Russia's 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade in the Donbass
The following investigation was originally posted in Russian by the author, Askai707, on his LiveJournal blog. Translation and foreword by Aric Toler.
The following investigation from Askai707 provides a significant amount of evidence that proves the direct participation of Russia’s 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade (often referred to as just the “61st Naval Infantry Brigade” or “61st Brigade” in the translation) in the Ukrainian Conflict, particularly in villages near Luhansk in the summer and fall of 2014. Askai identifies about a dozen Russian servicemen who were photographed and filmed in Luhansk at a separatist base in 2014 — many of whom were awarded medals by decree of the Russian President after returning home, and continued serving as active servicemen.
These men who were photographed and filmed fighting in Ukraine in 2014 were not volunteers. These men were not locals. These men were not “on vacation” and acting outside of their duties as servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
These men were, and in some cases still are, active servicemen of the Russian Federation. They continued to serve as soldiers after returning from Ukraine and were recognized by a presidential decree with medals that rewarded them for their participation in combat. These men participated in a military operation organized and executed by the Russian Federation against the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Units of the 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade were among the groups of servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation that participated in combat activities in the Luhansk Oblast in 2014. Like the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade, which also participated in combat activities in the Donbass in 2014, the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade (military unit 38643) is located in the Pechensky region of the Murmansk Oblast, in the village of Sputnik. This investigation will present both direct and indirect evidence regarding the participation of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade in the war in the Donbass.
Most of the direct evidence regarding the participation of this brigade in the war is in photographic and video evidence, showing that the Russian naval infantrymen were in Luhansk at the end of August and beginning of September. At this time, the personnel and military equipment of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade were stationed on the former territory of the Ukrainian National Guard’s miltary unit 3035, located at Luhansk, Shchadenko, 17. The following photographs and video shots were taken from this location, and were shared on the social media pages of the servicemen of Russia’s 61st Naval Infantry Brigade.
The Group Photograph
In March 2015, Sergeant Igor Bushuev from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade shared a group photograph on his Vkontakte account, showing seven people in military uniforms without insignia near a BTR-80. In November, this same photograph was on the Vkontakte page of Bushuev’s colleague and fellow naval infantryman Grigory Kislyuk.
Analysis of the individual characteristics of the structures in this photograph shows that the shot was taken in Luhansk on the territory of the Ukrainian National Guard military unit 3035 (located at 48.574066, 39.341229). Below is a comparison of Igor Bushuev’s photograph with an old shot from the social media page of a Ukrainian soldier who served in Luhansk at military unit 3035:
Additionally, here is the place where the Russian naval infantrymen were photographed, as seen in a video from the Russian state television channel Rossiya-24 from June 4, 2014:
With the help of social networks, we can identify six of the seven naval infantrymen in the photograph:
From the left to the right, top to the bottom on the photograph, the following servicemen of Russia’s 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade can be seen: Vladimir Stach, Sergey Antonkin, Tofik Sultaliev, Igor Bushuev, Grigory Kislyuk, and Gennady Fedosov.
Sergeant Vladimir Vladimirovich Stach registered on the social network “Vkontakte” under the name Vladimir Vladimirovich (his old, deleted page was under the name Vladimir Stach).
In the photograph below, Vladimir Stach is with his fellow servicemen who were awarded state medals. From left to right we can see: Vladimir himself with the Zhukov Medal, Sergeant Igor Bushuev with the Zhukov Medal, and Sergeant Sergey Stach with the Suvorov Medal. The photograph was taken in the village of Sputnik near the territory of the military unit of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade.
The next serviceman, before he deleted his account, was registered on the social network Vkontakte under the name Sergey Antonkin. A photograph of him has been saved, showing a flag with the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade’s symbol in the background:
The third Russian serviceman from the Luhansk group photograph is Sergeant Tofik Fatali Ogly Sultaliev. On his Vkontakte page, under his “place of employment” he wrote down 38643 — the military unit number for the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade. Additionally, Sultaliev uploaded a photograph (original / archive) showing a warning about power outages in an apartment where we can see his full name, and also that he lives in the village of Sputnik in the Pechenga region.
A photograph of the fourth Russian naval infantrymen is below — the previously-mentioned Sergeant Igor Bushuev.
The following serviceman is Grigory Vladimirovich Kislyuk. His old account on Vkontakte, which he has deleted (a screenshot of it has been saved on the site “Mirotvorets”), was under the name Grigory Sedov. There is a photograph there with Grigory in his military uniform that has the chevron of the naval infantry, with his name: “Kislyuk G.V.” His new page was registered under the name Grigory Vladimirovich (archive of a few of the pages here, here, and here).
