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Four went in, only two returned How Russia’s controversial terrorism case in Penza and St. Petersburg connects to murder allegations in Ryazan

Source: Meduza

There is a massive civic campaign underway in Russia today in support of the defendants in the so-called “Penza Network case” — a group of leftist activists who were sentenced earlier this month to between six and 18 years in prison for supposedly creating a “terrorist organization.” These charges were based on confessions obtained through torture by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, but Russian law enforcement has ignored the suspects’ reports that they were abused in custody. Meduza journalists Maxim Solopov and Kristina Safonova learned that some of the defendants in the Network case might be involved in a murder. Sources told Meduza that the FSB knew about this, but the agency declined to provide the evidence to Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee, apparently not wanting to share a high-profile case. These allegations that federal officials should have investigated a murder instead of a terrorist cell come from leftist activists who conducted their own inquiry into the Network case.

Before reading further, please have a look at Meduza’s editorial regarding the nature of this report and, when you're done with the story, have a look at our responses to questions raised about this article.

For several years, there was a leftist group in Penza called “11/5” that state investigators say was led by an activist named Dmitry Pchelintsev and included Mikhail Kulkov, Maxim Ivankin, and Andrey Chernov. The group staged training exercises in the wilderness to prepare for a possible revolution in Russia, but members did not plot a revolution themselves, contrary to terrorism charges brought by the FSB.

As far back as 2017, Kulkov, Ivankin, and Chernov started dealing drugs to raise money. Pchelintsev cultivated marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms at a safehouse known as “The Garden.” Katya Levchenko and her boyfriend, Artyom Dorofeyev, who went to school with Kulkov and Ivankin, spent a lot of time with the 11/5 members and at Pchelintsev’s safehouse, learning all about their involvement in illegal drug trafficking, despite the fact that they were not fellow leftist activists. Kulkov and Dorofeyev rented an apartment together and Ivankin and Levchenko frequently stayed with them.

On March 31, police arrested Kulkov, Ivankin, and 16-year-old Alexey Poltavets (another Antifa activist who'd recently moved to Penza from Omsk and fell in with Pchelintsev’s group). The three were caught with drugs, but only Kulkov confessed to working as a dealer. He was placed under house arrest. Two days later, Ivankin and Poltavets left home and appeared in Ryazan around April 10. The day before they went on the run, Artyom Dorofeyev and Katya Levchenko also disappeared from Penza.

On November 27, 2017, Dorofeyev’s body was discovered outside Ryazan near the village of Lopukhi. Levchenko remains missing to this day. In February 2020, Meduza managed to reach Poltavets, who confessed to being involved the the murder of Artyom and Katya. He says that Dmitry Pchelintsev feared being prosecuted for his connection to the drug trade and wanted Dorofeyev and Levchenko to hide from the police. When the couple wanted to return home to Penza, he apparently ordered their deaths. According to Poltavets, “Artyom was shot in the face with buckshot from a Saiga 12-gauge shotgun.” When he didn’t die, they cut his throat, says Poltavets. He also says Maxim Ivankin killed Katya Levchenko at the same time in the same place, though he says he didn’t witness it firsthand.

Two friends of the defendants in the Network case independently studied the case materials and concluded that there are unanswered questions about the circumstances of Artyom’s death and Katya’s disappearance. These individuals shared their findings with the defendants' parents and then turned to journalists in the spring of 2019, but no media outlets pursued the story.

The “solution” for the “civilians” (as the Penza leftists called Levchenko and Dorofeyev) surfaces in correspondence between 11/5 group members that’s now included as case evidence in the Network investigation. In February 2019, when forensics experts finally identified Arytom Dorofeyev’s remains, the FSB learned about his death from the Investigative Committee's branch in Ryazan. The Federal Security Service said it had “nothing interesting” to share with state investigators, however, and it declined to transfer any case files to the rival law-enforcement agency.

