Internecine warfare has broken out among the volunteer fighters of LNR [so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” is a hybrid military formation consisting of mercenary and regular Russian troops in the occupied territory of Ukraine’s Luhansk oblast created, funded and controlled by Russia – Ed.]. A bloody and merciless war. One of the battalions has become an outlaw gang and is killing their own.
These stories will make your blood run cold.
Two deputy commanders of a battalion in the Luhansk People’s Republic were arrested for wreaking havoc “within their territory,” and are accused of abusing peaceful civilians, taking fighters from other units as prisoners, killing their supposed brothers-in-arms who did not condone their lawlessness, or simply to loot their belongings. One fighter miraculously survived after he was shot in the head by commanders, another was shot four times and then buried alive but managed to climb out of his grave.
In a candid interview the survivors told Russian news agency “URA.Ru” of the horrors they witnessed in the “gangster battalion.” The survivors are in hiding in Russia, fearing for their lives; the battalion commander promises to kill anyone who speaks out against him.
In the early months of the invasion the combat unit fought selflessly for the idea of the Novorossiya project, but left to their own devices with no one in control over the last year of war, they’ve turned into a bona fide gang. “There are people here who are sick in the head. The mayor is afraid of us, and we control the police force.” The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Luhansk has opened a criminal case and the first arrests have been made, but the situation is still not under control.[quote style=”boxed”]— Look what he wrote to me! “You went to the police? You think I can’t find you? Just you wait, you’ll have company soon!” [/quote]
Marina shows me a message from her former commander via Skype. The girl is in a panic: the commander is threatening to “obliterate” her together with her husband Evgeny and their little boy. Marina is now in Russia, but even though she is away from LNR, she is rightfully afraid. According to her, the battalion commander is a certifiable maniac, and he has many Russian subordinates who can go anywhere in Russia to find her. There is plenty for which he could seek revenge. The fighters who escaped are prepared to tell the whole truth about the armed unit that controlled the entire city in the LNR, murdering and burying anyone who they found undesirable.
Marina and her husband found me through volunteers who were familiar with my story of the Donetsk sniper group commander Veselina Cherdantseva, who shot her deputy, a former paratrooper [after a night of drinking – Ed.]. The former militia fighters won’t trust anyone, but the investigation conducted by «URA.Ru» convinced them that they can tell us the truth. [Editor’s note: Russian media call all non-regular Russian military formations in the Donbas “militia” despite many of them being former military from Russia handsomely paid for their service, and thus constituting foreign mercenaries.]
“BRYANKA USSR”Our battalion is called “Bryanka USSR” and it’s located in the city of Bryanka. The battalion has about 400 people. My husband Zhenya (call sign “Arbat”) was the deputy battalion commander for logistics. People came to him for everything. From businessmen to deputies and the mayor; whoever wanted to get anything done in the city came to see him.
— Where is the battalion fighting?
— We have an advanced position in Pervomaisk, and that’s about 4 km from the real frontline. Hence, our advanced position is actually in the rear. So we are shelling from within the city.
— When our unit was first created, there were only 15 of us and 3 machine guns, adds her husband Evgeny [aka Zhenya/Arbat-Ed.]. — We carried out covert, hit-and-run operations. That’s when we were still fighting, now we don’t really fight anymore. The last major operation was in Debaltseve, and even there we occupied one street and sat there for several days.
Marina: Our unit subsisted on PR: we would drive out to the field, fire “Grads,” film some good footage. Our mission was to draw attention to ourselves so people would help and humanitarian aid would come.
— Didn’t you get any provisions from the Luhansk republic? [the central “LNR” authorities in Luhansk, who are known for problems controlling various unruly units nominally subordinate to them–Ed.]
— No, we’re outside the LNR military structure. In today’s law we’re considered an armed gang. We have no military credentials and we took no military oaths. The battalion is made up of every sort of person: anyone who wants to join up gets a weapon. We don’t get paid. We serve for the principle and for a bowl of porridge. Mostly the guys go hungry, while the commanders eat sausage and meat.
— Why wasn’t the unit incorporated into the LNR army?
— The commanders said we were against LNR, we were for Novorossiya. But, they said, the secret police wouldn’t allow Luhansk Ministry of Internal Affairs to disarm us. There are now many criminal cases against the battalion: murders, disappearances. Besides, we just found out that our commander receives money for us. At the present time, 400 members are registered in the unit, and the commander gets $250-$300 for each of them. Of course we’ve never seen that money, we didn’t even know about it.
— How many people are there at the top of the battalion who are syphoning off this money?
