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Ukraine’s Paramilitaries Get Ready for Russia (Again)

Former paramilitaries are still relied on despite improvements in the Ukrainian military, especially near Russia-backed separatist areas. 

The city of Mariupol, just miles from the front lines in Ukraine, on Jan. 14.
The city of Mariupol, just miles from the front lines in Ukraine, on Jan. 14.Photographer: Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg

The “Spider” is not your ordinary Ukrainian soldier. He’s one of the thousands of irregulars who played an important if controversial role when conflict broke out nearly eight years ago and could do so again, if Russia decides to escalate.

A former kickboxer who says he spent 16 years in prison for “robbing factory bosses” in the 1990s, Ruslan Pustovoit served in the regular army as a decorated intelligence officer. He ran operations behind enemy lines.