encourages this as the resulting propaganda is a potent weapon for recruitment and the maintenance of public interest in the conflict.
Much of this work is carried out through the pre-existing networks established by Ukraine’s far right. In their 8-year campaign of terror and genocide in Donbass, the fascist militias have honed a fine edge to their internet propaganda. A western face with a large following amplifies propaganda that was previously only seen on Ukrainian language telegram to the entire world. Even mainstream press outlets are now in on the act, acting as shills for proud fascist war criminals.
One of the many mercenaries involved in this bloody performance is James Vasquez, a former US Army soldier from Connecticut. James fills his timeline daily with content to broadcast to his nearly 400,000 followers. Vasquez even has sponsors and NFTs, never missing an opportunity to tag his favorite gear manufacturers and always making sure logos are front and center in his photos.
While James profits, Ukraine bleeds. To get his content, James runs with butchers who would make Oskar Dierlwagner proud, men so criminal that even the Kiev regime tried, convicted, and imprisoned them. Among James’ comrades are those convicted of torture, murder, and raping children to death. At least one of them is guilty of all three.
These maniacs and their grifter allies are the engines of the propaganda machine valorizing fascism in Ukraine today.
Mid-Life Crisis Mercenary
While many men in their late 40s attempt to reclaim their youth with a motorcycle, James Vasquez does it by killing people. The past he wants to reclaim is somewhat murky. His status as a veteran is unquestioned, although he has remained quiet about the details.
His ex-wife claims that James joined the army right after 9/11, and James repeatedly denies having been to Afghanistan. James’ friend, former USMC Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings insists James was a combat veteran, which would hint at deployment to Iraq, but James himself considers the question to be off limits.
While James stays quiet, his friend Rip never shuts up. Rip commanded the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from 2006 to 2008 during a particularly brutal phase of Operation Iraqi “Freedom”, America’s illegal, bloody and unjustifiable war on Iraq.
During Rip’s time in the country, his unit was involved in Counter Insurgency warfare in the al-Anbar province. COIN warfare, just like the “security warfare” of the 1940s, was little more than a euphemism for state-sponsored terrorism.
During the Anbar campaign, there were many well-publicized instances of rape, murder, torture, and illegal detention of Iraqis by US Forces. What is less known is that countless Iraqi civilians were simply murdered at checkpoints and during so-called “Escalation of Force” incidents, where American troops were allowed to fire at any Iraqi they deemed suspicious, an echo of the free fire zones in Vietnam. American forces routinely attacked civilian targets such as hospitals and weddings and were unapologetic about their use of white phosphorus on civilian targets.
It is likely we will never know if James had any direct role in the illegal invasion. While it is tempting to think of him as a front-line killer, the reality may be far more mundane. Perhaps James sat behind a desk and shuffled papers while he read about all the atrocities, seething at the fact that he wasn’t the one behind the trigger or hooking up the electrical cables to the prisoner. Whatever the case may be, he leaped at the chance to kill again, this time for an even worse cause.
What matters more than his background is who James Vasquez has now become. A philandering, clout-chasing mercenary eager to profit from the devastation of a country and its people.
James announced his plan to leave for Ukraine on the first day of the war, February 24th, 2022. He made it to Ukraine in March and quickly got to work. By the 24th of March, he was bragging about how he had destroyed 7 Russian tanks after hours in combat. Before long, James was capturing Russians by the hundred and liberating towns. Despite a complete lack of evidence, tales of his exploits fall on the enraptured ear of a credulous press.
It's almost too easy for James. All this strenuous combat never seems to muss his trademark gel spiked hair. He is always clean with a perfect five o’clock shadow and in new, spotless clothes and equipment which remain such no matter how much fighting he has done. No matter how many Russian shells fall on his position, he never so much as scratches his kneepads.
Rather than the ragged, filthy creature that emerges dazed and confused from a genuine battlefield, James Vasquez looks like a model at a 5.11 photoshoot and likely comes no closer to combat.
James is heavily involved in “charity” and “humanitarian” work with other grifters in the region, such as ex-Green Beret Ryan Hendrickson, whose 7th Special Forces Group was heavily involved in the torture and murder of detainees in Afghanistan. Given the behavior of these thugs even when outside the “sandbox” and the rampant, unchecked criminality of US special forces, these war crimes are likely only the tip of the iceberg.
Hendrickson was seriously injured by a landmine in Afghanistan and sadly recovered from his injuries to return to service. Now that he’s retired, Ryan uses the injury he sustained while torturing and murdering innocent people as a part of his grift, making a fortune from regaling the far right with stories of a wounded soldier overcoming the odds to rejoin his death squad.
James is also now involved with fascist propagandist Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a “journalist” embedded with the Kraken unit of Azov. Kraken is a terrorist gang of brazen war criminals, posting dozens of photos and videos of horrendous torture on their social media. One of Kraken’s founders is Sergey “Botsman” Korotikh a neo-Nazi mercenary who, despite Sarah’s insistence that he is not a Nazi, was best known for decapitating an innocent construction worker in front of a Swastika before arriving in Ukraine in 2014.
James is effusive in the praise for his Ukrainian comrades. They are brave warriors, liberators, and the best not just of military valor, but of all of humanity. James gushes about the honor of serving with such fine men as he posts endless streams of well-shot, posed, and professionally edited photos and videos to Twitter. The operation went well until his editors eventually missed a frame and more astute viewers quickly noticed something disturbing about James’ brave, honorable comrades.
Poking out above the magazine pouch of one of these extraordinary men was the logo of the infamous neo-Nazi reprisal battalion STP “Tornado”, a unit responsible beyond any doubt for some of the most shocking atrocities imaginable.
While cities like Odessa and Kharkov burned and bled under the Maidan’s reign of terror, the Russian-speaking east rose to resist. Russian communities, led by politicians from the democratically elected Party of Regions, rejected the Kiev regime and declared independence. Militias formed, at first ad-hoc and lightly armed, but they rapidly grew larger and more sophisticated as time went on. Avakov’s first response was to send in the Army, which nearly doomed the Kiev regime.
When ordered to shoot their families, friends, and countrymen, the rank-and-file soldiers revolted. 70% of the Ukrainian army deserted, and a significant portion of those defected to join the militias they had been ordered to destroy. This became the backbone of the L/DPR armed forces which would successfully resist the fascist incursions from then on.
Now with the specter of counter-revolution and defeat looming over the Kiev regime, Avakov went back to the old bag of tricks he used to conquer Kharkov, first as a mafia don and then as a regional administrator. On April 15th, 2014, Avakov formed the Special Tasks Patrol police, deputizing the now vast array of Nazis who infested Ukraine. Many of these groups would become infamous in the 8 years that followed, most notably the group of soccer hooligans turned neo-Nazis under the command of Andrei Biletsky. Then known as “Patriot of Ukraine”, they took on the name Azov when deputized.
It was from this blood-soaked ground that STP Tornado emerged, founded in September 2014 by Oleg Lyasho, a deputy of the Rada for the “Radical Party” and led by neo-Nazi gangster Ruslan Onishenko. Lacking the financial backing of the rest of the STPs, Tornado went all out to get noticed, launching an operation to retake Onishenko’s hometown of Torez in the hopes of impressing an oligarch with deep pockets.
On the 23rd of May, 2014, Onishenko gathered a small crew and launched an
The STPs have a wide-ranging mandate allowing them to arrest, torture, and execute suspected terrorists and dissidents. Their powers of asset seizure are nearly unlimited, which has allowed them to loot a considerable fortune from the people of the Donbass. Sarah’s friend Botsman, for example, amassed a fortune of over 1 million Euros in a few months and used his spoils to buy a fighter jet. Even when the STPs do break what few rules exist, very few of them ever face any discipline.
Even in this context, Tornado is considered among the most brutal and sadistic butchers in the entire region. Tornado were notorious for enslaving their victims, using the slaves as human shields, as forced laborers, and as sex slaves. Robbery, torture, and violent sexual sadism are trademarks of the unit, and several of its members have even taken photos of themselves raping and sexually assaulting children and their mothers. Many of Tornado’s victims have never been found, tortured to death in the basements of hospitals and schools which the Nazis favor for their bases, then buried where they died.
Eventually, the crimes became so frequent and so vile that even the Ukrainian regime was forced to act. At first, death squad commander Anton Gerashenko attempted to rebrand the unit, rolling some of Shakhtyorsk’s soldiers into a new STP “Santa Maria” along with personnel from Azov and Aidar. The rest were used to replenish the losses of other STPs. However, the Shakhtyorsk fighters were so brutal and incompetent that these efforts failed. Santa Maria fell apart due to infighting, and the worst of its thugs moved on to the new volunteer unit Tornado.
If anything, this made the situation even worse. Tornado continued its crimes unabated until pressure from the local community finally forced Arsen Avakov to arrest and disband Tornado in 2015. Tornado greeted the announcement with snipers on the roof of their headquarters, clearly preparing to resist their disbandment by force. The situation was eventually defused, and Tornado stood down.
12 of Tornado’s worst criminals stood trial. In bizarre, closed-door trials which were often interrupted by fights, threats, and attacks on guards, all of them were found guilty. The rest were dispersed into other STPs, free to continue raping Donbass. There is
The Nazi Jihadi
“Without torture, life would not be worth living. Nothing raises your vitality as when you’re holding someone’s life”-Daniil “Mujahid” Lyashuk
Daniil Lyashuk could be the strangest Nazi in all of Ukraine. He was born in Belarus and claims Chechen and Ukrainian Tatar heritage. Before he became infamous as a Nazi terrorist, Daniil was well known in the Brest neo-Nazi
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, this is how one of his friends described Danil’s music:
"He even invented a new genre for himself: hate-hop. From the English "hate". This is the hate genre in music. He didn't do cute hip-hop about relationships or sitting in doorways with alcohol. All his songs were based on hatred. Hatred for everything, starting with football songs, how they go into battle with bare fists, ending with some kind of wild ritual Satanism. They weren't aimed at anyone in particular. It was just evil music "
For much of his life, he seemed to follow the bizarre hybrid of Slavic and Germanic paganism common among eastern European neo-Nazis, covering his body with runic and swastika tattoos, and often wearing clothes from pagan neo-Nazi designers. His obsession with Nazism and Germanic Paganism likely comes from his grandfather who was in the SS during WW2. Seemingly out of the blue, he dropped it all in 2014 and turned hard in another direction.
He converted to Islam, changed his last name to al-Takbir, and became an admirer of Daesh. This was where he earned his callsign “Mujahid.” Like his heroes in the levant, Daniil is tech savvy and a master of both torture and propaganda. He poses for shirtless Instagram photoshoots and seemingly endless Tiktok videos by day then rapes and tortures prisoners to death by night. Daniil has no issues reconciling his still ardent neo-Nazism with his new faith in Wahhabi Islam.
Daniil is perhaps the most bloodthirsty sadist in an organization full of them. He was notorious for coming up with new, ever more vile ways to torture and murder people. Sexual violence is one of his trademarks, he is a sadistic rapist and takes great joy in forcing people to rape each other.
At his trial, one of Daniil’s creations was laid out in detail. A survivor, testifying under the name Shevchenko to protect his identity recounted a day when a man called Palchik was brought to his cell.
Shevchenko had to watch as Palchik was savagely beaten with electrical batons by Mujahid and another terrorist named Bison. Once their batons were discharged, Mujahid forced Shevchenko to rape Palchik at gunpoint. Daniil and Ruslan Onishenko gleefully called the action from across the cell and took both photos and videos for their social media.
Shevchenko was then beaten and thrown into a freezing cell, just for good measure.
