Buryats in Bucha: the Biggest Myth of the War
Upon receiving the first reports from Bucha, we were rendered speechless by the footage of mass destruction and dead civilians. The reports of “mass atrocities carried out by Buryats” had shocked us to a comparable degree, therefore we immediately focused on clarifying the details and verifying open source data. Turns out the loud headlines blaring about “mass atrocities” and the direct involvement of Buryats (or Asians at least) hide much less sensationalistic content. Bucha is far from the only place where war crimes were committed by Russian troops, however the rumors of “Buryat atrocities” started there.
Let’s start from the beginning. Several hundred civilians were killed during the fighting in Bucha and the Russian occupation of the city that lasted about a month. After the Russian occupation, 458 bodies were found, 419 of them with signs of torture or violent death. The first reports about the evidence discovery of targeted massacres of civilians in Bucha appeared on April 1.
Already on April 4, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine published a list of servicemen of the 64th separate motorized infantry brigade of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Khabarovskiy kray), who were accused of war crimes in Bucha by the Ukrainian side.
Ukrainian volunteers of the InformNapalm community immediately pointed out that the list has been out of date for four years, and it does not contain the names of the majority of the combatants involved in the 2022 invasion, and also contains a number of servicemen who have long since retired. Subsequently we have confirmed these findings as well.
Immediately after the publication of info on the tragedy in Bucha on April 3, journalist Liliya Ragutskaya of the Obozrevatel (Ukrainian media) published old (dated 2019/2020) photographs of Yakut conscripts from the 64th motorized infantry brigade with the flag of Yakutia (region in Russia), calling them “Buryat invaders who committed atrocities in Bucha”. These photographs, despite the obvious falsification, spread on the Internet and in the press. Note that the photo of the Yakutian soldiers has nothing to do with Bucha: this is an old photo from 2019/2020, taken at the location of the unit in the Khabarovskiy kray. Many of the conscripts depicted in the photo had finished their national service a long time ago and had long since returned home.
By the end of April, another story appeared, testifying that “the Buryats committed mass rapes and executed people.” It is an obvious, extremely clumsy fake, designed for a very ignorant and gullible reader.
In fact, this is essentially the equivalent of the “Crucified Boy” story that has been used as a rallying point by Russian propagandists way back in 2014. This story was analyzed in detail and exposed by the Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Kanibolotsky, whose parents were in Bucha during the Russian occupation. According to him: “parents did not see a single Buryat or Yakut (and not a single Chechen) among the occupiers of Bucha…”
On May 8, Lyudmila Denisova, the former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovnaya Rada (Ukrainian parliament), in an interview with Olesya Batsman, editor-in-chief of the online media Gordon, baselessly attributed the war crimes in Bucha to the Buryinterviewats, emphasizing that “the most cruel were the Buryats and Kadyrovites”. The official said: “And we will talk about them, repeat our words until it reaches all citizens of all states who can decide, firstly, to give us weapons, and secondly, to increase these sanctions on the Russian elite until Putin is gone, until this whole war is stopped”.
Do note that on May 31, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada had dismissed Denisova from the post of Commissioner for Human Rights due to her extremely careless rhetoric about war crimes. Nevertheless, her “sensationalistic” statement about the extreme cruelty of the Buryats in Bucha has already gone public. It is no longer interesting to dig deeper for the truth for anyone except us.
The Free Buryatia Foundation, having studied the lists of the dead servicemen in early May, noted that the primary suspects should be the Pskov paratroopers. We suggested that the Pskov paratroopers, apparently, are the very “strong Slavic guys” that Aleksey Arestovich, adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine, spoke about. We also noticed that the dead Russian servicemen, who are known for certain to have died in Bucha, are almost exclusively Pskov paratroopers (76th airborne division), and among them there is not a single Buryat, and also not a single military man from the 64th brigade. The missing contract soldier in Bucha, who was recently reported by Radio Svoboda, is also from the 76th Airborne Division. Captured Pskov paratrooper Timofey Bobov said in an interview with Vladimir Zolkin that he himself and other servicemen of his regiment “came to Bucha to clean up”. At the same time, according to Kirill Mikhailov (Conflict Intelligence Team), the servicemen from the 64th motorized infantry brigade, most likely, were in the surrounding area, and not in Bucha itself.
The investigation conducted by Ekaterina Fomina of “Vazhnye Istorii” (Important Stories, Russia) also corroborates this assessment by stating that the servicement of the 64th Brg have occupied the village of Andreevka (located west of Bucha), and their commander Azatbek Omurbekov had set up his headquarters in the basement of a school. Once again, note that there is not a single mention of any “Buryats” in this investigation.
Over time our assumptions were confirmed by thorough investigations and articles. According to open sources (both Russian and Ukrainian), as well as according to investigations published by Reuters, New York Times, Current Time and Important Stories, the main suspects in war crimes in Bucha are the so-called Pskov paratroopers.
On May 5, the founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team, Ruslan Leviev, said that, according to the data evaluated by their team, Pskov paratroopers were responsible for the war crimes in Bucha: “Although the 64th brigade was there, the paratroopers committed the bulk of atrocities.” He also reported on the negative reaction of the Ukrainian public to the publication of this information (apparently due to the fact that the idea of the 64th motorized infantry brigade as the primary suspects in war crimes has already become established): “The whole Ukrainian society is pissed at us, as if we are justifying them [war criminals] – naturally, of course, this is not the case. But in fact, we see that, yes, it was the paratroopers who committed the bulk of atrocities in Bucha.”
