Digital sleuths name soldiers from Murmansk and Chechnya who fought against Ukraine in 2014

Newly identified 5 servicemen of the Russian Army's 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade who took part in the aggression against Ukraine (outlined by dashed squares). Photo: InformNapalm 

Crimea, Russian Aggression, War in the Donbas

InformNapalm sleuths have discovered the identities of Russian marines from the Murmansk area and soldiers from a military unit stationed in Chechnya who had taken part in Russia’s hostilities against Ukraine in the Donbas region. Although Chechnya is some 700 kilometers away southeast of Ukraine’s Donbas, while Murmansk lies 2,200 km northwards, the distance wasn’t a problem for Russia to deploy elements of its remote military units against Ukraine in 2014.

The two Russian-run self-proclaimed “republics” occupy roughly one-third of Ukraine’s Donbas region. Map: Euromaidan Press

For the seventh year now, starting from the first weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, the volunteer international investigative community InformNapalm has been collecting evidence of the participation of Russian army and navy detachments and particular active-duty soldiers in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Back in 2018, the sleuth group consolidated the finds of their OSINT research into a database, keeping it up to date in the subsequent years. For today, the InformNapalm database contains 101 Russian military units who partook in the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas with more than 2630 identified individual officers and men. Additionally, the base has data on 54 types of Russian-only weaponry and equipment used in the Donbas.

In the wake of multiple open-source investigations by various sleuth groups, which were able to identify a number of Russian military and mercenaries in Ukraine, Syria, Africa, etc, Russia banned its military from using mobile phones and social networks in 2019. It is unclear whether the prohibition really works with post-2019 conscripts, yet when it comes to the soldiers who were part of Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine in 2014, their digital legacy often remains intact up until now, which provides valuable data for the investigations carried out by InformNapalm and other researchers.

The latest finds: 12 more Russian soldiers identified

InformNapalm sleuths have discovered the identities of seven more marines of Russia’s Northern Fleet from the Kola Peninsula and five more servicemen of Chechnya-stationed 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade who fought against Ukraine in its far-eastern region of the Donbas.

As oftentimes before, the investigators used open-source intelligence (OSINT) methods and based their research on publicly available photographs of the groups of people in military-style uniforms. The photographs were identified as taken in the Donbas in 2014 and the military’s profiles and posts were found on social media corroborating the facts of their presence on the Ukrainian soil back in 2014.

Soldiers from Chechnya in Donbas

On 2 August 2014, a large Russian convoy of 1,200 troops which included soldiers of Russia’s 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade from Chechnya, entered Ukraine. In the afternoon of 13 August, they stopped in the town of Snizhne, southeast of the regional capital, Donetsk. Ukrainian artillery attacked the column later on the same day, causing heavy casualties: according to Novaya Gazeta, the Russians lost 120 killed and 450 wounded. Among those dead were the 18th brigade soldiers, Anton Tumanov and Robert Artyunyan (or Arutyunyan), of whom the InformNapalm volunteers were aware of earlier. Now, the investigators revealed the identities of three more soldiers from the same brigade, who had managed to hide their involvement in the “Ukrainian tour” for seven years.

First, the investigators identified Alexandr Smirnov, the commanding officer of an engineering platoon. A photograph of him posing with seven other servicemen wearing white identification armbands in the foreground of a BTR-82 armored personnel carrier gave a push to searching and finding the identities of his comrades-in-arms. The photograph was made in August 2014 and initially, a Russian contractor engaged in those events shared it on social media.

Newly identified 5 servicemen of the Russian Army’s 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade who took part in the aggression against Ukraine. Photo: InformNapalm

Number One in the photo is senior lieutenant Aleksandr Smirnov, who was a commander of an engineering platoon of the 1st motorized rifle battalion (MRB) of the 18th separate motorized rifle brigade (military unit 27777, Khankala, Chechnya). Remarkably, Mr. Smirnov had also participated in the invasion of Crimea.

Photo of Smirnov’s medals he shared on social media, including his medal “For the Return of Crimea.” Screenshot via InformNapalm

Number Two is Sgt. Mikhail Iskovich, a contract soldier who was a senior sapper of the 2nd engineer-sapper department of the engineer-sapper platoon of the 1st MRB of the 18th brigade. As Smirnov, Iskovich also appeared on the “List 1097” of the participants of the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Number Three is Rolan Ramazanov, who in 2014 was a contract soldier of the 18th Brigade, his name was earlier mentioned in the articles on Newsweek, Atlantic Council, Newstimes.ru as an eyewitness of the Donbas events.

