Article by: Lana Samokhvalova
The idea for this article arose when I accidentally came across one of the Facebook accounts under the name “All to Maidan.” I looked for the timetable to see how they would mark the second anniversary of Maidan and I wanted to know if there was such a group on Facebook and if I would see someone interesting. Suddenly I did…
“Stepan Mazura” — creator of anti-Ukrainian content
I found the group. But after viewing the account, I shuddered when I saw how skillfully the authors filled up their audience with hatred for the Ukrainian government. Every message was full of contempt for any branch of the Ukrainian government and incited to violence and a “Third Maidan.”
A typical slogan proclaimed: “Tell all your friends that tomorrow there will be a new Revolution! A new one, but the first one for the people. The oligarchs will fall and people will come to power for the first time in 24 years!”
I wrote down the page address in order to return to it and to view the accounts of its owners. The research turned out to be fascinating. For a whole month I monitored pages and groups that I had encountered. Emotional messages that were sometimes based on real mistakes by the government stressed Ukraine’s impossibility of success and became powerful virtual streams. The account owners succeeded in inviting (virtually, of course, on the order of “yes, I’ll go”) tens of thousands of people. This suggested serious commercial support for the pages and groups. But where did this commercial support come from, especially for a “people’s protest”?
Something was not quite right here. The postings featured various revolutionary appeals:
“Our debt to the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred is to complete the Revolution so that people and not politicians and officials come to power!” one of the “protesters” exhorted. “Kill the vermin that has been killing Ukraine,” another one proposed, listing the entire Ukrainian establishment, including the president, among the “vermin.”
“Everyone to Maidan!” appealed a third.
On the different accounts anonymous retirees claimed they could not survive because of the terrible government. Others described the totalitarianism of the new Ukraine and called for revenge for Sashko Bilyi (notorious right-wing militia leader killed in a skirmish with police — Ed.). Fake reports were intermixed with authentic critical materials from Ukrainian media. There were manipulative surveys on the theme of “removing Poroshenko” with predictions by fake experts on the forthcoming total failure or even collapse of Ukraine. Putin was often compared with the Ukrainian leaders, and frequent surveys measured their respective ratings.
Experts would describe this activity as the formation of powerful destabilizing content for the purpose of transforming the public space by bringing about social unrest. Non-specialists would see this as an attempt to organize a “Third Maidan” that would bring all the dissatisfied people from the online world out into the streets to storm the administration building with the goal of overthrowing the constitutional order and creating chaos. Incidentally, the name of one of these accounts was “Maidan 3” but it was later renamed “Patrioty Ukrainy” (Patriots of Ukraine). The other names were: “Continuing the revolution of dignity,” “Ukrainian Revolution,” “Let’s Remove the Poroshenko gang.”
A review of the accounts of the would-be organizers of “Maidan 3” I reveals that the main author, the main source and the inspiration of the “people’s protest” is a certain so-called Stepan Mazura.
This author is the main content creator for all five groups. Among other things, he has posted materials of his “LifeJournal” blog on Facebook. Since the summer of 2015, more than 100 analytic texts have been published there, some of which contained reliable numbers but were openly manipulative and propagandistic. The simplest calculation would indicate than a single person engaged in multiple social network postings and who is conducting dialogues, cannot also create some twenty analytical texts a month.
I realized that this man was a real person of Black Hundred (Russian ultra-nationalist movement — Ed.) convictions who willingly makes his sites available for operations by (Russian) special services. However, I did not understand how someone with such views could live in Ukraine. To live in a country while hating it so much would be possible only if you were a soldier of an enemy country. In fact, one had the impression that all this time Stepan Mazura has been based online in order to fill up the postings of his anti-Ukrainian groups with extremist appeals. For an entire month I read the comments and discussions on Mazur’s account, who, incidentally, claims to be an auditor. I found the reaction of the audience interesting. A segment of the audience happily “liked” and shared the status updates. Another segment was outraged: “Stepan why on earth are you posting such shit?” And Stepan would ignore certain people and respond very personally to others, as if to old friends, by pressing the right buttons and encouraging them to continue the fight against the “traitor president.” He complimented the girls ” I would like to have statues that look like you in the parks. Take a few photos but paint Ukrainian flags on your cheeks. I want to put you on the news feed.”
