At about one o'clock on June 17, 2014, near the village of Metalist in the South-East of Ukraine, several people wearing camouflage were surrounding a kneeling woman. They ordered her to introduce herself — this was Nadezhda Savchenko, a helicopter navigator of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Savchenko’s questioning was recorded by a trooper with call sign Pechora — resident of Ukhta, who came to fight in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, Yegor Russkiy. Four years later, in 2018, within two weeks, both would be handcuffed: Savchenko would be detained directly in the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada on suspicion of organizing a takeover and terrorist attacks, and Russkiy — in Russia on suspicion of taking a bribe. Online newspaper «7x7» tells his story — how a toastmaster from Ukhta became the mayor of the city in the self-proclaimed state, returned to his hometown, became the opposition member, and eventually ended up in prison as a corrupt official.
Schoolboy Kozin and Paratrooper Russkiy
«I was very afraid that my maternal, feminine parenting style would make him mama's boy. It turned out right the opposite,» says Yegor Russkiy’s mother Elena Bondarenko. Yegor's father and her husband died in an accident when the boy went to the first grade. We are talking at her house, in Ukhta. Yegor was born there, in a small town in the North of the Komi Republic, in 1987. Another famous participant of pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, Arsen Pavlov, known as Motorola, also comes from here.
Russkiy finished nine classes of secondary school, then forestry technical school and decided to join the army. It was 2006 — the last draft call, when conscripts had to serve for two years. Mother offered to wait for the next draft call, he refused.
In fact, Russkiy (Русский, literary Russian) is Yegor's second surname. At birth, he was Kozin, and changed his name before the army: he believed that this would hide the facts of his biography, which could prevent him from getting to where he wanted to serve — intelligence department. As a minor, Kozin, along with his brother, robbed a stall with audio and video cassettes. It is unknown whether the plan worked, but after two weeks at the assembly place in Komi, the now Russkiy was recruited by the officers of the airborne troops from Shchelkovo near Moscow.
During the service, according to Russkiy, he participated in the conflict in South Ossetia. It is unknown whether this is true or not. Several interlocutors believe that the division in which Russkiy served did not enter the conflict zone. He himself claims that there was no official record of this.
Activist and Toastmaster
Having returned to his hometown after the military service, Russkiy began to settle: he decided to get a higher education, started a business, got involved into social activities, and got married.
Yegor became an extramural student of Vyatka State University, simultaneously conducted anti-alcohol raids on town shops among the Pro-Kremlin Nashi movement and entered the youth council of the Ukhta Town Hall. Russkiy also organized patriotic club «Stal’» (Steel) where he held military trainings with children. He turned his desire for publicity into a part-time job: between raids and round tables, he worked as a toastmaster at weddings and corporate events.
«My son liked doing this and being in the limelight. He was good at it,» his mother recalls and adds that at the same time he worked for a nominal fee.
"On the Day of the Police, they [the police officers] rented a cafe, and he worked there absolutely for free. They asked him."
In 2014, Russkiy took out a loan, borrowed money from friends, and opened the Arizona American pub, decorated in the style of the America’s heartland.
Russkiy’s wife Tatiana said that in these years she worked as a seller and moonlighted in a taxi service. The relationship was difficult: the couple have three children, currently they are divorced for the third time.
Militia and the Mayor
In the spring of 2014, Russkiy visited his mother at 5AM in a tracksuit and with a backpack. He said that he was closing the pub, leaving for Moscow "on business", and borrowed a thousand rubles for travel expenses.
His mother asked him if he was going to Ukraine. The son said, «Mom, you don’t think I’m crazy, do you?»
She learned, where Russkiy had actually left for, on June 19, when she turned on the TV and heard his voice in the news, in the story about the combat actions in Ukraine. It was about the battle of Luhansk near the village of Metalist. In the footage, a wounded soldier of the Ukrainian battalion «Aidar» lay among the corpses near the downed APC. He was given some water, but later died. "I go to сhurch and every time I pray for this man. I don't know if he was baptized or not. We need to pray for the enemies. I think he was doing his duty. This is [probably] my son's fault in a way. In general, they say that you should pray for those who offended you," says the mother. Later, she adds that militias had to reach Kiev and Western Ukraine for these territories to become Russian.
