In Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, a small group of Spaniards waved the flag of Novorossiya, the territory once ruled by the Russian empire that encompasses swathes of modern day Ukraine. With the Russian revolutionary symbol of the hammer and sickle fluttering behind them, they denounced the arrest of eight Spanish nationals for fighting with the pro-Russia militia force the International Brigades of Donbass — the first police operation on European soil against foreign civilians who have joined the separatists in the country’s conflict-ravaged east.
The men, aged between 20 and 30 and hailing from six different Spanish provinces, were arrested in the first phase of the ongoing Operation Danko, a series of swoops beginning early on Friday morning. The self-styled “anti-fascists” have since been released on bail, but charged with jeopardizing the neutrality of Spain abroad, with alleged crimes of cooperation or complicity in murders, and, in some cases, of possessing weapons and explosives.
Sergio Becerra, 30, told VICE News that he was sleeping at home that morning, about two months after his return from Ukraine, when the doorbell rang. “The next thing I remember is a group of hooded policemen who entered the house without giving any explanations whatsoever. They just asked my name and whether I had been in Ukraine.” Sergio responded that he had, since he believed he had “nothing to hide.”
The policemen searched every single piece of furniture, but found no weapons in his house, he said, adding “that’s impossible, I don’t own any.” They did however find uniforms and military badges the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya, the Russia-backed rebel alliance comprised of the Donbass and Luhansk People’s Militias. The force aims to bring the region firmly back into Moscow’s orbit; Vladimir Putin has consistently referred to it by the long-buried name of Novorossiya, breathing new life back into the notion of this Greater Russia.