He says he has recruited Azerbaijanis, Tatars and Chinese Uyghurs to the group, and he talks passionately about the marginalization and oppression of Turkic-speaking minorities in Russia. He said that Moscow had unfairly drawn conscripts for the war predominantly from remote and poorer regions of Russia, including those populated by Turkic-speaking ethnic minorities, who have been killed in far greater numbers than ethnic Russians.
But Mr. Kudabek said members of his unit could turn that injustice to their advantage, infiltrating Russian-occupied territory on sabotage missions and even passing themselves off as Russian soldiers.
“We just want to fight Russians,” he said. “We know what they are.”
Despite their evident value to the Ukrainian military, the commanders of ethnic battalions complained of a lack of support from Kyiv. The Chechen battalion leader, Mr. Madiyev, said that beyond weapons and ammunition, the units have to provide for their own food, fuel and equipment.
The leader of a Russian regiment, a far-right nationalist who uses the code name White Rex, said he ran into multiple obstacles when he formed the unit shortly after the Russians invaded.
Although he and his fellow volunteers had lived in Ukraine for several years, they were initially met with suspicion from Ukrainians on edge about Russian saboteurs. “We were held at gunpoint,” he said. “We had many funny, and not so funny, encounters, but I was determined to have this regiment.”
But they have also found support among Ukrainians.
A Ukrainian volunteer group, Bratstvo, eventually helped the Russian regiment find a role for itself not so dissimilar from the other ethnic battalions, operating behind Russian lines and carrying out reconnaissance and sabotage missions for the Ukrainian Army.
Minutes before setting out on a night mission recently, White Rex said his aim had always been to find a way to return home to Russia. But he said the war had taught him that the way to return to Russia was to overthrow Mr. Putin and his government.