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Malorussian Liberation Army (MLA)

Introduction & Overview

The Malorussian Liberation Army is a militant group active on the pro-Russian side of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The group’s origins are unclear, but it has been active at least since June 2023 as a military unit and even earlier as an online activist group.

History & Foundations

The Malorussian Liberation Army (MLA) established an online presence in the Russian net starting in June 2023, but its origins are rooted in a Russian online community known as Local Crew. This community began as an effort to unite different people who had got acquainted online and convince them to transpose their online presence into a real life network of decentralized activist groups (1). Starting in March 2017, with the first meeting in Moscow, the original group continued expanding with further meetups in St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia, which sometimes took place as sporting events (2).

While it is difficult to establish exactly what the reach of the Local Crew network is, an interactive map available on their website purports to show members in tens of cities all over the world, including Europe and the Americas (3). Local Crew have also established a remarkably diverse range of topics their associates can discuss, with a decentralized network of online Discord and Telegram servers, many of which grouped under another umbrella network, Zloch (4). Although itself seems to have gone offline, some of the Telegram channels linked to it survive, including those focusing on guns and gaming (5). The network even included a Wiki project at some point, but it is now offline, as well (6).

The onset of the “Special Military Operation” in 2022 seems to have radically altered the equilibrium of this community. Throughout 2022, and starting just a few days after the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Local Crew YouTube channel started uploading several video montages glorifying the activity of the Russian military, while media of all kinds appeared on the Local Crew website promoting and supporting the SMO. In September 2022, an article was published on the Local Crew website, describing how best to prepare oneself regarding the possibility of being called up by Russian Armed Forces as part of the then ongoing mobilization drive. This article contains minute details on what equipment is preferrable, what personal effects should be brought and how they should be handled, and even suggestions for thematic literature (7).

While Local Crew increased their “agitprop” activity, it was not until June 2023 that the group openly declared the formation of the MLA. Since then, the group has continued to operate on the internet, engaging mostly with Russian and Ukrainian speakers and spreading propaganda. It also occasionally releases content related to their military activity.

Ideology & Objectives

Local Crew have published a number of works on history(8), pop culture, philosophy (9), Russian translations of articles published in foreign languages (10), and even commentaries on urban planning (11). Since the beginning of the “Special Military Operation”, the content of their activities seems to have noticeably drifted to the right in support of the Russian Armed Forces. More recent pictures taken during their meeting have also shown many participants holding Russian flags from the Imperial era and Novorossiya flags (a proposed irredentist confederation spanning southern and eastern Ukraine). The Malorussian Liberation Army, the military offshoot of Local Crew, was created under the auspices of this new “course”, and is therefore solidly rooted in Russian nationalism and irredentism.

To precisely understand what “Malorussia” is, it is necessary to understand the historical and cultural connotation of this term. “Malorussia”, also rendered as “Little Russia” is a historical geographical term that came in use during the High Middle Ages (11th – 15th century) and was the predominant term to describe what is now Ukraine up until the late 19th century. During this time, Imperial Russian identity was considered to be a Pan-Russian identity, itself subdivided into a trinity of White Russian, Great Russian, and Little Russian peoples inhabiting three homonymous regions as enshrined in the solemn proclamation of the Tsar as the “Emperor and Autocrat of All Russias. (12)

The ethnonym Little Russian became a contested term in the 19th century, when a nascent movement of Ukrainian nationalism opposed the idea that Ukrainians had much in common with Russia proper, and strove to abolish the concept of Little Russia so that it may be replaced with a more autonomous Ukrainian identity, one that would not exist under the umbrella of a great Pan-Russian identity uniting East Slavs, something which the proponents of a Little Russian identity supported, notwithstanding the peculiarities of their culture (13)

After the end of World War I and the reorganization of Soviet Union during the 1920s, the Little Russian ethnonym gave way to Ukrainian identity (albeit in a more moderate, brotherly understanding of it than Ukrainian nationalists had envisioned), even if Russian nationalists and émigrés continued referring to the region as Little Russia (14).

