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‘I captured her and personally handed her over’ A Luhansk separatist reveals how Nadiya Savchenko fell into rebel hands

Meduza
Photo: Ilya Azar / Meduza

He goes by the military nickname “Ilim.” A fighter for the Luhansk People's Republic, he says he is the one who personally captured Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian soldier convicted earlier this month of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison by a Russian court. In an interview with Meduza's special correspondent Ilya Azar, “Ilim” confirmed the main argument Savchenko's lawyers say proves her innocence: she was captured before noon on June 17, 2014—before the shelling of Metalist, a village outside Luhansk, which killed two Russian journalists from the media outlet VGTRK. These deaths (as well as charges of crossing into Russia illegally) were precisely why a Russian court in Rostov put Savchenko on trial. Ilim also says he's sure that Savchenko headed a sniper unit and acted as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery fire at Metalist. (Ilya Novikov, one of Savchenko's lawyers, however, says this claim is no more than a “legend.”) Ilim wasn't invited to testify at Savchenko's trial. In his place, the court heard from two “militia” combatants: Dmitry “Snipe” Oslovsky (who investigators say participated in Savchenko's detention) and Sergei “Cap” Moiseev (who allegedly brought her to Luhansk). These men told the court that Savchenko was apprehended only after the killing of the two Russian journalists.

Ilim says he didn't hide from investigators; the court simply never called him. Before speaking to Meduza, he says he never even gave a single interview during the entire conflict in eastern Ukraine. There's almost no information available about Ilim on the Internet. According to the Kiev-based project “Peacemaker,” which maintains records of all the individuals serving in the “militias” of the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics (the LNR and DNR), “Ilim” is really a Ukrainian citizen named Andrei Tikhonov—the deputy commander of a detached commandant regiment. Ilim calls himself a lieutenant colonel and a soldier in the LNR. 

In his interview with Meduza, he first spoke of Ilim in the third person, but he later admitted that he is in fact Ilim, and he permitted us to reveal his military nickname in this text. 

Yulia Polukhina, a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta who worked in the LNR, confirms Ilim's identity. She says he really was the lieutenant colonel of a commandant regiment in the LNR and he fought in the battle before Savchenko was taken captive.

The battle for Stukalova Balka

[In the region where the battle occurred on June 17, the day that Savchenko was captured] there were two highgrounds: Stukalova Balka and the village of Metalist, where there was a traffic police post at the crossroads. [This is the precise spot where VGTRK journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin were killed.]

Our forces had positions in the Metalist area, and a bit below there were two “amphibians” [assault vehicles]. This was our second line of defense [against the Ukrainian army], and lower down was Stukalova Balka, where we set up our first line of defense at the road. At the curb, to one side of the road, there was a machinegun nest that belonged to the [separatist] “Dawn” battalion, which we called “Zazrya” (In Vain), back then. On the other side of the road, an [LNR] group took up its position, with a machine gunner and a SPG [tripod-mounted man-portable antitank gun] ready for assault fire. Between the two points was just a flat lowland.

In the morning, we boarded six vehicles to the first line of defense [to Stukalova Balka]. When we started unloading, someone shouted, “They're attacking!” and we looked down the road and saw two [Ukrainian] BTRs [armored personnel carriers] coming right at us. Everybody took up defensive positions. 

Behind the BTRs, a [Ukrainian] tank popped out, which an [LNR] fighter “lit up” with an [antitank gun]. The Zazrya battalion stopped one BTR right in front of its machinegun nest. It went right into it. Then they blew it open with a shot into its rear. The second BTR came through the [antitank fire], shooting its machine gun in every direction, almost running me down, along with Vitaly [another separatist]. It broke through straight ahead and then left.

After a few minutes, the second attack came. You could even call it the third one, if you count the tank. Three [Ukrainian] armored vehicles arrived. We took out the first two right there. The third BTR broke through our position, and we kept hitting it from behind with a grenade launcher. 

When was this?

It's hard to say when exactly, but the battle began around eight in the morning, and by noon Savchenko had already been handed over personally to [LNR Defense Minister, now LNR head, Igor] Plotnitsky. It all happened in like four hours—that much I can guarantee you.

