The fiercest battles in the Donbass are now taking place in the area of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk. Volunteer units known as the “Georgian National Legion” play an important role in holding this frontier by Ukrainian forces. RTVI figured out what it was like, who was in it, and what war crimes its participants were suspected of.
On the capture of Severodonetsk by Russian troops and the forces of the LPR reported three weeks ago, but the whole city is still not occupied. The Ukrainian military managed to gain a foothold in a vast industrial zone. Russian troops, in turn, occupied the residential sector of the city.
An important role in holding the industrial zone was played by Kyiv’s decision to send the Foreign Legion to the front line, most of whose fighters in Severodonetsk are experienced fighters from Mamuka Mamulashvili’s Georgian National Legion. Despite the losses – according to official reports alone, 16 “legionnaires” – Georgians were killed and more than 20 were injured – they continue to shoot promotional videos from the front line, in which they insult Ramzan Kadyrov and threaten to reach the Kremlin.
What is the “Georgian Legion”
The Georgian National Legion is a non-governmental volunteer armed formation fighting on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (APU) as part of the 25th Battalion of the Territorial Defense of the Kyiv Region. Consists mainly of former military or intelligence officers from Georgia, who already had experience in combat operations in the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts, as well as foreigners from all over the world.
If after 2014 foreigners got to Ukraine – to the “Georgian Foreign Legion” or the Azov Regiment – through informal connections, now they do it through official channels. President Volodymyr Zelensky, after the start of the Russian “special operation”, actually seized the initiative to recruit foreigners from the “Georgian Foreign Legion”, which had been doing this for many years, and announced recruitment to the Foreign Legion of Ukraine through the Ukrainian embassies in different countries.
By data the American analytical center Counter Extremism Project – the “Georgian Legion”, which in 2021 consisted of no more than 30 people, before the start of the military conflict, managed to recruit several hundred foreign citizens with military experience into their ranks.
The “Georgian Legion” is engaged in sabotage and reconnaissance activities, as well as training recruits at bases in Lvov, where foreigners from all over the world come from Poland, and Kyiv, where Georgian instructors train youth and TerOborona members. The Legion also has two bases in Rivne.
“70-80% of soldiers from foreign countries pass through the Georgian National Legion, but only one out of ten remains in my battalion. The rest go to the Foreign Legion.” told British television channel Sky News legion commander Mamulashvili.
The next largest after the Georgians and Ukrainians in the “Georgian Legion” are the British, then the Americans. How many of them, Mamulashvili did not say, but specified that in total there are about three thousand fighters from Britain in Ukraine.
One of the most popular (video with him became a meme) fighters of the “Georgian Legion” with the call sign “Viking” explains a large number of Georgians fighting Russia in Ukraine, the only way to respond to the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
“For us Georgians, there is no choice. I cannot fight the Russians in Georgia, it is smaller than the Kyiv region. They can take Tbilisi in three hours. We don’t have such territories, we don’t have military power, and there is no Poland next to us to supply us, help us and all that.”
The conflict in Ukraine has shown that fame comes not only on the battlefield, but also through social networks. If supporters of the Russian army follow the video reports of fighters from Chechnya, then supporters of the Ukrainian army are waiting for the videos of the “Georgian Legion”, in which Ramzan Kadyrov has been ridiculed lately and urged him to come to the front to “talk”.
The “Georgian Legion” currently includes about 1000 people from more than 30 countries of the world. Training fighters and searching for potential members is handled by Matthew Robinson, a former British military man who worked as an instructor for the US army in Iraq from 2007 to 2011.
“Now we have about 25-30 foreign instructors, and the same number are coming back, including British and Americans. The level of instructors is very high – we take at least five years of military experience. They know they’re on an instructor-focused program, but they all want a fight.” told Robinson.
In Georgia fighters for the legion picks up Irakly Okruashvili, former Minister of Defense of this country, who during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili was one of the main initiators of the “defrosting” of the conflict around South Ossetia. In the spring of 2022, Okruashvili was in Ukraine as part of the “Georgian Legion”, participated in the battles near Irpin in the Kyiv region.
The Legion also participated in the battles near Kyiv – in Gostomel and Irpen, and then in Mariupol. Now some of his fighters are holding the Azot plant and the industrial zone in Severodvinsk. One of them received from Vladimir Zelensky for the battles in this city, a medal for special courage shown in battle.
“In February, in Gostomel, we were the first to meet the Russians when helicopters flew off and started bombing the airport. There they met with the Kadyrovites, but did not have time to get to know each other. They die just like everyone else. And the fact that they grow beards – so they will be more authentic with us … ”, – spoke Mamulashvili in an April interview with the Ukrainian edition of NV.
Recently, the legion created a new motorized unit, which is armed with tanks T-72M1 from Poland. On a daily basis, the Georgian “legionnaires” conduct training at the bases for members of TerOborona, who will go to the front line.
“This kind of instructor-methodical training has very logical grounds. Judging by the latest inputs, the Ukrainian army has practically exhausted its officer and enlisted personnel,” wrote one of the members of the legion in his telegram channel.
