Meet The Russian Fighters Building A Base Between Mariupol And Donetsk

June 17, 2015

By now a large body of evidence has been accumulated which proves that Russia is supplying both equipment and soldiers from its military to the Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Last year, the initial focus was on the weapons such as tanks and anti-aircraft missiles which were showing up in separatist-controlled areas. Some of them, like the T-72 Main Battle Tank and the Strela-10 surface to air missiles, most likely were supplied or even operated directly by the Russian military. Some of the weapons — like the T-72B3 which was never exported by Russia; or the BPM-97, an armored vehicle which is exclusively used by Russia’s border guards — are definitive proof of Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine. Journalists have witnessed Russian armor pouring across the border, fallen Russian soldiers have been buried, and social media posts have placed Russian soldiers inside Ukraine (just to name a few examples).

However, in the last month the international observers from the OSCE — a group which has arguably bent over backward not to assign blame in this conflict — has witnessed a group of soldiers, wearing Russian military insignia, operating inside Ukraine. This is from their report on May 28, just days before the June 3 assault on Marinka:

In Petrivske (“DPR”-controlled, 38km south-east of Donetsk) the SMM spoke to a young man who said that the former local holiday camp was currently occupied by an unknown armed group. He could not specify for how long this armed group had been stationed in the village. In the village the SMM spoke to two women, both wearing military uniforms, with caps with Russian Federation Armed Forces insignia. They said that they were from Kramatorsk. During the conversation with the two women a vehicle with Russian Federation number plates stopped next to the OSCE vehicles and two armed men, similarly dressed, exited the car and ordered the women to stop the conversation with the SMM. Behind a tall fence inside the holiday camp, the SMM observed one infantry fighting vehicle.

Are these really soldiers in the Russian military? What we do know is that there is an established pattern that previous to other major battles there has been an influx of Russian military soldiers who spearhead major assaults on important Ukrainian military positions. A perfect illustration of this is the soldier highlighted in a recent investigation by Vice News journalist Simon Ostrovsky who proved that a particular Russian soldier was present in the area of Debaltsevo, site of a major Russian offensive in February. We also know that the Russian-backed fighters appear to have made the area east of Volnovakha, between Donetsk and Mariupol, a target for a new wave of attacks.

For nearly two months the OSCE’s reports have been filled with details about heavy weaponry, armor, and soldiers moving around inside the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic,” but one paragraph in this sea of information caught our eye. Last week, on their June 8 report, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission mentioned another camp, just 10 kilometers south-southeast from the one discussed above, where the Russian-backed forces were stationing armor.

In “DPR”-controlled Rozdolne [Razdolnoye] (47km south-east of Donetsk) an SMM UAV spotted a concentration of nine main battle tanks (MBTs) in a residential area, one self-propelled howitzer (2S1) and 16 armoured personnel carriers (APCs).

This report is important for two reasons. The first — this observation matches a pattern which suggests that the Russian-backed fighters are massing between Donetsk and Mariupol. The second — it corresponded to reports posted on Russian social media and exposed by the website InformNapalm — reports which suggested that not only is there a separatist camp in this area, but that the camp contains Russian fighters. Furthermore, the leaders of one of the groups located at this base, Aleksei Milchakov, a rising star inside the DNR who was among the survivors of Rusich battalion after separatist leader Aleksandr “Batman” Bednov was assassinated in January. There are suspicions that he may be an agent of the Russian foreign military intelligence directorate, or GRU.

Below we have assessed the details of the reports from InformNapalm, and have expanded on their investigation. — James Miller

Social Media Shows Large Accumulation of Tanks & Russian Fighters in Ukrainian Town of Razdolnoye

In January 2015, the Ukrainian website InformNapalm began to publish information about fighters from Russia and local Russian-backed separatists assembling in the Ukrainian town of Razdolnoye (Rozdolne, here on a map).

Razdolnoye lies in an area of particular strategic interest at the moment. Russian forces here are within striking distance of the Ukrainian held front-line settlements of Granitnoye, Starognatovka and Novolaspa. To the west, Volonvakha is a key Ukrainian-held town on the contested Donetsk-Mariupol highway. Any move on Mariupol, the greatest economic prize in the Donetsk region, would require a pincer manoeuvre, taking Volnovakha and flanking the port city from the north.