Ilim came to the interview with one of his former logistics lieutenants, who had remained silent the whole time, until now, when he spoke up and offered the correction: “It was between eight and ten in the morning.” Ilim didn't seem to appreciate the interruption, however, and cut him off abruptly. 

And what happened next?

[Ukrainian] troops started pouring out of the BTR that we'd really lit up. There was even this funny thing, where the final soldier jumped out and hopped into a trench, but our machine gunner's PK machine gun jammed, so he tossed it aside and started shooting at the Ukrainian from a Makarov pistol. It was only with the last shot that he blew off half the [Ukrainian's] head, who fell into the trench where our guy was. I ran up, took a look, and said, “Bro, looks like he wanted to eat you.”

Then the second attack came, and I returned to my position, where [separatist] Volodya was camped out, firing from an antitank gun at first, and later a rocket launcher. Three [Ukrainian] BTRs approached. We stopped one on the way [with a shot] into its side, in the engine compartment. The second one made it a bit farther, until our fighter Volodya (who [also] took out a tank) blew its ass off.

Volodya, our anti-tank grenadier, got three bullets in the collar, around the neck, and one bullet through his thigh from a DShK [heavy machine gun]. Another round from a DShK smashed to bits the assault rifle belonging to Vitya, the platoon chief, injuring him seriously and wounding me, too. When the BTR started coming at us, I was in the middle of bandaging him (his face had been seriously injured), and at this moment the BTR broke through. 

Was there another tank that reached Metalist?

Yes, Igor Artemev—military nickname “Omsk,” and head of the platoon command post—let it pass through the trenches, and then he stopped it with two RPG shots. The tank's crew—its commander, senior lieutenant, and two tank operators—escaped and holed up on the second floor of a nearby two-story house. 

At about this time, we [at Stukalova Balka] and “Cobra” Henry, the Zazrya commander at the first line of defense, gathered the [disabled] BTR and two BMPs [infantry combat vehicles] and lined them up in a row across the road, turning their guns on the enemy. The BTR was in good shape, and the second BMP was fine, too. The other one had a hole straight through its engine and was leaking oil, but it still worked. When they saw our “armor,” even the [separatist] Cossacks in Metalist started shelling us with “zushki” [anti-aircraft fire] out of fright [thinking Ukrainian troops had taken our position]. In all my ****ing life, I've never been in a battle like that or seen so much shelling. 

Savchenko's capture

When I was bandaging Vitya, he started shooting from a pistol in the direction of Stukalova Balka because he saw troops crossing the field. We stopped him, because these were our fighters returning from the golf club [located north of Stukalova Balka, where the first clashes between separatists and Ukrainian troops occurred early on June 17]. While the battle was happening, heavy sniper fire pinned them down, and they couldn't come to our aid. 

Meanwhile, we questioned our prisoners from the BTR and BMP. I remember two fighters from Poltava with scalp locks, and another two young guys from Ivano-Frankivsk.

At this point, a light blue Ford Fiesta with a Kiev license plate started driving up [to our position]. It stopped about 100 yards short of us, and out stepped a person in uniform. 

A group of our men approached the person and we stopped the car. Inside the vehicle, there were two men about 30 years old who said to us, “Who are you guys after? We're on the same side.” We answered, “That's great. Now crawl out from there ... comrades.”

While this went on, our boys turned back to the person [who had stepped out from the car], who it turned out was some young woman. Ilim asked what her name was. When she said nothing, he hit her over the head with the butt of his gun. Then she said, “Nadiya.” Ilim then asked her a second question: “What's your callsign?” Again, she said nothing, and Ilim knocked her over the head with his gun, again. Then she answered, “Bullet.” 

You didn't ask her about anything else?

No. Why should I have? What is there to say to these people? They should be killed. 

So why didn't you kill her?

We'd captured them. I don't kill prisoners. They wanted to stab one of the prisoners with the scalp lock (he'd already been shot in the chest), but I didn't let them. The other one, they say, was stabbed to death by the Leshevskie [soldiers in the Leshy separatist battalion]. But I would have killed “Bullet,” if I'd known they would make her into a heroine and elect her into the Rada. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Anyway, at that moment drives up [LNR commandant and military chief Sergei Grachev] “Rook” [who testified in Savchenko's trial], who wasted no time carting off the wounded. “Ilim” and “Rook” bound Savchenko's hands with tape, put a bag over her head, threw her in the trunk of their car, and left for [Zazrya's] headquarters in Luhansk.

