DONETSK — Some people wind up finding their tribe, wherever it may be. For “Alfonso Cano,” a 27-year-old Colombian, his ideological family turned out to be the Russian-backed rebels fighting the Ukrainian state.
It’s an emotional thing, and certainly political, but not unique, as other young activists have joined separatist forces that accuse Kiev authorities of being “fascists.” Kiev’s pro-Western government doesn’t hide its hatred of Russia, which dominated the Soviet Union until the collapse of the communist empire.
Cano, who was born in western Colombia’s Valle de Cauca, joined up two years ago with the rebels who most international observers believe are backed by Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
The young man decided to change his name to honor Alfonso Cano, the late leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s primary leftist rebel force, who was killed in army operations in 2011. Cano admires his namesake, but also changed his name to make his identity more difficult to track down if he were caught.
“For me, Alfonso Cano represents the people’s fight,” he says. “It’s a way of telling the FARC they are not alone, that there are people elsewhere in the world who are also resisting injustice.”
On the ground in Donbass
Everyone seems to have a pseudonym, or nom de guerre, here. Cano is the only Colombian fighting with the separatists, but there are other fighters from Latin America and Europe. They’re not mercenaries or recruits, but instead volunteers who traded their day-to-day routines in Brazil, Chile, Spain, France or Italy for a rifle and a life in the…