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Named in opposition to the Russian mercenary group Wagner, a private American military company has taken up residence in the Donbas. Its members, all veterans of elite troops, have been training Ukrainians in combat without getting involved themselves.

White dust swirled in the empty street in a line so straight that it seemed to have been traced with a ruler. Even though the night had fallen, the scorching heat made it feel like we were in a western. Yet we were actually in a small town – whose name we will not mention for safety reasons – in the Donetsk region in the Ukrainian Donbas, not far from the front line where Russian troops are present. In the middle of low-rise buildings stands a hotel, the kind of family-run establishment with ruffled curtains to which the war has given a strangely out-of-sync feel.

Just before midnight, a nearby bombing led its clients to pour outside: international humanitarian workers, special envoys and soldiers on leave. Among them, a small team decided to provide first aid. It’s the Mozart Group, an American private military company (PMC) of about 30 volunteers. All of them are veterans of elite troops.

“Here, we’re doing the work that Washington can’t do. The Pentagon says it has nothing to do with us. They are right: It’s the truth,” said Andy Milburn, a retired US colonel who spent 31 years in the Marines and is the founder of the group. Since 2001, the number of private military companies in high-risk countries, from Iraq to Mali, has increased, but in Ukraine, Mozart’s mission could prove even riskier.

By Florence Aubenas (Donetsk region (Ukraine), special correspondent)
August 19, 2022

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