Therefore evidence of large numbers of Russian-backed troops in Razdolnoye, coupled with sightings of armour in Komsomolskoye to the immediate north and Russian personnel in Petrovskoye, to the west, indicates a significant concentration of force that could launch such an attack. 

The Ukrainian military claims that Starognatovka was shelled by tanks and mortars last night, and Grad rocket attacks on Novolaspa and Granitnoye have become more frequent in recent weeks.


Razdolnoye, like Komsomolskoye, is easily served by road from the Russian border crossing near Matveyev Kurgan, a rail stop used routinely for unloading troops and armor bound for Ukraine.


InformNapalm published some photos from the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK) which pictures soldiers in the Russian-backed Kalmius battalion in what appears to be a garage for holding armor.

VKontakte is the most popular Russian social media site and Russian soldiers use it heavily to keep it touch with their family and friends while deployed. VKontakte (VK) enables the user to opt to upload pictures with a geotag or location where it was taken, and sometimes these locations appear in soldiers’ photos. VK has another function where you can click on any geotag and find the other photos with that same geotag, enabling further research into the Russian military in Ukraine.

InformNapal showed Russian fighters’ pictures geotagged on the T-05-08 highway in Razdolnoye, but they blanked out the last name of the account so neither the photos nor their location could be verified.




Using the VK’s “photos at this location” feature with other pictures that were geotagged to Razdolnoye or Starobeshevsky District, we could not find these photos at all. Possibly they were removed from the social media site after InformNapalm’s publication.

Translation: Razdolnoye (Donetsk Region). Warehouses with various Russian armor and ammunition.

Translation: #Razdolnoye (#Starobeshevo district). The rashisty (RF Army) have arranged a barracks in the gymnasium. #russia #war in Ukraine

Rashisty is a pejorative term used for Russians made up from the word “Russian” and “fascist.”

The blogger @BuTaJlu4ek who works with InformNapalm acknowledged the limitations of this system on
VKontakte that automatically geotags some uploaded pictures (if the
user enables the feature).

Translation: The geolocation point in this village is always a bit NOT accurate ; )

Another blogger knowledgeable about the region made a suggestion:

His link is to the same area of warehouses, described by users on Wikimapia as “old school building” on a campus called “SPTU 150” which is the Russian acronym for “Starobeshevo Occupation and Trade University No. 150.” The map of this campus shows “workshops” and other buildings in the area.

Another school listed in Razdolnoye is the Angelina Starobeshevo Occupational Agricultural Lycee (SPAL), founded in 1968, named for a famous female tractor driver in the Stalin era, as a VKontakte group explained, providing a few photos.


A news brief at the Ministry of Education of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” describes a career day held on June 6 of this year at “Angelina Starobeshevo Occupational Agricultural Lycee (PTU 150)” with the headline “Being a Tractor Driver is Prestigious!” This indicates that SPAL and SPTU 150 are the same facility — and despite all the shooting, the school is still being used for education.

The photo from the VKontakte group above is included on Google Maps and geotagged here, and labelled on Wikimapia as “new school building.”

Here’s another photo of the SPAL building taken here; this picture is from the same VKontakte group.


Here is a close-up of the building visible on Google Earth.


Here is a screenshot of the whole campus from its location on Google Maps:


Here’s the same campus on Bing Maps where the satellite photo is brighter:


Ukrainian authorities say some of the students of technical schools have been recruited to train and fight with the Russian-backed separatists. It’s not clear at what point the fighters occupied the campus or whether they have taken it over completely, but two tweets linking to videos in February (one dated as far back as November 2014) labelled “Razdolnoye” show a tank repair yard and a shooting range alleged to be at this facility.

In this video, a fighter tells the cameraman to “stop that f**king filming or you’ll expose our headquarters,” so not much can be told from this video., which
zooms in on the tanks and the mechanics.

Translation: Rashisty are repairing tanks, Razdolnoye, no later than 24/11/14.

Here is one frame from that video:


The tank in this video appears to be a T-72B.  Here is a comparison to a picture on an army recognition website:


While the T-72 is a tank that is in the arsenals of both Russia and Ukraine, the Ukrainian military has never used the T-72 in the field because too many of the parts are manufactured in Russia. The Ukrainian T-72s are stored in the western parts of the country, far from the conflict, and there has not been a single documented incident where the Ukrainian military has used the T-72 in this conflict. Furthermore, the T-72 was not seen in this conflict at all until the Russian military buildup which preceded the “Russian invasion” last August. According to the weapons specialists at Armament Research Services (ARES) who conducted an exhaustive catalog of weapons used in this conflict, only the Russian-backed fighters have been seen operating the T-72. ARES has referred to these and other weapons as “red flags,” clear indications of the direct involvement of the Russian military. 

Furthermore, while the Russian-backed fighters routinely use T-64 Main Battle Tanks across the territory which they control, the T-72 often shows up in areas of high priority — areas where, evidence regularly suggests, the Russian military shows other signs of direct intervention.

In this video, we can see the fighters have turned the school yards into a shooting range:

Translation: Rashisty’s training ground in Razdolnoye, Starobeshevsky District. Shooting from an RPG-7

An even earlier video is dated September 22, 2014, and labelled “Shooting from a PK” which is a type of Russian machine gun, was also labelled “Razdolnoye.

It’s clear both these two videos were taken at the same location as there are very similar buildings in each.

In the PK video, just before the fighter covers the lens with his hand the building can be seen:


In the previous video, the same building shows up darker:


From the first video, several other buildings and some vehicles and
poles can be seen when the camera slips and goes down to the left of
the shooter. Here are three merged frames which we have edited together (and put right-side-up) which show these buildings:


Now if we put these together, keeping mind that the camera view of
the man filming the shooter is “upside down” compared to the map, we can
see that likely the shooting range is located here on the campus (this time shown on Yandex Maps):


The blogger @BuTaJlu4ek posted a picture with the hash tag “Razdolnoye” in March and a screenshot of a picture and its geotag, which also showed “Razdolnoye.”

Translation: Everything is OK. The guy bought a Russian uniform in the market with a sniper’s rifle and is sitting at the rashists’ base.

We confirmed the photo is geotagged as Razdolnoye in the VK account of “Krasavchik Ryazansky” (a pseudonym which means “Ryazan Dandy”  who is friends with another fighter “Weter Weter” who also has pictures geotagged as having been taken in Razdolnoye (see below).


There are some ruins on the grounds of the agricultural school which Wikimapia has tagged “former farm buildings from SPTU 150” (the school).


The shooter pictured above is likely crouched near one of these buildings, which are shown here on a screenshot from Yandex Maps:


In May, a new photo appeared, said to be geotagged in Razdolnoye,
showing a fighter near a building that looked like the school, with a
row of armored vehicles.

Translation: town of Razdolnoye, May 26, there are more of Putin’s creatures here than mosquitoes – from a fresher photo.

We looked at the school campus on Google Maps; without more pictures showing more of the building it would be hard to make a match.

To our surprise, however, a local photographer with the user name Gor6777 on Panoramio, who had already posted hundreds of photos of this area over the years, had uploaded to Panoramio three photos of the school buildings dated April 21, 2015, which were accepted by Google.

These photos not only show the buildings; they show a row of armored vehicles, BMP-2s, in front of them. This is astonishing for anyone who has long used Google maps to try to geolocate scenes in the war in Ukraine — usually the pictures available were taken before the war. Only just recently have both satellite photos and photographers’ pictures started to reflect the aftermath of combat and the devastation of shelling. In this case, the  photographer obtained very clear close-ups while standing in a field a ways from the building.

Original on Panoramio


Original on Panoramio


Original on Panoramio


When comparing the picture with the fighter and armor said to be geolocated to Razdolnoye by @GirkinGirkin on Twitter with these buildings, we see some similar elements but we don’t see an exact match. Possibly they show different sides of the same building (the features appear to be similar except that they are reversed left-to-right) or different buildings in the same complex complex.


InformNapalm published another article on May 31, 2015 titled “Razdolnoye (Donetsk Region): Neo-Nazis, Foreigners and an Accumulation of Armor.”

In this article, they began to link Russian Federation fighters and local Russian-speaking and/or ethnic-Russian fighters in Ukraine from geotagged photos in VKontakte (VK) groups to this campus in Razdolnoye. The geotags either say “Razdolnoye” or “Starobeshevsky District” which is the name of the district in which Razdolnoye is located.

InformNapalm noticed from pictures with this geotag in the VKontakte group Svodki ot Opolcheniya Novorossii (Novorossiya Militia Dispatches) that a number of the soldiers were from “Rusich DShRG” (which stands for “Diversionary and Reconnaissance Group”) headed by Aleksei Milchakov, a notorious Russian sadist and neo-Nazi from St. Petersburg whose call sign is “Serb.” Rusich also has a VKontakte group.

As Milchakov explained in an interview with Georgy Kotyonok on June 14, Rusich has been reconstituted anew since its members were killed or scattered by the assassination of their leader “Batman” (Aleksandr Bednov) in Lutugino in Lugansk Region.

According to Novorossiya Militia Dispatches on May 30, the  unit was joined by unidentified foreigners including Italians and a Brazilian.


InformNapalm then tied this Brazilian in Rusich to a soldier who put his first name and patronymic on VK as Valery Georgevich.

They found one photo showing Milchakov and some other fighters geotagged to the school location on an account with the common Russian name “Sergei Petrov” which InformNapalm says hides the real identity of the foreigner.


As with InformNapalm’s previous article on Razdolnoye, the publication of the article seemed to force some of the fighters featured to remove pictures or remove the geotagging.

The pictures of the armor can still be found in the VK group Voyenny Obozrevatel’ but the geotagging has been stripped  out.

Sergei Petrov’s account doesn’t have any of the pictures shown on InformNapalm now — it’s been known to happen that when such pictures are published in the media, the owner then deletes the originals off of social networks.


There is a picture on Sergei Petrov’s profile, however with two banners on the wall and a salmon-colored blanket at the bottom of the frame:


These are the exact same banners and blanket which appear in a photo taken with the Italian fighter displayed on Vladimir Verbitsky’s page published by InformNapalm (While we found Verbitsky’s account, all the pictures have been deleted except the one of Milchakov and the fighter with the “Italia” patch, used as a profile  picture; this name is also described by InformNapalm as a pseudonym, hiding a foreigner’s name,.)


Petrov appears to hold a number of extreme views, as indicated by the inclusion of a meme of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.

Valery Georgevich’s album still contains the same pictures shown by InformNapalm, such as this fighter lying on the grass in the training field,  but none of them were geotagged.

One of the photos in Georgevich’s album was jokingly called
“Château de Chambord. Loire Valley. 18th Century” as if it were a castle in France on the Loire River.


This photo appears to be from the same Razdolnoye area. Taking a satellite image from Google Earth of the river near the school campus area (using one from 2011 where the shadows make the utility poles more visible), we could match the same elements in the  picture of the bushes, poles, and road (at  47°36’36.58″N  38° 0’58.65″E) as follows:


This “Loire” picture shows a red car.


This might be the same red car as from 17 seconds into the “tank repair” video described above:


The Tip Of The Iceberg

Since we either couldn’t find the accounts mentioned in InformNapalm’s article or, if we found accounts, the pictures indicated were not geotagged, we began to look through their friends’ list as well as photos supposedly taken at the same location to see if we could find any other fighters tied to the school campus.

This fighter named Aleksei Nadolinsky shows a geotagged photo that has similar features to the training field in pictures above. But he does not say where he is originally from on his account, only “great Russian invincible land”.


Another fighter, Zhenya Savitsky, has a similar picture at the shooting range.


That particular photo wasn’t geotagged to Razdolnoye, but another one of him and a buddy is:


We can also find a photo of Savitsky standing in front of the old school building, which even if not geotagged, is geolocatable by matching the elements in the picture to gor6777’s photo:



Savitsky is from Moscow, and belongs to VK groups like “Forgive Me Mama I Went Off to the Militia.”


Evidently he may be a volunteer; there is nothing on his account showing any army unit.

