The ex-Israeli soldier who led a Kiev fighting unit - World - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The ex-Israeli soldier who led a Kiev fighting unit

'Delta' has headed 'the Blue Helmets of Maidan' of 40 men and women - including several IDF veterans - in violent clashes with government forces.

Delta, the nom de guerre of the Jewish commander of a Ukrainian street-fighting unit.
Delta, the nom de guerre of the Jewish commander of a Ukrainian street-fighting unit, is pictured in Kiev earlier this month. / Photo by Courtesy
Published 22:43 28.02.14

He calls his troops “the Blue Helmets of Maidan,” but brown is the color of the headgear worn by Delta — the nom de guerre of the commander of a Jewish-led militia force that participated in the Ukrainian revolution. Under his helmet, he also wears a kippah.

Delta, a Ukraine-born former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, spoke to JTA Thursday on condition of anonymity. He explained how he came to use combat skills he acquired in the Shu’alei Shimshon reconnaissance battalion of the Givati infantry brigade to rise through the ranks of Kiev’s street fighters. He has headed a force of 40 men and women — including several fellow IDF veterans — in violent clashes with government forces.

Several Ukrainian Jews, including Rabbi Moshe Azman, one of the country’s claimants to the title of chief rabbi, confirmed Delta’s identity and role in the still-unfinished revolution.

The “Blue Helmets” nickname, a reference to the UN peacekeeping force, stuck after Delta’s unit last month prevented a mob from torching a building occupied by Ukrainian police, he said. “There were dozens of officers inside, surrounded by 1,200 demonstrators who wanted to burn them alive,” he recalled. “We intervened and negotiated their safe passage.”

The problem, he said, was that the officers would not leave without their guns, citing orders. Delta told JTA his unit reasoned with the mob to allow the officers to leave with their guns. “It would have been a massacre, and that was not an option,” he said.

The Blue Helmets comprise 35 men and women who are not Jewish, and who are led by five ex-IDF soldiers, says Delta, an Orthodox Jew in his late 30s who regularly prays at Azman’s Brodsky Synagogue. He declined to speak about his private life.

Delta, who immigrated to Israel in the 1990s, moved back to Ukraine several years ago and has worked as a businessman. He says he joined the protest movement as a volunteer on November 30, after witnessing violence by government forces against student protesters.

“I saw unarmed civilians with no military background being ground by a well-oiled military machine, and it made my blood boil,” Delta told JTA in Hebrew laced with military jargon. “I joined them then and there, and I started fighting back the way I learned how, through urban warfare maneuvers. People followed, and I found myself heading a platoon of young men. Kids, really.”

The other ex-IDF infantrymen joined the Blue Helmets later after hearing it was led by a fellow vet, Delta said.

As platoon leader, Delta says he takes orders from activists connected to Svoboda, an ultra-nationalist party that has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism and whose members have been said to have had key positions in organizing the opposition protests.

“I don’t belong [to Svoboda], but I take orders from their team. They know I’m Israeli, Jewish and an ex-IDF soldier. They call me ‘brother,’” he said. “What they’re saying about Svoboda is exaggerated, I know this for a fact. I don’t like them because they’re inconsistent, not because of [any] anti-Semitism issue.”

The commanding position of Svoboda in the revolution is no secret, according to Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Heritage Foundation think tank.

“The driving force among the so-called white sector in the Maidan are the nationalists, who went against the SWAT teams and snipers who were shooting at them,” Cohen told JTA.

Still, many Jews supported the revolution and actively participated in it.

Earlier this week, an interim government was announced ahead of election scheduled for May, including ministers from several minority groups.

Volodymyr Groysman, a former mayor of the city of Vinnytsia and the newly appointed deputy prime minister for regional policy, is a Jew, Rabbi Azman said.

“There are no signs for concern yet,” said Cohen, “but the West needs to make it clear to Ukraine that how it is seen depends on how minorities are treated.”

On Wednesday, Russian State Duma Chairman Sergey Naryshkin said Moscow was concerned about anti-Semitic declarations by radical groups in Ukraine.

But Delta says the Kremlin is using the anti-Semitism card falsely to delegitimize the Ukrainian revolution, which is distancing Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence.

“It’s bullshit. I never saw any expression of anti-Semitism during the protests, and the claims to the contrary were part of the reason I joined the movement. We’re trying to show that Jews care,” he said.

Still, Delta’s reasons for not revealing his name betray his sense of feeling like an outsider. “If I were Ukrainian, I would have been a hero. But for me it’s better to not reveal my name if I want to keep living here in peace and quiet,” he said.