— Three or four people. Commander Dima Pendyurin “Lyuty” [“Ferocious” –Ed.], deputy for military operations Mikhail aka “Krym” [“Crimea” – Ed.], head of special unit Sergey aka Senya “Vostok” [“East”–Ed.].
— Where did the battalion get its money?
— I don’t know where the money for the personal staff came from. As a deputy for logistics, my job was to get scrap metal, and get workers in factories and mines to cut their machines into ferrous and non-ferrous metal scrap.
— Can you earn a lot of money from scrap metal?
Marina: Zhenya would deliver anywhere from 50 to 150 thousand hryvnia to the commander a day [around US $2,000 – $7,000 – Ed.]. He would deliver it, hand over the packet of money, but what the commander did with that money afterwards only he could know for sure. I know for sure that to this day our unit continues shipping metal out of Krasnopolye mine.
Zhenya would bring the commander packets of money every day. He would always say to the commander: “I’ll take some for the smokes.” But how much would he take? From 100,000 he would take 500 hryvnias to buy food for us. I always said, “Zhenya, don’t give him 150, the commander doesn’t know how much you’re making, give him 100.” But he’d yell, “Are you nuts? Guys are sitting there hungry, how can you even suggest I do that!” In the end, that’s what happened. Dima [the commander–Ed.] took all the money for himself, and we ended up spending all the money we took on food, diesel fuel, or for funerals. Meanwhile the commander bought himself property in Sevastopol, in Simferopol, in Rostov. [Sevastopol and Simferopol are cities in the occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Rostov is a Russian city to the east of Ukraine’s border – Ed.]
SHOT RIGHT THROUGH THE HEAD
–Tell me about your injury.
Marina: – It happened because of a quarrel.
[quote style=”boxed”]Here’s the background: At Krasnaya Gorka there was a criminal who raped and murdered two girls, 13 and 14 years old.[/quote]
Our guys came to take him away from the city police HQ (we have access to the prison, to the POWs located there). They made him lick the toilet bowl clean and captured it all on video. It was posted on the internet, and that same night – it was April 21st 2015 – Zhenya and Senya Vostok started to argue about who posted the video, how it was that half the city knows about it. They started losing it and cursing at one another. The commander said, “I’ll be waiting for you at the entrance and then I’ll kill you.” Zhenya replied, “You rat, you swiped all our money.”
Zhenya: Before that, this happened: I handed him over 5000 hryvnia that was to go to the base, but he took the money and spent it. And when I reminded him about it, he snapped, “Watch your mouth!” He served some time in a juvenile detention center in Volgograd, and he really resented being called a rat.
Marina: – When I saw Senya reach for his pistol, I tried to knock it out of his hand. He fell against the wall, but he still fired and the bullet wound up in Zhenya’s head. I took out my own gun, I wanted to shoot him, but they threw me to the ground. They dragged Zhenya in one direction and me in another. Zhenya was writhing in pain: the bullet entered his right temple and exited the left top. He was gasping, screaming. They told me he would die. Kolya the redhead took out an automatic gun and wanted to kill him, to put him out of his misery.
— Who’s Kolya?
— Nikolay Gribunov, aka “The Weather Man”. He’s in the clip about us aired by Channel 1 [Russian state TV – Ed.]. They immediately took away my cell phone and my pistol. They didn’t even let me call for an ambulance. If I hadn’t appealed to Kolya the redhead’s conscience, if I hadn’t reminded him how we buried his son, Zhenya probably wouldn’t be alive today.
— What happened to his son?
— On January 1, the same thing happened to his son, except that it was a machine gun. He was shot through the head and didn’t survive.
— Was he also shot by someone on his own side?
[quote style=”boxed”]When this happened, Kolya asked the battalion commander, “Bro, let me finish him off, the boy is suffering; he’s in pain!” A father about his own son, can you imagine?[/quote]
The commander said: “Don’t rush. Maybe he’ll survive.” They called an ambulance, took him to the city, but on the way to the hospital he died. We organized a good farewell, and gave him a great funeral.
So I fell on my knees before Kolya, and I started to remind him about his son: “If you had helped Vitek right away, maybe he might have lived.” Prisoners were holding me back, and I was pulling away. I said, “I will cut all of you if you don’t let me go.” So they let me go and I run to Zhenya, and they start to pull me away from him again.
— Why did they do this?
— They wanted to finish him off. And me too, probably. I screamed: “Zhenya, don’t die! Keep breathing!” They said, “Shut her mouth, what is she yelling for?” I thought they wanted to kill me on the spot. “Krym” [the deputy battalion commander] dialed the commander and said: “What should we do with her?” The commander said to me: “If it wasn’t you, you’d be long gone.” I understood this: many a person was killed in front of me. I’m even grateful to them somewhat, for I am alive now, that they didn’t kill me right then and there. Now they’re pinning all their sins on us. But that’s another story.
