Vesti Special Report: The Hunt For the Commanders - Kiev’s Assassination of Rebel Fighters

The Separatist Cafe's security camera impartially filmed the last seconds of the leader of the Donetsk People's Republic.

The Separatist Cafe's security camera impartially filmed the last seconds of the leader of the Donetsk People's Republic. Here comes his cortege. His guards check the perimeter. One of his guards entered first to check the interior. After that, Alexander Zakharchenko entered the building, followed by another guard. The bomb immediately detonated.

Special Report. A documentary by Alexander Rogatkin

Alexander Zakharchenko used to go straight to this corner where a boiling teapot was always waiting for him on a small stove. There was always a "the table is mined" sign at his table. Not so funny anymore.

The Separatist Cafe was a response to the Hit Squad Bar in Kiev. The hall was decorated in a military-partisan style. Criminology expert Alexander Konoplya was the first one to begin investigating the scene.

Alexander Konoplya: We worked for a week. Every day from morning to evening, we were sifting through the rubble collecting every wire, circuit, and so on every clue that could help us continue our investigation.

The bomb was planted in the ceiling of the entrance. Its explosive force was equivalent to 3 pounds of TNT.

Alexander Konoplya: he height of the ceiling was 7.5 feet. But he was also taller than average. One of our experts stood there, he's 6'1", and there were 16 inches between his head and the entrance's ceiling.

- So the distance to the bomb was the same?

- Yes.

There's nothing left of the entrance. Metal shrapnel is lying all over the floor. The bomb was filled with it. It's still unclear who planted the bomb and how. Right now, we're in another mirror-like room of the Separatist Cafe. The entrance is completely intact. Look, the bomb was planted here, in the ceiling. In order to plant it there, one had to remove the panels. It's impossible to do without a stepladder. The bomb was wired to these electric lamps. Someone took the time to carefully prepare the assassination of the DPR leader.

The bomb was detonated at the precise moment when the DPR leader walked beneath it. Both Zakharchenko and his guard, Vyacheslav Dotsenko, who was walking behind him, were killed.

Alexander Konoplya, criminologist: It takes two or three steps for a person as tall as Alexander Zakharchenko to walk across the entrance. It takes about two or three seconds.

- So they calculated it precisely.

- Yes. I'm sure that the bomb had additional functions. It might have had a microphone. Also, it could have, it must have, had a video camera.

Two seconds is a moment too brief to recognize the person and detonate the bomb. It means the cortege was being watched, or there were several cameras. There's also a chance that the assassins connected to the cafe's security cameras and saw everything as clearly as we do now. Intelligence has not yet disclosed if the cameras captured the assassins.

Let's rewatch the dramatic footage. Natasha Volkova, leader of the Oplot youth movement, nimbly ran up the stairs. Minister of Income and Taxes Alexander Timofeyev, who followed guard Dotsenko, stopped to let the girl pass.

Natalia Volkova, leader of Oplot Donbassa youth movement: I remember us getting out of the car and approaching the Separatist Cafe. Then, the explosion knocked me back. It went to black after that.

Natasha spent several days in a coma. She had severe burns, several fractures, and temporarily lost her sight. Now, she's slowly recovering.

Natalia Volkova: My body hasn't rejected the artificial skin. The burns are healing slowly. It's much better than it used to be. It doesn't bother me at all. My leg is the main issue. A couple of days ago I had an operation. And only after six months, I'll be able to walk on it. The rehabilitation takes six months.

She keeps rewatching that dreadful footage realizing that she was one step away from eternity.

Natalia Volkova: I was going third. The first two people died, including the commander. And I was the third. And I realize that... I guess I was born lucky.

At the cafe, Natasha was supposed to discuss a joint event organized by her movement and Zakharchenko timed to the Donbass Liberation Day. Right before the explosion, she was calling somebody, as we can see.

Natalia Volkova: Yes, I forgot my notepad in the car. I had written questions for Alexander Zakharchenko. I was calling my assistant so she would pick it up. And then... I didn't even have a chance to reach her.

This strong and courageous girl has the Art of War by Chinese warlord Sun Tzu on her nightstand. Natasha is preparing to continue fighting.