In essence, the Malorussian Liberation Army has reappropriated this antiquated ethnonym with the intention of reviving a subnational Little Russian identity that stresses the unity of East Slavs under a greater All-Russian identity. In a manifesto published on their Telegram channel in October 2023, the MLA declared the liberation of the “Little Russian Fatherland” from and the removal of “Ukrainian occupation” as one of their primary goals. They also advocate for the restoration of ties between Russia and Little Russia, the liberation of political prisoners, inquisitions into the crimes of the “Ukrainian and Bolshevist regimes”, and an end to the war (15).

Political & Military Abilities

At the time of their founding, the MLA claimed to have more than 4700 militants operating in Ukraine (16). At the time of writing, their website claimed that more than 5100 militants had joined the MLA (17). This would mean that the MLA is a brigade-size militant group; however, the actual numbers are likely much lower, possibly placing the actual strength of the MLA around a company-size or battlegroup-size formation of 100-150 militants at most.The MLA has published several pictures of heavy equipment they supposedly operate, such as tanks (18). They are also active as infantry with common light weapons (19).

Regardless of their military capacity, the MLA are adept at engaging in memetic warfare and are very well versed in adapting cultural items from the net to create politically-laden propaganda. The dissemination of MLA-related content covers several social networks, including Telegram, Youtube, TikTok, and others. Media produced by the MLA includes memes recycling general formats to produce humorous renditions of the MLA’s ideology, short montage videos including heavily edited war footage and catchy songs, as well as visual material serving as propaganda to romanticize warfare in Ukraine and Russia’s military operations. The grassroot model adopted by Local Crew and the MLA is also a decentralized network that allows them to operate in multiple countries and access the relative national internet subspheres.Short videos and stills documenting their military activity have been released, but there is little indication that the group is as strong as it claims to be. Nevertheless, the MLA’s primary objective seems to be agitating Russian and Ukrainian netizens as part of a propaganda campaign aimed not only at delegitimizing the Ukrainian state and military, but also to boost the visibility of their own metapolitical identity into the mainstream of Eastern European internet discourse.

International Relations & Alliances

The MLA is understood to be fighting in Ukraine on the pro-Russian side, and is therefore likely to cooperate with the majority of other militias and units, while also being included in the chain of command and order of battle of the Russian Armed Forces.

Works Cited (Chicago)

(1) - Ты больше не один. Local Crew. (n.d.).

(2) - Ibid

(3) - Ibid

(4) - Ibid

(5) - Ibid

(6) - Ibid

(7) - Ibid

(8) - Ibid

(9) - Ibid

(10) - Ibid

(11) - Ibid

(12) -  Suslov, M. Geopolitical imagination : ideology and utopia in post-Soviet Russia. Stuttgart, 2020. p. 191. 

(13) - Cfr. Miller, A. I. Formirovanie natsij u vostochnyx slavjan v XIX v. Problema al’ternativnosti i sravitel’no-istoricheskogo konteksta. 1999. T. pp. 130-170.(Миллер А. И. Формирование наций у восточных славян в XIX в. — проблема альтернативности и сравнительно-исторического контекста. Рус.ист.журнал. — 1999. Т. — . 130—170.)

(14) -  Kotenko, A. L. Martynjuk, O. V. Miller, A. I. «Maloross»: evoljutsiya ponyatiya do Pervoj Mirovoj Voiny. NLO, 2, 2011. (Котенко А. Л., Мартынюк О. В., Миллер А. И. «Малоросс»: эволюция понятия до первой мировой войны. НЛО, 2, 2011) 

(15) - МОА. Telegram. (n.d.).

(16) -  МОА. Telegram. (n.d.). 

(17) - Ты больше не один. Local Crew. (n.d.).

(18) - МОА. Telegram. (n.d.). 

(19) -

Additional Resources


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