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Ukrainian army kills Russian officer, captures Russian contract soldier in Donbas

The military ID of Viktor Ageyev, a Russian contract soldier taken captive in Donbas. Photo: Yuliya Kyryienko’s fb
Ukrainian army kills Russian officer, captures Russian contract soldier in Donbas

On 24 June 2017, Ukraine’s 93th separate mechanized brigade intersected a reconnaissance group of combined Russian-separatist forces of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LNR”) near the village of Zhelobok, a town controlled by the Ukrainian government, Ukraine’s General Staff wrote. The 93d brigade offered the enemy group to surrender, but the commander and sniper opened fire and were shot. Four others – the sniper, sapper, and two machine gunners – were taken captive. The killed commander was a Russian officer, captain Aleksandr Scherbak (call sign “Alex”) from the city of Kirov, who served as an instructor to the reconnaissance group.

The rifles that the Russian-separatist reconnaissance group was carrying. Photo: 93d brigade's fb page
The rifles that the Russian-separatist reconnaissance group was carrying. Photo: 93d brigade’s fb page

The 93d brigade also informed that they confiscated the weapons member of the group were carrying, which was produced and is being used in the Russian army, including an SVD rifle released in 1994 and new equipment developed for Russian reconnaissance groups.  They also noted that the so-called “LNR” refused to acknowledge the detainees, calling them “Cadets of the Kharkiv Institute of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”

One of those taken captive, the 22-year old Viktor Ageyev turned out to be a contract soldier from Altai. Speaking to ICTV,  the spokesman for the 93d brigade informed that the young man surrendered after seeing his commander shot, and told the details of how he came to shoot Ukrainians in Donbas: Ageyev didn’t have a job, saw an announcement in the internet about fighting fascism, called, and got a confirmation that he can join without battle experience.

It is noteworthy that the myth of Ukrainian “fascists” is still being used to recruit Russians to fight in the Donbas. Two years ago, the Kyrgyz mercenary Manas told RFE/RL a very similar story. He came to fight supposed fascists, but after six months of warfare in Donbas, he found none and came back home.

Ukrainian journalist Yuliya Kyryienko published Ageyev’s military ID and passport on her fb page. The military ID, issued on 18 May 2015, states that the man studied to be an electro-gas welder at the Altai State College. The military ticket was signed by Konstantin Eller, the military commissar for Topchikhinsky and Kalman districts of the Altai Territory.

How Ageyev got to Ukraine. Image: Euromaidan Press
How Ageyev got to Ukraine. Image: Euromaidan Press

BBC’s Russian service was able to confirm Ageyev’s studies at the College. Two of his former colleagues informed BBC that in 2015-2016 Ageyev was conscripted to the military unit 65246, located in Novocherkassk of Russia’s Rostov Oblast, near Ukraine, and after that signed a contract with the Russian military intelligence.

Ageyev's passport says he was born in Kazakhstan. Photo: Yulia
Ageyev’s passport says he was born in Kazakhstan. Photo: Yulia Kyryienko’s fb page

Ageyev confirmed that he signed a contract with the Russian army on 1 April 2017 on his VKontakte page. The profile currently has the name of Vitaly Popov, but its name was recently changed, the Informnapalm community found. The profile with the VK id295647602 is still available with the name of Viktor Ageyev as a cached version through the Yandex search engine. Informnapalm supposes that the Russian FSB quickly changed the name of the profile as part of their usual denial strategy. Ageyev posted several photos of himself with symbols of the military reconnaissance and weapons on his profile over the last

Viktor’s mother Svetlana confirmed to BBC that this was her son. According to her, on 18 March 2017 her son signed a contract with the army and his new place of dislocation was Bataisk of the Rostov Oblast with the 22nd separate special purpose brigade of the GRU of the General Staff of Russia. She said she was worried because he hadn’t called since 30 May. Svetlana said that nobody from the command had contacted the family yet.

BBC contacted Viktor’s military colleagues, who answered that he confirmed to them that he was serving in Ukraine in private correspondence. However, he never said this directly to his mother.

Currently, the captive is under the jurisdiction of Ukraine’s Security Service.

Russia denies

In a statement made on 28 June 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied that Ageyev was on active duty, saying that he completed his service in May 2016, and information about him becoming a contract soldier is “a fiction of Ukrainian propagandists.”

In May 2015, Ukrainian forces captured two Russian servicemen, GRU officer Evgenii Yerofeyev and Spetsnaz sergeant Aleksandr Aleksandrov. Similarly, Moscow denied that the servicemen were on active duty, but admitted they were ex-Russian soldiers who went to Donbas voluntarily, but at the same time demanded Ukraine free the two captives. In May 2015, they were exchanged for Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot held on political motives and sentenced to 20 years in prison in a sham trial.

Moscow continues to deny it is sending Russian soldiers to Donbas. However, open source researchers at Informnapalm have identified 75 Russian military units fighting in the war in Donbas, and Russian soldiers confirm being on active duty in Ukraine themselves.

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