Givi Interview: “I am still a Bachelor”

Givi has nine lives, like a cat

Part I:  Introduction

Here is video interview with Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) Lieutenant-Colonel Mikhail Tolstykh, call-sign “Givi”, Commander of the so-called “Somali Battalion”.  This exclusive interview was a big “get” for Голос Новороссии (“Voice of Novorossiya”).

In Part II of this piece, which will be posted hopefully later today, after I get home from work, I will attempt to translate fragments of Givi’s interview into English.

For those who don’t know of Givi, this guy is the epitome of the “common man” who “answered the call” and joined the Resistance.  American propaganda used to claim that, e.g., “Syrian Resistance” were just ordinary bakers, cobblers, university professors, etc., who rose up against Bashar al-Assad’s tyrannical rule and became Resistance Fighters.  In most case, this was empty propaganda, since the so-called Resistance Fighters were actually hardened Islamists trained in special camps.

In the case of Givi, however, this romantic narrative is literally true.  In a jaded world, Givi is the real deal.  Givi was just an ordinary working stiff living and surviving in the Donbass region of the troubled post-independence Ukraine; amongst his various jobs, at one time Givi worked in a rope factory; later he worked as a security guard in a grocery store.

In Russian history there are these types, the “self-called” ones.  The Russian word for “self-called” is самозванец, which usually has a negative connotation (=”Imposter”), as in Dmitry the Imposter, or Dmitry the Pretender.  These are little people who pretend to be greater than they are, in order to seize power.

The flip side of this are the Ополчение, the Resistance, the Russian base, little people who feel the call to take up arms against oppressors and/or invaders.  These are people who are not seeking the throne, and expect nothing in return for their sacrifices.  Unlike Dmitry the Pretender, they do not have a beautiful Polish princess waiting for them in a Western capital.  These self-called soldiers are usually not rewarded by the Tsar, and don’t even get the girl at the end of the story.  Examples abound in Russian history, including such figures as Ivan Susanin, the Cossacks who defended Moscow against Napoleon, and …. Givi.

After the Maidan putsch, Givi “answered the call” and became a Resistance Fighter.  He turned out to have qualities which make him a splendid soldier, most noticeably an almost complete lack of physical fear.  Givi first came to public attention on youtube, when a video showed him giving an interview in the middle of a Grad shelling.  Barely blinking an eye, Givi, instead of hitting the ground or dodging the shells, calmly continues the interview and even picks up a hot burning fragment of a shell, to show the interviewer:

Later, the world followed Givi through his other exploits:  His fighting at the ruined Donetsk Airport, his friendship with Motorola (another famous Resistance fighter), his escapes from various attempts on his life.  Givi’s fans were entranced by his Caucasian good looks (check out those eyebrows, they are almost perfect, and I am pretty sure he doesn’t have them “done”), Givi’s chattery patter, and his odd dialect and accent – for example, he cannot pronounce the letter “R”, which is supposed to be a nice rolling one in standard Russian; instead, in Givi’s mouth it turns into a throaty “ghhhaa” kind of of sound.

Givi is much-hated by Ukrainian nationalists, but considered a hero by Russians.  Several times he was declared dead, or wounded, by his enemies, and then popped up again.  One time he dived out of a moving car that was being struck by a hail of machine-gun bullets.  Like a cat, Givi has nine lives.  And all the time he is calm and keeps his sense of humor, only his incessant smoking habit showing how months of brutal warfare can tell on a man’s nervous system.

[to be continued]….

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6 Responses to Givi Interview: “I am still a Bachelor”

  1. Grimgerde says:

    Here I am, wondering about the opolcheniya and voilà, in comes another interesting post by no other than Yalensis, one of my favourite KS commentators (is “commentators” correct?). I know there’s a technical ceasefire in the Donbass region and purportedly these periods are being used to train, supply and reorganize armed forces and civilian institutions and maybe that’s the reason that news of Donetsk and Lugansk have somewhat toned down. Your line about the self-called soldiers not being rewarded by the Tsar had me thinking though, more so when I read the latest news about Givi and the Somali batallion: Ukie media claims that “terrorist Givi has rebelled against Zakharchenko” while Russian media says that Givi and batallion will no longer be subordinate to Zakharchenko but will remain an independent unit (to do what, I would add? and who will they be answering to?).

    Took nearly an hour to write this up, between frequent interruptions and trying to find the right words, my English is a bit rusty. Anyway, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your new blog, you have a rare talent to spin good stories based on real facts and you certainly stand out in the myriad of biased blogs and semi-literate comments. Good luck!


    • yalensis says:

      Dear Grimgerde:
      Thank you for your comment, and your kind words!
      Telling stories (in the good sense of the expression) is exactly what I am trying to do here. There are so many interesting people out there, and everybody has an interesting story!

      Anyhow, as to your questions about the relationship between Givi and Zakharchenko….
      I see those reports in Ukie media from time to time, do you have a recent link, by any chance? It’s possible I might have missed some developments.

