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Russia’s Version of the Navy SEALs May Be Fighting in Ukraine

August 28, 2014

By Magnitsky

The Instagram account of a Russian special forces operative reveals that members of the elite Alpha Group took part in military operations in Ukraine. Ilya Gorelyh, who has been highly decorated for his service in special operations, has suggested that he and his colleagues took part in the fighting against Ukrainian forces.

Gorelyh (second from left) and other special operatives in Kaliningrad (Russia) Source

Gorelyh (second from left) and other special operatives in Kaliningrad (Russia) [Source]

On the 21st of July, Gorelyh posted a photograph of his car driving through the border crossing at Nehoteevka with the comment “we are already close, fucking Banderas”.  The reference is to Stepan Bandera, who led a nationalist movement in Ukraine during the Stalinist era and who remains notorious in Russia for his collaboration with the Nazis.

When one of his followers asks “holidays or work”, Gorelyh replies with “work, of course! Its to do with our profession” followed by gun emoji.

Gorelyh crossing the border at Nehoteevka. Gorelyh hints at the nature of his work in the Ukraine with emoji of knives bombs and guns. [Source]

Gorelyh crossing the border at Nehoteevka. Gorelyh hints at the nature of his work in Ukraine with emoji of knives bombs and guns. [Source]

Two days later he posted a photograph of himself and another man brandishing a knife and a standard issue Russian Makarov pistol in their car. He commented: “#polite#people#spetsnaz#GRU#16OBrSpN#370ooSpN… we are coming”.

Some of the names preceded by hashtags are of the elite units that Gorelyh has served in, including the Alpha group which is Russia’s equivalent of the Navy SEALs or the British SAS. “Polite People” are the Russian equivalent of the “little green men”, the well-equipped forces who occupied the Crimea back in March.

An Italian special forces issue knife and Makarov pistol [Source]

An Italian special forces issue knife and Makarov pistol [Source]

The Apha Group, a small unit of Russia’s Special Forces, has been used in rescue operations in the Moscow theater and Beslan school hostage crises, and to carry out special operations including assassinations.

Gorelyh has been highly decorated for his years of service, and appears to be currently active with the special forces in Kaliningrad; an enclave between Poland and Lithuania that belongs to the Russian Federation.

Gorelyh's “veteran of miltary actions” card and his Alpha Group ID [Source]

Gorelyh’s “veteran of miltary actions” card and his Alpha Group ID [Source]

He later writes “I went to bed early yesterday… Didn’t sleep for two days, while we were riding around “free Ukraine, and the training was very good we let them know about us”. Gorelyh seems cautious about discussing the details of his work, instead he jokes that he is going to Ukraine to “visit his grandmother”.

Gorelyh is asked whether this picture was taken in Donetsk, he replies with a “thumbs up” emoji. [Source]

Gorelyh is asked whether this picture was taken in Donetsk, he replies with a “thumbs up” emoji. [Source]

Despite his caution, he has the DNR, the Russian acronym for the “Donetsk People’s Republic” set as his location. Moreover, when one of his followers urges him to “tear them [the Ukrainians] all apart” he replies with “we’re already tearing them”.

On the 29th of July, Gorelyh announced that he is was crossing the border at Goptovka. An anonymous user who seems to side with the Ukrainian forces posted “this time you’ll return from “grandmother” in zinc”. This is a reference to zinc coffins are used to return the bodies of dead soldiers from overseas. Gorelykh replied with “fucking Banderovite offspring, I have been there a hundred times, and will go again just as many times”.

The border crossing at Goptovka. The caption says “We're going to visit “grandmother” again. [Source]

The border crossing at Goptovka. The caption says “We’re going to visit “grandmother” again. [Source]

This evidence of Russian military involvement comes at the same time as the revelation that around 40 Russian troops been killed in Ukraine, and the news that Angela Merkel has demanded an explanation from Putin regarding the presence of his troops in the conflict. As the evidence suggests that members of the Alpha Group have also been employed, it could mean that the Russian government has used force in a number of covert and illegal operations in Ukraine.


Iggy Ostanin is a freelance Russian journalist who does investigative research on the Ukrainian conflict. He tweets under @magnitsky and can be contacted at

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  1. Marco Nase

    I have a bit of a problem with this article.

    The basis of its claim is a single social media-page of somebody who claims to be an active member of a special forces-unit. The problem here is that there are cartloads of young guys who claim something like that and if it was all true the concept of “special” forces would be stretched rather thin.

    None of the details from the profile of this young gentleman conclusively point to his claims being more than tall tales to impress his friends. All of these pictures could have been taken everywhere else. The presence of the hardware proves nothing, all of it is available via mail order. In fact, why would a special forces member pose in flip-flops and T-shirt in a combat zone? Why would they use a regular border crossing? Why would they feel the constant need to post pictures of themselves with military paraphernalia like a delusional teenager?

