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The official Kremlin narrative on the war in eastern Ukraine is clear and simple: after seizing power in February, a Western-backed “junta” in Kiev sent neo-Nazi gangs — then tanks and warplanes — to stamp out peaceful protests by the Russian-speaking community. The locals who took up arms are freedom fighters, and the only help they get from Russia is humanitarian aid. For the past six months, Russian state television has carpet-bombed its viewers with this message, day in and day out.

Now one of the leaders of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine has turned the Kremlin storyline on its head. Igor Girkin, a retired Russian special ops officer also known as Igor Strelkov or simply “Strelok” (Shooter), was the military commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic before getting abruptly recalled to Russia. In an interview published last week in the Russian ultranationalist weekly Zavtra (Tomorrow), Girkin details how he helped instigate the insurrection and active-duty Russian soldiers later intervened to save the rebels from the jaws of defeat.

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