In early February 2020, seven defendants in the Penza Network case received prison sentences between six and 18 years for allegedly creating and participating in a terrorist group. The case was based on testimonies obtained through torture and the terrorism allegations appear to be fabricated. 

Based on the case materials, the FSB expressed no interest in information about a possible murder.

The story you’re about to read contains many names and jumps between multiple locations. Despite Meduza’s best efforts, you’ll likely be confused at certain points, which is only natural because this story is itself quite confusing. Meduza was unable to verify many of the most shocking allegations presented here, which belong in part to an “internal investigation” conducted by a man named Ilya Khesin and a woman named Sasha Aksyonova, who is married to Viktor Filinkov, a defendant in the St. Petersburg “Network” case. Khesin told Meduza that he fears his friends Ilya Kapustin and Yulii Boyarshinov — two other Network case defendants in St. Petersburg — are innocent bystanders to the other suspects’ criminal activities, which he says include drug trafficking and maybe murder, but not terrorism.

Khesin conveyed this story to a Meduza correspondent on February 14 outside the Federal Security Service’s headquarters in Lubyanka Square. As he described the life of crime supposedly lived by several Network case suspects, roughly 600 people assembled nearby to protest against the harsh prison sentences handed down to the defendants in Penza. It was one of the largest mass pickets the capital had witnessed in recent history. At the time, the trial against the Petersburg Network suspects was still more than a week away. 

“There’s this fucking insane story that three or four people went into the forest on a survivalist hike and only two came back. Sometime later, one of the missing people turned up dead,” Khesin said. 

Penza’s leftists

In 2013 and 2014, the leftist movement in cities across Russia watched in horror as ultra-right activists in Ukraine and reactionary groups in Russia radicalized and transformed into a coherent military and political force. Russian nationalists flocked to the war in the Donbas and Russia’s right-wing focused less on slogans than assembling the bricks and mortar needed to build an infrastructure through sports competitions, infiltrating law enforcement, and even launching their own product lines.

In Penza, members of the local Antifa movement responded by starting backpacking trips into the wilderness to train for a future in which they anticipated open aggression from Russian Nazis. Sources told Meduza that the community was a hodgepodge of committed leftists, survivalists, and random people who just wanted to socialize. People familiar with the movement also say there are many leftist groups in Russia, but they don’t coordinate and they’re certainly not organized to stage a revolution, let alone carry out terrorist attacks.

The Penza group “11/5” included leftists and anarchists, as well as environmentalist Dmitry Pchelintsev, a military veteran trained in repairing small arms who later worked as an instructor at a local shooting range. The group’s name refers to the date in November 1907 when a local revolutionary named Nikolai Pchelintsev was executed in the Arbekovsky forest. (It’s unclear if Dmitry Pchelintsev is his descendant or if their shared surname is just a coincidence.)

According to a source who knows the Network case suspects in Penza and who asked to be identified only as “Vladimir,” there were certain suspicions about the 11/5 group. “It was always a shitstorm with them,” he told Meduza. For example, Pchelintsev allegedly spent time with someone from a local mafia and wanted to scam people on the Darknet by selling sawed-off firearms that only shot blanks. Pchelintsev also supposedly liked to brag about how he’d die before surrendering to the authorities. Another individual who says she knew the Network case defendants and asked to be identified as “Alina” says Pchelintsev fancied himself the leader of 11/5 and once threatened to discredit her socially if she disobeyed his orders.

Vasily Kuksov

Sources in Penza’s leftist community told Meduza that Pchelintsev developed a rivalry with Ilya Shakursky, another environmentalist and a physics and math student. In the summer of 2017, they reportedly started “fighting over a girl,” leading Shakursky to form his own splinter group called “Voskhod” (Uprisal), which included two men named Vasily Kuksov and Egor Zorin. Friends told Meduza that Zorin wasn’t especially ideological and he mostly stuck around as Shakursky’s old friend from school.

At some point, rumors started spreading that Penza’s Antifa movement had resorted to drug trafficking to raise funds for its activities. Conversations with local leftists and case evidence that includes the private correspondence of 11/5 member Andrey Chernov make it clear that multiple people in the community were “delivering” illegal drugs. Some of Chernov’s messages suggest that Dmitry Pchelintsev was growing marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms at a safehouse owned by his sister, Anna Shalunkina, but Meduza was not able to verify this.

Dmitry Pchelintsev

“Vladimir” told Meduza that several of the people later prosecuted in the Penza Network case used to talk about a lucrative side job without offering any details, perhaps knowing that many leftist activists in Russia strongly oppose recreational drug use.

Ilya Shakursky’s crew was also allegedly caught up in the drug-dealing business. In early 2017, the authorities arrested his friend, Egor Zorin, for possession of pot. According to correspondence that later became case evidence, Shakursky concluded (presciently, it turns out) that the FSB was “just looking for an informant.” Afterward, Shakursky apparently told Zorin that he would send him to Ukraine, but it never happened. When Zorin was arrested with drugs again in the fall, he testified against Shakursky and his friends, saying they’d created a dangerous terrorist organization.

This is how the Network case began. 

In early November 2017, federal agents arrested Shakursky and then Pchelintsev, Chernov, and a man named Vasily Kuksov, as well as 11/5 members Maxim Ivankin and Mikhail Kulkov (who weren’t caught until July 2018, after fleeing earlier drug charges). The FSB also arrested one of Pchelintsev’s old friends, an activist in St. Petersburg named Arman Sagynbaev, and brought him to Penza.

A source who knows the Petersburg Network case suspects told Meduza that no one in Russia’s Antifa community was initially very worried that the investigation in Penza would lead to problems for other leftist groups involved in outdoor training exercises. The danger only became apparent about six months later, when officials in St. Petersburg arrested another four activists: Yulii Boyarshinov, Viktor Filinkov, Ilya Kaputstin, and Igor Shishkin.

Filinkov was the first defendant to say he was forced through torture to confess to terrorism charges. After he came forward, other suspects in Penza and St. Petersburg reported the same abuse. Even under these conditions, the suspects only testified to a “readiness” to commit terrorist attacks, denying any concrete plans. According to the case materials, they were working with a very long time horizon, still waiting for a revolution or some other kind of widespread instability. (For example, they said they planned to demand the creation of “autonomous zones for anarchists” across the country, if a liberal opposition led by Alexey Navalny came to power instead of “anti-authoritarian leftists.”)

In February 2020, despite signs of falsified evidence and a lack of proof that anyone had carried out any actual terrorist activities, the seven Network case suspects in Penza were sentenced to 86 years in prison, collectively. Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Ivankin, Kulkov, Kuksov, and Sagynbaev each received prison sentences between six and 18 years. The FSB decided not to investigate the origins of the defendants’ weapons (according to the case materials, interrogators ignored the question entirely) and the agency did not pursue information suggesting that some of the defendants may have been involved in a homicide.

Katya and Artyom

A 47-year-old account in Penza, Tatyana Levchenko has been searching for her youngest daughter, Katya, for almost three years now. Katya was 19 when she disappeared on March 31, 2017, which is the same day her boyfriend, Artyom Dorofeyev, also went missing.

Artyom Dorofeyev and Katya Levchenko

Artyom was two years older than Katya. He served in the army and graduated from a culinary school, where he became friends with two fellow veterans, Mikhail Kulkov and Maxim Ivankin. In the summer of 2016, Dorofeyev and Kulkov started renting an apartment together. By the fall, Ivankin and Katya Levchenko were living there, too. 

Tatyana Levchenko says her daughter often raved about her new friends and especially praised Ivankin for his survivalist skills and grasp of philosophy. Ivankin apparently invited Katya on a backpacking trip in January 2017, but she got sick and her mother says she managed to dissuade her daughter from going.

Around this time, Artyom also “changed a lot” and started pulling away from those he’d known for years, a childhood friend named Andrey Cherkasov told Meduza. Cherkasov also recalled a moment when Artyom said he wanted to share some secret with him, but then decided against it. Cherkasov says he thinks his friend wanted to say something about drug dealing by Kulkov and Ivankin. 

Other sources familiar with the defendants in the Network case told Meduza that Artyom and Katya themselves helped their friends sell drugs. According to 11/5 member Andrey Chernov’s private correspondence (included in the case evidence), both Dorofeyev and Levchenko were well informed about the community’s illegal activity and used to hang out at the group’s safehouse.

Katya’s mobile phone was switched off the day before she disappeared. She eventually reached her mother from an unknown number, saying that her cell phone was broken and she was calling from Arytom’s line. Tatyana Levchenko says her daughter sounded excited, but Katya assured her that everything was fine, though she couldn’t come home at the moment. 

Shortly before Artyom went missing, his mother was hospitalized and he visited her every day. They made plans to celebrate his birthday on April 3, when she was scheduled to be discharged. Artyom stopped answering his phone two days earlier, however, and he never came to the hospital to meet his mother on April 3. The last time anyone accessed his account on the social network VKontakte was on April 1, 2017. Immediately concerned when he didn’t show up, Artyom’s mother went to his apartment and found police officers who informed her that her son’s roommate, Mikhail Kulkov, had been arrested and Artyom had apparently run off, though he wasn’t wanted by law enforcement. 

Into the woods

In late 2016, sixteen-year-old Alexey Poltavets moved to Penza from Omsk on the advice of a fellow Antifa activist who told him about a community of young local leftists engaged in wilderness combat training. When he arrived, he was disappointed to learn that the group also sold drugs.

Early on March 31, 2017, police officers and plainclothes FSB agents arrested Kulkov, Ivankin, and Poltavets for attempted large-scale drug trafficking, finding them in possession of 31 small bags containing a substance that forensics later showed was 8.6 grams (0.3 ounces) of the drug PVP. In custody, Poltavets testified against his friends, accusing them of drug dealing. He later said the police tortured him into making the statement by suffocating him with a plastic bag over his head. Meanwhile, Ivankin testified against Kulkov and denied any part in a drug-dealing operation. Kulkov ultimately confessed and was placed under house arrest. All three men later said they told the authorities whatever would get them to stop torturing them. 

Ivankin was released on his own recognizance and Poltavets (a minor) was released to the care of his mother, who was unable to come to Penza until April 4. Two days earlier, however, Ivankin’s parents say their son asked them for 3,000 rubles ($45) to buy a new mobile phone and then fled into the woods with Alexey Poltavets.

On April 25, Mikhail Kulkov fled house arrest and warrants were issued for both Kulkov and Ivankin later that day. Before running away, Kulkov sent the following note to his parents: “I don’t want you to think I’m a criminal. I’m forced to leave home because I’m not ready to take responsibility for a crime I didn’t commit. I hope the others caught up in all this do the same. For my safety and for yours, I won’t say where I’ve gone.”

More than a week later, Ivankin and Poltavets showed up in Ryazan and asked to hide out at the apartment of a woman with ties to others who would be named in the Network case. They’d never met before, she told Meduza. The two men apparently reached Ryazan from Penza (roughly 275 miles away) by a mix of backpacking and hitchhiking. The woman agreed to make her apartment available to Ivankin and Poltavets (she was living elsewhere at the time) and she says they were quiet houseguests who showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps as a result of being tortured by interrogators.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, who arranged for the hideout, apparently couldn’t explain why Ivankin and Poltavets needed to lay low in Ryazan. After 17 days, they left the city and took a train to Moscow. A week or two later, Mikhail Kulkov hid at the same apartment for one night before following his comrades to the capital. Poltavets ultimately made it abroad, but Pchelintsev and Kulkov were both arrested in July 2018.

On November 14, 2017, a month after the Network case was formally launched, federal agents searched the apartment in Ryazan and the FSB’s Penza branch summoned the owner for questioning. Officers didn’t ask her about Poltavets or Ivankin, however, and only wanted to know if she’d visited Penza before or could name any leftist activists in Moscow.

The bog

During the rainy season, locals don’t often venture into the forest around Chernoye Ozero, in the Ryazan region, near the village of Lopukhi. When the weather turns bad, it becomes a swampland. In November 2017, almost eight months after Katya Levchenko and Artyom Dorofeyev disappeared, a hunter found human remains in the woods around Chernoye Ozero. A few months later, local Investigative Committee branches published statements indicating that the man had been partially buried after suffering an array of injuries to his face, skull, and neck. It wasn’t until February 2019, after officials compared the body’s DNA to samples taken from the Dorofeyevs, that forensics experts finally identified the remains as Artyom’s. 

In February 2018, Ilya Khesin says the parents of several Network case defendants told him that the authorities had discovered a man’s remains in the woods outside Ryazan. According to the rumors, the body belonged to someone named “Timofei” — a man who had allegedly been in touch with leftists in Penza before he disappeared in April 2017 with two fellow activists.

In FSB interrogations in the fall of 2017, multiple Network case suspects testified that “Timofei” actively participated in their wilderness training exercises and was supposedly the individual responsible for introducing them to the “Network” terrorist community.

Case materials suggest that the FSB never actually tried to identify or find this individual. The apparently invented character also appears in the indictment against Dmitry Pchelintsev, who was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security prison, while felony charges against “Timofei” were designated as an entirely separate case.

Experts determined that the man died between three and 12 months before his remains were found, meaning that Artyom was killed sometime between April and August 2017. Investigators searched the area for Katya’s body but found nothing.

At Artyom’s funeral in July 2019, childhood friend Andrey Cherkasov warned Artyom’s mother that Maxim Ivankin might have been involved in her son’s death, which she says confirmed some of her existing concerns. Cherkasov told Meduza that his suspicions turned to Ivankin after conversations with state investigators in Penza, who questioned him in February 2019 about his deceased friend. By this time, the authorities had already apprehended Ivankin and Kulkov in Moscow on July 5, 2018, and both had been remanded to pretrial detention in the Network case.

According to investigators, Ivankin and Kulkov offered conflicting accounts of what happened after they went on the run, though they were both eager to state their noninvolvement in Katya’s disappearance and Artyom’s murder. After leaving Penza, they supposedly went in one direction and Katya and Artyom went another way. Artyom’s mother says she thinks Kulkov lied about having no way to reach Katya and Artyom while he was under house arrest, arguing that he would have needed this communication line to link up with Ivankin when he fled into the woods.

For a long time, the Levchenkos and Dorofeyevs believed their children were still alive somewhere, and they did whatever they could to find them, filing police reports, working with volunteer search groups, and so on. The parents also say they think Katya and Artyom went into hiding because their friends, Kulkin and Ivankin, were charged first with dealing drugs and then with terrorism. 

Tatyana Levchenko refuses to accept that her daughter could be dead and she consoles herself by meeting with priests who assure her that Katya is still alive. Perhaps her daughter will return after the Network case verdicts are all done, she says. The Levchenkos have tried to force state investigators to take up the case, even filing a lawsuit to evict Katya from her apartment on the grounds that she’s disappeared. Local investigators responded by calling around to hospitals and morgues in the area before concluding that Katya has merely “lost contact with her family,” not gone missing.

Sasha and Ilya

Sasha Aksyonova fled to Finland and then Ukraine after learning about Dmitry Pchelintsev’s arrest in St. Petersburg. She’d known him for roughly seven years and worried that she would be implicated somehow in the expanding Network case. She also warned her husband, Viktor Filinkov, that they were in danger. In late January 2018, however, St. Petersburg authorities arrested Filinkov just as he was trying to board a plane to Kyiv. That same day, their mutual friend, Yulii Boyarshinov, was also arrested. A couple of days later, officials arrested Boyarshinov’s friend, Ilya Kapustin, and then Aksyonova’s friend, Igor Shishkin.

That summer, when Aksyonova was still in Finland awaiting political asylum, she learned from a leftist activist named Vladimir that Alexey Poltavets, her husband’s friend, was still on the run. Vladimir said Poltavets had managed to get abroad, but he apparently suffered from post-traumatic stress and had reportedly attempted suicide twice. Vladimir told Aksyonova that he initially thought it was the result of torture by the FSB, but he says Poltavets later confessed about his participation in a murder. Vladimir told Meduza that he doesn’t fully understand Poltavets’s alleged role, but he says he believes Maxim Ivankin and Dmitry Pchelintsev were also involved.

In February 2019, after Artyom Dorofeyev’s death was confirmed, Sasha Aksyonova and Ilya Khesin (who dated Dmitry Pchelintsev’s ex-wife, Angelina, for six months) started studying the chat correspondence contained in the Penza case records. In messages from October 2017 between 11/5 members Andrey Chernov and Alexey Poltavets, the latter says he warned everyone against interacting with “civilians,” which is how Artyom and Katya were known within the group. Poltavets wrote that Ivankin and Pchelintsev defended Katya and Artyom, but then they encountered problems and Poltavets took it upon himself to ensure that the “civilians” didn’t turn on anyone. In one note, Chernov wrote to Poltavets that the effectiveness of their group’s recruitment efforts was apparent when it has to resort to threats of “You’re either all in the ‘Network’ or you’re history” (an FSB investigator underlined this phrase in the case materials). Poltavets then responded: “If they know us all, then what good is it for one of us to deal with them? I mean, only G [Ivankin] has really done it, well and D [Pchelintsev], but I didn’t have a fucking choice. I needed to live somewhere.”

This didn’t make sense to Sasha or Ilya, but it caused them to start suspecting that Ivankin and Pchelintsev might be involved in a serious crime.

According to Aksyonova, Anna Shalunkina (Dmitry Pchelintsev’s sister) says a woman from Moscow named Olga claims to have witnessed Ivankin slash his wrists at a pretrial hearing in Penza. According to the story, paramedics saved Ivankin and Olga says he later confessed to her that he harmed himself because he’d been involved in a murder. She never took it to the police, however, saying she felt sorry for him. Meduza was unable to reach either Skalunkina or the woman called Olga to confirm this information.

In February 2019, Aksyonova appealed to the parents of the Network case suspects in a group chat, asking them about several inconsistencies she and Khesin discovered. For example, where did Ivankin keep his firearm in the apartment he shared with Dorofeyev, Levchenko, and Kulkov? (In April 2017, when police first arrested Ivankin, Kulkov, and Poltavets, this weapon disappeared from the home along with Artyom and Katya.) Aksyonova also wrote that Ivankin told Pchelintsev’s sister that he doesn’t know where his weapon is because he left it behind when running from house arrest, but people who took in Ivankin and Kulkov while they were on the run say they had two hunting rifles with them. Speaking through his lawyer, Pchelintsev responded to Aksyonova's questions by saying that he doesn’t want help from anyone who needs him to prove that he’s not a killer.

Parents of defendants in the Network case say they cannot believe that their children might be involved in murder. Multiple people in this group say they doubt any claims from Alexey Poltavets, a minor they say may have gone partly insane because of what happened to him in police custody. Others in the group chat even speculated that Katya could have murdered Artyom. Pchelintsev’s mother says she’s certain that her son isn’t a killer and she suspects Ilya Khesin (who investigated with Sasha Aksyonova) is either mentally unbalanced or cooperating with the FSB. The murder allegations are “absolutely unproven and absolutely unfounded,” says Pchelintsev’s mother, arguing that the FSB would have used homicide charges in their case, if there were anything to it. “They wouldn’t let this slip through their fingers,” she says. Meduza was unable to reach Ivankin’s mother, Tatyana, or his lawyer, Konstantin Kartashov, for comment.