    I`m no expert on Russian medals but if I`m not mistaken his surprisingly many and high-ranking medals – much more than a guy of his age should have – include one that looks deceptively like “For Service in Railway Troops” (for 20 years of service).

    All in all I say that this looks shaky to the extreme. The special forces of all countries are knee-deep in weirdos, and maybe this is one of the more weird weirdos, but unless more proof comes forth, I`d consider this BS.

  2. Charles brown

    What kind of special forces soldier advertises covert operations on social media? Posts detailed shots of military ID?
    I can’t imagine any special forces unit anywhere in the world having such a useless member.

    • Humboldtblk1

      Yep ….but intelligence, youth and the World Wide Web aren’t words used together often.

    • Thim Page

      “useless member”? It’s not like the presence of Special Forces from Russia in Ukraine is any kind of secret. Everyone knows it, just as everyone knows the Americans and Germans are there also. He does not seem to have compromised any operational secrecy. Certainly he has permission to do this. I do hope the bastard comes back in zinc, as I hate the Bolshevik regime that so recently paraded prisoners of war around their sacred “Lenin Square”. Yes, Lenin Square. By the way, Bandera was put in the camps by the NAZI’s. Some NAZI collaborator!

    • Serge

      Well, what kind of special ops advertise on social media? Russians are that ignorant my friend, believe me, I´ve lived near Spetznaz, they won´t lie about Chechnia, Afganistan, they´ll tell you anything they did and will do, as far as they are aware of that, just to have some fun while drinking and of course, impress some girls. Man, believe it or not, their superiors are fine with that shit. Strange mother Russia 🙂

  3. Serge

    What freaks me out is the same guy posting a picture of the Lithuanian border 🙂 Does that confirm that mr. Bond operates in Lithuania from time to time. And if yes, does that confirm that Putin is interested in expanding in the Baltics? Who knows… let you guys decide. Crazy world, this social media sites.

  4. Guest McFarlane

    from Wikipedia:

    Alpha group “is an elite, stand-alone sub-unit of Russia’s special forces.” Firstly, the words “elite,” “stand-alone,” and “sub-unit” all point towards Alpha being heavily compartmentalized, having little-to-no executive oversight, and retaining absolute authority over themselves and their actions, all of which give any politician controlling them plausible deniability of their involvement, whenever needed…

    “It is a dedicated counter-terrorism task force of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which primarily prevents and responds to violent acts in public transportation and buildings. It was created by the Soviet KGB in 1974.” If you know anything about the Russian government, you know that “terrorism” and “terrorists” are a catch-all, usually just used to justify any hostile action government wishes to take. Like Assad in Syria (they have much in common), shelling innocent civilians can even be justified if it was done because the government was “trying to kill terrorists.” So, it would not be at all surprising to learn that a a Russian special forces group, tasked with protecting Russia from “terrorist acts,” were sent into Ukraine to assist the Eastern rebels, and we’re told that if they were caught, they could just say that they only crossed the border because they were chasing “nazi terrorists” who had infiltrated the RUSSIAN border, in order to hunt them down and kill them, as is there job to do. Now, that’s absolute Putin propaganda, but it works because Ukrainian Nazi groups DO exist, and at least make up a MODERATE size of the Ukrainian forces fighting against the East… moving on,

    “Although little is known about the exact nature of its primary directives, it is speculated that the unit is authorised to act under the direct control and sanction of Russia’s top political leadership, similar to its sister unit, the Directorate “B” (Vympel), which is officially tasked with protecting Russia’s strategic installations.” So the groups are directly controlled by political leaders. Again, this is cover for Putin. The fewer the number of people between his orders and those receiving it, the fewer chances there are for leaking of that information, or proving he was complicit in any of it. If Alpha group is caught, and says that Putin himself told them to cross the border, he would flatly deny it, and it would be impossible for them to prove…

    “It is also available for extended police duties, for paramilitary operations, and for covert operations, both domestically and internationally.” This sort of goes with my other point: because of the very nature of the work they do, theoretically nearly any order could be twisted into giving a rational reason why the forces should cross the Ukrainian-Russian border and fight with the rebels.

    National sovereignty is important, and Putin sure as hell doesn’t give a damn about it. Then again, neither does Anerica, the U.K, or any major country.

    • Sergei

      Go, Russia, lets kick some ass. Kill all those pro western Ukranians and put their regime down. NATO AND EU FUCK OFF UKRAINE.

  5. flash

    He’s GRU and had no relation to the FSB alfa . newer pics show him with his friends in syria and in syria there are no fsb only GRU and SVR . the ID he shows isn’t that of the alfa but of an association for veterans of fsb and other security services


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