From Oslo to Donbas: Why Was a Norwegian Kicked out of the Ukrainian Army?
4 October, 2018

Joachim Furholm, a Norwegian national, came to Ukraine at the end of spring this year. He signed a contract with the Armed Forces and went to fight in the Donbas. But a month later, the military suddenly and without explanation terminated the agreement, expelling him from the zone of military operations. Furholm is convinced that this was done at the request of Norway since from the age of 15 he has been on the register of their special services for his ultra-right nationalistic views. Furholm has been accused of Nazism, has a criminal record, and says that he “respects Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik who committed the brutal 2011 attacks that killed 77 people in Norway.

Hromadske looks at what happened with Furholm both in Norway and in Ukraine.

Without a Trace

“The police beat me in the ribs, on the head, twisting my hands and fingers – they knew how to cause pain. They filmed everything on video and told me to go back to Norway. And if I don’t leave, they will send me there themselves.”

These were among the claims made by the 27-year-old Norwegian after he was discharged from a Kyiv hospital on August 28.

Norwegian Joachim Furholm signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and went to fight in the Donbas, but a month later the military terminated the agreement, expelling from the war zone. Kyiv, August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske

Bald, with a thick, light beard, Furholm resembles a viking. He speaks fluent English and smokes a lot.

“Obviously, someone in Oslo does not like me very much because of my radical nationalist views, and has used their political influence in Kyiv to get me kicked out of the Ukrainian army,” he said.

Furholm claims that the day before, police seized him on the street and tortured him for 10 hours in an unknown place. However, there is no evidence that it was the police who beat the Norwegian. In response to Hromadske’s inquiry, the National Police stated that they had not detained a man with that name.  

“There are practically no traces of the beating,” admits Furholm. “Other than my wrists being swollen. But I was beaten by professionals. They know how to inflict pain without leaving a trace.” He shows his hands. Despite the absence of visible injuries, Furholm has a certificate from a traumatologist with the following diagnosis: bruising of the soft tissues of the head, body, and extremities.

Joachim Furholm shows his hands and claims that the police beat him in the ribs, on the head, and twisted his arms and fingers. Kyiv, August 28, 2018.  Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske

Further proof of torture includes a photo allegedly taken during the beating. Furholm says a friend sent it to him. “One of the police officers turned out to be the girlfriend of a serviceman, whom I knew. She sent him this picture.”

The certificate issued to Joachim Furholm by a traumatologist. Kyiv. August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske

But for now, Furholm has other priorities.  

“All I want now is to return to fighting in the Donbas. I will avenge myself later,” he said.

Home in the Trenches

Furholm says he’s been planning to come to Kyiv for four years.

“One morning I woke up and decided: okay, today is the day. I took everything I could fit in my bag, got on a plane and flew to Kyiv. Then I tried to settle down here, find friends and establish contacts,” he says. “In the end, I ended up on the doorstep of the Sviatoshyn Military Registration and Enlistment Office – and they helped me get to the Donbas.”

There is no evidence Joachim Furholm was beaten by police. Police deny detaining a man named Joachim Furholm. Kyiv, August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske.

Furholm signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Under the law, foreigners are allowed to serve in the Ukrainian army. A senior officer of the Sviatoshyn Commissariat, Oleg Korotchenko, helped and advised the Norwegian there since he was the only one who knew English.

“Furholm was not alone,” Korotchenko tells Hromadske. ​​“He came to us with his friends and expressed his desire to serve in a combat unit. Guys from Western countries or the Baltic States sometimes come to us and sign contracts with the Armed Forces. All of this is legal, according to the provision in the passage about foreigners serving in military, which the president [Petro Poroshenko] approved in 2016. These people must undergo checks. This is done by the migration service, the security service, the police, and border guards.”

Joachim Furholm’s Norwegian passport, Kyiv, August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske

Once all the questions on paper were settled, Furholm was sent to Novhorodske, a settlement in the Donetsk region, along the line of demarcation. There he served in the 58th Motorized Infantry Brigade of the 16th Battalion. According to the documents, he was a rifle-assistant to a grenadier. Furholm laughs, saying he had never heard such a “strange" rank.