Multiple close friends of the suspects in the Network case cautioned Meduza against publishing this story, warning that it looks like a frame-up by the authorities and could harm everyone in the investigation. Even Sasha Aksyonova says she still worries that the information about the possible involvement of Poltavets, Ivankin, and Pchelintsev in a murder could harm her husband, Viktor Filinkov (whose trial began on Februry 25, 2020, with the other Network defendants in St. Petersburg). Aksyonova and Khesin say they nevertheless took their findings to journalists back in April 2019. They say they were told that publishing anything on the subject might harm innocent people. In the meantime, jailed Mikhail Ivankin proposed to Dmitry Pchelintsev’s sister, Anna Shalunkina, and the two were married in January 2020 at a pretrial detention center.

Alexey Poltavets

In February 2020, Meduza reached Alexey Poltavets, who is now living abroad. He confessed to being involved in the murder of Artyom Dorofeyev and Katya Levchenko and gave his own version of the events leading to their deaths. 

Poltavets says Artyom and Katya decided to return home from hiding while he and Ivankin were on the run. Pchelintsev and his friends strongly opposed this, apparently worrying that the two “civilians” would testify about the group’s drug dealing. Poltavets says Pchelintsev stayed in contact with Ivankin over encrypted chat, relaying various “group decisions.” Poltavets says he convinced Artyom and Katya either to leave Russia entirely or to remain in hiding until everyone else in danger had fled the country.

By late April 2017, however, Ivankin supposedly told Poltavets that Pchelintsev had announced a “collective decision” to neutralize the two “civilians.” Artyom and Katya were apparently told to meet them near the village of Lopukhi near Ryazan under the pretext of moving to a new hideout. Poltavets says Ivankin killed and buried Katya within about 100 yards of where Artyom’s body was discovered. Poltavets says he didn’t actually witness the murder scene, however. He says Artyom was shot in the face with buckshot from a Saiga 12-gauge shotgun legally purchased and registered to Ivankin. When Artyom didn’t die, they cut his throat. Poltavets says he hated his companions after this and ran away at the first opportunity. 

When speaking to Meduza’s correspondent, Poltavets also expressed paranoia that he no longer knows whom to trust. He says he fears being tortured if he’s ever apprehended by the Russian authorities, and he says he wants nothing more to do with the Network case suspects, whom he accuses of criminal activity. Poltavets stresses, however, that the defendants in the case are not guilty of terrorism, which is a charge brought against more and more innocent people in Russia, he says.

* * *

As early as February 2019, when contacted by the Investigative Committee’s branch in Ryazan, the Federal Security Service knew about the murder allegations against multiple suspects in the Network case. Russia’s Criminal Procedural Code makes murder investigations the exclusive prerogative of the Investigative Committee, which means the FSB would have been forced to hand over its case materials, including its weak evidence of terrorist activity. The FSB investigator who managed the Network case in Penza, Valery Tokarev, refused to speak to Meduza and the agency’s press office ignored our calls.

More is coming. Meduza will continue covering this story and publishing more detailed reports, specifically concerning the version of events from Alexey Poltavets, which demands a thorough probe.

Authors: Maxim Solopov and Kristina Safonova

Editor: Ivan Kolpakov

Infographics: Yarik Maksimov and Nastya Yarovaya

Illustrations: Nastya Grigoryeva

Abridged English-language version: Kevin Rothrock

This story uses photographs from David Frenkel / Kommersant, David Frenkel / Mediazona, Ekaterina Malysheva, Ekaterina Gerasimova, and Evgeny Malyshev / 7x7

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