Fellow Jews have criticized him for working with Svoboda. “Some asked me if instead of ‘Shalom’ they should now greet me with a ‘Sieg heil.’ I simply find it laughable,” he said. But he does have frustrations related to being an outsider. “Sometimes I tell myself, ‘What are you doing? This is not your army. This isn’t even your country.’”

He recalls feeling this way during one of the fiercest battles he experienced, which took place last week at Institutskaya Street and left 12 protesters dead. “The snipers began firing rubber bullets at us. I fired back from my rubber-bullet rifle,” Delta said.

“Then they opened live rounds, and my friend caught a bullet in his leg. They shot at us like at a firing range. I wasn’t ready for a last stand. I carried my friend and ordered my troops to fall back. They’re scared kids. I gave them some cash for phone calls and told them to take off their uniform and run away until further instructions. I didn’t want to see anyone else die that day.”

Currently, the Blue Helmets are carrying out police work that include patrols and preventing looting and vandalism in a city of 3 million struggling to climb out of the chaos that engulfed it for the past three months.

But Delta has another, more ambitious, project: He and Azman are organizing the airborne evacuation of seriously wounded protesters — none of them Jewish — for critical operations in Israel. One of the patients, a 19-year-old woman, was wounded at Institutskaya by a bullet that penetrated her eye and is lodged inside her brain, according to Delta. Azman says he hopes the plane of 17 patients will take off next week, with funding from private donors and with help from Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel.

“The doctor told me that another millimeter to either direction and she would be dead,” Delta said. “And I told him it was the work of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”


Add Comment

Thank you

Your talkback has been submitted successfully.
If selected for publication, it will appear as soon as possible on

please wait...

  • 11.
    Thank you Israel!
    Remember Jews also helped the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the 40's, and today Israelis support us against Russification. We always support Israel against Arab terrorism.
  • 10.
    We have enough problems with our neighbors, we should evacuate the Jewish community from Ukraine
    We have enough problems with our neighbors, we should evacuate the Jewish community from Ukraine. We shouldn't meddle in Ukraine and stay neutral and evacuate the entire Jewish community from Ukraine and provide them a future in Israel. Things don't look rosy in Ukraine and Jews will become the scapegoat as always and put in danger. Ukraine has a dark past and present of anti-Semitism and Jews will be blamed by both sides, for either taking the other side or for staying neutral. This is a real dilemma and a frightening reality. Wherever there is trouble and turmoil in countries with Jewish communities, Israel must have a contingency plan to evacuate them to Israel. Apart from providing better and secure lives, it will strengthen the Jewish nation-state.
  • 9.
    The group has been made to also PROTECT the Jews living in Ukraine, and the comments below and probably above is disgusting
  • 8.
    Has anybody of you, my fervent fellow commentators, actually ever been in Ukraine? Just yes or no.
  • 7.
    Ex IDF soldier in kiev
    This info will be used against israel for sending fighters against Putin's regime. Suggest you delete it, tho it is certainly news worthy!
  • 6.
    Weird, remember that we founded the soviet union - for good or bad
  • 5.
    You know they're fascist and you still fight for them. That's great, utterly brilliant. When they decide on Kristillnacht, I guess you'll do that too. Hey why not, I'm just a foot soldier I dont really think, I do.
  • 4.
    The comments make me sad.
    The number of either anti-Semitic or anti-Ukrainian comments to this article is astounding. A person told an uplifting story of unity and all these people bash him for either betraying Jews (not clear where exactly the betrayal lies) or blaming him for the entire revolution as if he was the one who started it. These people simply cannot get over the fact that there was no anti-Semitism on Maidan. I understand that it's hard to break stereotypes in your head but please try!
  • 3.
    There is no such thing like ex-soldier, he is still the IDF member under
    "miluimnikim" category and i do hope he will be held responsible for his unauthorized military activities on the foreign soil without authorization of his respective command. For an example, an Israeli citizen cannot be allowed doing military activities in Syria without state's legal reprimand/punishment for it if these activities become known to the relevant authorities. I am almost sure his identity is known to those one who may be concern.
  • 2.
    jew supporting antisemites
    He will have to leave Ukraine when "democratic protesters" fulfill Bandera lagacy.
  • So you know better than the guy who's actually been there?
    Even after reading this article you still believe in these myths about fascists and antisemites. What is wrong with you. A person - a practicing Jew - tells you that other protesters - even the Svoboda members - treat him like a brother, and yet you think that you know better.
  • 1.
    Pharisee Saul in Ukraine
    This Pharisee is trying to turn the Ukrainians into schmucks like himself