He had special messages for ATO veterans. “I want the deputies and all the authorities in Ukraine to consist of ATO heroes and volunteers who helped people like you,” he stated. “This is the flower of the nation, the best of the best. I’m tired of these mugs shown on TV who always promise us the moon before elections. We vote for them and then they rob the country. 25 years in power and one set of thieves replaces the other. Bastards, and if only one decent person came to power in a quarter century. Don’t you agree? The Verkhovna Rada should consist only of people who have been in the war and the best minds of Ukraine (professors and academics). Professors for their brains and Ukraine’s veterans for their honor. Do you really love chocolate so much that you do not share my ideals? I think every Ukrainian shares them. Don’t you agree?” he concluded.
Stepan generally dismissed proposals to come out on Maidan in reality, not just virtually, and to meet there, or he simply deleted those posts.
It is interesting that the word “junta” gradually disappeared from Mazur’s vocabulary. The president became the main target.
Using the internet to serve the Kremlin
Meanwhile let’s move on. According to all the laws of internet marketing, analogous accounts usually exist on other social networks. By selling and promoting a product or idea (in this case the idea of destroying Ukrainian statehood) it is advisable to do it on all available and popular venues. Any SMM specialist will tell you that. Therefore, after I registered in the VKontakte network, I easily found the pages that were copies of the Facebook accounts — all these “Maidan 3,” “Patrioty Ukrainy” and so on. Basically I planned to end my research at this point, to describe it, obtain a few quotes from social psychologists and political analysts and then publish my materials. For anyone familiar with information warfare, there could be no doubt. Russia’s virtual troops with the help of its security services are creating texts to influence different segments of Ukrainian society. These influential texts are capable of promoting behavior, introducing new ideas, and inciting change from the virtual to the physical space. They were heating up society with an evil fire, hoping to stage some event ( and may still do so) that brings people out into the streets.
But the plot took a different turn.
“Moskva I know you.” This comment appeared somehow under Stepan’s status update that “The CIA is predicting the collapse of Ukraine.”
In literally a second, the posting was deleted.
The inscription appeared again and was again deleted. I sent a friend request to the writer of the comment and in 10 minutes we were communicating on chat.
I was not the only admirer of Stepan’s work. With my new “friend,” who had moved to the unoccupied part of Luhansk, we had many friends in common from Sloviansk. And if there are journalists among your mutual friends, then trust is strengthened automatically. My new acquaintance informed me that behind the “Stepan Mazura” profile hides a real person by the name of Sergei Zhuk, a native of Donbas, who is 34 years old, and well known in separatist detachments as the fighter “Moskva.” (Other journalists identify him as a Moscow native, notorious for torturing Ukrainian POWs.)
As they say in Soviet novels, “the smart boy was noticed.” Henceforth, yesterday’s fighter acquired a different status and became a respectable soldier, an “auditor” based in Ukraine’s capital.” In reality he is based in Moscow, or rather in Vnukovo (Moscow suburb — Ed.). Besides, Sergei Zhuk at first had his own account http://sergei-zhuk.livejournal.com/ and a video blog. Then the status of “Stepan Mazura” was created for him.
We decided to postpone publishing the material because my acquaintance promised to find technical proof that all the virtual streams are formed in Moscow. In turn, after some deliberation, the editors of Ukrinform decided to enlist the services of an IT company, a longtime partner of Ukrinform.
Thus, for another month and a half, the friends of Ukrinform, Ukrainian patriots and also opponents and enemies of Zhuk (many who could not forgive him for going to Moscow, believing that he had abandoned the Special Zone to advance his career) studied his profile.
During this period we received the findings: access to the profiles of Stepan Mazura in social networks, achieved by using IP addresses, which belong to a range of IP addresses of Internet provider PJSC Rostelecom, Russian Federation (Moscow).
Browser scans indicated that the Mazura/ Zhuk account was set up from Vnukovo and St. Petersburg (perhaps there is a special person there who creates the content and uses his profile).
From militant to Lubyanka mercenary
Here is Sergei Zhuk’s recent history:
– Oct. 20, 2014, “Comrades in arms gave me the alias “Moskva” he proudly announces in the social networks.
