Confessions of a Ukrainian commander of Dnepr-1 battalion, Yury Bereza

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Yury Bereza

Kristina Rus

In the top ten of the party list from People’s Front of Arseny Yatsenyuk (which beat Poroshenko Block in Ukrainian Parliament elections of October 26, 2014), is a 44-year old Yury Bereza, a commander of a volunteer battalion Dnepr-1 (aka Kolomoisky personal army). He is one of the most recognized commander-deputies who will be taking their seats in the new Ukrainian Parliament.

Charming, charismatic, energetic and outgoing – that’s how he appeared in the early summer of 2014. But by the fall he looked like a different man. Battered, unshaven, marked by new wrinkles, he looked like he aged 10 years in a few months. It’s no surprise considering everything he had been through: narrowly escaping the Ilovaisk cauldron, where 2 thousand Ukrainians perished, getting blamed for leaving his troops behind, being implicated in the downing of Malaysian flight MH-17, loosing many friends and making many enemies. Hopes for a quick victory in Donbass turned into a loss of much of Ukrainian border and half of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but Yury Bereza didn’t give up on his dreams of drinking beer on the ruins of the Kremlin.

Yury Bereza was born in Saksagan village of Piatihatsky district in Dnepropetrovsk region to a driver-father and a mother who worked three jobs, including as a shepherd. From 3rd grade he worked on a farm, making 180 roubles for working seven days a week. From his savings his parents bought him a motorcycle in 9th grade, which became one of his best childhood memories. Until 9 years old Yury’s survival was at stake due to chronic asthma, but he claims he treated it playing soccer. In his words, he was an avid reader, had great memory, which allowed him not to worry about homework, loved math but had issues with authority at school. Once he refused to memorize Mayakovsky, a popular soviet poet, and felt he , but that didn’t sit well with some teachers. Bereza claims that his teacher failed him in one subject because of his rebellious spirit, and because she was intimidated by him. As a result he wasn’t allowed to take exams to graduate. He refused to take all the exams, and caused a scandal at the school. The conflict was resolved at the top level and he was allowed to take the exams and received ‘3’s’ (or ‘C’s’).

Yury Bereza , in his own words:

“I always tried to be  a leader. And ). My military specialty – radio technical communications equipment engineer.

In school we had people who went through Afghanistan. The first year we were frightened. They didn’t treat us as officers who will sit in the cockpits, smoke a cigarette and fire rockets. They taught us  , if we are taken to Afghanistan. That is, in conditions of war. It really inspired me, now I pass it to my soldiers.”

“In college I got married. My wife isn’t just my love, but a friend. Before she was offended by that, but now she understands what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. We had two children. And then I was assigned with the family to Kamchatka. This was the beginning of the 90’s, difficult times. . Any village in Ukraine, even now, is much better than Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. My wife lost her teeth there because of lack of nutrition and vitamins.

And when Ukraine declared independence, I wrote 27 reports. Me and my wife wanted to go back to help develop the Ukrainian army. Stayed there for 3 years and came back to Ukraine. But in Kiev, at the Ministry of Defense, [hmmm... why not?]

I found a position in railroad troops. This is a totally different profile. There I became a platoon leader first, and then a company commander for almost 6 years. I worked hard with them, and I had a very capable company. Then I started getting troops from all over the country

In 1997 I became a major. And in 2000, when they began  , knocked out his three teeth, wrote a resignation letter and resigned in 2003 on my own will.

 My wife was pregnant with the third child, …”

“First experience in business – to revive a loosing enterprise “Quarry”. I fixed it in 7 months. It was completely in debt. The owners then ganged up against me, and I left. They still owe me 70 thousand UAH for the beginning of 2004. I let it go. Who goes on, must let go …

And then came the elections of Yushchenko. . In downtown, Maidan stood for 70 days. Built a tent city, I became the commandant. And it didn’t just survive. What is happening in Dnepropetrovsk now, this is also due to Maidan of 2004. Now the basis of the regiment and headquarters of National Security and even the administration – is those people who made Maidan of 2004.”

 For some time Yury Bereza was the head of Dnepropetrovsk Regional Organization of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists.

“We then decided that they had won, and  any more…

After this Maidan I said, I’m not afraid of anything. Although there were three assassination attempts against me. I never played with negotiations, if I said something, I did it.

In 2006 the mayor of Dnepropetrovsk Kulichenko , and this sphere was simply cut. Kulichenko joined the Party of Regions, and I already had a certain authority and said “Sorry”. Before layoffs just wrote a resignation.

After that one of my friends  security of navigation on the company “UkrPolBat”. The area from Kremenchug to the Black sea. There I worked for 2 years.”

“When a new Maidan started, my wife grabbed me by the collar and said, “Swear by the health of our grandson that you’re not going anywhere! But you, bastard will go anyway, but at least don’t show your face anywhere!”

Since 1994 we have a family business – farming. The whole family is engaged.  near Dnepropetrovsk Regional Administration building.


On April 29, 2014 Yury Bereza spoke about his meeting with the U.S. Congress representatives, which was held in April:

“Last week Dnepropetrovsk was visited by a large delegation from U.S. Congress. US congressmen came from Kiev. They were very interested in the situation in Dnepropetrovsk region. They met with community organizations, representatives of regional administration and visited our headquarters. They were interested in our experience of cooperation between the public and the authorities. We, in turn, spoke to them about , because U.S. is one of the best manufacturers in the world of military equipment. We turned to them for help and they showed a desire to help. They were also interested in the fact that our regiment is the prototype of the future army reservists. We keep in contact with them. The lawmakers promised to follow what is happening in Dnepropetrovsk region” – said Yury Bereza. “A lot of agreements were reached, regarding work exchange, exchange of information. We are a month ahead of Kiev government in making decisions. We are also in daily contact with OSCE”

[That’s when they occupied the Dnepropetrovsk administration building by force!]

“Actually, volunteer battalions was the idea of Bereza [Borislav?], Kolomoisky, Avakov, Korban, Filatov. This is the moment in history when it was possible to implement this decision. Because usually there are a lot of decisions, but no realization.

I believe that these people, except for Bereza, they saved Ukraine. Because the situation in . Because this ‘young talent’ Vilkul done such things … everything was ready for war: troops of titushki [anti-maidan activists], corrupt police, Berkut, SBU [from previous administration].”

On the question of why the commander of the battalion “Dnepr-1” wants to punish Vilkul and Co publicly, Bereza said: “To ensure that each of them is afraid, the ones who lied to the people, in the first place. And I’m ready to go one on one with any of them, no matter – Vilkul, Shpenov, Stupak, Bezbach and down the list… I’m ready to face any of them in the ring or outside the ring and to prove that I’m right,” – said Bereza.

“Everyone was trying to convince me to become a battalion commander: Denisenko [Andrey Denisenko – head of the Right Sector in Dnepropetrovsk region], Kolomoisky, Filatov, Korban. They said not to ruin the idea, we need a reputable person. The battalion is a police agency. And since after Maidan police had no trust, it had to be restored. I suggested other candidates, I said I’d help, but I of battalion Dnepr-1.

The name was created by myself because I’m a fan of the Dniepr. I am against Dnepropetrovsk, but for the Dnieper. Because Petrovsky for me is nobody, but Dnieper – is everything. And in general Dnieper is .”

Since April 2014 Bereza headed the battalion Dnepr-1, which, according to him, officially has four thousand men and unofficially – three thousand. In the nearest plans of Bereza is a visit to Moscow: “I’m waiting for the moment, when Russia invades our territory. Then I will have a great pleasure of meeting the New Year on the ruins of the Kremlin. And help the Russian people get rid of the tyrant. This is my dream,” – he told to reporters of LigaBusinessInform

On April 18, 2014 Yury Bereza said: “Special battalion Dnepr-1 was created to protect the residents of Dnepropetrovsk region, and not to attack the people in the neighboring regions, even though they were separatists.” 