She is sure that Russkiy went to war not because of money: «He got mad because of the events in Odessa" [in May 2014, during clashes between supporters of the Pro-Russian and Pro-European course of Ukraine, several dozen people died in a fire in the Trade Union House of Odessa]. Social activist Anatoly Terentyev from Ukhta mentioned another reason. The former operative of the Department Against Misappropriation of Socialist Property of the Soviet police kept the habit of collecting material on people of interest to him. In his opinion, Russkiy decided to «lay low» because of debts that he could not pay off. Russkiy wrote that he did have debts, but called them «some minor financial obligations.»
At that moment, it was easy to get to Donbass from Ukhta. According to several interlocutors of «7x7», employees of the local military registration and enlistment office were recruiting militias.
It is unknown whether Russkiy used the help of official authorities, but he crossed the border with Ukraine, telling border guards that he was going to identify his deceased brother. As he will later tell in an interview, having reached Luhansk, he got to the Zarya Battalion: «I was at war for the whole summer. Our squad captured Nadezhda Savchenko, shot down Il-76 near Luhansk. When the national guard and „Aidar“ took Khryashchevatoe by force, I was wounded during the attack." He came to Ukhta to treat his injury. Nobody asked him questions about the mine-blast trauma in the hospital, in two weeks he returned to Ukraine.
At the end of 2014, Russkiy changed his military uniform to a business suit: he was first appointed as the acting Chairman of the Lutugino District Soviet, and then — as the Head of the Administration of Lutugino and the district of the same name (located on the territory of Ukraine, since 2014 has been under the control of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic).
He described the appointment as a conversation with his former commanding officer — by that point the leader of the LPR — Igor Plotnitsky. The latter allegedly asked him if Russkiy could do the job. He answered that he could, and got the position with the salary of 18 thousand rubles and a two-room rent-free apartment.
He sent more than a half of the salary, 10 thousand rubles, to his wife and children in Ukhta.
Having become an official, the former militia had a chance to return to his hobby — he paid great attention to the sphere of entertainment. In a few months, the district was to celebrate its 50th anniversary, and Russkiy was to organize many celebrations, which he started doing with great enthusiasm. «He was a great romantic working as the mayor. He always had plenty of ideas and dreamed of making the city better without money and resources. He came up with all sorts of subbotniks with raffles or gifts, tried to organize as many holidays for people as possible,» recalls Ekaterina Gruzakova, an employee of the Lutugino Community Center. According to her, he helped to replenish the material base of the institution, arranged tours to festivals in Russia for artists — and, in general, «energized people and gave them the desire to work for the good.»
Working as the mayor, Russkiy did not forget about Ukhta. On his page on vk.com, news of Lutugino alternated with the events of Ukhta and the Komi Republic. He tried to arrange his work in the administration on the example of the Ukhta Town Hall and, according to his mother, even invited several fellow townsman to his team. In the first month of work, Russkiy announced the creation of a community board and youth council under the administration and the change of the emblem and flag of the district. The new marks, "which have nothing to do with Ukraine", were approved by the deputies in two weeks. The interlocutors in Lutugino note that Russkiy was a very public mayor: he talked a lot with residents, regularly held briefings and press conferences. Periodically, the mayor reported to residents and published reports on the work on the Internet.
Russkiy established the delivery of humanitarian aid to Lutugino from the Komi Republic. In Ukhta and Syktyvkar, clothes and basic necessities were collected by local branches of the United Russia party and municipal organizations. Humanitarian supplies were delivered to the LPR from other regions — Kirov, Ivanovo, Tula, Tambov, Voronezh, Rostov, and Nizhny Novgorod, but the goods from the Komi Republic went to the district, which was headed by Russkiy. He also helped five graduates from Lutugino enter Ukhta State Technical University.
