Pärnu native German Barinov, who joined the Ukrainian Foreign Legion in March, recently became the first Estonian volunteer fighting in Ukraine to be awarded the Order of Courage by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, daily Postimees writes.
The Order for Courage, 3rd Class, should have been bestowed by the Ukrainian president personally on Ukrainian Independence Day on August 24, but Barinov was unable to accept it in person in Kyiv as he was busy on the front line at the time, Postimees writes.
25-year-old Barinov, who previously served conscription in the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and was a member of the volunteer Estonian Defense League (KL), was quickly promoted to section commander in charge of a ten-person unit, and it was members of his unit who had recommended him for the award.
"I can assure that all my Estonian comrades in the Ukrainian Army are incredibly brave and skilled soldiers, and I am very happy that an Estonian soldier received such recognition," he said, adding that he is accepting the decoration as a mark of Ukraine's gratitude to all the Estonian volunteer soldiers who have come to the country's aid.
According to Postimees, some 50-100 Estonians are fighting and serving as instructors in Ukraine, some of whom have since returned home already; at least two are members of the same unit as Barinov.
This is German Barinov (25), a Russian-speaking Estonian from Pärnu, currently serving in International Legion of Ukraine. As far as we know, he is the first Estonian to receive an award from President Zelenskyy: Order for Courage, 3rd class.https://t.co/yEjQZHQiFM— Jaanus Kase (@jaanus) August 26, 2022
'Foreign Legion was the place for me'
In mid-June, ERR news correspondent Anton Aleksejev met with Barinov in Kharkiv, where the latter was on leave after being injured when the vehicle he was in drove over an anti-tank mine.
Barinov, who has also previously served as an auxiliary police officer in Pärnu and spent time living in the U.S., had been in Australia when news of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine broke.
"I remember February 24 pretty well — I was working as a lifeguard in Australia and I heard that war had broken out," he recalled, noting that civilians were being killed and bombs were "flying everywhere," not just in Donbas. "When President Zelenskyy announced that a foreign legion was being formed, I just knew in my heart that that was for me — that that is the place for me."
On March 26, he announced publicly on Facebook that he was in Ukraine.
"Unfortunately I cannot share almost any information," he wrote. "But it is my duty to let you know that people here have struck my heart with their courage, dedication and love for their country. I would like to invite you to help us, and bring our victory a little bit closer."
Since then, Barinov has continued to post updates on his account on several social media platforms, including calls to continue to donate and help spread awareness of the ongoing war.
'If this isn't stopped here, it will reach us at home'
Barinov has Ukrainian roots, and relatives and friends alike living in Ukraine. Nonetheless, he told Aleksejev in April, he didn't consider himself either Estonian or Ukrainian.
"I'd say that I'm Russian," he said. "I've attended Russian[-language] schools, I'm used to Russian company, I have a Russian family — I'm still a Russian. But what matters here is who's to blame for this war. Ukraine didn't attack Russia; on the contrary. What matters here is who is the true victim."
Addressing his mother in Pärnu via the camera, Barinov assured her that he was in Ukraine as a volunteer.
"No one is keeping me here, and I'm gonna stay here to defend Ukraine," he said. "If this isn't stopped here, then sooner or later it will reach us at home as well. I'm here to ensure that it doesn't reach us."
Editor: Aili Vahtla