“Speaking of Ukrainian heroes, for me it is  . He is a military icon. Battalion Dnepr is built on the principle of UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army]. This is why it is so good at war. The most important thing is – patriotism and health. And the rest I will teach.

We have very serious theoretical (ideological?) and practical training. Practical – 14 days in non-stop regime. We have instructors, Ukrainians, who had experience in practically all armies of the world – US, Georgia, Israel. Everywhere where there were conflicts, and our Ukrainians took part, they came back and are working in Dnepr-1. Battalion Dnepr-1 is not police or army, its the best that Ukrainian people have come up with, and it is exactly what Ukraine needs – they are defenders rooted in the Cossack spirit. Dnepr-1 is organized based on the principles of Swiss regular army.

If the commander is good – there will be no conflicts. The commander is everything: the lawyer, father, mother, grandfather, a woman, and even mother Teresa.

. The commander is responsible for vaccinating against two diseases, the two extremes: cowardice and fearlessness. These are the two most important things on the front. When these two things are in balance – you are invincible.

In our battalion there are still five volunteers per position. When rookies come,

We do not take prisoners, and we are not taken prisoner. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We have separate groups that talk to those who are on the other side of the front. There is still a certain amount of my people, the fate of whom I don’t know. But for me, its a principle – not to talk to terrorists. We don’t free the buildings, we destroy them with the terrorists.”

“This information is from a man who himself served in Dnepr battalion, now transferred to military in Dnepropetrovsk. “Knowledge and skills are not required” – those are fairy tales. In fact, this is a personal army of Kolomoisky, and his people do not take just anybody. Supplies, uniforms, meals and wages there are much better than others, outside of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence.

Dnepr-1 is referred to as ‘national military’. Its purpose is not to fight on the front lines (so no need for military skills). Dnepr-1 is a special patrol service of the Ministry of Interior on the basis of the civil units. The purpose of Dnepr-1 is to sweep the territory liberated by the Ukrainian army from undesirable elements. This is why ideological training is paramount. It is noteworthy that in Dnepropetrovsk . 

And those who remember history, can see that there is nothing invented in this regiment (even the color of clothing – black). This organizational model was adopted by the Germans during the Second World War. They were called Einsatzgruppen – moving formation of security police, which was part of security battalions, which were recruited from local residents.”

“The exit from Ilovaisk was a tragedy. You won’t believe what was happening there!!!

I jumped out of the car three times and beat the drivers who jumped out of the APC’s in panic. They are armored and …”

We did not have information that we were fighting . We learned about it on the 26th, and realized the severity of our predicament, when burned 300 Russians. The Ministry of Defence did not work, sector “D” escaped. If they did not escape, there would be no encirclement. We got in a triple ring of a regular Russian army.

There is one moment, and the answer I will probably look for my whole life. I stopped units from running near Kuteinikovy, but for them to dig in, . I couldn’t. Had no right. And they ran.

And don’t let them tell you that commanders are at fault (?). There are three culprits: head of sector “D” General Lytvyn, head of the General Staff and Defense Minister. Because when I talked to the President, I realized that they didn’t even report to him. And the parade while we were there in the cauldron was a great disgrace. The primary reason is not Ilovaisk. Remember, when Muzhenko and Geletey raced to hang Ukrainian flags?

If you capture – don’t give up carelessly. Can’t capture – don’t, if captured – keep until the end. People died there – this is the worst thing. And when we left this place, we were crying – it’s terrible.

There were two reasons, why we had to break out: we have almost run out of ammunition. It would  literally last for a day or for a breakout. Or we would be killed and there would be a mass grave…
I and Khomchack negotiated. We had 23 Russian POW’s. We had to bring them to Starobeshevo. But they were killed first by their own.