Below is a saved screenshot of Kislyuk from the deleted account:
The last of the identified naval infantrymen is Gennady Fedosov. He also has an account under that name on the social network “Odnoklassniki,” where the previously described group photograph in Luhansk was uploaded. We can also find a photograph of Fedosov in his military uniform near the parade ground of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade. Additionally, Gennady Fedosov can be seen in his military uniform with the naval infantry chevron:
Two Party Videos in Luhansk
On the territory of Ukraine’s National Guard military unit 3055, the Russian naval infantrymen relaxed, sang songs while playing a guitar, and shot all of this on a camera. Two such videos were uploaded online in the winter of 2014-5. The two videos are “here it is” from the Vkontakte page of Aleksandr Pustynnikov and “VID_20120102_061716,” uploaded on an empty account under the name Ichker Kasumkhanov. These two videos will be referred to as the “Pustynnikov video” and “Kasumkhanov video” throughout this investigation.
We can connect these videos to their location with the help of old photographs from Ukrainian servicemen who served at the same location in Luhansk, at military unit 3035.
The screenshot below is from 0:46 from Pustynnikov’s video (see here for an illustration on the Google Earth satellite image shows the angle that the video was shot) and compared with a photograph from military unit 3035:
Below is a screenshot from 6:02 from Kasumkhanov’s video (see here for an illustration on the Google Earth satellite image shows the angle that the video was shot) and compared with a photograph from military unit 3035:
Both the video and the photograph were shot in the same place — 48.573833, 39.342000
In both videos, we can clearly hear the sounds of artillery fire or explosions. For Pustynnikov’s video, check at 0:44, and for Kasumkhanov’s video, check around 2:59, 3:36, 4:31, 6:51, and 7:13. The servicemen pay attention to and comment on these artillery sounds.
Despite the low quality of the video clip, we can still identify four Russian servicemen of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade: the previously mentioned Igor Bushuev and Tofik Sultaliev, along with Rustam Suleymanov and Ivan Shcherbatenko.
Sergeant Igor Bushuev lights a cigarette at 0:04 of the Pustynnikov video:
Sergeant Tofik Sultaliev is in the picture at 0:29 in the Kasumkhanov video:
At 2:17 in the video, we can clearly see the naval infantryman who was registered as Rustam Suleymanov on Vkontakte.
Unlike his colleagues, Rustam Suleymanov did not indicate on his profile that he serves in the 61st Brigade. However, there is the indirect evidence pointing to this fact, in his uniform and that many of his friends are servicemen of the 61st Brigade. Included among them are Aleksey Syedugin, Nikolay Naymushin, Vladimir Stach, Vladislav Chikomazov, Tofik Sultaliev, and Nikolay Bolshakov. Below is a photograph of Suleymanov in a naval infantry uniform:
At 1:09 in the Kasumkhanov video, we can see the Russian naval infantryman Ivan Sergeyevich Shcherbatenko:
Below, we see Ivan Shcherbatenko on the far right in a photograph along with his fellow Russian servicemen:
Along with combat activities in Ukraine, Shcherbatenko has also fought in Syria, and received the medal “For participation in military operations in Syria.”
In the following section of this investigation, we will look at other Russian servicemen of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade who were photographed in 2014 on the territory of the Ukrainian National Guard base in Luhansk and nearby villages.
Other Russian servicemen in Luhansk and its environs
Naval Infantryman Vladislav Sergeyevich Chikomasov can be seen on the left in the photograph below.
A photograph of Chikomasov taken in Luhansk was discovered by InformNapalm investigator Irakli Komakhidze on Chikomazov’s now-deleted Vkontakte page (archive of the new account). A screenshot with this Luhansk photo was saved on the Mirotvorets site.
In the photograph, which was uploaded in February 2015, Vladislav Chikomazov is seen with a fellow serviceman in a military uniform without any insignia, and with weapons in their hands. In the background, we can see the medical station for the Ukrainian military unit 3035. An illustration showing the perspective seen in this photograph with Google Earth satellite imagery can be seen here.
In the Pustynnikov video, we can see this same medical station and two chairs near its entrance:
This location is at 48.573778, 39.342167.
From this same location, but with the back of the photographer facing the medical station, a photograph was taken of the Russian naval infantryman Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Sokolov.
This photograph of Sokolov was taken in front of the wall of one of the buildings of the base for the Ukrainian National Guard in Luhansk, military unit 3035. By comparing the exact details of the wall and bricks, we can see that the very same wall was photographed by a Ukrainian serviceman who served in Luhansk.