Russkiy met Nadezhda Savchenko again in October 2015 in the border Donetsk of Rostov Oblast, acting as a witness in her criminal case. He told about the circumstances of her capture and the battle that had preceded it. «My friends might not understand me, but I have a lot of respect for her. Not many people can behave so confidently and boldly at war, know why they came here. A worthy opponent, beating whom is an honor for me,» said the former militia under interrogation.
In June 2016, after working for a year and a half, Russkiy resigned voluntarily and returned to Ukhta. According to the mother, they «began to move Russians from senior positions» in the LPR — for example, the conditions for admission to work in government bodies were changed for municipal employees: those, who had not lived in the self-proclaimed Republic for five years, had to resign. Ukrainian journalists assumed that the resignation of the mayor from Russia was connected with criminal case concerning the director of the city-forming enterprise — the Lutugino combine of cast rolls — Vitaly Shvayko. He was accused of organizing an illegal scheme — military equipment was taken to the enterprise, but allegedly towed away for scrap instead of repair.
Opposition Leader and Business Coach
"The United Russia party, which told us about supporting large families six months ago, has made its choice! Today, these people are just traitors, traitors to the people who chose them!" former militia and mayor Russkiy broadcasts in a trained voice, having climbed a large pile of snow on the main square of Ukhta. March 2017, there is a rally against the partial repeal of benefits for large families of Komi in the town.
There were a few dozen children in the square — the whole families came to the action. Adults were holding posters criticizing the party of power and the new Head of the Komi Republic Sergey Gaplikov. The rally was numerous on the scale of Ukhta and became an unpleasant event for the town and Republican officials, and made Russkiy the main local opposition leader. Before that, he did not criticize the government and even worked on the election campaigns of the United Russia party in the elections to the State Council of the Republic.
After returning from Ukraine in the summer of 2016, Russkiy was trying to be useful at home. Almost immediately, he announced that he wanted to become the mayor of his native Ukhta, and submitted documents to the Town Council, which had to choose a new mayor, but the deputies chose the former first deputy mayor of Syktyvkar Magomed Osmanov. Russkiy wrote that «the schoolboy who had not done homework looked more convincingly than the new mayor» and told about Osmanov's wrong decisions.
He could not find any other permanent job in Ukhta, so Russkiy had to earn money as a taxi driver. But the local office of the FSB was interested in him: someone told them that the former mayor of Lutugino was paid for fighting and should have been brought to account for mercenarism — but there were no sanctions on him.
The FSB, according to the mother, just advised him «to stay away from Donbass».
The former wife of Russkiy says that his one-time earnings were enough for a living, but there was no steady job in Ukhta. Russkiy returned to the experience of working with the public: in May 2017, he tried to organize several seminars «Scripts of Сareer Success» in Naberezhnye Chelny, Kazan and Kirov. The event description said that Russkiy was «the only authoritative official from Russia on the territory of an unrecognized state» [the LPR], «the youngest mayor» and «a specialist in crisis management, team building and HR.» It was suggested that the participants of the meeting for 2 thousand rubles learned how to develop, earn the trust of their employees and «look at yourself and your management methods from a different perspective.» It is unknown whether he was able to make money of those trainings. The event in Kazan was canceled by the organizers themselves, and more than a dozen participants of the event on vk.com explained to «7x7» that they had not participated in the meetings and did not know whether they had taken place.
Russkiy got the attention of the FSB again — but that time as a political activist. In July 2017, he was detained on his way to annual official forum Innovatika: Krohal 2017 near Ukhta. The Head of the Komi Sergey Gaplikov was to speak there, and Russkiy went «to ask him uncomfortable questions.»
Russkiy participated in many protests, such as those of the Communist party. According to the Head of the Ukhta Town Committee of the Communist party Valery Kharchenko, people «believed in Russkiy»: he had leadership skills. At the same time, adds the communist, his achievments were greatly exaggerated. «Russkiy did not hide his ambitions to become the mayor of Ukhta, but this is a normal way in politics,» said a regional administration official who wished to remain anonymous. According to him, the former militia and mayor has always been aimed at a political career, having no «political guile».
