Interview with Pedro Díaz Flores, a Spanish volunteer in the International Legion of the Ukrainian army. On 6 February, Pedro, who had been in Spain since November, learned of his own death and that he had been “denazified” by Russian forces in Bakhmut on 25 January. Different Russian channels and many Kremlin propagandists spread the news that “the Spanish mercenary who sold embalmed fingers of dead Russian soldiers was liquidated in Bakhmut on 25 January.’ The news, like so much Russian propaganda, was a lie.
What did you think when you saw your own obituary and learned of your death?
I heard about it from a friend, Víctor, who was also in Ukraine as a volunteer. “You’ve been killed,” Víctor told me. They even published an obituary announcing my funeral on February 1st. I took it as a joke, I didn’t take it seriously.
They also put a bounty on your head and accused you of selling Russian soldiers’ fingers.
Yes, this all goes back to last December. At Christmas, several people wrote to me asking if I sold “trophies”, fingers, or other limbs of enemy soldiers. They were so annoying that in the end, I replied to one that I was selling fingers on eBay, although I made it clear that I was not serious. They took a screenshot of the message, cut it so that it could not be read as a joke, and spread it around.
However, it is the Wagner Group that commits all kinds of barbarities and makes them public.
Exactly. But they blame everything they say and do on the other side. This is typical in war.
When did you go to Ukraine to enlist?
I started looking for information on 25 February on different Ukrainian Telegram channels and came across the Azov one. So I asked them what documents were necessary for me to enlist in the Ukrainian territorial forces, they told me everything and I went with a friend by bus to the border, and they picked us up there. The truth is that at that time, on 1 March, everything was in chaos.
Why did you decide to go and fight in Ukraine?
I am quite an impulsive person and when I saw what was happening, what was happening to the people there, I decided that I had to intervene. It is also clear to me that my military vocation pushed me to enlist because I knew that my military experience could be very useful. I served four years in the Spanish army, in the BRIPAC (Paratroopers), and in 2018 I was in Iraq. I didn’t think twice and I don’t regret it.
Some volunteers were rejected for lack of military experience.
Many volunteers came, but those without military experience could not join the army, although some did receive military training from the Georgian Legion. We received two weeks of training and a two-day intensive paramedic course. We went through an interview with the battalion commander, signed a six-month contract and then were given our equipment: a waistcoat, an old Ak74, two magazines, and little else. You had to buy all the accessories for the weapons on your own because there was nothing.
In the first few months, Ukraine had rather old-fashioned equipment. When did you notice the change with the arrival of better weapons?
It was between May and June. In the beginning, as I said before, everything was very chaotic. Civilian militias were formed to fight and had to be organized on a regular basis. However, if the Ukrainians had not fought as they did, they would not have been able to stop the Russians. The Ukrainians are amazing. Many went back to their country to fight and I think few people would be willing to leave everything to go and fight.
But the International Legion, which you joined, is considered an elite unit.
Yes, my unit was Charlie One, run by Ukrainian Military Intelligence, and later I was rotated to Bravo Two. There were excellent professionals, mostly Americans and also many Hispanics. I met a Mexican who was also accused of selling human skulls and bones.
I was first in Kyiv, where my unit stayed for a few months, and then in the south, where I was wounded. I received two bullets, one in the left thigh and the other in the shoulder. The bullet in the thigh stayed inside and had to be removed in a field hospital.
Did you ever consider that you had made a bad decision?
No, I never thought about it. The truth is that I felt very safe with my battalion. There were very experienced soldiers, much more experienced than me, and I never considered going back or that I was going to die there.
Did you have contact with Russian prisoners?
Yes, we captured a lot of Russians, but the ones who talked to them were our Ukrainian interpreters. Some of them were very young, 17 and 18 years old, and others looked like vagabonds, very poorly equipped and wearing Soviet helmets. Their weaponry is obsolete and has no match for Western weaponry. That is making a difference in the war.
And with the civilian population?
Yes, we were also escorting ambulances and trucks going to food and clothing distribution centers. I met many families with whom I still have contact. Without knowing you at all, they offered you water, food, or their house to sleep in. They give you everything. The Ukrainians are fabulous and are an example of unity, something which is lacking in Spain.
Have you seen evidence of Russian war crimes, such as the mass graves discovered in Irpin?
I didn’t need to see mass graves because I saw murdered civilians in ditches on the road, riddled with bullets in their cars, or hanged. There was also a lot of rape. Our platoon caught a few rapists and handed them over to the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine). We found videos of the rapes on their mobile phones, forcing husbands and children to watch. When I returned to Spain, the police asked me for information on war crimes and I sent them all the photos and videos I had collected.
Apart from the physical wounds, what other after-effects has the war left you with?
I still have nightmares and need sleeping pills. In the beginning, when I arrived in Spain, I had trouble remembering many things and I was obsessed with watching the news about the war, to find out how my comrades were doing. These are powerful memories and sometimes they disconnect you from reality, or you hear a noise that takes you back to the past. I think all volunteers are going through this.
Have you thought about going back?
Yes, I have to sort out some papers here, like my passport, and then I will re-enlist.
Álvaro Peñas es redactor de deliberatio.eu, colaborador de Disidentia, The European Conservative, El American y otros medios europeos. Analista internacional, especializado en Europa del Este, para el canal de televisión 7NN. Autor en SND editores // Writer at deliberatio.eu, contributor at Disidentia, The European Conservative, El American and other European media. International analyst, specialized in Eastern Europe, for the television channel 7NN. Author at SND editores.