So Kolya drove Zhenya in a minibus to Bryanka hospital. They carried me back to headquarters and began giving me pills and water.
When we arrived at the hospital he was taken straight to surgery. They cleaned his skull and said that he would die. I began asking the Commander to take Zhenya to Luhansk. He pretended he was calling but in the end he turned around and drove off. Through some acquaintances I got through to a woman in the [LNR] ministry of health, and they sent us an ambulance. We arrived in Luhansk at 00:30 at night. The doctors there didn’t have much hope either. Zhenya was unconscious the entire time. I begged them to perform another operation, after which he was in a coma for three days.
– How long have you been in treatment?
— We spent a month and a half in the hospital. In June he was transferred to another hospital to continue his treatment. They chained him and tied him. He was going out of his mind. Now he’s a bit like a little kid, calls me “Mama” sometimes. But generally speaking, he’s almost back to normal.
The entire time we kept in touch with the battalion commander by phone. We stayed in contact, though some of my childhood friends started to phone me, telling me: “Marina, a plot is brewing against you here.” Apparently so I wouldn’t say anything about how this really happened. Right after [the shooting–Ed.] happened the commander said, “Remember, this happened at the frontline.” I said, “Yeah, sure.”
— So initially you didn’t want to make a fuss?
— Of course not. When we were at the hospital in Luhansk, I was approached several times, by various special services, including the FSB [Russia’s secret police – Ed.], asking me questions. They said that our unit had committed many criminal acts, such as looting and murder. But I didn’t give anyone away. I said that I was there with my husband and I didn’t know anything, he got wounded on the frontline. And the first thing I did when I left them was call the battalion commander and tell him everything. To which he said: “If they keep getting on your nerves, arrange a meet with them, we’ll show up and shoot them all.” I didn’t like this at all. And when these people would call me, I’d say, “I can’t talk right now. I’m too busy!” And we were given guards.
CLIMBING OUT OF THE GRAVE
— What could the unit be held criminally accountable for?
— They committed horrible things in our battalion. We have a friend named Vadik from Stakhanov [a town in Luhansk region – Ed.]. Before the war he was the head of the road police in the Perevalsk district. He had many connections which he often used to help our base. He even began serving in our unit. On June 29, 2014 they buried him in Luhansk airport, but he managed to survive. The battalion commander shot him.
— Why did he shoot him?
— Because of money — 300,000 hryvnia [around US $14,000 – Ed.] Vadik was going to pay ransom for his friend to the Sokol [“Hawk” – Ed.] unit from Perevalsk.
— You mean militiamen took another militiaman captive?
— This happens a lot here, in case you didn’t know. If we come across a drunk, for instance, we take him to “the cellar.” Only then do we decide whether it’s worth giving him back to his commander or whether it’s even worth calling the commander. Everything depends on how he behaves and how generous a mood we’re in. If we’re in a good mood, we might do nothing to him.
Zhenya: — They were demanding 2 million hryvnia for Vadik’s friend. Vadik settled it for 300,000. He was driving with another 3 men. They were all stopped, forced to dig their own graves and then were buried. The shooters were Bes, Dima and Kolya the redhead. Vadik had 5 gunshot wounds. He fell and barely could talk. The guys said: “He’s still alive!” and shot him again, a controlled hit in the neck. And then buried him. But he had strong lungs, he somehow was able to climb out of the grave, crawl to the road, and some girl called for an ambulance. He spent 22 days in a coma in a Luhansk hospital under an assumed name. He didn’t know which friend to call, afraid someone in the battalion would find out he was alive. Friends and volunteers drove him to Rostov, where he had an operation. He’s alive now and is in Russia.
— Did the battalion know about Vadik’s shooting? What was the official story?
Marina: — They knew but not everything. The official story was the usual: he was a “pro-Nazi traitor.” As Dima says in such situations, “we received information that…”
THE COMMANDER IS A TOTAL PSYCHO
— Tell us about your commander.
— Dima is from a poor family. His mother is an alcoholic. He was one of 5 children, they often begged in the streets. Dima often went hungry. My sister and mother sometimes fed him. He was always grimy and dirty. He worked in illegal coal mining pits. He was a caring person until he got a taste for money. He is sick in the head; I always called him “Maniachello” [“a total psycho ” – Ed.] When I found out he was going to become commander, I was stunned and didn’t believe it at first. When I arrived at the base and heard the radio announce “The Commander coming in” I went out to have a look. When I saw it was Dima, I was in shock.
