Russian celebrity tank commandress defects to Ukraine, leaks details on Russian involvement in occupied Donbas

Russian warlord Driuk defects to Ukraine

Svitlana Driuk posing in the foreground of a Ukrainian downed BMP infantry fighting vehicle. Photograph: Social media via myrotvorets.center 

Russian Aggression, War in the Donbas

On 3 March the TSN Tyzhden news show on the Ukrainian TV channel 1+1 aired a segment telling the story of Svitlana Driuk, a tank regiment’s commanding officer and the only female tank commander in one of the Kremlin-run Donbas quasi-states of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). The decorated officer has defected to Ukraine, bringing secret military documents and being ready to testify against Russia.

Read also: Two “DNR ministers” surrender to Ukraine. Will the rest follow?

Occupied territories in Ukraine and near its western border. Map base: Google Maps, map: Euromaidan Press

In occupied Donetsk, Svitlana Driuk was a local TV propaganda celebrity, who was presented as a peaceful civilian who rose to the defense of her Donbas motherland from “Ukraine’s invasion” and became a successful female warrior. A feature movie about her has been filmed last year for Russian money in occupied Luhansk. It’s in postproduction and the premiere screening was announced for the 9th of May, Russia’s Victory Day.

Trailer of the anti-Ukrainian propaganda piece which voices and visualizes multiple Russian propaganda clichés about “fascist” Ukraine which “invaded” its own territory – feature movie “Opolchenochka” (“Female Militantie”) filmed in summer-spring 2018 in the occupied part of Luhansk Oblast, screening was planned for May 2019.

TSN story

A Donbas local, 40-year-old female warlord Svitlana Driuk was one the commanders of a “DNR” tank battalion and headed an all-female tank crew. The latter fact was promoted by Russian propaganda in occupied Donbas and she became a media celebrity.

In her interview with TSN, she admits that she had killed Ukrainians, adding:

“I am not excusing myself, just then [back in 2014] was such a [specific] time and I fulfilled what I was told to [do].”

The narrator states that Svitlana has successfully duped her handlers and “former employers” until the day of the TSN interview, telling them that she stayed in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, capital of the Russian Oblast bordering on the occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donbas region.

She made a meteoric career in the mercenary army from a nurse throughout a commanding position in a rocket-launching battalion amid the Debaltseve Battle, up to the post of a commander of the “DNR 11th tank regiment.”

But a “personal motive” made her change her life entirely and end up on the Ukrainian side, as alleged in the TV segment.

“I have here, I hope, a friend who’s much closer to me. He’s a special service officer. And the attitude of all guys who are now involved in my fate differs much from what I saw there,” tells Ms. Driuk

TSN journalist Andriy Tsapliyenko who interviewed Driuk stated that a unique Russian T-72B3 main battle tank “upgraded to the level of T-90” which underwent testing in the Donbas and “seven other usual T-72’s” were destroyed by guerillas near the occupied city of Torez, after Driuk sent the documents to Ukraine proving that the newest Russian equipment was being transferred across the border into the Donbas.

After the alleged explosion, Driuk left the occupied territory but settled for the cooperation with Ukrainian counterintelligence only if her two children would also be transferred from Donetsk to free Ukraine, what was later done, according to the TSN story.

Now Svitlana is ready to testify in The Hague to some 30 Russian regular servicemen she knew as the ones involved in the fighting against Ukraine.

According to Tsapliyenko, she also disclosed the algorithm of the rapid deployment of the Russian regular forces to the Donbas in case if the Kremlin orders it – every military unit formed in the occupied Donbas has prepared cover IDs for every Russian soldier to be deployed. The mass invasion would be disguised as mobilization of the local residents, every unit will triple its manpower. She claims that the total number of military personnel all across the Donbas can reach about 100,000 within a matter of hours.

Read also: Martial law ended in Ukraine, but not Russia’s military buildup near the border

Ms. Driuk, “in case of the aggression, is ready to return to the front wearing Ukrainian uniform,” concludes the narrator.

“DNR” comments

Reacting to the TSN segment, the “people’s militia” of the “Donetsk people’s republic,” which is considered a terrorist organization under Ukrainian laws, said that “the enemy [Ukraine] has managed to kidnap Driuk Svetlana,” who resigned from the ranks of “DNR army” for health reasons at the beginning of the year and after the rehabilitation, she traveled to Moldova with her children to visit he relatives. Moldova is more than 700km away from Rostov, mentioned in the TV segment as her last known location for her “DNR” comrades.

According to the comments of the illegal armed formation, “in the territory of Moldova, the SBU conducted a special operation for the arrest and invitation of her to the Ukrainian territory.” The version sounds absurd, since the SBU’s activities are limited by Ukrainian borders and her arrest in Moldova with a further “invitation” wouldn’t be much welcomed by Moldovan authorities.

Of course, the “militia” reminds that Svitlana took an active part in 2014-2018 military actions against Ukraine and was even awarded a “For military prowess” medal. And the statement further alleges that Ukrainian special services apply “savage means of influence” on Ms. Driuk via her children and other persons and thus her statements may be absurd.

SBU confirms the TSN story, but not in detail

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has confirmed “the fact of moving to the territory under the control of Ukraine the mercenary of the Russian illegal armed group in Donbas, Svitlana Driuk.”

The SBU called her relocation the final stage of the long-standing operation of its counterintelligence, which demanded an unprecedented level of conspiracy due to the strict counter-intelligence regime imposed by Russia’s FSB in the occupied territories. Ms. Driuk is called a valuable witness of Russian military aggression in Ukraine who provided important materials on the leadership role of Russian career officers, as well as specific details on military equipment, positions, and facilities.

The pre-trial investigation is underway, says the SBU.

What doesn’t add up in the story

The TV channel 1+1 owned by the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi for some reason aired its segment prior to the SBU statement; moreover, the latter wasn’t prepared like usual SBU reports on similar cases and was a reaction to the TV program.

Since 1+1 couldn’t contact the female chieftain without the SBU’s consent, it is pretty hard to speculate that the TV channel could disrupt some operation the SBU might have planned to conduct while the Russian military was kept in the dark about Driuk’s whereabouts. Thus, the SBU report could probably be delayed for the sake of the  surprise effect.

Tsapliyenko says in the video, “After our segment, the “Novorossians” will feel uncomfortable watching the heroic fable about two tank women and Svitlana.” However, the segment was aired some two months before the announced premiere of the propaganda movie on the silver screens of the occupied cities. The intended impact could have been higher if 1+1 would have broadcasted their interview closer to the premiere.

The segment states that one day, eight tanks were destroyed near Torez. The SBU neither confirmed nor refuted this account.

The only massive explosion in the recent months occurred at an artillery range near Torez in the morning of 18 November 2018.

The occupation authorities stated that “engineer detachments of the people’s militia conduct scheduled measures of disposing of the expired ammunition via blasting.” 

Nevertheless, no information leaked about any damaged military equipment in the area of Torez later on.

Be it as may, but we know that Ukraine now has one of the high-profile witnesses of the Russian aggression.

“This operation was a battle of intelligence and professional skills between the Russian and Ukrainian secret services, and the result is more evidence of Russia’s armed aggression,” SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said.

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