“Ilim” and “Rook” brought Nadiya “Bullet” Savchenko to Zazrya and personally handed her over to [then LNR Defense Minister] Igor Plotnitsky. There, journalists from LifeNews took Savchenko and began working with her. “Ilim” was bleeding badly from his side now, and a Mrs. Airapetyan—the Zazrya battalion's chief medical officer and current [LNR health] minister—set about dressing his wound. The next day, a veterinarian removed four pieces of shrapnel. After that, “Rook” and “Ilim” returned to the commandant's office at the ODA [the Luhansk regional administration].

And all this happened around 12 o'clock noon [before the shelling of citizens, among whom included two VGTRK journalists]?

Yes. After 12, we were already back at our positions.

“Bullet” and her sniper unit

It turns out that she [Savchenko] fired on our fighters in Stukalova Balka and acted as a spotter for artillery fire in a group of six snipers, who were under the command of a Nadiya Savchenko, aka “Bullet.” In the [Ukrainian volunteer] “Aidar” battalion, there was an “Afghan platoon” with four girls.

So Savchenko is a sniper?

Of course. How do you think a helicopter pilot got the nickname “bullet”? There's no other way. They could call her “Plywood,” “*****,” maybe “Barto,” or whatever, but never “Bullet.” Trust me, as somebody who knows war, the only person who takes a callsign like that is either seriously overeager or a sniper. She doesn't even deny that she's called “Bullet,” does she?

No.

Well there you go.

Why did you take her directly to Luhansk?

It was so obvious that she and those other two [from the car] were snipers. When they saw that the “armor” [seized by separatists] had been lined up in a row at the top of the hill, they thought [Ukrainian forces] had won. It hadn't even occurred to them (you couldn't see very well from their position) that we'd captured the “armor” and laid it out in a row, in order to ******** [shoot] at them. [Ilim then contradicted himself, saying that snipers saw their positions in Metalist, which was farther away than Stukalova Balka.]

Why would a sniper act as a spotter for artillery fire?

Why wouldn't a sniper, with optical tools that measure distance and location, pass along what he saw and calculated?

Even the investigation says that Metalist was visible only from a transmission tower.

No way. The elevation [of the territory] varied, and everything was visible with good optics. It was 1,600 meters [about a mile] from the first line of defense to the second.

Nadiya Savchenko after being detained in Luhansk. June 19, 2014.
Nadiya Savchenko after being detained in Luhansk. June 19, 2014.
Photo: Igor Golovianov / AP / Scanpix

Why then did investigators mention the tower? [According to prosecutors in Russia, Savchenko acted as a spotter for artillery fire from a transmission tower located at the LNR's rear flank, based on expert analysis showing that most of the events in Metalist would not have been visible from anywhere else.]

There was a tower, yes. [In theory,] Savchenko could have been there, but personally I don't think she was. She acted as a spotter from Stukalova Balka, and by the time shelling killed the journalists [from VGTRK], she had already arrived in Luhansk. I don't know what the gumshoes cooked up, but I do know what happened. Six snipers fired at [our] fighters, and acted as spotters for the shelling of Metalist. They were commanded by someone called Nadezhda “Bullet.”

You're certain of this? Did you guys interrogate her?

I'm not sure. I don't know. Why do I say this [that she was a sniper commander]? Leaving with Nadiya “Bullet,” Ilim took her personal belongings.

There was a gray backpack with a pink flower. Inside there were civilian clothes—a red dress, a black thong, and white sandals. What was a helicopter pilot, with the callsign “Bullet,” doing with civilian clothes at a battlefront? It was so she could change her clothes and walk away, at the necessary moment. Also in the backpack, there was her notebook, a pointer, ATM cards for Privat Bank and some foreign bank, and keys to an apartment.

Were there any binoculars?

Yes, I think so.

And what about maps?

I don't think there was a map, but maybe there was. I won't lie.

In the notebook, there were “sites” drawn and a staff of six people was listed, for whom Nadezhda Savchenko was receiving ammunition: grenades, ammunition for grenade launchers, ammunition for automatic weapons, and also .30 caliber sniper rounds. Like it or not, but you can't erase these facts. Everything was listed for six people—this much for one person, this much for another.

