REGION DE DONETSK: Former US Marines want to “save lives” in Ukraine, doing humanitarian and military training with the group Mozart, whose name is a “snub” to the Russian paramilitary group Wagner.
Walkie-talkie in hand, Steve, 52, 23 of whom are in the Marines, drives a Jeep filled with bags of foodstuffs provided by the NGO World Central Kitchen.
In a village near the front in the part of the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, he stops in front of the cultural center, followed by a van and another car filled with bags up to the roof.
In total, the Mozart group comes to deliver that day 260 packages which are stored on the stage of the theater, before being distributed to the citizens.
So far according to Steve, who declined to give his surname, “we may have delivered around 12 tonnes of food”. “It doesn’t seem like much, but we are a small organization,” he adds. The man believes that because of the moderate size of his teams, Mozart is able to go further than “big organizations”.
“Humanitarian work helps us a lot. Because with my retirement, I don’t earn much and it’s hard to survive in these conditions (of war, editor’s note)”, says Maksym, a man in his sixties. years, a loaf of bread in hand.
In order not to return with “empty” vehicles, the small group, which has between 10 and 25 people depending on the time of year, also practices the evacuation of civilians.
“We are evacuating civilians, adults, children and domestic animals”, explains Steve who goes with his teammates to areas near the front, under the bombardments. They take them to reception centers run by the Ukrainian government, he says.
«A gun not a guitar»
Mozart also organizes training for Ukrainian soldiers, but “in no case do we conduct military operations like the Wagner group”, Steve says, specifying that none of them are armed.
Russia is accused of using men from the notorious Wagner paramilitary group in Ukraine alongside the army.
Baptizing the American group Mozart was a “snub” to Wagner, smiles Andy Bain, a former reserve officer in the Marines, who assures us that everything taught is “common sense”.
The music of Richard Wagner, renowned for his anti-Semitism, was admired by Adolf Hitler and remains boycotted in Israel.
Somewhere in the Donetsk region, a group of about twenty Ukrainian soldiers is training with foreign instructors from the Mozart group.
In a field, the Ukrainians advance in the open. “Contact! bang, bang, bang,” shouts an instructor from across the field. The soldiers throw themselves into the grass and in turn shout “bang, bang, bang”.
The whole sequence is then dissected by the instructors who try to correct the errors of the soldiers.
“Look at the enemy, damn it, aim for it!” shouts one of the trainers in English. Through the interpreter, he says to a soldier: “hold your rifle like this, it’s a rifle not a guitar!”
On condition of anonymity, another instructor assures: “They are good, much better than two days ago”.
“We improve our skills thanks to the instructors,” said Georgiï, a 32-year-old officer who follows the training with his men. “This type of training is very effective because even when you have fire experience, you always learn new things,” he says.
But many of these soldiers are novices.
“Many had never fired a gun before. Guns are very dangerous in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them,” said Martin Wetterauer, 55, chief operating officer of the Mozart Group.
According to this former Marine officer, Mozart’s training revolves around “survival on the battlefield”, thanks to the teaching of “basic” knowledge: knowing how to wear a bulletproof vest correctly, protecting yourself from enemy artillery digging shelters, or providing medical care.
“We have a very small impact strategically on the course of the conflict, we know that”, recognizes Mr. Wetterauer, but “for us everything lies in the fact of saving lives”, through humanitarian aid and military training.