Number Four is Anton Tumanov, who starting from June 2014 was a contract soldier of the 18th brigade, and the fifth soldier marked in the photo is Robert Artyunyan, another contract soldier of the 18th brigade. These two were killed on 13 August 2014 in Snizhne, Donetsk Oblast.

More details on these Russian servicemen are available on the InformNapalm website.

Murmansk marines in Donbas

As in identifying five Russian servicemen from the 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade, InformNapalm said, the starting point for revealing identities of marines from the Kola Peninsula another photo showing a group of the Russian military, taken in the Donbas in summer 2014. The author of the photo series that included the photo in question was some Yevgeny Pismensky, identified back in 2015 as a serviceman at a Russian navy base in the far northern Murmansk Oblast in northwestern Russia. After the report came out, he deleted his page on social media. However, InformNapalm says, that its volunteers managed to obtain additional information about him and his colleagues from the Russian Northern Fleet.

Murmansk marines of Russia’s Northern Fleet in Ukraine’s Donbas in 2014. Photo via InformNapalm

Here are the identities of the Russian marines in the photo as of 2014, as established by InformNapalm’s investigation based on open sources:

  1. Yevgeny Pismensky, who in 2014 was the commander of a security platoon at the Northern Fleet’s torpedo-missile armament base (unit 20991) in Polyarny, Murmansk Oblast.
  2. Ilnar Satdinov, a serviceman of the 61st Separate Marine Brigade of the Northern Fleet (military unit 38643, Sputnik, Murmansk Oblast).
  3. Nikolay Burdinets, a serviceman of the 61st brigade in Murmansk’s Sputnik settlement.
  4. Pavel Vitolin, another marine from the Northern Fleet’s 61st brigade.
  5. Ivan Andreev, a serviceman of the same military unit.
  6. Eduard Makarov, who in 2014 was a contract soldier at the above-mentioned torpedo-missile armament base in Polyarny.
  7. Kirill Kutyrev, a marine from the mentioned brigade stationed in Sputnik, Murmansk Oblast.

In his photo album on “the Russian Facebook” vk.com, Kutyrev still keeps several 2014 from the times of hostilities in Donbas, this image of him with his still unidentified colleague on top of a BRDM personnel carrier. Screenshot via InformNapalm.

More finds

Among other recent finds of the InformNapalm sleuths were more cases of identification of the Russian soldiers who had fought in Ukraine and of the pieces of exclusively Russian military equipment that was used against the Ukrainian military.

InformNapalm identified commanders of the Russian landing ship Yamal, which with other ships of the 197th brigade of landing ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was part of the Russian invasion force in Crimea back in 2014. Before the occupation of Crimea, the ship took part in the Russian invasion of Georgia of 2008. Since 20 February 2014, the Yamal large landing craft regularly cruised to the Mediterranean as part of the “Syrian Express” – the Russian deployment of troops and supplying them in Syria.

Notably, a sailor from the Yamal landing craft, Mikhail Shevchenko, commented on him being awarded the medal for the occupation of Crimea, “…they took part in this [occupation of Crimea] and fled to Syria quickly.” Screenshot via InformNapalm

Similarly, the investigators found evidence of the sailors from the Russian large landing craft Saratov being engaged in the occupation of Crimea.

InformNapalm identified 37 troops from the 15th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of Russia’s Armed Forces (military unit 90600, Roshchinsky, Samara Oblast), who had participated in the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Russian military in Ukraine’s Donbas. Screenshot from the vk.com profile of Ruslan Khayretdinov (left in the photo), one of the soldiers from Russia’s 15th “peacekeeping” brigade. The soldiers are posing with the Ukrainian road border sign, reading “State border of Ukraine. No entry” in Ukrainian. Screenshot: InformNapalm

A piquant detail of the investigation is that the 15th is the only brigade in the Russian army that has the status of “peacekeepers” and is part of the UN international peacekeeping forces.

Infographics: InformNapalm

Among the latest additions to the database of the exclusively Russian military equipment spotted in the Donbas were a piece of the electronic warfare RB-636 “Svet-KU” and 15 UAZ “Esaul” Russian armored cars encountered and fixed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission’s drones. Another entry was one more Granat-1 Russian UAV that fell from the sky near the Ukrainian positions in the Donbas.

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