After the breakout I realized two things: God exists, and he probably loves me!

Above me a mine blew up twice, all the equipment and  goggles were damaged. Two fragments of shrapnel in the back. When I was with Semenchenko –

I have lost many good men, scouts, and it happened after the ceasefire. They fought with me since the end of March. They just lost the feeling of fear. I felt that they would need to rotate, be removed, but they refused. The responsibility for their deaths lays on me, because I didn’t have time to do it.

In this war for me the most terrible were two things:

August 24, Independence Day, I sat from 11 am to 12 midnight in the trenches, and never for a minute did the shooting stop, even for a minute!! There was nothing I could do about it. I knew that having such a massive artillery barrage that lasted 10 hours, I am unable to influence anything. It was a terrible time when I felt helpless. And the second is when I got to our natzguardians and , and they said no. [The commander doesn’t know where his battalion is? Did the battalion left the commander or vice versa?]

, and I am responsible for them. I wanted to shoot myself. I thought I was going to loose it. But it turned out that my battalion had the lowest losses.”

Surrounded at Ilovaisk, commander of the punitive battalion “Dnepr-1” Yuri Bereza betrayed his subordinates. A video surfaced of the commander fleeing the cauldron in an armored car. Soldiers were left in the cauldron without supply of food and ammunition. Earlier, Ukrainian government announced that an offer to use humanitarian corridors to exit the cauldron was refused.  

The Deputy of the Kiev City Council from the Radical Party of Lyashko, Ihor Mosiychuk accused the leaders of Dnepropetrovsk region, the Interior Minister and commanders of  volunteer battalions in the deaths of Ukrainian troops near Ilovaisk:


Based on eyewitness testimony, screenshots of intelligence reports, 5 hours of documentary footage of Rostislav Shaposhnikov, who recorded orders and negotiations of General Khomchack and Dnepr-1 battalion commander Yuri Bereza, I blame for of the best sons of Ukraine in Ilovaisk cauldron, in addition to the ex-Minister of Defense Geletey and the Chief of  General staff Muzhenko, the following persons:

– General Khomchak, who commanded the troops in Ilovaisk cauldron, gave the order to break out by the completion of negotiations with the aggressor and fled the battlefield

– Igor Kolomoisky, the oligarch, who is directly guilty of the idea of offensive on Ilovaysk, knowing that there is a fortified area

– Gennady Korban, Deputy Chairman of Dnepropetrovsk Regional State Administration, who on August 5 in his office ordered commanders of Dnepr-1, Donbass, Shakhtersk and Azov to attack Ilovaisk, while ignoring intelligence

– Arsen Avakov, who gave the volunteer battalions to the subordination of the oligarch Kolomoisky and his henchmen Korban and Filatov

– Semen Semenchenko, commander of Donbass, who, possessing intelligence data, led his men to death

– to their fighters, and escaped from the battlefield

I’m convinced that the new Ukrainian Parliament will be able to find the real reason of Ilovaisk tragedy and the guilty will be punished.”

“I am not the enemy of Russians, I am the enemy of the ‘Soviets’. I’m against the idea that everyone is equal. If one person works more, and the second less – they can’t be equal. . 70% of residents never been anywhere. And the ultimate dream for them is the Shakhter stadium. That’s it. And that’s scary! I want their children to be able to see at least Ukraine: Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Lvov, Chernovtsi, Ivano-Frankovsk… Chernigov, Odessa, at least. This war – is a war of ideology for me.

I have two cousins, they live in Nizhnevartovsk for a while (Russia). One – total vata [‘cotton’ – a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russian patriots], and the second more or less. We were close enough in childhood. Their sons – my two godsons. They are of military age. Recently one of the sisters got in touch. I asked, if she sent her kids to war. She said that she paid for them not to go. I took a deep breath. .

