On a recent sunny afternoon in Donetsk, Vadim Kerch was holding court in a dark office in the former headquarters of Ukraine’s security service, which has been occupied since last month by a group of rebels who call themselves the Russian Orthodox Army. Kerch is one of their two commanders.
A local resident was appealing to Kerch for help. At the end of May, the man said, armed men claiming to be part of the pro-Russian uprising seized his car in the neighboring city of Makeyevka and then called him asking how much he was willing to pay for its return.
Between answering calls on his cell phone, Kerch told the supplicant to get to the point. One of the half-dozen Kalashnikov-toting rebels grouped in a loose circle around the desk spoke up, noting that at least 46 vehicles had been carjacked in Makeyevka. Finally, Kerch promised to go with the newly appointed “people’s prosecutor” later that day to get the car back.
“Today is full of bullshit rather than war,” he joked.