      I have no doubt there are frictions within the “opolchenie”, and there may well be friction between Givi and Zakharchenko. Zakharchenko is like the guy who wants into your office one day and announces, “I’m your new boss.” However, it all has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Ukie side of this conflict would love to see the Rebs at each others throats, but a lot of it might just be wishful thinking. In the Givi interview, which I am about to translate for Part II of my piece, Givi has 4 slogans behind him on the wall:

      1.) For Zakharchenko!
      2.) For Kononov!
      3.) For the Tsar!
      4.) For the Fatherland!

      The first 2 slogans pertain to the upcoming local elections, I believe.
      The one about the Tsar, I dunno, maybe that was left over from when Girkin was in charge, Strelkov was a huge monarchist. I don’t know if Givi is a monarchist, I hope not! But anyhow, my point is, that Givi has always shown himself to be a loyal soldier. And he and Motorola have already survived several purges in the ranks.


  2. Grimgerde says:

    This is where I first saw the news: Did a little search and found this other sources:,, and a different version here:

    Mind you, I don’t understand Russian, I rely on translation machines to at least try and get a gist of what’s being said, and I have no way of knowing if those sources are reliable. And I agree, nothing would suit the Ukies better than a dramatic fallout among the DNR more charismatic figures. It’s a well known fact that Givi has openly supported Zakharchenko and Kononov, as reflected on the banner slogans no. 1 and no. 2. About slogan no. 3 I’m getting confused, I vaguely recall that Kononov’s alias was/is “Tsar”, it never came to my mind that it could be associated with Girkin, even more after watching this video: (But then again, what would be the point of putting “For Kononov” and “For Tsar” in the same banner if “Tsar” in this case refers to Kononov’s alias?). I guess I’m getting too much into details that are not that important, better wait and see how things turn out in the end. Sometimes things ain’t what they seem, as the song goes…


    • yalensis says:

      Dear Grimgerde:

      This is extremely interesting, thanks for the links and discussion!
      As for the first link, from Rusvesna: It mostly repeats that part of the interview in which Givi talks about his personal life, or lack thereof. But the final paragraph speaks to your point, that Givi may have been cut loose, and I would translate it thusly into English:

      The “Somali” formation, led by Mikhail Tolstykh (better known as “Givi”) which formerly comprised a component of the armed forces of DPR, is now considered to be an independent unit. From now on, “Somali” will not be engaged in defending objects of the DPR, and, factually speaking, has been cast off into “free floating” state. About the further perspectives of this elite military unit, nothing yet is being communicated.

      I agree that this sounds alarming, like Givi and the others are being cut loose. Perhaps as part of the overall deal. (Thrown under the bus?)

      As to the Tsar thing, I honestly don’t know if “Tsar” is somebody’s nickname (in which case, that is quite a strange slogan to put on one’s banner!), or if this is a reference to the actual Tsar (Nikolai II). I will do some more research, try to find out, as best I can.
      My best guess, is that this banner was designed by a Tsar-fanboy like Girkin, but I don’t know that for a fact.


  3. Grimgerde says:

    Thanks for helping out with the translation. I must confess I’m getting intrigued. With Givi being so popular in the internet, it’s odd that the information of his apparent dismissal was filtered like that. At least he’s not being accused of crimes yet. Let’s see how this unfolds. And thank you for Part II!


    • yalensis says:

      Dear Grimgerde:
      If internet had been invented during WWII, then we would have had many more up-close looks at individual soldiers and their stories. Givi and Motorola are real soldiers, in a real war, but due to their internet pranks, they also became popular celebrities for the pro-Russian side. People followed their jokes and adventures, and the soap-opera of Motorola and Elena, getting married, etc. Poor Givi was left alone, without a girl and rarely sees his best friend any more.

      Sorry, I was tired yesterday from translating that Givi video (he can be VERY difficult to understand, due to his thick accent and patois), and I forgot to even look at that second link you posted, this one , and I see now what they did with the headline. It was the typical “Americans admit they were never on the moon” type of headline. In other words, deliberately misleading, to suck us in, and then they tell us the more banal facts.

      The headline (especially when Google-translated) would make it seem like Givi is rebelling against Zakharchenko: “Givi declared he will no longer submit to Zakharchenko”, or something like that.
      But the content of the story is not exactly like that.
      It says that DPR is creating a Republican Guard to replace the volunteer units such as “Somali”. A couple of days ago (18 September), Givi turned over the banner at a ceremony on Lenin Square. Givi said that Somali will continue to exist, but in some other capacity, as an elite unit.
      Again, not sure what to make of this. My best guess: As Russians and others prepare for Donbass to become more like a real country, with a real army, Givi will retire for a well-earned rest. I suggest, for starters, a couple of weeks in Crimea. He should hit the beach, meet some cute girls, and while he’s at it, get some Chantix and try to quit that awful smoking habit!
      I’m okay with all of that, provided they award him a medal and give him a new job.


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