— How had such a person become a commander?
— Back when they captured the Luhansk SBU office [SBU is the acronym for Security Service of Ukraine – Ed.] with wooden sticks against police armed with automatics [April 2014 – Ed.], he was among the first 8-15 people from Bryanka. At first his call sign was “404” because he had a t-shirt with that on it. And when they decided to give him his own unit, they voted: “Let Dima do it” because no one wanted the responsibility. After that “404” became “Lyuty” [‘ferocious’–Ed.] and gradually developed into his current violent state.
Now we are blamed for everything: for all the deaths of our guys who were killed before my eyes and whose parents are still searching for them. If I start telling you everything as it happened, it’ll make your blood curdle. How they forced guys to swim and then shot at them so they’d swim faster. How they cut out bullets and cut off heads. All those people from our city that were killed before my eyes and are buried on the base, like dogs, behind the paddock for ostriches. There’s a whole cemetery there.
[quote style=”boxed”]Their parents are searching for them, they don’t know where they are. I can’t just come out and tell them, “Oh, I know where you son is buried.” [/quote]
I’ve always been disgusted by what was happening at the base. I would even snatch painkillers from the infirmary to give the prisoners: you see, they’re all sick, riddled with bullet wounds, some have ears cut off, others legs.
— What about the prisoners, who are they basically?
— They’re mostly civilians who violated the commander’s curfew or who were picked up drunk. Or the wife called saying, “My husband is beating me.” So they go there, take the man away, kill him and bury him. The next day the wife comes looking for her husband, “Give me back my husband, you lowlife, I curse you.” They answer, “So why did you come here yesterday and write a statement on him to Vostok?” Vostok is the guy that carries out all the dirty work: the murders and other violence.
THE ENTIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT IS IN PRISON
— You mean there is no police force in Bryanka?
— There is a chief, Kolya Vostryakov.
[quote style=”boxed”]The entire police force is ours: as we say, so be it.[/quote]
I’m just Arbat’s [Zhenya’s] wife, and if I can so easily go in the cellar, what can I say about the commanders.
— How many prisoners are there on the base?
— From one to 30 or 50.
— What did they do with them?
— Most of them are killed, slaughtered, raped like girls, abused, shot, tortured. If someone pays money for them, like their parents or relatives, they’re released unharmed. They just get a beating on the back with a shovel.
— Men raped other men? Can this really attract someone?
— How can I explain this to you? The battalion accepted anyone, many were mentally unstable.
— What sorts of torture?
— Well, for example, let’s see what happens if we cut off your penis.
— Did they actually cut off penises?
— They really sawed people up with a power saw.
— All 400 battalion fighters were like this?
— Not all, of course. There were many normal guys too. But you couldn’t just leave the base. You could only go “through Odesa” as they say, meaning, you wouldn’t come out alive.
— How did you and Zhenya end up in Russia?
— Back when we were in the hospital in Luhansk, a few people told me that we had to get out of there immediately. People from the Luhansk police told me this, and the guys from our base called me too: “Take Zhenya and get out, they’re pinning things on you, they want you put away.” I just didn’t believe it, not until the very end. I even called Dima and told him. He answered, “Marinka, don’t believe them. Tell me, who told you this, I’ll have him shot!” And then one day he called all my friends, everyone he could find, and said, “When Marina leaves Luhansk for Bryanka, call me. I have to meet with her to talk to her about something.”
— What made you change your mind?
— When a close friend from the base called me and said straight up: they want to kill you. I didn’t believe it at first. I turned to a friend in the Luhansk Ministry of Internal Affairs, and he confirmed it. So I hooked up with people in Russia, with a woman who lost her close friends, and told her: “Our situations are similar.” She helped us enter Russia. Our child is with us.
— What are your plans for the future?
— My head is mush. We want to go home, we want a normal life, to work. Here in Russia nobody needs us. But we can’t go home, because they want us dead there, and they want to pin some corpses on us. Our friends from Luhansk say, don’t even think of coming back here. We’re very worried about our family back in Bryanka. I don’t want them to kill my mother for someone else’s sins.
P.S. The Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Luhansk People’s Republic confirmed that a special operation is ongoing and a criminal investigation is under way in connection with the armed group “Bryanka USSR.” However the head of investigations declined to comment. Meanwhile URA.Ru has been able to establish independently that two deputy commanders have been arrested – “Krym” and Senya “Vostok.” But the Battalion Commander, Dmitry “Lyuty” Pendyurin remains at large. [Pendyurin spelled his name Pindyurin on his vkontakte social media page, which has recently been deleted.–Ed.]