Natalia Volkova: The general is the bulwark of the State. If the bulwark is complete at all points the State will be strong. If the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak. I believe that our general was a strong and wise man, he made our state strong. But now despite the troubles caused by our enemies, we'll rally together and we'll be strong. We won't let them bully our state.

After the attempt by the Ukrainian Army to forcefully subdue the DPR ended in humiliating defeat back in 2014 Kiev declared surgical terror. Undercover units were deployed to Donbass to sabotage, provoke, and assassinate. The most notorious commanders were hunted. There was one attempt after another. Alexey Mozgovoy and Pavel Dryomov were killed in Luhansk People's Republic. In Donetsk, Motorola and Givi were killed in explosions. Now, Alexander Zakharchenko has been assassinated.

Alexander Zakharchenko: They fail to defeat us on the battlefield. Each attack ends up with them being surrounded. They're killing us like cowards.

Over the entrance of an ordinary Donetsk building, there's a memorial plaque for Motorola. The legendary commander rented an apartment in this high-rise building. He died in an elevator explosion despite two soldiers guarding the entrance. Here's the person who planted the bomb.

Alexander Pogorelov: The guard made a mistake. They searched me but didn't check the bag of the second agent. Alexander Pogorelov, suspect. He had an improvised bomb laying under the food. We easily accessed the elevator.

Together with another SBU agent, Alexander Pogorelov easily opened the door of the elevator whose car was one floor lower.

- Who opened the elevator?

Alexander Pogorelov: My partner Yura. He used the operator key. He gave me an improvised explosive to put on top of the car.

- And where did you put it?

- I took the improvised explosive and put it over the lamp here. There was a wire, I plugged it into the hole.

- What was the wire for?

- I think it powered the camera.

The camera was streaming online. The observer could see Motorola and his guard enter the elevator car.

Alexander Pogorelov: The explosion was triggered from Kiev with a cell phone.

Alexander Pogorelov was recruited in Kiev. The citizen of Donetsk offered his services voluntarily. His code name was Legionary. He claims he was paid $5,000 for assassinating Motorola. He immediately started getting ready for a new assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko in the Pushkin restaurant.

- OK…

Following the same scenario, Pogorelov planted a bomb in the toilet.

Alexander Pogorelov: The bomb had two parts. The first one, the camera, was planted here and the bomb was planted under this panel. It was the same color as the cabinet.

- Couldn't the janitors find it?

- They failed to notice it. It was attached with double-sided tape and looked like a decorative panel.

- What side did the camera face?

- The camera faced the toilet exit. We saw everyone walking from bathroom stalls and urinals.

To get inside, Pogorelov pretended he was a photographer who was shooting models against interiors. He rented the place for two hours. It was enough to plant the bomb. Moreover, he knew exactly what the sink cabinet looked like.

Alexander Pogorelov: Somebody shared the dimensions and color of the sink cabinet with me.

The bomb was produced in Kiev, had powerful batteries and could remain in standby mode for several months. The DPR security services managed to locate and defuse the bomb.

- Is it heavy?

- Pretty heavy. There are tiny locks here.

- So it's made of two parts? — Plastic explosive?

- Yeah, right.

- How much?

- A lot. That's one hell of a bomb.

- Right. I see it clearly.

Legionary received another bonus for planting the explosive. But he had to return a part of it.

Alexander Pogorelov:

- They asked me to return a part of it.

- How much?

- About $1,000.

- What was the initial sum?

- $2,500.

- They took almost half of it.

- Yeah.

That's about right. Pogorelov claims that his handler Sergey, from Kiev, trained another unit to assassinate the DPR leader. He was supposed to plant a bomb in the Separatist Cafe.

Alexander Pogorelov: It had an antenna that could receive signals from a distance of over a mile. with minor interference caused by buildings. In general, it was operating with no interference.

- Did they tell you where the bomb was produced?

- Sergey told me the bomb was produced in the US and given to him by US intelligence.

Zakharchenko's car had special radio-jamming equipment it was supposed to cover several dozens of square yards with a radio-impregnable dome.

DPR operative: Judging by the performance of the device DPR operative. which was triggered despite the operating radio-jamming system installed in one of the cars accompanying Zakharchenko we came to the conclusion that the device was designed by a foreign intelligence service.

According to Pogorelov, there was also a sniper unit. He was searching for a sniping position for them. He chose an apartment on the 23rd floor of the apartment block on Pushkin Boulevard 400 yards away from the Separatist Cafe.