And already on June 23, an investigation titled “Bucha 22” appeared on the Ukrainian YouTube channel “Suspіlne Novini”, where it was said that it was the Pskov paratroopers, as well as the 51st and 137th regiments of the 106th airborne division from Tula and Ryazan, that were located in Bucha. It was reported that it was their BMD (airborne combat vehicle) that fired at cyclist, whose body was found after the liberation of the city, and that it was the Pskov paratroopers from the 104th airborne assault regiment who fired upon civilian vehicles on the streets of Bucha. The aforementioned Reuters investigation also mentions the Vityaz special forces (National Guard/Rosgvardiya unit) and “the Kadyrovites”.
Let’s return to the 64th motorized infantry brigade from Khabarovsk. According to the lists of soldiers that we studied, in 2018, ethnic Buryats in the 64th motorized infantry brigade made up about 1.9% of the personnel (and it is unlikely that the recruiting principles for this unit has changed much since that time). At the same time, only some part of this unit was located in the Bucha area. Thus, there could be at most a few ethnic Buryat servicemen in Bucha (if they were there at all).
It is necessary to mention private Albert Radnaev, who was included in the list of suspects in Bucha (for illegally detaining and beating civilians), published on April 28, 2022 on Facebook by the General Prosecutor of Ukraine Irina Venediktova. On the same day, Radio Svoboda and the Belsat TV channel posted notes saying that they managed to contact Radnaev, who said that he was not involved in the crimes in Bucha and had not served in the army for two years. We also decided to find out if there could be a mistake and Albert Radnaev is telling the truth. The answer is most likely yes. When other suspects “with a non-Slavic appearance” possibly involved in the events in Bucha had appeared — namely, Chingiz Atantaev, Azat Omurbekov, Petr Zakharov — many immediately called them Buryats in the comments on social media, although they have nothing to do with Buryatia.
The story of the Buryats in Bucha appeared to be a very clickable material, rife with potential. In the absence of concrete facts, some bloggers and journalists have resorted to falsifying facts. For example, blogger Anatoliy Anatolich released a video investigation about Zorigto Zhigzhitov, a Buryat from the same 64th motorized infantry brigade, who “committed atrocities” and “raped” in Bucha. As an introduction, he also cites fragments of the statements from Lyudmila Denisova, which we indicated above. There is one tiny flaw in the investigation conducted Anatoliy Anatolich — Zorigto Zhigzhitov retired from the Russian army in 2019 and has nothing to do with current events in Ukraine. He sent us copies of the documents confirming this. Check out our own investigation on our YouTube channel.
We believe that errors or negligence in identifying suspects or in publishing information about them can lead not only to accusations against innocent people, but also to real criminals being let off the hook.
Therefore, we really hope that journalists and bloggers will only publish verified information from on.
In conclusion, the primary suspects in war crimes in Bucha are:
— 76th airborne division (Pskov), which stood as an occupation contingent;
— 106th airborne division (Tula, Ryazan), which appears in the investigation of “Bucha 22” of the channel “Suspilne Novini”;
— 64th motorized infantry brigade (Khabarovsk), which, quite possibly, was not even located in Bucha itself;
There were no units from Buryatia in Bucha.
We express our sincere condolences to the victims of the atrocities committed by the Russian military and their loved ones and believe that the perpetrators must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. And we insist that the nationality of the offender cannot be an aggravating circumstance.
We are frequently asked about the interview conducted by the Asians of Russia channel with Christo Grozev where he claims that there were “three waves of occupation”. Allegedly the 1st wave were the Pskov Paratroopers (who had conducted themselves “in a more professional manner”, because, tautologically, “they are a professional unit”), then private military contractors (who then promptly “got to raping”), and then finally, a “group from Buryatia”, and “the Buryats could have, with their hands, committed what could be considered to be real acts of terror”.
However Grozev did not name any concrete sources that he could have based this assessment on, and the moderator, sadly, did not press the issue.
With all due respect to Christo Grozev, it seems to us that his words were based on outdated reports that have done their rounds on the Internet back in the beginning of April when it was still unclear which particular units were involved in the occupation of the Kyiv Oblast and where they were located. Now it has become clear that the Pskov paratroopers were dying in Bucha throughout the entirety of March (and conceivably, were located there throughout the entirety of March), and it was the Pskov paratroopers who were involved in the execution of civilians.
In the meantime, the units from Buryatia (namely, the 5th Tank and 37th Motorized Infantry Brgs) were located to the Southwest of Bucha. The 5th Tank Brigade were seemingly tasked with boxing off Kyiv from a southerly direction, and not with occupying Bucha, and were moving around Kyiv towards the south. The 37th Motorized Infantry were located even farther to the West (for example, in his testimony, a captured soldier of the 37th mentions the village of Severinovka).
Moreover, it is completely unclear why Grozev is so insistent on claiming that “a group from Buryatia” were not “professional soldiers” as opposed to the Pskov paratroopers and were therefore only used for the “Third wave of occupation”.
Facts reinforce the opposite: units from Buryatia were specifically sent to combat first precisely because they were professional military servicemen, and took the heaviest casualties in the first days of the war. And the fact that Grozev uses terms “from Buryatia” and “Buryat” as synonyms simply shows us that he’s not very informed on the subject.
Buryats are in the minority wherever they live and wherever they serve. In the list of active servicemen of the 37th Motorized published by the Ukrainian intelligence, people with Buryat names make up about 25.7%. Beyond that, many people from other regions of Russia serve in Buryatia as it is common policy to send conscripts or contract soldiers to units and therefore bases located in faraway regions. Servicemen from Povolzhye, the Urals, North Caucasus and Western Siberia serve in Buryatia.
There is no such thing as an “ethnic unit” comprised entirely of Buryats.