Sokolov also poses in front of another building at the former military unit 3035 base near the parade grounds:
This is the same orange building that you can see in the video showing separatist fighters called “LNR. People’s Militia. Military Oath.” In front of the wall there are a few metal sheets, with a tree to the left growing at an angle. See two comparisons below of the photograph of Russian naval infantryman Aleksandr Sokolov with a screenshot from the previously mentioned video:
In June 2016, Aleksandr Sokolov uploaded photographs and a video clip onto his Vkontakte page (see archives here and here) showing him receiving the state award of the Zhukov Medal in a military commissariat in the Vladimir Oblast in Russia. At the ceremony, a secret decree is read regarding what the awarded is given for: “With the decree of the President of the Russian Federation on 23 November 2015, 470ss [is awarded] for courage, bravery, and selflessness displayed during the performance of military duties in the circumstances…”
Another Russian serviceman from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade who was photographed in Luhansk is Aleksandr Ivchenko (his last name and initials can be see on his uniform as “Ivchenko A.G.“). In the photograph below, we can see him on the far-right.
In September 2014, Aleksandr Ivchenko shared a photograph on his pages on the Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki social networks where he, along with other Russian servicemen, are seen with an armored transporter (BTR-80) on the territory of the former Ukrainian National Guard base in Luhansk.
We can compare the individual details of the roof in the background of Ivchenko’s photograph with the roof as seen in a photograph uploaded by a Ukrainian soldier who used to serve at the military unit 3035 base.
The coordinates for this location is 48.573972, 39.341611, and an illustration on Google Earth showing the angle of the camera can be seen here.
From the Vkontakte account of the wife of naval infantryman Aleksandr Ivchenko, we can also see that Ivchenko was awarded the medal “For Courage.”
Other than the naval infantrymen by the armored transporter, we can also see how the artillery unit from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade participated in the invasion of the Donbass in the summer and fall of 2014, specifically with two 120mm self-propelled mortar systems 2S23 Nona-SVK. This is a quite rare model of military equipment, as there are only 42 of them in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and in January 2016 in Ukraine there was one heavily damaged 2S23 that was not fit for action, displayed in a museum/educational area.
The Russian naval infantryman who was registered on Vkontakte as Aleksandr Smolnikov uploaded a photograph in September 2014 where we can see him in Luhansk at the former base of military unit 3035. He is standing between a 2S23 Nona-SVK and an army truck.
We can geolocate the photograph uploaded by Aleksandr Smoknikov by using open sources. Below, we will compare the features in the background of the Smoknikov photograph with a photograph uploaded by a Ukrainian serviceman who served at the former base for military unit 3035 in Luhansk.
We can see some of the characteristic objects from the Smoknikov photograph — in particular, two dark spots on the inside of a door, a round yellow marker on the outside of door on a neighboring entryway — in a screenshot from a video of separatists fighters taken at the former base of military unit 3035 in July 2014.
We can also see the objects from the Smolnikov photograph in a video published by the Russian state television channel Rossiya-24 from June 4, 2014.
The photograph was shot at 48.574167, 39.341333, and this image shows the angle of the camera from Google Earth satellite imagery.
A photograph taken from the former base of military unit 3035 where we can see two Nona-SVKs was uploaded by a Russian naval infantryman from the 61st Brigade who registered on Vkontakte under the name Nikolay Bolshakov.
In the background of the photograph behind the parade ground, we can see the orange building and metal sheets. In front of these things, on top of a Nona-SVK, is the Russian naval infantryman Aleksandr Sokolov. For further geolocation of this location, see these illustrations from two videos (here and here), and six photographs from Ukrainian soldiers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Nikolay Bolshakov’s photograph was taken at 48.573833, 39.341194, and you can see the camera angle on Google Earth satellite imagery here.
Other than the photograph in Luhansk, Bolshakov also uploaded a photograph on his Vkontakte account with a geotag from the village of Vishnevy Dol in the Krasnodon region of the Luhansk Oblast — about 7 kilometers from Luhansk.
We can clearly see electric lines in the background of the photograph to the right of Bolshakov and alongside the road.
In satellite images on Google Earth and Yandex Maps, and from a video taken from the village of Vishnevy Dol uploaded by the Russian naval infantryman Roman Tertilov, we can see the same grouping of electrical lines along the road. This confirms that Bolshakov’s photograph was taken on the southern edge of this village, at 48.535056, 39.488139.
The objects around the village Vishnevy Dol compared between the Roman Tertilov video and satellite images can be seen here:
Another Russian naval infantryman from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, Ruslan Tartasyuk, took a photograph alongside an improvised checkpoint in Vishnevy Dol, at 48.535556, 39.488389. This photograph was saved on the site gruz200.net.