He admits that war gives him joy. “Before that, I had never been to war, more than that – I had never served in the army. But I always felt, I was born to fight. War is not for everyone, but neither is civilian life,” he said.

Furholm says that the Donbas is calmer than he expected.

“When I arrived at the front, and the shelling began, I felt happy. They’re shooting at us with artillery, everything around us is exploding, there’s screaming, blood, commotion... and I’m smiling! It was there, in the trench, that I finally felt at home,” he recalls.

Joachim Furholm at the Sviatoshyn Commissariat in Kyiv, August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske.

The Norwegian has fond memories of serving in the Ukrainian army. Although almost no one spoke English on the frontline, he immediately found a common language with the other soldiers.

“Friends called me Jarl – that’s a title of the Vikings. The company there loved me. Probably because I’m a foreigner,” Furholm shrugged. “I'd rather be in my trench near Donetsk than take a hot bath in Kyiv and go to restaurants. There, there are no unwritten rules, stupid games, false masks, and insincerity. Everything is easier there.”

But the Norwegian only stayed on the front for a short time – a month and a day.

Quick Release

“One day my commander came to me and said: leave your things, you must immediately report to the command post. I became a little worried – why would they have pulled an ordinary soldier from the frontline for a chat?” Furholm recalls while lighting yet another cigarette.

“That’s where they told me: go to Kyiv, to the military registration and enlistment office, you have been fired from the service. Officially, it was allegedly due to the fact that I failed training. But I never screwed up, I did everything conscientiously. Everything happened very quickly, I was fired in one day,” he said.

Furholm claimed the brigade commander didn’t sleep until four in the morning so he could write up the document to cancel his contract.

“Later I spoke with lawyers in the Sviatoshyn Commissariat – all this surprised them very much. They said nothing happens that quickly in the Ukrainian army,” he said.

Furholm proceeds to take out four documents out of his trouser pocket. Among them – an order for his dismissal from the armed forces. At the very bottom, under “reason" it states: “Letter from the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. 28.07.2018.”

“I did not see this letter. I think the real reason for my dismissal is political pressure from Norway because I'm a radical nationalist. I think they turned to the Ukrainian government, which then gave the order to the General Staff [of the Armed Forces of Ukraine] to have me removed,” he says.

The Sviatoshyn Military Registration and Enlistment Office doesn’t know the reason for Furholm’s dismissal.

“We didn’t receive any reports about why Furholm was fired from the army,” Korotchenko said. “We don’t really know what was the basis for this, because we did not see any official investigative documents, nor any other documents testifying to him failing training.”

In the 58th Motorized Infantry Brigade, they also believe that the circumstances around Furholm’s dismissal are strange.

“As far as I know, an appeal came from either the Norwegian embassy or the government. In Norway, the guy is accused of Nazism. And since it reached the level of the General Staff [of Ukraine’s Armed Forces], the leadership did not want to cast shadows on the Armed Forces. Therefore, Furholm was fired. Although his immediate commander did not consent to this, they simply put this before him as fact,” said one fighter from the 58th Brigade, who asked not to be named.

“Charges of Nazism? I'm not surprised,” Furholm reacts to the message with a calm face. He does admit to having “quite specific views.”

Together With Odin

On each of Furholm’s fingers there is a Scandinavian rune. On the middle fingers there are also Nazi symbols – a swastika and the solar cross. He tattooed them there himself before joining the army.

“These two are the most important,” he points to the middle and ring finger of his right hand. “Venn and Elhaz (this rune, which means “elk” in ancient German, was actively used by neo-pagans and Nazis - Ed.) – the runes of victory and life. But everything here has its significance and concerns mainly successful fighting and defense. Everything that I needed in Ukraine. I chose the runes that guaranteed me safety and victory, and after that – a beautiful woman and many happy children.”