When Tornado was disbanded, a heavily armed Mujahid and several other Tornado fighters took off on their own, leading police on a weeklong chase through Ukraine. Mujahid and his comrades were finally cornered at a resort outside Kiev, where they were convinced to surrender after a tense standoff. The hunt for Mujahid drew considerable attention from the Ukrainian press, and when he was finally arrested the police released a statement.
“In a hotel complex on the Obukhovskaya highway near Kiev, on the evening of September 9, the most dangerous and violent of all the suspected fighters of the Tornado company, nicknamed "Mujahid", was found and detained... With extreme cynicism and audacity, brutality and ruthlessness, he committed the most brutal tortures of the local population of the Luhansk region, organized and took direct part in the rape of detainees, whom he, along with other suspects, abducted for selfish reasons”- Anatoly Matios, chief military prosecutor of Ukraine
Daniil was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A ridiculously lenient sentence for his crimes, but still more than most of his comrades. He served fewer than 5 years before he was pardoned by Volodymyr Zelensky, armed with American weapons, and sent to the front lines to fight alongside James Vasquez.
The twisted thread of hate
“War is a form of terrorism. I know there are people who don't like to equate-- what was done-- you know on September 11th, 2001, they don't like to equate that with a war that the United States engaged in. Sure, they're different. But they're not different in the-- in the fundamental principal that drives the terrorists and that is, they're saying, we're going to kill a lot of people but it will be worth it. We're trying to do something. We're trying to accomplish something. They-- the terrorists are not killing people just for the sake of killing people, they have some end in mind. To show that the American empire is vulnerable or to make some point about American policy in the Middle East. But they have an end in mind. We are doing the same thing. I mean, as I say, the details are different, but we are willing to kill a lot of people for some political end that we have declared.”-Howard Zinn
Daniil Lyashuk did not come out of the womb as Mujahid the Nazi terrorist. He was radicalized by his environment and turned from a young man with an interest in music and sports into a bloodthirsty monster so vile that even dyed-in-the-wool fascist murderers could not tolerate his crimes.
It did not have to be this way. Not so long ago, the Ukrainian SSR was peaceful and prosperous. Daniil’s former home of Sevastopol was the crown jewel of Crimea with warm weather, lovely beaches, and a beautiful sea bringing millions of Soviet workers to the resorts and spas that dot the area. Long-serving Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, a Ukrainian by birth, kept a Dacha there and was often seen boating and fishing in the rich turquoise seas.
In a different time, Daniil would have perhaps attended one of the world-class art schools in the region, where his love of poetry and music could be nurtured and turned towards the betterment of humanity. Or maybe he would have been an athlete, channeling his talent as a fighter into something productive in one of the many Soviet sporting or martial arts programs offered, free of charge, to all citizens.
If the winds of history had blown a bit differently, we would not be talking about Mujahid the terrorist, but Daniil Lyashuk the poet, the musician, or even the Olympic boxer. Sadly, a small group of powerful men far away from Sevastopol conspired to cheat Daniil of this future.
On the 25th of December, 1991, the USSR was illegally dissolved against the will of its people. It was the culmination of years of betrayal from factions inside the CPSU and external pressure. Overnight, the state which had provided everything for its 300 million citizens for decades vanished into thin air.
In the anarchy which ensued, millions died from deprivation, violence, and drug abuse. A nation of scientists, artists, cosmonauts, and engineers was reduced to crime and prostitution to survive. Gangsters and western bankers looted the corpse of the nation while its people starved to death.
Ukraine was hit especially hard. Even when the USSR was months from collapse in 1991, its HDI was ranked 22nd in the world. Once the west “freed” the region, it would never again be so high.
On the 10th anniversary of Ukraine’s “independence” in 2001, it had fallen to 65th. When the data was last published in 2019, Ukraine was 74th below Mexico, Albania, and Sri Lanka. Even Cuba and Iran, crushed under the weight of American sanctions, manage to provide a better life for their citizens. By 2017, after 25 years of Capitalist “freedom”, a staggering 10% of Ukraine’s children were homeless. This amounts to around 800,000 homeless children in a nation of 40 million, a number almost double that of the United States entire homeless population.