Captured soldiers from the [Ukrainian] Aidar battalion confirmed to investigators from the [LNR] commandant that she was a sniper. They said there were four snipers in the “Afghan platoon”: Snezhana, Diana, Kristina, and Nadiya. You can find the reports and interviews showing that there was another guy named Vova, whom some civilians helped escape, and he made his way back to the Aidar battalion.

Every sniper is [also] a spotter. It's automatic. It's not hard to calculate distance and wind speed—believe me. You can teach any halfwit to be a spotter, trust me on this. When you meet her [Savchenko], you can tell her that Ilim wanted to give her back her wooden pointer and her small, round compact mirror.

There wasn't a phone in the backpack?

No, but there might have been one on her person. We didn't conduct a search or go into her pockets. 

How did she look? What was she wearing?

I don't really remember. I watched it again [in video footage] and saw that she was wrapped in a scarf. I guess it was something like this, but I was in the heat of the moment, and I don't really recall.

Look, it's obvious not just to everyone who was there that day, but to anybody remotely literate that these people were acting as spotters, otherwise they wouldn't have had their “civvies” with them.

Nadiya Savchenko is detained by LNR troops
Open Russia

The other two had “civvies,” too?

Ilim doesn't know what was in the backpacks of those fighters, as they were taken away by the Zazrya battalion, while “Bullet”'s things went with him.

And does Ilim still have her things?

I don't have them with me. I do still have them, but I don't know where exactly they are now. The credit cards, the keys, and the book I turned over to “Elbrus,” which is what the [Russian] Federal Security Service advisor [in the LNR government] called himself.

The shelling of Metalist

When did the artillery strike hit the intersection [where two VGTRK reporters were killed]?

It happened after we took in “Bullet.”

At this moment in the conversation, Ilim's former logistics lieutenant speaks up again:“When the first attack was over, people started running from Metalist to the front line [at Stukalova Balka]...”

“Alexey,” Ilim says sharply, interrupting his colleague, “I don't know who ran where or who was running where. I know what happened at the first line and what happened directly with Nadezhda “Bullet,” and I don't care who was running where. That doesn't have anything to do with this.”

“The man is asking why they started to bomb [Metalist]. It was because the movement started...,” Alexey responds.

“Get the **** out of here! Out!” Ilim shouts.

When his subordinate obediently leaves, Ilim explains, “The guy just, without understanding, leans into a conversation and always gets confused.”

In order to hit the targets according to the adjustments I received, I needed to bring forward the gun emplacements, take aim, load the ammunition, and strike. All this takes time, you see. The Aidar battalion had a hitch: they were counting on one thing, and then the battle didn't go the way they expected. So, naturally, they didn't start shelling according to the spotting adjustments right away.

When Nadiya Savchenko left, the journalists appeared at the [LNR] post in Metalist.

The evacuation of Metalist's population. June 16, 2014.
The evacuation of Metalist's population. June 16, 2014.
Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS / Scanpix

When was this?

Around 12 noon. Look, I'm not going to describe the event minute-by-minute.

And where were you at the time?

[Ilim pauses and sighs deeply.] I, meaning Ilim, was the one who personally took her to Plotnitsky. By that time, we'd already arrived at the Dawn [battalion]. 

It was at this time that the [Metalist] civilian population started leaving their homes under a white flag. They were frightened by all the artillery and gunfire. Out from one of the “amphibians” came Volodya, callsign “The Frenchman.” Nearly 6'7", nobody messes with him. He took shrapnel in the spine in the shelling and had to return home in the Baltics. Now they've put him behind bars for 15 years. [Ilim appears to be talking about Estonian citizen Vladimir Polyakov.]

Volodya went to withdraw the civilians under bombardment to Luhansk, and the journalists were following him. He warned them, “Don't come here. Don't leave the ‘amphibian’—film from inside,” but they followed him anyway, and it was at this time that a mortar, guided by the sniper's spotting, nailed Volodya and the journalists. The reporters were killed and Vova got hit with shrapnel. [According to investigators and Savchenko's defense attorneys, the journalists died behind the “amphibians.”]

He was hit by a mortar?

I can't say for certain what hit him because I wasn't there. But, in my personal opinion, it was a “Cornflower” [a Soviet 82-millimeter caliber mortar]. At the most, it was a 120-millimeter caliber [shell], because a “Nonna” or [Howitzer] D-30 would have caused a lot more damage.

If Savchenko had already been detained and taken the Luhansk, who was acting as spotter for the bombardment?

It was the same snipers. There wasn't anybody else. It had been an hour since we detained her, and gunfire came intermittently from both sides, but the target was spotted. 

But this means that Savchenko wasn't aiming at journalists or civilians, but merely targeting [troop] positions?

In my opinion, she was just targeting a fortified area. She saw where there was a line of defense. But there were lots of people in Metalist, and when we drove through, I didn't see who was there exactly. 

Investigators say otherwise.

Listen, saying that she coordinated a strike on two journalists is a political call. It's verbal hairsplitting. Who sends six snipers to spot an attack on journalists? 

What happened? The snipers did their spotting on the [troop] positions, and then the battle [at Stukalova Balka] took place. So you've got this spotting information, but you've got no idea what do do, because the battle seems to have ended, and at this moment you see that somebody has appeared at the position. 

Who sees it?

The artillery troops Savchenko was spotting for. They saw it.

But she didn't see anything!

So what? After [she was detained], there were another three snipers left [uncaptured].

But Savchenko was gone already.

Nadiya couldn't have seen it herself, but what difference does that make? This was her job. The remaining three [snipers] told their forces that there was movement on the line. All that was left to do [after that] was push a button and fire away at the journalists.

So it turns out that it was an ordinary military situation, but now she's charged with coordinating an attack on civilians.

And that's how they ought to be trying her. She was a spotter in the attack, after all.

But firing at the enemy's positions is part of war, no?

It wasn't like that at all. There were civilians and journalists where they were shelling. 

But they didn't arrive until later!

I don't know if people were there or not. When we drove through with her, there were a lot of people there. Whether they were journalists or not, I don't know.

Ilim's map.
Ilim's map.
Photo: Ilya Azar / Meduza

Savchenko's trial

If everything happened like you say it did, why weren't you questioned?

I don't know why they didn't invite me to the court. It's a ****ing pseudo-trial. Sure they called Plotnitsky to testify. We handed her over to him personally. But why the hell did they call all those marines and other clowns? What could they have proved?

I thought you said you haven't been following the trial.

I hate it, but sometimes I see on Odnoklassniki [a popular Russian social network] what's being said about this farce—that they're trying her for nothing, the poor, unhappy girl. Have they called to the stand “Cobra” Henry?

No.

He was the Zazrya commander, and I led the “komandachi” [the LNR commandant fighters], and they didn't summon either of us. But I don't care. There's only one thing I want: for this ***** [Savchenko] to get the max sentence. I don't need anything more than that.

Investigators say a separatist named “Cap” brought Savchenko to Luhansk after the shelling [of Metalist]. Was he even there?

No. He was with the Zazrya battalion in Metalist. “Cap” is a lieutenant commander in the “Omsk” platoon. Neither of them took up position at Stukalova Balka. 

I captured her myself and I delivered her myself. I was in this battle and I saw everything. Later, I saw headless five-year-old kids and priests praying on their knees [holding] their guts, ****. On the highway, my logistics lieutenant was in charge of removing all the “canned meat.” The “canned meat” was the aftermath of six vacuum bombs fired at Shcherbakova street. We spent three days pulling the human flesh out of the trees.

The most important thing for me is that she gets the full [punishment]. Believe it or not, but the one thing I regret is that I didn't shoot her where I found her, there at the side of the road. If I'd shot this *****, everybody would have a few less hemorrhoids. 

And what if they trade her [for foreign prisoners]?

It'll be bad.

Savchenko's fate after her capture

Do you have any idea how she ended up in Russia?

No. I returned to my position. 

The prosecution says she went to Russia on her own.

Yeah, well there's also a recording where a drunk Valera Bolotov, the former head of the LNR, says it was his own special forces who captured Nadezhda “Bullet.” But you know how it goes: the graffiti on the fence might say “shit,” but the fence is still made of wood. I don't care what they're saying now. It makes no difference.

But [fellow separatist] “Elbrus,” who I gave Savchenko's notebook, later told me that they'd moved her over to Voronezh. Clearly, they weren't just going to release her.

