They are aged 24, 27 and 28. One was unemployed, one was a nightclub doorman and the other worked for car firm Mercedes. They all lived in Madrid, but they met on the front in Ukraine as part of the pro-Russian Donbass International Brigades. They had arrived there after a three-day journey last summer, each traveling separately – one went directly to Donetsk and the other two after a stopover in Moscow, where a Russian government worker was waiting for them. The trio all used the same method of self-enlistment: they contacted Russian combatants via Twitter, according to sources in the investigation that led to their arrest on Friday.
They were paid neither travel expenses nor a salary, but they were received with open arms by the Russian commanders in charge on the Ukraine eastern front. As well as their AK-74 rifles – the most modern Kalashnikov model – they received uniforms, food and free lodging. They left behind their comfortable Madrid apartments to live in collective barracks where, they say, there are still more Spanish “brigade members” and “several hundred” from other countries, above all Serbia and France.
“Half of them are communists and the other half are Nazis,” they explained. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike […]. We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”
At the moment, Spanish police only have proof that one of the Madrileños arrested fought on the front lines. The other two were used for propaganda purposes to encourage others to join the ranks. As they were “volunteers,” they were free to leave whenever they wanted, which they did in December, returning to Madrid as they had arrived – separately.
During searches of their homes carried out on Friday as part of Operation Danko – a reference to the 1988 film Red Heat, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a Russian cop of the same name – the police seized Russian military clothing, knives, machetes and insignias. Only one of the three had a police record, for taking part in a political brawl. One of them belonged to a new far-left formation called Communist Reconstruction.
The police have accused them of compromising the peace and interests of Spain, homicide, and possession of arms and explosives.