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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Did Russian-Backed Separatists Conduct, Or Fake, a Prisoner Execution?
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This video, posted on June 4th, reportedly shows a separatist leader in Gorlovka (or Horlivka), Igor Bezler, executing two prisoners and promising to execute two more every one-and-a-half hours until his own men are released by Ukrainian authorities. He even references the Ukrainian government's refusal to engage in a prisoner exchange.

Though bloodless, the video may be disturbing to some viewers:

Here is what we know:

- That video was taken during this conflict. The man speaking in the video talks about the current crisis, and levels his threats directly against the Ukrainian SBU. It is not old, as in from some other conflict, but it may or may not have been taken on June 4th.

- The man speaking does look and sound like separatist leader Igor Bezler. In a video from April 14th, Bezler can be seen addressing the separatists. The men have a similar nose, and similar ears, and similar voices, with a slight lisp that is somewhat common. The man in the execution video has a deeper voice, though he may be speaking in a different tone, and audio taken with closer proximity, and indoors, will capture the bass better. The moustache of the men is different, but as people have done research into Bezler, one finds earlier pictures that show a very similar moustache:


We can conclude with a high degree of certainty that this video was taken recently. The man speaking may very well be Bezler, which means that the men with the guns are probably Russian-backed separatists.

What we don't know

Is this a real execution? There are some reasons to suggest that this incident was staged.

There is no blood. The prisoners both fall at the same time as the shots ring out and never move after that. It is surprising that an execution conducted this way would result in an instantaneous kill, and yet the 'executed' make no sound or movements after the gunshots. There is no muzzle flash, and the audio never fully distorts, suggesting that the gunfire was perhaps not as loud as we might expect from a real gunshot.

It is possible that the men were shot at with blank ammunition, and that this is an intimidation technique, but without a better look at the bodies, which the videographer clearly avoids giving us, at least in this clip, we cannot be certain.

But there is an allegation that Bezler has faked executions before. Joe Galvin has shared a story in the Open Newsroom that may match the video we're seeing, or at least suggest that faking an execution is a tactic that this group of separatists may have tried in the recent past.

The following is a translation of a story, published on on May 29th, that reports that Bezler staged two executions in the basement of his headquarters, very likely this very same basement. That story remains unconfirmed (translation by The Interpreter):

29.05.2014 13:00

"Executed" Policemen Released in Gorlovka. But Not for Free

Policemen held captive by separatists in Gorlovka whose "execution" was staged 27 May by the terrorist Bes [Demon, or Igor Bezler] have been released, law-enforcement sources report close to one of the policemen.

According to the sources, R. Babyuk, deputy head of the criminal police of Kalinsky District and D. Krikunov, head of criminal investigation of the same district were released by separatists this morning, but their cars had been seized and both were severely beaten.

The policemen were detained 27 May and held in the basement of the Gorlovka Anti-Organized Crime Department. That same day, the execution of Babyuk and Krkunov was staged "for violation of the oath of the DNR [Donetsk People's Republic]." Two men with sacks over their heads were brought before the staff of the district department, and the "commissar" of Gorlovka, Aleksandr Shulzhenko, the former head of the city patrol service, read out the order for execution, and the terrorist Bezler carried out the executions with his people. That compelled A. Krishchenko, the head of the Gorlovka city police administration to announce that the officers had been executed. But later it turned out that the "execution" was done with blank cartridges.

According to unofficial information, the terrorists still executed two men, but not Babyuk and Krikunov. Their identities are not known.the district department, and the "commissar" of Gorlovka, Aleksandr Shulzhenko, the former head of the city patrol service, read out the order for execution, and the terrorist Bezler carried out the executions with his people.