Ilim's military service in the Luhansk People's Republic

Today, the ones who hide in basements, *****, doing who knows what, robbing people, looting—today they're the ones in charge, wearing medals. For us, to put it gently, things have gone very, very badly. [Former LNR Defense Minister] Oleg Bugrov told me that I'd be presented with a “Hero of Russia” medal in Mother Russia, but in the end all I got was two months in jail [in the LNR]. Today's ***** [hypocrisy] is disgusting, foul, and hard to watch. The guys there all did real well.

Right now I'm getting rest at a hospital, and then I'm going to get back to performing certain tasks.

What about the ceasefire?

Today there's a ceasefire, sure. But they've asked me to hold on... The war hasn't ended yet. And, anyway, the Third World War is underway, whatever people say.

You're saying this is World War III?

What else would you call it? We've seen the Blacks. We've seen the Chinese. We've got Czechs fighting. Something tells me that [Ukrainian President] Petro Poroshenko will soon declare war on Russia, and we'll be in Lviv in two weeks time.

So you're not giving up on any of this?

I was born in 1965. I'm a child of the Soviet Union. I'm a patriot of this country, whatever it's called. For me, Russia and Ukraine are the same thing. How could I give up? But there are things that bother me—things I resent. I commanded a unit of 1,670 fighters, which I created myself. It wasn't [LNR commandant and military chief Sergei Grachev] “Rook.” I was a successful commander, and my superior said my unit was the best in the Donbas—the most disciplined, and the most energetic. There wasn't a single instance where we didn't comply with an order, or where we withdrew without orders.

For now, they've abandoned us. But what choice do I have? I'm just a Russian combat officer. In this war, I earned the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was here where I became a real military officer. And when have things been any different for officers in Russia's history? I'm from Kharkov and now my whole family is on a wanted list. Nobody ****ing needs me here, either. I haven't been myself, since my concussion. Here I am again lying around in a hospital. This is the fourth time. When all the LNR's would-be leaders fled, I took personal command of the republic. When “Rook” and I were cut off [by Ukrainian forces] in Krasnodon, there was panic in Luhansk that the republic was ****ed [doomed].

Today it's just continuous stealing. The whole thing is a party where we, the men who actually fight, aren't needed. The officers who fought, the fighters who stood to the end—today they've all been trampled and left under the floorboards. I didn't come here to fight for money. I came to fight for honor and conscience. Now they're trying to a pour all kinds of shit on us. LNR's attorney general even managed to lock me up for two months, but they couldn't find anything on me.

But I'll be ****ed if that's going to disillusion me. You try losing 30 of your friends in one short summer. Try losing three of your closest friends. When they come **** [firing] at us from all directions, they [the LNR's new leaders] will flee like rats. Then [the republic] will need the real fighters.

A Ukrainian tank disabled along the road into the village of Metalist, outside Luhansk. November 13, 2014.
A Ukrainian tank disabled along the road into the village of Metalist, outside Luhansk. November 13, 2014.
Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov / TASS / Scanpix

“‘Ilim’ is the ideal defense witness”: Commentary by Ilya Novikov, one of Nadiya Savchenko's defense attorneys

The first part of Ilim's testimony [about the battle and then the capture of Nadiya Savchenko] hardly differs from Savchenko's own court defense. Let's say we believe him 100 percent and agree that Nadiya arrived in that car. Ilim says the prisoners were captured before the shelling [of Metalist]. Well there it is. End of story. As far as this criminal case is concerned, he's the ideal defense witness.

I think this person believes what he says, because his whole story seems solid enough. With people who talk about this, the story isn't always the same, and that's normal. You have to put the puzzle together piece by piece. The car wasn't a Ford, it was a Lifan. It wasn't light blue, it was silver. But this doesn't matter. It's all perfectly visible in the video recorded by “Egor the Russian” [the LNR separatist whose footage on June 17 ended up as evidence in Savchenko's trial].

Of course, there weren't any women-snipers, but yes this is the first thing everyone thought, at the time. In the video clip where she's asked if she's a sniper or not, she answers, “I've got an automatic weapon.” They checked her immediately to see if her hands had the calluses you find on snipers, and that killed the sniper theory pretty quickly. One of the two [Ukrainian] fighters in the car, Sergei Rybalko, was carrying sniper rounds for some reason. (I think it was for show.) But nobody had a sniper rifle. 