On his chest, the Norwegian has a Mjölnir tattooed – the hammer of mythological Norse god Thor, as well as a valknut, the Scandinavian symbol for the afterlife.

“This means that my soul belongs to Odin (a Norse god) – and when I die, we will drink together and enjoy ourselves in Valhalla till Ragnarok, the last battle. I am happy with this perspective.”

Furholm first wanted to serve in the Norwegian army. But he was not accepted there – according to him, such radical nationalists aren’t recruited to serve. Furthermore, earlier in Norway, he was put behind bars for trying to rob a bank at the age of 18. Furholm claims that the bank was “corrupt and that he and his friend were going to give the stolen goods to the poor. He received 3 months in prison and 3,000 hours of correctional labor for the crime.

“After the terrorist attack committed by Anders Breivik, the police called me – I have been on the special services’ register since the age of 15,” Furholm said. “They asked where I was and what I was doing then – they thought I could have also been involved in the attack. I never knew Breivik personally. But he did everything to realize his idea – and for that, I respect him.”

At home, Furholm has a four-year-old son and relatives, but he doesn’t have the best relationship with them. He hasn’t spoken with his own father in several years – the father doesn’t even know that Furholm is in Ukraine.

He said most people in his life couldn’t care less about him until he announced he would be going to war – then the family began to worry. “They got this feeling that they paid too little attention to me. But I'm not the only person in the world without a normal family.”

In Norway, Furholm worked here and there – he didn’t stay in one place for long. Civilian life bored him.

“Why did I leave Norway for Ukraine? For me, there was nothing interesting at home. But there was something to do here. I wanted to fight for the freedom of Ukraine and help to return the territories,” he said.

But why should a Norwegian care about Ukraine's freedom? Furholm smiles.

“Why did the Norwegians worry about Kyivan Rus? We have this custom, going to wars of other countries. I think this is our tradition,” he said.

What was in the letter of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which became the official grounds for Furholm’s dismissal from the army? The department had not given a clear answer:

“The information in the letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, mentioned by you, had nothing to do with dismissal of Norwegian citizen Joachim Bergsvik Furholma from the service,” it stated.

The press service of the ministry also added that the letter contained information for official use, and therefore it is forbidden for the media to publish it. The press service did not respond to the question of whether the department addressed the Norwegian ministry.

However, during her visit to Kyiv, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide explained that Norwegian legislation restricts the right of its citizens to participate in foreign armed conflicts.

“I do not have all the details, but we have fairly strict rules for the so-called foreign fighters. This means that a Norwegian citizen cannot sign a contract with the armed forces of other countries. That's why we have the same strict rules for foreigners who want to serve in the Norwegian army. We do not accept citizens of other states to serve in the armed forces of Norway,” she told Hromadske.

Joachim Furholm at the Sviatoshyn Commissariat in Kyiv, August 28, 2018. Photo: Ostap Yarysh/Hromadske.

The Norwegian special service, which, according to Furholm, had him on a register, stated that they can’t answer questions about individuals. However, they explained about the legality of the situation.

“Participating in military operations abroad can be illegal. However, this does not mean that all cases like that will be prosecuted by law. Each particular situation should be evaluated separately. Participation in armed conflicts on behalf of state forces in itself is not prohibited. However, it can, of course, be illegal for other reasons. Norwegian citizens may be arrested for other crimes, including murder, war crimes or terrorism,” the service stated.

The Consulate of Norway in Ukraine did not respond to Hromadske’s questions regarding Furholm. Norway’s Ambassador to Ukraine Ole Terje Horpestad also did not comment on the situation.

Furholm is currently in Kyiv, at Azov regiment base. He wouldn’t mind joining the regiment and wants Ukrainian citizenship.

“In Norway, I could be facing criminal liability for terrorism. And in the West they don’t like radical nationalists,” said Furholm, adding that he has no intention to return to his homeland.

/By Ostap Yarysh and Darka Hirna

/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov