Semen Semenchenko (originally Konstantin Grishyn) is a public, military and political figure in Ukraine. He has become well-known and politically powerful as a commander of the Donbass volunteer battalion. He is a deputy of the Samopomich party to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the 8th convocation.
Semenchenko is an ethnic Russian. He was born on June 6, 1974 in Sevastopol. In hisinterview of September 30, 2014for the Ukrainian newspaper Ostrov, Semenchenko told about himself the following: ‘My real last name is not Semenchenko; it would be unwise of me as a family man with children to fight under my own name. But Semen Semenchenko is the man that can make himself useful to society and work to his country’s benefit. And that’s who I am. I was born in 1974 in Sevastopol. My mother is Ukrainian and my father is Russian. My wife is Ukrainian, too. I attended four colleges. The first one was a military academy, but I dropped out. I studied finance and lending. I was educated at the Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow but dropped out, too, failed to hand in my diploma thesis. I was disappointed with the quality of Russian education that is highly commercialized. By the way, Vitaly Kalinin, a VGIK teacher, when interviewed by the Russian Dozhd (Rain in English) TV channel, said that he can distinctly recollect his former student Semen Semenchenko (Konstantin Grishyn) who was a keen script writer and often handed in his scenarios for examination. According to Dozhd, Semenchenko began to hide his identity long before the events in eastern Ukraine, while he was still engaged in business affairs. For example, he introduced himself as ‘Andrey Semenovych’ to his employees. The fourth one where I studied was camera work. I’ve been occupied with self-education all my life. I’ve never worked for another person; I’ve been my own boss from the very first. I used to be in charge of a few companies. I used to be a private entrepreneur. I used to be a newspaper editor of Sevastopolsky Vestnik and Sevastopolskaya Pravda. The latter was an opposition newspaper; we fought against communists in the 1990s. I was the founder and manager of a charitable foundation and a Maidan participant in 2004 and 2013. I moved to Donbass in 2000 and all my children were born here, in Makeyevka and Donetsk. My flat was burnt down, so was my office’.
Semenchenko united Ukrainian volunteers into a battalion named Donbass in April 2014 as a countermeasure against paramilitary groups formed by supporters of Donetsk People's Republic. On April 20 the fighters were granted a ‘work’ permit by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. He arrived in Kiev on June 29, 2014 to claim the truce to be denounced and martial law to be imposed. He organized a rally in front of the Presidential Administration building and addressed people in Maidan from the stage.
He had a shrapnel wound to the thigh and the back in the battle of Illovaisk on August 19 and was moved to Dnepropetrovsk where he was successfully operated on.
On September 1, 2014, after arriving at the Dnepropetrovsk Administration building, Semenchenko removed his balaclava saying, ‘I’ve never been prey to fear; I was worried aboutmy family. Now they’re safe and I fear no more.’ On the same day he was awarded an order of BohdanKhmelnitsky3rd class by Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov.
On September 5, 2014, Semenchenko was a guest on the TV program Vikna-News on the Ukrainian STBchannel. He said that his immediate relatives who lived in Crimea (mother, father, and brother) approved the annexation of Crimea by Russia and would not leave. He had been worried about their safety and had sent a few battalion soldiers to evacuate them from Crimea. According to Semenchenko, he has spent one half of his life in Crimea and the other half in Donbass where his wife comes from. His children were also born in Donbass. He used to be a private entrepreneur. He had to be cautious for fear of losing his business and his family.
On September 25, 2014 Semenchenko was officially registered as a Samopomich candidate for deputy and was elected to be a people’s deputy of the Rada of the8th convocation at the off-year parliamentary election. When interviewed by TSN on October 2, 2014, he claimed to have been promoted to the rank of a lieutenant colonel.
Semenchenko got contused in a siege-raising operation for the Svityaz battalion near Uglegorsk (in the vicinity of Debaltseve) on January 31, 2015. He had a traffic accident while being transported from the battlefield.
Semenchenko was subjected to criticism by fifteen Donbass soldiers at a UNIAN press conference in early September 2014. Twenty nine mass media organizations sent their representatives to the press conference, but there was not a single report about it on TV. A week later, on September 11, 2014, Obozrevatel, a Ukrainian online newspaper, posted a video recorded at the conference where Semenchenko was portrayed as a spinmeister who knows nothing of military science and was accused of excessive casualties.
The soldiers that were present at the press conference are Viktor Kondratiuk (codename Scribe), Oleg Shevchenko (codename Seraphim), Vladimir Babenko (codename Fagot), Viktor Diagterev (codename Sensei), Sergey Povolsky (codename Pavel), Artem Slobodyaniuk, Aleksandr Utsenko, Vladimir Shilov, Oleg Doub, and a few others.
When commenting on the press conference, Semenchenko said that there had been only two active Donbass fighters among the people present whose codenames were Sensei and Fagot. According to Semenchenko, they had actually got to blows after they had heard that pack of lies that had been hurled at their commander. It should be noted that Semenchenko’s words are not true to the facts. Fagot and Sensei remained silent throughout the press conference, listening calmly to the others criticizing Semenchenko. At the very end Fagot took the floor to say, almost crying, that he was there not to discuss Semen but to ask people for assistance in releasing his comrades-in-arms from captivity and removing the bodies of dead soldiers from Ilovaisk. Then Sensei (Viktor Diagterev) and Fagot (Vladimir Babenko) summed up that Semen was a poor and unprofessional commander, but they would not make the fact public because, thanks to the joint efforts of the personnel, the battalion had been performing its mission properly.