. But now I just pity them. I am bombarded with questions: “How can you feel sorry for them?” I think that only the strong may pity the enemy. I feel sorry for their mothers. If I died, I defended my land, and for what do they fight?”

“In this war we will win, I have no doubts about that. Most of all now I’m concerned about the rehabilitation of my brothers. What will happen then? Families of those killed is my family. I can’t get away from that.

A new stage – is that I am almost a deputy [speaking before October 15 – why such confidence?]. It’s a shock for me, . So I reserve a right to resign. (!) [It’s like an invisible hand is leading him through life, appointing him to top positions at various enterprises, and now – the parliament. Hmmm…whose hand could it be?]

I warned that all who have adopted the laws of January 16, and will get into parliament – I will [email protected] up. Honestly. And they will fly through the window. All who are against Ukraine – will fly through the window. There will be no parliamentary diplomacy. I don’t need anyone to agree. There will be no agreements with the $%#-holes. They financed and incited the murder of our brothers.”

In his interview to Ukrainian TV channel ‘Espresso-TV’, Bereza expressed intricate threats to members of Parliament:

“To everyone who voted for the laws of January 16, I promise: from every one of you I will make a Kutuzov [Kutuzov had one eye]. I offer you to give up the mandate and go to the front for 30 days to prove that you are worthy defenders of the Fatherland, in which you want to be a deputy, a people’s representative. And after I am ready to talk and become colleagues. Until they pay with their blood for what they have done on January 16, I will do everything so that these people won’t take the oath” – said Bereza.

On January 16, 2014, Ukrainian parliament voted for a package of draft laws to maintain order in the country. After clashes with police on Grushevskogo street in Kiev, most of these laws were abolished. But after the coup d’etat on February 20-23, 2014 these laws were adopted by the new government, though in a more rigid version.

. This I say as a politician. I have prepared 5 laws: the creation of a National Army, National Police, Reserve Army. The law on members of liberation movements of Ukraine and rehabilitation of fighters.

A very important point – the creation of a national army on the principle of volunteer units.

There’s nothing to reform, we need to f$cken banish everyone. We need one general – the Chief of General staff. Other generals we don’t need.

The service of a home front is a volunteer movement. The best representatives of volunteers come and go to work, and we do not need to invent anything.”

After the election Bereza announced his primary task is a creation of a National Army, virtually from scratch, combining separate units and commanders into a single system. In addition, the head of the Dnepr-1 wants to create a reserve army based on the experience of the armies in Israel or Switzerland. “Every Ukrainian should know that in his house there should be a place for uniforms and weapons,” – said Bereza.

“On the front there is no difference between a politician and an ordinary man. There the blood is the same color and all die the same way. I would like to see a President of my country be an ordinary man, but with a large range of responsibility. Everybody says, we will not be able to change anything, because you need three generations to pass. And I say that we can, just have to want! Go to any military factory and see how it works. Yuzhmash is now developing such projects, which can bring the war to a halt!

We have a war, but we are impotent. We are like Lyashko… We are Lyashko. We are like sado-mazo, f%ck! We will send people to die, but will not give them weapons! But we have everything!! . That’s it!

And if this Parliament doesn’t vote for these laws – it will be no more. We will destroy it. Destroy from inside. I warn all of them, this “give me in a paw” will not pass anymore.

With such views, I understand another point: if I had not returned from Ilovaysk – more would be rejoicing at the Pechersk hills.

. I dream to come to Donetsk region near the border with Russia, and order in the Ukrainian language a Ukrainian borscht, lard, and just to say that I am a Ukrainian. And so that there would be no shooting. I am not pretentious, I really want peace on earth.

I know how to fight, I’m not afraid of war, but I don’t want to fight on my land. I have a dream –

But the Russians need to make their ideological choice. Because Putin is nothing. Society – that’s what it is all about. I would like to restore Ukraine within the boundaries of 1917, but I wouldn’t want to be the occupier.

The main dream – to forget about all of it, , and then people like me will be no longer needed.