At 0:25 of the Roman Tertilov video, we can see the same block with the text “Welcome to the LNR” alongside the posing Tartasyuk.
Another place where the Russian soldiers of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade were photographed is located 5 kilometers south of Vishnevy Dol, on a hill near some plots between the villages of Nikolayevka and Pionerskoe in the Stanichno-Luhansk region of the Luhansk Oblast. The location was determined with the help of blogger Glaz_CBYwnuka. The photographs near Nikolayevka were uploaded in November 2014 onto the Vkontakte page of Russian naval infantryman Grigory Kislyuk (screenshots from his deleted account were saved on Mirotvorets, here and here). Similar photographs were uploaded by Igor Bushuev as well — see the archived pages here: 1, 2, 3, 4.
In these photographs are two of the very same Russian servicemen who were photographed at the Luhansk military base: Sergey Antonkin on the left, and Grigory Kislyuk on the right.
In the next photograph, from left to right we see the following Russian naval infantrymen: Grigory Kislyuk, Vladimir Stach, Genady Fedosov, Igor Bushuev, and an unidentified man.
We can geolocate these photographs with the help of Google Earth satellite images, at 48.577500, 39.530500 (see these examples for geolocation: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Official recognition through awarded medals
For indirect evidence regarding the participation of Russian naval infantrymen in combat activities, we can look to how they were awarded state medals under the decree of the President of the Russian Federation. In this investigation, we have already seen a few examples of awards given to naval infantrymen who were in the Donbass: Vladimir Stach, Igor Bushuev, and Aleksandr Sokolov received the Zhukov Medal, Sergey Stach received the Suvorov Medal, and Aleksandr Ivchenko received the medal “For Courage.”
By researching pages on social media, we can find more examples of medals awarded to servicemen of the Russian 61st Naval Infantry Brigade.
Aleksey Sergeyevich Zinakov received a Survorv Medal after a decree from the President of the Russian Federation on November 23, 2015:
Lieutenant Vladimir Viktorovich Fedoseyev was awarded the Order of Courage after a decree from the President of the Russian Federation on November 23, 2015:
The Order of Courage was also awarded to senior leiutenant Aleksandr Kulakov (his last name and initials can be seen on his uniform: “Kulakov A.V.“):
The only known fatality of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade in Ukraine
It is well-established that an officer from Russia’s 61st Naval Infantry Brigade died due to fighting in the Donbass in 2014 — Vitaly Nikolayevich Trofimov, the head of the engineering service of the 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade. Interactions between the relatives and friends of Vitaly Trofimov were saved on the site cargo200.org, and we can see that he was severely wounded in Ukraine on August 30, 2014. For two days, he was in an Luhansk hospital, and then he was transferred to Rostov, where he died without regaining consciousness.
Reports about the death of Lieutenant Colonel Trofimov appeared on social networks on the accounts of his fellow servicemen in mid-September 2014 (archived messages: 1, 2, 3).
On one of the barracks of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, a memorial plaque was established in memory of Vitaly Trofimov.
On November 16, 2015, at secondary school №1 in the city of Yalutorovsk, two memorial plaques were established in the memory of naval infantrymen who died during the performance of military duties. One of these was for Vitaly Trofimov. Reports of this were published on the site of the Yalutorovsk secondary school where the plaques were established. A similar notice was published on the Tyumen internet newspaper “Vsluh.ru” (вслух.ру). Regarding the circumstances of Trofimov’s death, the following is written:
The lieutenant colonel of the naval infantry of the Northern Fleet, Vitaly Trofimov, died in 2014 during a special operation.”
In this investigation, evidence was gathered from open sources that included direct proof of the participation of the 61st Separate Naval Infantry Brigade of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Federation in combat activities in the Donbass during the summer and fall of 2014.
The reported location of these naval infantrymen of the 61st Brigade are consistent with a map seized by Ukrainian soldiers on August 20, 2014 in a Russian military vehicle from the 234th Airborne Regiment (of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division). On the map, the Russian paratroopers’ “area of responsibility” with the combined tactical group of the Northern Fleet (units of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade and 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade fought in the Luhansk Oblast, both of these brigades belong to the Northern Fleet) is marked in the southern part of the Stanichno-Luhansk region (the village of Nikolayevka) and the northern part of the Krasnodon region (the village of Vishnevy Dol) of the Luhansk Oblast. Servicemen of the Russian Federation’s 61st Naval Infantry Brigade uploaded photographs of themselves in exactly the same locations.