400 people from Tambov in Russia “serving time for criminal offences” were sent to Ukraine to fight, General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces informed Ukrainian citizens recently. Russian prisoners are promised money and pardon for spending six month in the frontline.
It’s not the first report about recruitment of prisoners and their direct participation in the combat. However, it was in September that the number of these reports dramatically increased. First, international investigative community InformNapalm informs that Russian convicts are transported to the military airbase Millerovo right in their jail jumpsuits, where they get changed into Russian military uniforms and sent to the frontline. Then a video appears, where a man looking very much like Yevgenii Prigozhin, head of Wagner private military company, is recruiting prisoners of a Russian colony to participate in the war. Later he will say this: “To those who didn’t like it – send your own kids to the frontline”.
In September we noticed that many Telegram channels are actively sharing short videos where presumed prisoners who are now fighting In Ukraine are saying hello to their “bros” in colonies and are encouraging them to go and fight.
Most of these videos are posted on GulaguDa, website created on September 5 as an “alternative” to the GulaguNet [“No to GULAG”- translator’s note] website fighting against tortures in prisons. Together with the OSINT-community Molfar we’ll tell you whether people in the video are indeed prisoners who had been sent to fight in Ukraine.
“Wazzup everyone! IK-9 (penal colony – ed.) is saying hello. There was a small run-in, we were slightly bruised, so we’re recovering. There were lots of nats, but we kicked their ass anyway. As you can see, we were grazed a little, as you can see. We’ll live, everything is ok, we got better. We’ll go back to fight soon!», a man in a video is saying, making pauses. He is wearing a black cap with a letter Z.
Dmitrii Saraikin in a black cap with a letter Z. Freeze frame from a video
It was the latest video published on GulagDa website. OSINT-community Molfar identified the man in the cap as a 31-year-old Dmitrii Saraikin. He comes from the workers’ settlement Kresttsi in Novgorod region.
“I don’t have a foreign passport, so I’ll wait till Russia is everywhere”. That’s his status on one of the old pages in VKontakte. It looks like he’s trying to follow through on it now.
The fact that it’s a real name, not a nickname, is confirmed not only by details from several social media pages. The man published a photo of car documents for Peugeot 207 where the owner is Saraikin Dmitrii Sergeevich, Novgorod region, settlement Kresttsi, Aerodromnyi alley, build.2
It doesn’t look like anything special. However, a person with the same name, patronymic and surname, who also comes from Kresttsi settlement, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2020. For selling amphetamine, according to the local prosecutor’s office. So, these days Dmitrii Sergeevich was supposed to be in places quite far from Ukraine.
By the way, he didn’t admit his guilt in drug dealing. He was trying to appeal against the ruling of the court.. He claimed that “the case was based on speculations and false testimony of investigators”, and his lawyers “left the criminal case to chance”. The court found no grounds to cancel the ruling. Still, Saraikin’s punishment wasn’t severe anyway, as the mitigating circumstances were taken into account: “encouragement and positive qualities” and the mother he’s supporting.
His mother is Larisa Saraikina-Nikiforova. Her page in VKontakte is private, but her old profile in Odnoklassniki remained open. She wasn’t using it in recent years. But here we found more photos of her son.
For instance, in 2011 she was seeing Dima off to serve in the army. “Almost ready for work and defense. 29 June 2011. My son Dima”, “Well, here is the army. Good luck, son! 29 June 2011”, she signed two photos with him wearing military uniform.
In 2012 she posted a picture with her son and her husband: “Saraikin, junior sergeant of the guard, returns home. 19 June 12”.
We didn’t manage to discuss Dmitrii Saraikin’s new service with him. His profile is private, and the settings don’t let those who aren’t his friends send him messages.
“To us, to the guys and to Donbass”
Another video encouraging prisoners to go to war was posted by the inmates of the 10th penal colony in Tver region. The are saying that there’s no abuse in their unit, they’re alive and want for nothing. Overall, the video is obviously scripted: the prisoners are saying they’re leading a “healthy life style” here, and they call the war “a chance to do the right thing”:
“It’s a possibility to improve, to change your life, to choose another way. Do something useful for the society”, says a man in the video.
This video is massively shared by bots in VKontakte with the same phrase: “Guys who decided to change their lives. Maximum security is already in Ukraine. IK-10 Tver. Keep working, brothers”.
The man who is saying about healthy life and a chance to change it is a 36-year-old Sergei Baikovskii from Khimki town, that in fact is a part of Moscow. These are not empty words for him – he’s a drug addict with more than 10 years of experience who had been staying in IK-10 since October 2014.
Sergei Baikovskii, 2014. Photo by: VKontakte
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for dealing drugs. It’s not his first sentence. First time he was convicted for pushing drugs back in 2011. According to Russian courts, he was punished by two years in prison. In 2013, when creating an account in VKontakte, he would add a status “Hello from places where no brides go”. There was a corresponding photo which leaves no room for doubt about the place where it had been taken.
We know from court rulings that not only was he dealing drugs, but was using (or is still using) them. In 2017 he requested an obligatory medical treatment and the transfer to a different correctional institution to do his sentence there. He emphasized, he was a drug addict and therefore a sick person in need of treatment, and if he does his sentence in the colony, he wouldn’t be able to stop using.
However, he was refused on the grounds of the Russian criminal code not envisaging treatment for drug addicted prisoners while they’re serving their sentence.
“We have everything and want for nothing – food, weapons, healthy lifestyle. It’s a real chance, guys! To improve your lives, to change and choose a different way. Think for yourself, don’t listen to anyone, you should have your own opinion”, addresses his “bros” Sergei Baikovskii in the video.
Maybe, what prompted him was a realization that there is no “other way” within the very Russian justice system. For him at least, because in May this year another petition of his to replace the remaining sentence with less severe punishment was rejected. Baikovskii’s lawyer was trying to prove in this petition that the prisoner took the path of correction and even received 22 rewards for several last years. However, it didn’t persuade the court which found no sufficient evidence that Baikovskii “definitely took the way of improvement and doesn’t need to fully complete his sentence in the form of imprisonment”.
Probably it was back then that the convict from Tver colony decided to find a less severe punishment for himself and learned a number of mottos: “To us, to the guys, to Donbass, to russia. We’ll survive. We’ll live. Victory is ours. Victory is with us”.
By the way, his brother lives in Moscow. It’s a successful expert on internet-marketing Maksim Baikovskii. However, his social media don’t show their family connection. Baikovskii himself is keeping his accounts extremely irregularly – actually, he stopped posting in late 2014.
Sergei Baikovskii. Photo by: Odnoklassniki
Still, his page on Odnoklassniki makes it possible to see that he was leaving an absolutely normal life between 2013 and 2014. He went to the seaside in Egypt with Marina Romashkina, who is not demonstrating any connections to him these days. He was also making custom furniture.
Sergei Baikovskii at the seaside. Photo from social media
“Everything is smooth, we’re at the place”
A 28-year-old Roman Lopashov made use of the possibility to swap theft for murder. He is an unemployed orphan and lives in Zapadnaia Dvina – a small town in Tver region. He has a little child. One of his hobbies is Russian rap. He didn’t live with the child’s mother before his imprisonment. The parents were suing each other for the alimony.
Lopashov got into trouble with law at least in 2016. He stole and electrical stove from a private apartment and sold it for scrap metal. He admitted to his guilt and probably could get away with a probation. But he couldn’t resist to steal again, so he had to spend two years in prison – till October 2019. Then Lopashov was caught using drugs on several occasions. Once he “found” marijuana near a railway station, and another time he sniffed PVP (a synthetic drug causing fast addiction and impacting intellectual abilities). He was given two fines, 4,000 roubles each. It’s highly unlikely he paid them, for he’s fond of accumulating debts. During 2016-2018 he officially owed the state 112,000 roubles (65,000 hryvnias).
Roman Lopashov Photo: VKontakte
Lopashov guaranteed himself another criminal record in early 2020 when he committed two thefts within three days. According to the materials of investigation, he and his friend agreed to steal a case of whiskey from Metro shop just for 5,000 roubles (about 3,000 hryvnias). They did it twice.
In July same years he burgled an apartment, again with a friend. It happened after they came to an acquaintance’s home to drink alcohol, where they “noticed” 70,000 roubles (about 43,000 hryvnias). Later, after the drinking party was over, they entered the house and stole this money. The same month Lopashov was sentenced to 3.6 years in prison for his adventures. He was trying to appeal against the sentence, but didn’t succeed.
“Everything is smooth, we’re at the place. Don’t sweat it, guys”, these are Lopashov’s impressions from mobilization he shared.
“They got us a little”
Another wounded prisoner-occupant is sending greetings to the Komi republic from his hospital bed.
“Salaam alaikum, Komi citizens! Sania here, many here remember and know me. How it’s going, what can I tell you? Everything is nice, everything is awesome. They got us a little: I was wounded, nicked in a battle. I’m recovering now. That’s it, basically. We are almost ready; we’ll go into the battle now. There. In general, it’s ok, guys, don’t worry. What more can I say? You hold on there too”.
OSINT-community Molfar identified Sania as a 24-year-old Aleksandr Gromov or Gusak; at least these were the age and surnames he indicated in there recently deleted accounts in VKontakte. Sania is extremely active on social media: he produced a whole lot of accounts, using a different surname each time. Still, we managed to establish his true identity and untangle his complicated family relationships.
Real name of the man in the video is Aleksandr Viacheslavovich Chubotarufrom Usogorsk settlement in Udorskyi district in Komi republic. Chubotaru was born on 3 December 1998, so he is 23. This means, that Wagner private military company’s limitations don’t apply to prisoners. It is recruiting men of 24 and older, excluding the servicemen with fully served contract and combat experience in Ukraine. But as we can see, prisoners can be younger.
Aleksandr used his real surname for a page in Odnoklassniki, tagging his mother Elena Gusak and his relative Aliona Birsan. In reality, Elena turned out to be the prisoner-occupant’s grandmother, and Aliona is his mother. Judging from Elena Gusak’s social media, it was her who raised the grandson, not his mother. Sania was 16 when his mother died, and despite their complicated relationships he took his loss really hard.
Gromov surname which Chubotaru was also using as a disguise on social media belongs to his biological father who looks rather respectable in a photo wearing a shirt and glasses, with a fat cat on his lap. It all changes as soon as you remove the props.
A thief Viacheslav Gromov, Sania Chubotaru’s father. Photo: VKontakte
Viacheslav Gromov is an influential thief who spent most of his life in penal camps, as his prison tattoos show. For example, rings on his fingers mean that Gromov is a repeat offender, and a star under his clavicle is a main symbol for a “criminal authority”. There was a place for romance in his life in prison. While in camps, he was writing poems and giving vows of eternal love to his ”dear little wife, one and only” Larisa Gromova. She’s not his son Sania’s mother, but another person.
In 2012, most likely while he was serving yet another sentence, Viacheslav Gromov even created an account in VKontakte to talk to Larisa.
“Darling, let’s try to do an audio recording if we can, voice communication, I mean, ok? xoxo”, Gromov’s beloved asked him. “Well, sweetheart, maybe someone can lend you a proper phone for some 15 minutes, xoxo”.
To save her worrying, the prisoner even wrote “Alive” in his status, which remained relevant until 2016. Back then, Aleksandr Chubotaru commented on Larisa’s post about “eternal memory to the loved ones”. In return, she called him “sonny”. It’s obvious Aleksandr had a cordial relationship with his father and stepmother: she also refers to his as “sonny” on other social media.
It remains a secret why Chubotaru is not using Gromov surname. However, a different surname didn’t help much in avoiding his father’s fate. He received his first criminal sentence when he was 18. Since then and till today, which is five years, he spent only a year and a half out of jail.
The first time he was given suspended sentence for the crime “against sexual inviolability and freedom of a person under 16 years of age”; however, three months prior to the end of his sentence a court replaced his probation with a real prison time. Six months after Chubotaru was released, he faced another trial for theft. This time he spent six months in maximum security prison. He said goodbye for one year only, coming back because of systematic avoidance of administrative supervision.
Two months after his release, in January this year, he went to prison again for two years and two months. He was prosecuted for drunken breaking and entering a pensioner’s apartment in the middle of the day and steeling all her jewellery, specifically: three rings with a total value of 14,000 roubles which is $240 at the present rate. It was when he was serving this sentence that Wagner company recruited him to go to war, promising the prisoners amnesty and 200,000 roubles for six month in the frontline. If they survive, of course.
By the way, thieves that live by unwritten codes aren’t allowed to fight in war. This is regarded as cooperation with authorities and is frowned upon by the criminal community. When Wagner group started recruiting prisoner, Grisha Moskovskii, the russian criminal authority spoke to them:
“You should know that if you call yourselves decent men, but take weapons and go to fight against Ukraine – you are nothing but who*es. (…) It is not Ukraine that attacked russia, but it’s russia and russian authorities that attacked Ukraine, do you understand? You’re not protecting your motherland, you’re going there to loot and rob, and kill people, common Ukrainian people”.
The material was prepared with the support from Internews Network. The material reflects the editorial team’s views and does not necessarily reflect the official views of Internews Network.