I’m proud I never took bribes. The biggest bribe that I was offered was a million dollars. I did not take it. I’ve been driving since 1988, and never paid the policeman. I fought 2 times and I was arrested. Even spetznaz stormed the car, but I never paid. I challenged the punishment in court.

In 2002 my two friends were killed [mafia connections?], and I started to search not only myself, I sought in myself, who I am and what I am. After their murder I even thought of  . I know one of the murderers, and he is still not punished.

God exists, he is one. Everyone calls him differently, Allah, or Jesus…

God for me is a friend. If before that word had one shade, now there are many shades. And there is no need for middle men. The best way to God, is through yourself.

My grandmother once said these words: …

When those kids were killed on Maidan, I unfortunately was not near, but when I saw the horrific images I sobbed. I can cry a minute or two and unable to stop. Perhaps it’s some kind of internal defense. But these tears come because I couldn’t help them.

Now I cry when I lose my kids. When you try to save him, and try wrap the bandage, and his veins are cut, and he is bleeding, then I don’t cry…

Then you remember and think: may be I didn’t do enough. And then you realize that this is war.”

Fighters from battalion Dnepr-1 announced that they do not believe in the ability of Kiev authorities to improve the situation in Ukraine, reports Agence France-Presse. Member of the battalion Vitaly Feschenko , if current politicians do not fulfill their hopes. His commander Yury Bereza said he gives the authorities six months to carry out some changes in the country.

“We’ll go right to Kiev with guns. There will be a coup” – said a fighter, according to AFP.
The Agency points out that the headquarters of the battalion is located in the administration building of Dnepropetrovsk region, which is headed by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who is the sponsor of this military unit. AFP notes that “Dnepr-1 protects the billionaire and executes his orders.

Also, it is reported that the soldiers of the battalion hate the command of the ATO, which was responsible for the deaths of a thousand [two thousand] Ukrainian troops near Ilovaisk. Patience of Dnepr-1 may end if Kiev fails to fulfil the promised reforms. In case of failure of the current government – the fighting moves from the East to the capital of Ukraine, warns AFP.

The theory of the involvement of the Governor of Dnepropetrovsk region, oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, in the downing of a Boeing MH-17 in Eastern Ukraine, announced by Vice-Speaker of the Russian State Duma Sergey Neverov, got an unexpected turn.

One of the companions of the oligarch Kolomoisky and, concurrently, the head of the penal battalion Dnepr-1 . Interesting coincidence, considering the fact that his boss Kolomoisky, who owns half of Ukraine’s aviation industry, was able to give orders to the traffic controllers about the change of course of Malaysian Boeing.

In August, hackers published Facebook correspondence of Yuri Bereza with assistant Governor of  Dnepropetrovsk Region Svyatoslav Oliynyk, where they discussed that the airliner was shot down by a Ukrainian air force air-to-air missile. Judging by their conversation, the Boeing was unsuccessfully targeted from the ground, but after a failed attempt had to be finished off from air:

Okay, doesn’t matter. What? And how?
Yuri Birch
17.07.2014 21:23

land – direct – air
Svyatoslav Oliynyk
17.07.2014 21:24

And why the f%ck from air???
Yuri Birch
17.07.2014 21:26

Was told that could not remain there for long, too high. Made one direct. Didn’t go through. Then  had to do from air.
Svyatoslav Oliynyk
17.07.2014 21:27

Why was Kharkov raised first?
Yuri Birch
17.07.2014 21:30

They said that the first order came from Kiev to Kharkov control, and when it started to turn, then the others got involved.
Svyatoslav Oliynyk
17.07.2014 21:32

The motive for the downing is consistent with the plans of the new Ukrainian leaders, who announced on numerous occasions about their strategy to split two rebellious republics in the middle, where the Boeing fell. An opportunity to blame Novorossia militia, and a change of the situation on the ground could be part of the motive.

Translated and compiled by Kristina Rus

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