Alexander Pogorelov: From here, you can clearly see Lenin Square, Gusi-Lebedi, and Pushkin Boulevard where the Pushkin restaurant is located.

- Gusi-Lebedi is also a restaurant?

- Yes, that's it. And there's the Pushkin restaurant.

The agents planned to buy the penthouse for $130,000. They have already allegedly paid 10% of the sum.

DPR operative: A good spot. 300-400 yards is nothing for a sniper. A sniper would have definitely killed him. It's a good spot.

Everybody understood that the DPR leader was a murder target. DPR intelligence warned him in advance that there might be an attack.

- Is it true that you discovered the plot one month before the assassination?

Eduard Salikhov, Zakharchenko's guard: Yes, we did. We were preparing for it. Our bomb techs and other services were checking all of the facilities. We were getting ready, but... It still happened the way it did.

- How could it happen? What went wrong?

- I believe the terrorists were extremely well prepared. They knew what to do and which places he regularly visited. They were watching him.

Eduard Salikhov is one of the personal guards of the DPR leader. He was off-duty on that fateful day. He's upset he couldn't protect his commander. The soldiers used to call him "Father". He'll remain with them forever in their hearts and on their skin.

Eduard Salikhov: In memory of our commander under whom I served since 2014 in all flashpoints. He always cheered us up with kind words as our commander, our friend, and our brother.

- Was guarding him difficult?

- He was a unique person, one of a kind. He was always in the vanguard, guarding him was especially hard on the frontline. We could never talk him out of risking his life. During all our of operations, we were in the in the vanguard.

Here's everything that's left of the staff office of Mikhail Tolstykh, the legendary Givi. The explosion was so powerful that he had zero chances of surviving. Donetsk intelligence has discovered that on February 7th, 2017 a 20-year-old student of the Kiev Institute of Culture and Art, Anastasia Petriga, entered the army camp. It was her who left a bomb at Givi's staff office which detonated at 6 AM after she left the camp.

DPR operative: We've discovered that the bomb was brought to Mikhail Tolstykh's office by Anastasia Petriga. She then proceeded to activate the device.

- And who detonated it?

- The bomb was detonated remotely. It's possible that it was triggered from Kiev, as in Arsen Pavlov's case.

- And where's Petriga now?

- After activating the bomb Anastasia Petriga quickly left the territory of DPR. She's currently wanted.

Anastasia Petriga comes from Pavlograd, a small city on the river Dnepr. Here's her yearbook photo. Here are her parents. However, Ukrainian viewers might know her as a participant of the popular show called From Tomboys to Ladies.

“What challenges do sunflower seed-munching and beer-swilling hood girls have to face in order to become a true lady?”

- Oi!

According to the script, a girl who was proud of being able to open a beer bottle with her teeth was supposed to undergo a spiritual transformation. However, Anastasia failed to become a lady. Instead, the hoodlum became a saboteur.

Anastasia Petriga: I'm in my junior year. I've done Thai boxing. I can low kick ya.

- Wow, easy there.

The SBU saw the value of her skills. Anastasia Petriga went through a training course and was sent to Donetsk to gain the trust of some notorious commander.

Anastasia Petriga, suspect: I will only date a cool dude, a real man, you know.

Unfortunately, she gained the trust of the military commander named the fearless Givi who didn't kneel even during a mortar attack.

Givi: You all saw and heard that. The shrapnel's falling, the pigeons flee in fear.

The hero of the DPR, who was extremely popular among the prettiest girls of Donetsk, for some reason, chose this dumpy tomboy.

Lilya Tarasenko, friend of Anastasia Petriga: Well, she looks rather plain. She's pretty but not stunning. People like her because she's easy going. She said he was like a big kid. He craved love, maybe it was some childhood trauma.

- Was she in love with him?

- Well, she's human after all.

- What were your thoughts when you discovered that she murdered him?

- I couldn't believe at first. But then, I found whom to address.

Lilya Tarasenko is a friend of Anastasia. They used to rent an apartment in Donetsk together.

Lilya Tarasenko: We used to be roommates. Used to sleep on the same couch.

The day before she murdered Givi, Petriga opened up and told Lilya who she was and why she had come to Donetsk.

Lilya Tarasenko: She said: "Let's go to the liquor store". I said: "Okay, let's go. I'd love a drink. Let's do that".

The security footage shows two girls picking up a bottle of vodka.

Lilya Tarasenko: She opened the bottle, started drinking and telling me everything.

- And showed you the bomb.

- Right.

- What did it look like?

- It was a small bundle wrapped in brown duct tape. It could be easily broken in two, perhaps there were two explosives.

- So she even let you hold it?

- Yes, she did.

- Did she tell you where she intended to plant it?

- She said that she planted the first explosive behind a sofa, or a bed or rather underneath it. It wasn't activated. She wanted to get out of there but was stopped at the Ukrainian checkpoint. She wasn't allowed to leave Donetsk until the deed was done. She received a new bundle with a courier.

That evening, she received many calls from her handler Sergey in Kiev. He insisted that she called Givi immediately and arrange a meeting that same night.

Oksana Dorosh, former Deputy Chief of Staff of Somalia Battalion: She was very insistent when it comes to dating. She was calling him all the time asking to come and meet her. And he... He wasn't the one arranging meetings. After the incident on the frontline when our guys were killed she came to him the same night and said that she was worried and wanted to talk. That was the reason she came.

Oksana Dorosh is the former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Somalia Battalion. She was the one who met the tomboy Petriga at the checkpoint and let her to Givi.

Oksana Dorosh: We weren't friends. We hadn't even met before. Let's put it like that. I was asked to let her in and so I did. The commander was aware of that.

- Maybe you should've searched her? How serious was Givi about his security? He was living at the army camp, right? How was he guarded?

- We used to search every visitor at the checkpoint. We didn't search her though. He ordered me to let her in and so I did. That's it. She visited him a couple of times.

Lilya Tarasenko: “She said that she was tired... There was some reward for killing him. She didn't specify the sum. It was either an apartment or some large sum of money, I'm not sure. She wanted to get that money and start a new life in China.”

After the murder, Petriga called her friend a couple of times from Kiev and complained that her reward was deferred.

Lilya Tarasenko: She was trying to get her money for two months, calling them and knocking on their door. She didn't succeed. In the end, they gave her some money.

In Donetsk, Petriga was living off the money given to her by a person whom we already know: Alexander Pogorelov.

Alexander Pogorelov: In Kiev, Sergey ordered me to bring money to his agent. He was in Kiev and she was in Donetsk. She rented an apartment in Donetsk; I was bringing her 20,000 rubles each month.

At first, Lilya was suspected of being her accomplice. But now, intelligence has no questions for her.

- Why didn't you call the police?

Lilya Tarasenko: Can you imagine how I felt at that moment? I didn't know who she was mixed up with and how many of them were here. I mean their agents. I might have left the house one day and never came back. That was a likely scenario.

Over the last four years, the SBU has perfected its methods. A wedge between Donetsk politicians and panic among the civilians. There's another clash at the red line. Towns and villages are getting shelled.

War makes no difference between commanders and ordinary soldiers, political leaders, civilians, and children. There's another tragedy in the tormented Gorlovka. Four kids stepped on an anti-personnel mine. Three of them died. It happened 200 yards away from the checkpoint in Maiorovka on the path leading to the positions of the DPR troops. Saboteurs tend to plant mines in such places. But how did the kids end up there?

Ivan Prikhodko, local resident: For some reason, four teenagers sneaked over there. It's the frontline, a closed territory. Of course, it would be mined. And they stepped on a mine.

A memorial services' bus is parked at the checkpoint. There are three terrible black bags inside. The soldiers have no idea how they're going to tell the parents. The oldest one was 13, two other kids were 12.

Ten-year-old Dima got lucky. He got away with minor injuries.

Viktor Boyev, surgeon: The wounds weren't penetrating. His condition is appropriate for the injuries he sustained. If everything goes well, he'll go home in a week.

Dima Tulup, victim: We were walking directly towards the new checkpoint. We saw the checkpoint, and then, there was a loud explosion. I immediately checked to see if I was still alive. Then, I looked at my hand. Shrapnel went right through it. Shell-shocked, I crawled to my friends. There were four of us. Two of them were lying dead on the ground. And the other kid... The blast knocked him back into the bushes.

