It is war that is the greatest injustice. We are not fighting the ones responsible. Those who finance, who stir it up, who through the media set one people against another—it is them whom we must fight.
— Aleksey Borisovich Mozgovoy
I first learned of the existence of this man in April 2014, when he began appearing on the TV screens as one of the leaders of the uprising in Lugansk. Very quickly two centres of power emerged in Lugansk—the groups of Bolotov and Mozgovoy, who had systemic disagreements. Starting approximately in April, having completed our humanitarian programme for Sevastopol, and having received a letter of thanks from Aleksey Chaly, we started reorienting our work toward the Donbass. Very quickly it became apparent that we would have to choose who to work with—Bolotov or Mozgovoy. We chose Mozgovoy and never regretted it. We were able to establish contact and to begin work, which, however, did not last very long because Mozgovoy soon left Lugansk and went to the west. After that, in Lugansk we worked with Batman, Leshiy and a number of other commanders.
In the summer our collaboration resumed, and we transported humanitarian cargo to the cities under Mozgovoy’s jurisdiction. He even visited our warehouses, although for a long time our paths did not cross. I first met him face-to-face in Yalta at a well-known conference, where I was able finally to say hello to a person who in a few short months had become a legend. I became closer acquainted with him in September 2014—the same day that I spoke with Strelkov, when we discussed various projects of humanitarian movements in the Donbass (which later became the foundation of the Novorossiya Movement), I was able to speak to the Commander of the Prizrak Brigade.
What struck me about Mozgovoy is that he was no hypocrite—he was the same in real life as he was in his public appearances. There is always the possibility that yet another “popular leader” is insincere, wears the mask of an advocate for truth, while secretly desiring glory and riches. As a known skeptic, I expected there to be a certain divergence between his media image and the man in real life. Mozgovoy was nothing like that; he was driven by ideas. He chose to fight for his ideals, even though he could have elected to fit into the system he disliked so much and, like the rest, to forget about justice, equality and other lofty goals. In this regard, in his death and in his life, Mozgovoy demonstrated his honesty and his readiness to die for what he believed in.
I still remember his words, that “I went to war without leaving a shred of me behind, I cannot deal with the family, while there is war, my brigade is my family.” He truly, to a large degree sacrificed his personal comfort for a common cause, even though, like others, he could have, in “that ignominious war,” considerably enriched himself, for instance trading in coal. He had a different path, and he walked it from the beginning to the end.
Mozgovoy lived very modestly and he mercilessly pursued the local criminal underworld. Unlike Plotnitskiy and Kozytsyn, who became mired in coal-trading scandals, Mozgovoy had no part in corrupt schemes. He was constantly trying to foster grassroots activism, and, having no ability to spread his ideas across the Republic, he tried to do what he could, to change at least something in the world around him.
That is exactly how his image as the local “Che Guevara” was formed—he spoke for the people and tried to be closer to the common folk in word and in deed. That is why it was so difficult for him to fit into the constantly shifting political landscape of the LPR. That is what he was periodically persecuted for, as the LPR never managed to produce a Fidel to stand by him.
His struggle against the oligarchy, a motif which he hoisted like a banner, drew to him not only a lot of volunteers with left-leaning and communist beliefs, but also brought him a lot of sympathy from people for whom justice and equality are not empty sounds. That is why in his brigade, in addition to local volunteers, there were many so internationalists from Russia and from abroad. What is surprising is that, at the same time, under his command there were units of nationalists. All these people were drawn by the character of Mozgovoy, who was an advocate of truth, which each one of them understood in his own way, but which united all of them for the common good. This was not just a slogan—Mozgovoy set himself apart in such a way that people who joined him truly saw him as a beacon that illuminated the uncertain future of Novorossiya. The reactions to his death are a crystal-clear demonstration that the tragic death of the Brigadier, who had lost much of his military and political means, saddened masses of people of various views and beliefs—as if someone close to them had perished.
It goes without saying that such an inconvenient man was ridiculed in every which way—Mozgovoy was the target of mudslinging from various émigré Ukrainians, he was constantly subjected to attacks by the media of the Ukrainian Junta, humanitarian deliveries and supplies of ammunition addressed to him were being blocked, he had been forbidden to hold parades and international fora. There was even an attempt to make a scapegoat of him for the failures of the command during the Debaltsevo operation. In the end, Mozgovoy became, in his own way, a black sheep, because his views diverged quite drastically from the new reality around him.
He could have taken the same way out as Dremov, accepted the banner from and complete subordination to Plotnitskiy, but he could not betray his ideals. Some consider his stance to be quixotic, others—stubborn, still others—foolish. In my opinion, it is people like him, driven by an idea that inspires the masses, who advance history. It was none other than Mozgovoy who was among the revolutionary leaders who lit the fire of Novorossiya with the impulse of their struggle, who tore the Donbass from Ukraine, and until the last breath did not allow this fire to be extinguished. Without people like this there would have been nothing—only recently, all these People’s Republics and Novorossiya were nothing but media phantoms. With their life and their death, these people filled these ideas with real content, which cannot simply be shut down, like Tsarev’s bureau. It is because in those days people followed the leaders who carried inside them the flame of a new idea, which became a real alternative to the odious “Ukrainization.”
Of course he made mistakes, such as when he could not push through the idea of unifying the commander of Novorossiya or when he began to maneuver in relation to the murder of Bednov, when his traditional straightforwardness was instead required. People are not perfect, and Mozgovoy was no exception. But his errors and misconceptions do not outweigh that which he accomplished and what he fought for, sparking the hearts of people with hope in the possibility of change and belief that an equitable and just society is not merely a figure of speech or a propagandistic stamp. After all, it was this faith, which Mozgovoy embodied, that changed the lives of so many people, who left behind their regular lives and came to fight in distant Donbass to defend the ideas which he taught.
Here is the man who, like a comet, flew right in front of us and burned up in the thickness of the atmosphere. But in the course of this brief and impetuous path, he accomplished enough to secure a place in history. Apart from the purely historical role as one of the leaders of the Novorossiyan revolution, Mozgovoy will for many years remain as a symbol of the struggle for a just and equitable society and the public good.
Cynics will say: “So what? After all, he was murdered and was unable to implement his ideas.” In my opinion, it is enough that he sincerely tried to do it and sacrificed his life in the process. In his brief, but rich and eventful life there was more meaning than in the lives of those who spend their years wasting away in consumerist intoxication, lying on the couch and watching yet another far-away or, finally, proximate war on the television.
His life and, in particular, his death, will undoubtedly contribute to his further glorification and mythologization. After all, if even the late Alexander Bednov is, despite definite concerns, ranked by public opinion among the most iconic heroes of Novorossiya, then Mozgovoy is simply doomed to posthumous perpetuation as a symbol and a myth.
In recent history, Mozgovoy’s closest analogue is Thomas Sankara, whose aphorism was adopted as the title of this note. They had similar aspirations and suffered a similar fate. When Sankara was murdered, the perpetrators expected that he, like many other African fighters for justice, would disappear from the horizon of history as a ridiculous ripple that shook the world of exploitation and profit. But time has demonstrated that such people depart to immortality, becoming moral and ethical compasses for future generations. They represent the will of humanity to justice and equality and inspire more and more new fighters for justice to take the place of those who fell in their struggle for it.
Rest in peace, Aleksey Borisovich. I did not know you well as a person, but to the end of my days I will take pride in having been acquainted with you.
My sincere condolences to all those to whom Aleksey Mozgovoy was dear.