Had this happened anywhere else, it would have been called what it was, genocide.
Not everyone suffered during this time. Some people became very rich. Daniil’s future commander Arsen Avakov made a fortune exploiting the desperate Soviet people in the early 90s, then hired an army of angry young gangsters like Daniil to protect his loot. This was sadly typical throughout the former Soviet Union.
The primary benefactor of this horrendous crime was the western capitalists. The GDP of Ukraine still sits 21% below that of 1991 and over 90% below that of 1971. This wealth did not vanish, it was stolen by American and European bankers. It is for their benefit that children like Natasha are beaten by pimps and people like Daniil fight and kill each other both on the streets and on the battlefield.
After all the meat was picked from the bones of the USSR and Yugoslavia, the American ruling class needed new victims. They would find it in the oil-rich land of Iraq, already too weak from a decade of sanctions to resist. The vultures of American capital feasted once more on the remnants of a nation and its people to the tune of 5 trillion dollars.
It is here, in Iraq, where the thread that stitches all our characters together is most clearly visible. During the widespread campaign of torture and detention which accompanied America’s illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, one of the many people caught in the net was a man named Ibrahim al-Samarrai, better known by his nom de guerre of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Before America’s illegal war, al-Samarri was a nobody. He was the son of a farmer who became a preacher after his grades kept him out of law school. He lived in a small room attached to a Baghdad Mosque where he led prayer groups and taught the Qur’an to children. Those who knew al-Samarri said he was shy and a committed pacifist.
All of that changed when men like James Vasquez and Rip Rawlings came to Iraq.
Despite the collective amnesia from the western press, over 1 million innocent people died in America’s 15-year war against a nation and its people who had no connection whatsoever to the attacks which spurred James to join the army. It will never be known how many were tortured and brutalized in the diabolic black sites operated by the Pentagon and CIA, nor the number killed due to America’s intentional destabilization of the region.
American forces dropped more bombs on Baghdad in a single night than have impacted Kiev in the entire 6 months of the 2022 war, while American corporations profited hand over fist from the slaughter and botched attempts to rebuild. The bandits in uniform even stole Iraq’s gold reserve, further impoverishing a country already crushed by a decade of sanctions that killed millions.
al-Samarri was arrested in 2004, held without charges, and tortured by US forces at Camp Bucca. Camp Bucca was the Pentagon’s new “model detention facility”, designed to wash away the crimes of Abu Gharib. If this was ever a genuine plan, it failed utterly.
The horrors al-Samarri suffered at Camp Bucca turned a shy priest so committed to pacifism that he had done nothing even after US forces killed his brother and starved his country for over a decade into one of the most notorious terrorists to have ever lived and the man who would found Daesh, the very same organization Daniil “Mujahid” al-Takbir now admires so much.
Both al-Takbir and al-Baghdadi were radicalized due to the monstrous hand of American imperialism. These men and all their victims could be living in peace were it not for the jagged maw of American capitalism demanding an endless supply of blood and death to satiate its hunger for profit.
For decades all around the world, the story has been the same. In Vietnam, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Yugoslavia, the USSR, Iraq and so many more, the violence of men like James Vasquez has begotten the violence of men like al-Baghdadi and al-Takbir. After the vampires of Wall Street drink their fill, the ragged survivors are left to kill each other over the scraps. This is the “rules-based international order” which American capital kills for. Their law is nothing more than the law of the jungle.
Perhaps Lyashuk and Vasquez’s meeting was destiny. The fates of these two men have been tied together with the thread of American imperialism long before either was born. James and Danil are more than blood-drunk comrades chasing clout on the battlefield. In a sense, they are father and son, reunited at last to kill again.
Donbass Devushkha is an independent channel and we want to keep it that way to ensure we can produce more and higher quality content for you and you alone. If you would like to support us please consider visiting our online store or donate via DD Donation. If you prefer to use crytocurrency please use the link provided below: