17.10.2016 | Halya Coynash

Kremlin-backed Russian militant ‘Motorola’, wanted for war crimes, killed in Donbas


Arseny Pavlov, better-known as ‘Motorola’, the Russian militant suspected of killing Ukrainian Donetsk Airport defender Ihor Branovytsky in cold blood and who boasted of having shot 15 prisoners of war died in a bomb explosion in Donetsk on October 16.

Officials of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DNR] have confirmed that Arseny Pavlov, the Russian militant better known as ‘Motorola’, was killed on Sunday.  A bomb is reported to have exploded in entrance to his apartment block killing both him and his guard.  A previous explosion in late June was also said to have been an attempt on Pavlov’s life. The militants have claimed the bomb to have been a ‘terrorist act carried out by a Ukrainian sabotage group” and militant leader Alexander Zakharchenko has threatened Ukraine with a ‘proportional response’  In fact, however, a considerable number of militants in both self-proclaimed ‘republics’ have died in suspicious circumstances, and a power struggle is also possible. 

Pavlov took part in the battle at Ilovaisk, when Russian forces were brought in to help the militants defeat Ukrainian forces.  He was later involved in the struggle for control of Donetsk Airport, and it is from that period that most of the evidence of war crimes comes.

Pavlov was on the EU’s sanction list, but Ukraine was hoping that the militant would one day stand trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  He will never be tried, and obviously we can never know whether a court of law would have found him guilty of war crimes.  There were, nonetheless, serious grounds for bringing such charges. 

One of the crimes he was suspected of was the murder in cold blood of Ihor Branovytsky, one of the ‘Cyborgs’ defending Donetsk Airport, after he and his men had been taken prisoner by the militants.

 Ihor Branovytsky

According to Yury Sova, one of the Ukrainian soldiers who survived, he and Ihor Branovytsky were among 12 men who had remained at the remains of the airport to care for four injured comrades.  They had no ammunition left, and surrendered on Jan 21, asking the militants to take the injured to hospital.

This was doubtless a ‘coup’ for the militants and they even posted a video which shows the men alive and without any signs of beating.  Branovytsky could be easily identified as he was wearing a blue jacket, while the other prisoners are all in camouflage.

It is likely that Branovytsky was tortured by militant commander Mikhail Tolstykh [known as Givi], two Chechens known as Tanchik and Stalin, and a woman called Vika.  At least two of the ‘Cyborgs’ who were finally released – Oleksandr Mashonkin and Yury Shkabura say that the prisoners’ tormenters included a man wearing the clothes of an Orthodox priest, who used his cross as a means of torture. 

Sova says that after the treatment from Givi and his people, the captured soldiers were taken to the basement where Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ spoke to them and then handed them over to Motorola.

From the left: ’Motorola’ and Givi

They were taken for interrogation, Sova recounts, and says that for six or seven hours they were first beaten, then ‘interrogated’.  

He says that their questions made it clear that there were Russians among them, and that Branovytsky got the worst treatment as he had admitted to being a machine gunner.  “

“They broke a lot of bones.  A paramedic came up, bandaged him and called an ambulance. Then Motorola came in. He looked at us all, we were already sitting by the wall. And Ihor was lying 2-3 metres from me. Motorola walked up and asked “what’s this body?” He was told that an ambulance had been called.  Then he looked again, said “so that he doesn’t suffer because he won’t live to get to the hospital”, took out a pistol and shot him twice in the head”.

The BBC journalist asked if he had seen this with his own eyes, and if Branovytsky had definitely been alive.  The answer was affirmative to both.  Sova goes on to say that the militants had claimed that Motorola was in that way showing ‘mercy’. 

The nature of such ‘mercy’ can be seen in his comment to the others: “Don’t be surprised that I’m so nice, I can shoot any of you dead” 

A Kyiv Post journalist had spoken earlier with Motorola on the phone.  The Russian refused to comment on Branovytsky’s murder saying:

“I don’t give a shit about any accusations, believe it or not ” Motorola said. “I’ve shot 15 prisoners. I don’t give a shit. No comment. I kill whoever I want.”

For the above reasons, and others, this is not one of the situations where it is better to speak well of the dead or say nothing.  A video in English about Motorola’s suspected war crimes can be found here:



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