There's an audio recording, intercepted by the Ukrainian State Security Service, where at 10 minutes, 46 seconds, a man we believe to be Sergei “Cap” Moiseev tells Plotnitsky, “Commander, we've got a surprise for you. We caught a lady-sniper. Get the media ready.” The fact that this exchange happened at 10:46 in the tape is supported by the documents, but the court wouldn't let us submit it [as evidence], so we just read it aloud. It's our understanding that they thought Savchenko was a sniper, in the first minutes after they caught her. All the talk about a platoon of snipers is pure legend, and nobody has found the slightest evidence to support it.

Based on what we know about Nadiya's movements, using what she remembers and what other witnesses have said in questioning, it's physically impossible that she could have seen something in Metalist from her location, without driving up to the roadblock. Moreover, this contradicts the results of the expert analysis conducted by investigators. We'll leave the rest on this person's conscience. 

According to their [investigators'] own expert report, Metalist wasn't visible from anywhere except the tower. But there are two points in Metalist: one point where the journalists were killed, and a second point where civilians were present. [These civilians were treated as victims in Savchenko's case.] The buildings in Metalist were visible from far away, of course, but if you watch “Egor the Russian”'s video, it's clear that absolutely nothing was visible behind the “amphibians” at the roadblock. And, from what I know, I have no grounds to believe it was possible to see the intersection where the [VGTRK] journalists were killed from somewhere else—even from the highest tower. Now, this isn't a fact—it's just what experts concluded, rather than firsthand observations. When Ilim talks about this, I think he's making certain assumptions, knowing that it ended with the journalists being killed.

The shelling was too short to reach concrete targets, and it very much looks like they fired at coordinates without an eye on what was happening. In any event, this doesn't have anything to do directly with Savchenko. The [prosecution] is carefully trying to skirt the fact that the people killed or injured there were combatants. It's quite telling that [the prosecution] didn't even try to call [to the stand] at least two of the injured fighters in “Egor the Russians”'s video. Investigators didn't want to admit that the shelling was carried out against military targets.

A notebook from Nadiya Savchenko's case.
A notebook from Nadiya Savchenko's case.
Photo: Ilya Azar / Meduza

You've just clarified for me a picture in a notebook that had me at a loss. Now I realize that there's a man with the callsign “Ilim” behind this tragicomedy. In July, there was an interview with General Alexander Drymanov, where he said Savchenko confirms her guilt in her own handwritten notes. Nadiya told us that she didn't understand what he was talking about. Then they ordered expert analyses of five different handwritten notebook pages. These five pages had something to do with supply records. There was a feeling that these were the records of a gunsmith who makes weapons, judging by the size of the order, for a whole company. And there was also some kind of military drawing with all the typical stuff: trenches and check marks.

Anyway, it was clear that the investigators were sure that these were her notes and that they'd help them [in the case], but in June we discovered that the notes had been sent to Russia through a man named Gordeev, who delivers both humanitarian aid and volunteer fighters [to the Donbas]. He says that some unfamiliar “militia” fighter in Donetsk approached him in late September 2014 and gave him the notebook pages and a stack of cards, saying that he needed to take them to the [Russian] Federal Investigative Committee because they prove [Savchenko's] guilt. But in December, experts concluded that the notes weren't in her handwriting. Most likely, these were the separatists' notes. They were in Russian, after all. In the end, investigators had to take the notes off the table, and Ilim's role boiled down to inflating the prosecution with false hopes.

I can't explain the logic that led investigators to select some people for questioning and to ignore others. I think that, in many respects, investigator Dmitry Manshin looked at this case through the prism of Evgeny Kolomiets, a top advisor to the head of the LNR, who determined his access to the “militia” fighters who could say what happened. It's not hard for me to believe that these men have an incomplete picture. And I am ready to believe that they probably didn't try very hard to find even their own most important witnesses. 

In fact, it could be the case that [among the separatists] there were idealistic people who believed that it was one thing to go to war with the “Ukes,” but something else to lie. And there was one thing demanded of everyone who testified in court: that they say the capture took place after 12 o'clock. If someone firmly remembered that it happened before noon, he was free to stay home.

This text was translated from Russian by Kevin Rothrock.

Ilya Azar

Donetsk, Rostov Oblast, Russia