Vladimir Tulup, grandfather: It's the same story every time. I keep calling him asking where he is but he keeps lying about where he is.

- Maybe you should take the kids away from here?

- And where would I go? I have no idea where to go.

In order to conduct sabotage and terrorist attacks in the DPR, the SBU created the Fifth Directorate within its Counter-Intelligence Department. It hires the graduates of the Kiev SBU Academy who share their radical nationalistic views. Oleksiy Petrov was put in charge of the Directorate. Later, he was promoted to general.

"He ordered the assassination of Arsen "Motorola" Pavlov, and Mikhail "Givi" Tolstykh. The SBU commanders and the Ukrainian leadership appreciated his efforts because after those events he was appointed as head of the SBU Counter-Intelligence Department".

The SBU can recruit just about anybody if they manage to blackmail them into cooperating. Vyacheslav Zasypka was arrested at the Ukrainian checkpoint when he was traveling from Kostiantynivka to his wife in Makiivka.

Vyacheslav Zasypka: We'll either throw you in jail for separatism" he reminded me of my criminal past. "Or, you can work with us".

After signing a cooperation contract, Zasypka became an SBU scout in Donbass. After that, he was summoned to learn how to plant car bombs. The SBU Colonel was personally showing him where to install the bomb. However, something went wrong.

Vyacheslav Zasypka: He grabbed the bundle (I was standing a few feet away from him and saw it clearly) and he tried to put it underneath. I was standing right here there was an explosion, a loud clap.

- So his demonstration was rather educational.

- I didn't even understand what happened. The explosion knocked me back to the cemetery.

SBU Colonel Yuri Voznyi, who was teaching the mining lesson, died instantly. Two other officers were heavily injured. One of them lost his eye. According to the Ukrainian media, they were injured by a terrorist attack and were put forward for state decorations.

"It could have been Russia or the so-called intelligence of the occupied territories. But I wouldn't exclude the possibility that it was some third party".

Zasypka was supposed to kill one of the DPR Army commanders. Instead, he spent several months in hospital.

Vyacheslav Zasypka: I was supposed to find a Jeep on Batyshchev Street to make sure it was there and to make sure the target was there. He wasn't there.

- Did you have his photo?

- Yes, I did. I think I was supposed to neutralize him. I had to blow up his Jeep.

After being released from the hospital, he was sent to Donbass again, but, he didn't manage to blow anything up because he was arrested.

Vyacheslav Zasypka: I'm almost deaf and have multiple injuries, I'm not much of a…

- Saboteur?

- Right.

The saboteurs were trained by Sergey Motoryn of the SBU Fifth Directorate. He personally recruited Anastasia Petriga and sent her to Donetsk and was the handler of Alexander Pogorelov. It's possible that Motoryn was the one who triggered the bombs.

"He began his service in the Donetsk SBU. Actually, he was born in Donbass, in the city of Sloviansk. He was the person who ordered the assassinations of Arsen Pavlov and Mikhail Tolstykh. He also was the handler of the terrorist groups which executed a series of failed and the final, successful attempt on the DPR leader".

Strong and courageous people live in Donbass. They know how to mine ore, they know how to wage war. Donbass remembers its heroes. Donbass won't forgive its enemies.

- What would have he done in 2014, if he had known his fate?

Natalia Zakharchenko, widow: He would've done the same thing. He wouldn't have changed anything. I always tried to persuade him to be more cautious, to stop risking his life. But he would say: "How can I stop meeting my people? How can I lock myself in my office? That doesn't feel right". He always stood together with his people.

She comes here every day. This cemetery is called the Donetsk Sea. She's already cried her sea of tears. Only emptiness and despair remain.

Natalia Zakharchenko, widow: "My mind realizes it but I still can't believe he's gone. Maybe that's because I didn't see him much during the last few years. He wasn't home much. He was always at work and it feels like he's just busy at the moment but he'll come home eventually. He's just busy at the moment".

People keep coming here bringing flowers for the deceased DPR leader. A monument will be installed next year. So far, the flag of DPR and Airborne Troop have been raised over the grave. Alexander Zakharchenko stayed true to them till the very end.

Natalia Zakharchenko, widow: He understood the risk. He understood everything. But he every time he said: "I will never be a traitor I'm ready to die for the Republic". He saw no other way.