– October 20, 2014, “Today Banderites fired three rockets from the Tochka U missile complex on the residential areas of Donetsk. For each killed civilian we will take the lives of the aggressors hundredfold..”
– October 20, 2014, I’m sitting on the firing point with a sniper’s rifle. Where are the Ukrops (derogatory Russian term for Ukrainians — Ed.). SOB, where are the Ukrops?!!!”
– November 5, 2014, “Banderites, no need to look for me. I’m in Donetsk and frequently walk down the street without protection. But with an automatic.”
And here is his present. In 2015 Sergei Zhuk accepts a more advanced government job in Moscow again. Now he is fighting against Ukraine using different weapons. He is encouraging the people he was shooting at earlier to participate in a Third Maidan and is preparing electronic petitions of no confidence in the Ukrainian government. He no longer moves convoys of Ukrainian prisoners of war in shameful parades in Donetsk, but provides instructions in social networks on how to take “Poroshenko’s head” and bring it in a glass jar in a protest on the occasion of Poroshenko’s birthday.
And let us not comfort ourselves that his propaganda is not working. I have heard discussions about a “Third Maida” even from people who took real bullets both on Maidan and in ATO. Disappointed in the government, they do not even suspect that the idea of armed protest is being formulated by someone who fired on them yesterday.
However, what is most impressive is not even the personalities but the scope and consistency displayed by the special services of the Russian Federation. Our “Colorado potato beetle” Sergei Zhuk (“zhuk,” meaning beetle, refers to the orange and black Colorado potato beetle with the same coloring as Russia’s St. George military ribbon and is the source of the derogatory name for Russians — Ed. ) or as we know Stepan Mazura, is just the tip of the iceberg. Because entire divisions of other zhuks are working for this Zhuk. They are structured, technically trained, and equipped with the latest technology. Some zhuks handle orders at the Lubyanka offices (headquarters of KGB, now the FSB, in Moscow — Ed.), others direct divisions and organize tasks, others write articles. On the basis of Russian employment agencies, it is easy to find out that the market price of an analyst is in the range of US $2,000-$4,000. Other zhuks, the SMM managers, create and service fake account. The market price of one active commentator is more modest– $500-$600 plus food. You can easily calculate the scale of the financial investment when you consider that no one, not even the most prolific zhuk, will be able to write over a hundred lengthy articles and then distribute them throughout the Internet on behalf of dozens of “patriots.” This can be done only by cynical, pragmatic but well trained analysts, writers and bots.
In other words, the taxpayers of the Russian Federation are supporting a huge machine with its own staffing and hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars are being spent on the promotion of two long-running themes: “Bad Ukrainian government” and “Go to the Maidan.” In other words, Russian citizens, who are being terrorized with the possibility of Ukrainian “maidans,” are preparing this Third Maidan conjured up by the Kremlin, which is supposed to destroy the current Ukrainian government. In order to bring to power a new “proper government,” of course, which will never again allow another Maidan to take place.
Instead of an epilogue
I did not feel any emotion while reading the blogs of Mazura/ Zhuk since through my binoculars I could clearly see the enemy who every day is carrying out attacks on Ukrainian positions. For him, there is no peace or ceasefire. … He wants to destroy everything. He is preparing to systematically get inside the heads of our compatriots as he sits in a warm office in the suburbs of Moscow, and he is shooting not at Poroshenko, not at Parliament. He is shooting at us, and behind our backs, at our elderly parents and childred. He is preparing chaos because he hates this country. This Zhuk is not even a striped beetle liked the Colorado potato beetle; he is brown because it is necessary to have a fascist talent to maintain this degree of hatred in oneself. In different genres, in different accounts, in personal comments, dialogues, status updates, he stressed: “go to Maidan, overthrow the government” We are not shooting back yet. But every day we need to look through the binoculars. We need to see this Zhuk, and the countless other zhuks who work with him as part of a single technological chain. We need to learn to analyze, to think, to consider that no matter how difficult things are we must not give in to the frame of mind that all is “treason” and “all is lost.”
As for the zhuks, there is one solution: destroy them.