As the war in Ukraine has developed, the new government in Kiev has opted to enlist men different than its prototypical warfighter: volunteer units thought to be more prepared for warfare than Ukraine’s regulars. These irregular units have actually spearheaded the Ukrainian war effort and participated in every major clash since the beginning of armed hostilities.
The 2000 man strong unit falls under the command of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs and has been involved in multiple security and counter-insurgency operations in Eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. But – like other volunteer battalions – the unit has earned a sullied reputation from private funding, foreign fighters, and political affiliations.
Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a Ukrainian oligarch, is believed to have spent approximately $10 million toward developing Dnipro into a seasoned fighting force. The drawback, however, is that Kolomoyskyi’s support has brought both necessary funding and unwanted criticism. And while his resume boasts typical oligarchic endeavors, like holding three passports (Ukrainian, Israeli, and Cypriot), ownership over PrivatBank, and head of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast; he also is accused of committing war crimes by Russia.
Nonetheless, his efforts are widely credited with turning Dnipropetrovsk into a pro-Ukrainian stronghold in the country’s east, a mere 150 miles from the conflict’s frontline. Ukrainian flags are proudly displayed throughout the Russian-speaking city, which has even been dubbed a “Lviv of the East” by some commentators. Patriotism and national sentiment are strong in Dnipropetrovsk, making it a natural base for Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation.”
In contrast to their comrades in the Donbas, Aidar, Sich, and Azov battalions, Dnipro has served, primarily, in a security and border control capacity. The unit has shown ingenuity in performing these tasks, even using custom-made UAVs reportedly prepared by battalion supporters. More controversial deeds include preventing humanitarian aid from entering the conflict zone. Reportedly, the battalion inspects humanitarian relief trucks out of suspicion that they are smuggling arms to DNR/LNR separatists (whom they fought in the Battle of Donetsk Airport), but this cannot be confirmed.
Also, from the unit’s inception, claims have persisted that the battalion has received training from foreign military personnel. Romanian and Georgian advisors are most regularly reported as aiding the Dnipro battalion, but speculations about American private military contractors have also been circulated.
Naturally, the international community is wary of foreign involvement in Ukraine for fear that a broader conflict might emerge.
In terms of political lobbying, members of the Dnipro battalion have not shied away from entering the Ukrainian national sphere. Battalion commander Yuriy Bereza was elected to the Rada in 2014 along with fellow battalion member Volodymyr Parasyuk. Bereza has proven to be a hawkish and outspoken Rada member, even promising to "burn down Crimea, with all of its residents if needed."
But in terms of political allegiances, Dnipro members tend to lean away from the Poroshenko government. Members are believed to have participated in a memorial march to the WWII-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army with members of the Right Sector and Azov Battalion and are also believed to have participated in riots alongside Aidar Battalion members.
Overall, the Dnipro Battalion has emerged as one of the most high profile volunteer battalions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It is highly likely that such volunteers will continue to play a central role in the Ukrainian effort even as tensions between nationalists and the Kievan government remain largely at play.
Also, discussions over arming Ukraine have now grown to include potential training of national guard battalions, like Dnipro, and have placed Ukraine’s volunteer battalions under closer scrutiny. In closed-door discussions in Washington D.C., Yuriy Bereza said that “I tried to explain that World War III has started and is being fought in east Ukraine and that there is no way the U.S. cannot be involved in the fight,” Dnipro’s Rada member said. “It can delay but it will have to intervene some time or another—later in the Baltics when Moscow is threatening them and maybe Poland.” The American response to such rhetoric has been justifiably hesitant, but an unresolved conflict in Eastern Ukraine increasingly beckons international involvement.