Yet another fighter with photos geotagged to Razdolnoye is Sla Va from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.



Still another fighter with geotagged pictures which place him in Razdolnoye even has a picture of a Russian army patch.


But he indicates his home town as “Razdolnoye.”

From the VK groups we also found a photo of Milchakov and  pro-separatist reporter Oxasha Nikodimova, geotagged as “Starobeshevsky District.” They’re in the same field as the photo from InformNapalm above, and Nikodimova is embedded in Rusich.


She also uploaded a picture of Rusich’s neo-Nazi insignia, which is geotagged to Starobeshevsky District.


Translation: Oxasha Nikadimova Dima, French, Bulgarians and Brazilians also stand under the banner of Rusich and they are here for the idea!

Dima Shchyokin On the one hand the are accusations against the punishers of fascism, on the other hand swastikas and Rusiches…A khokhol [pejorative term for Ukrainians] approach all the same.

Dima Shchyokin Russian Orthodoxy, paganism, Nazism, communism, all mixed up!

(For an article on Rusich’s neo-Nazi pagan beliefs and rituals, see Ukraine@War)

Nikodimova recently made several documentary videos showing Rusich fighters training. For this purpose, she dressed in uniform and participated in target practice and army chores with the other fighters. It is not clear if she is going to remain as a fighter in this group but clearly she is closely associated with it.

In this video, she’s filmed putting on a t-shirt in a room with the same triangular symbol and a flag on the wall as in the pictures of “Sergei Petrov” and “Vladimir Verbitsky” above — this is Rusich’s insignia.


The training field appears to be the same as in the geotagged photo above with Milchakov.


A building in the background of the target practice appears to be on the same campus as the building in the above videos of target practice.


In this video of Rusich’s training there’s a scene of the same room with the flags and salmon blanket.



This video also shows training scenes that appears to take place on the school campus.


The blogger @GirkinGirkin discovered another fighter, Alfred Yaminov, whom he said was from Ufa.

Translation: Alfred Yaminov from Ufa kills Ukrainians in the town of Razdolnoye.

His profile says he is from the town of Sterlibashevo in the Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia, about 171 kilometers from Ufa.

Some of the photos are geotagged as Razdolnoye, including the one shown in the tweet above and this one:


Others are marked as Starobeshevsky District such as this one with a Russian flag and tank:



Interestingly, the vehicle these men are standing in front of appears to be a T-72. Though the entire tank is not visible, this looks like a T-72B1 — the same kind of tank described above in the “repair” video, a tank which was likely provided to the separatists by the Russian military, if Russian soldiers are not directly operating it.

Finally, we found another Russian fighter from Ryazan tied to this location, with one photo going back to December 2014 geotagged in the Starobeshevsky District:


Another shows Razdolnoye as the geotag, with buildings similar to other photos:


Here he is near the river, geotagged to Starobeshevsky District:


Only The Beginning of the Investigation

With more perusal of friends’ list, likely more fighters could be traced to this area — but some of the connections between their photos and other social media such as YouTube videos aren’t always definitive.

While we can show fighters giving their home towns in Russia, many likely came in the capacity of volunteers; there is no information on the profiles analyzed above about any army units (as there sometimes is with such soldiers fighting with the Russian-backed militants, such as in a case recently highlighted by Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky.)

Even so, we can see that for the last six months, a number of Russian fighters have been coming for training to this school in Razdolnoye, and tanks, including T-72s, are also located there and are being repaired in a shop.

Last week the OSCE Special Monitoring Missing confirmed what had been shown in February and April in pictures on social media we indicated above. According to the June 8 SMM report, based on data received as of 19:30,

In “DPR”-controlled Rozdolne [Razdolnoye] (47km
south-east of Donetsk) an SMM UAV spotted a concentration of nine main
battle tanks (MBTs) in a residential area, one self-propelled howitzer
(2S1) and 16 armoured personnel carriers (APCs). 

This is an important staging area on the road in between Donetsk and Mariupol, not far from the current fighting in Volnovakha. The steady amount of reports from various social media sources for the last six months, including right up to this moment, indicate that the war is not over and this base could play a key role in its next chapter.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Pierre Vaux, James Miller