In addition, under the patronage of the Georgian Legion, the United Caucasian Legion is being created, headed by Lado Gamsakhurdia and Zurab Karchava. His goal is to attract people to Ukraine who support the separation of the North Caucasus from Russia. While the legion is in its infancy. Gamsakhurdia said that training maneuvers were held.
How did the Legion come about?
The “Georgian National Legion” was created in the fall of 2014 with the active participation of the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who became the first deputy prime minister of Ukraine after the Euromaidan. The purpose of creation is the same as that of many others similar structures of that time – the fight against separatism.
The Legion was then a small paramilitary support group for Saakashvili – a little over 20 people, mostly former military, members of the security forces of Georgia and members of the Georgian NGO Free Zone. Soon they were joined by several citizens of the United States, France, Italy and Switzerland.
In 2014, the legion took part in the battles for Lugansk airport and Debaltsev. In both cases, the Ukrainian side was defeated.
Since February 2016, the legion became part of the 25th Kievan Rus motorized infantry battalion and joined the 54th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This is the first time during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, when foreign soldiers were accepted into the army.
The commander of the “Georgian National Legion” was the military adviser to the ex-president of Georgia – Mamuka Mamulashvili. From 2009 to 2012, he was also an adviser to the Minister of Defense of Georgia. Despite the fact that he has been living in Ukraine for many years, he continues to lead the National Federation of Mixed Martial Arts of Georgia.
Mamulashvili was born in Tbilisi in 1978, in an interview he claimed that at the age of 14 he took part in war in Abkhazia and spent three months in captivity with his father, Major General Zurab Mamulashvili. Them taken prisoner at the Sukhumi hydroelectric power station, soldiers of a special forces company under the command of Shamil Basayev, who then fought for the independence of Abkhazia from Georgia.
Spots on reputation
In 2017, the Georgian Legion held positions in the Donetsk region near the city of Svetlodarsk. On December 18, during a massive shelling, 11 Georgian fighters received injuries of varying severity. Then in Kyiv there was a confrontation between President Petro Poroshenko and Mikhail Saakashvili, who, as the leader of the opposition, staged mass demonstrations and demanded the resignation of the head of state. In this regard, the Georgian fighters assumedthat they were fired upon by their own. This version was voiced by one of them in an interview with the Georgian edition of Timer.
After that, the “legionnaires” announced their withdrawal from the 54th brigade. The next day followed UAF statement, which stated that there had never been any “Georgian Legion” in the 54th brigade. The fighters of the legion left their positions and left for Kyiv to their base at the ATEK plant, and some of them returned to Georgia.
In the documentary film by the Italian journalist Gian Mikalessin “Ukraine. The Hidden Truth, it was said that in 2014 Mamulashvili allegedly organized a group of snipers who shot at people on the Maidan, which eventually led to riots and the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. These accusations were made by citizens of Georgia, who were supposedly recruited by the future commander of the “legionnaires”.
Sniper investigation in 2019 got busy The Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus, and a year later, charges of organizing a provocation on the Maidan against Saakashvili and Mamulashvili sounded already from the Georgian general Tristan Tsitelashvili.
“This film is a provocation. It contains unfounded accusations, but there are facts. These people I have never seen before and do not know. I doubt they would make any snipers at all. Judging by their appearance, they are already at such an age that they are unlikely to be able to raise weapons, ”Mamulashvili reacted and suggested that the Russian special services were behind the film.
After the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul, which took place at the end of March, Moscow decided to withdraw its troops from Kyiv, Sumy and Chernigov. On April 4, a video was posted online showing Ukrainian soldiers standing around captured Russian soldiers lying on an asphalt road, their hands tied, one with his throat slit. Ukrainian military, in which identified Saakashvili’s guard Teimuraz Khizanishvili from the “Georgian Legion”, finishes off wounded soldiers with shots.
Edition of The New York Times confirmed authenticity of the video and determined that the Russian military was captured in the village of Dmitrovka near Kyiv. Later, a video was found on YouTube, dedicated to the operation to capture two crews of Russian airborne combat vehicles, under the title – “The Georgian Legion continues to help Ukrainians in the cleansing of the Kyiv region.” It captures the events that preceded the massacre: the captured soldiers are alive, Khizanishvili is visible in the frame. This video has now been removed.
A few days later, Mamulashvili, in an interview with journalist Timur Olevsky commented massacre of Russian military personnel: “We will not take Russian soldiers, as well as Kadyrov’s men, in any case, we will not take a single person prisoner.”
Videos of the killing of prisoners of war and Mamulashvili’s confession of a war crime caused a resonance in both Russian and Western media. After that he declaredthat he is not familiar with Khizanishvili, that he has nothing to do with the Georgian Legion, and Olevsky edited the recording of the video interview.
On April 13, the Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case against Mamulashvili for recruiting mercenaries and calling for the destruction of the Russian military. According to the investigation, he facilitated the arrival in Ukraine and the participation in the hostilities of 24 Georgian citizens. Their names and surnames published on your website.