In June 2017, right before the direct line with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russkiy recorded a petition to him. He said that when Putin had given the region to the team of the new Head of Komi Gaplikov, officials did not care about the laws, mayors were chosen by the United Russia party, and people were massively leaving the Republic. The video gained more than a million views and almost 4 thousand reposts — and a month later, Russkiy suddenly became a municipal official. He headed the Youth town swimming pool with the sports school of the same name in Ukhta.
Director of the Swimming Pool and Convict
The new head of the swimming pool was introduced to the team at one of the morning briefings by a sports official of the Ukhta Administration. According to the Deputy Director at that time, and now the head of the pool Pavel Smirnov, Russkiy is a man of energy, who immediately began to bring new ideas, but did not take the specifics of the institution into account.
Together with the new Director, the team got new managers, an in-house lawyer, and purchase coordinators. Employees began to share their functions sometimes, it irritated old employees, dissatisfaction grew. As a few years ago in Lutugino, Russkiy took up rebranding. Before his arrival, the pool had held a children's drawing contest and chosen the logo — an image of a fish with green leaves. «Yegor Anatolyevich comes and goes like — I do not like your fish», recalls Smirnov.
Despite the management conflicts, the institution began to earn more on paid services under Russkiy’s leadership. For example, he came up with the idea of Orthodox baptism celebration in the swimming pool.
To do this, the priest that hallowed the pool basin was invited.
Visiting the «font» in the children's sports school cost 100 rubles.
In general, it seemed to employees that Director Russkiy did not plan to stay long in the institution, but wanted to «go somewhere further». «This is a municipal institution. There are certain limits, because of which, basically, one unnecessary step and the game is over. It seems to me that he felt too limited here,» Smirnov sums up.
Eight months after the appointnment as the Director of the sports school, on the afternoon of April 6, 2018, Russkiy’s wife Tatiana and her children were leaving the Youth swimming pool. In the evening, she and her husband were going to the sauna, but he was gone — did not get in touch, and his phone turned on only at night.
As it turned out later, immediately after she was gone, Russkiy's office was ransacked, and then he was detained by the FSB. The Investigative Committee reported that in 2017, Russkiy had received 37 thousand rubles and printer «Epson» costing 15 thousand rubles from several merchants as a bribe, for giving their firms priority in concluding contracts to supply the swimming pool; he also handed over scrap metal from the pool’s territory for 50 thousand rubles, leaving the money to himself. On April 8, the court arrested Russkiy and sent him to a pre-trial detention center.
Both mother and wife are sure that the position was needed to frame Russkiy. «A lot of people warned him that it wouldn’t end well, that he would be shut. Friends warned, that no one needed the truth, except grandmothers. But he is such a patriot,» Tatiana angers. According to relatives, he really did not put the money from scrap metal on the balance of the swimming pool, but did not spend on himself either. He had allegedly used them to buy equipment and given 16 thousand rubles to the caretaker to buy a pump, which disappeared after his arrest. Director of the swimming pool Smirnov says that office equipment has always been enough — and points at a desktop computer on his desk, unplugged as unnecessary.
Russkiy’s colleagues in the Republican coalition social movement believe that he understood the risks associated with working for the state and the matter was his inattention and workload. Almost all interlocutors in Ukhta and Syktyvkar do not believe that Russkiy is a criminal. Even the management of the sports school asked the court not to punish him with imprisonment.
After his arrest, the relatives tried to find a lawyer for Russkiy in Syktyvkar, but their fees were not affordable for a family with three children. Supporters of Russkiy helped to raise about 150 thousand rubles. Nationalist online-newspaper Sputnik and Pogrom (blocked at the request of the General Prosecutor's office) joined the fundraising by publishing an appeal to donate money. While the court was extending the arrest of Russkiy, his mother wrote to the President's direct line about the persecution of her son, but this only led to her being deprived of visiting him for some time.
In December 2018, the court sentenced Russkiy to 2.5 years in a penal colony and a fine. He admitted his guilt and repaired the damage caused to the sports school. The mother took out a bank loan for this. According to Russkiy’s wife, the prison authorities commended him: he maintained discipline and fought off smoking. This made it possible to serve time in the same jail, but he asked for a transfer to a colony in Arkhangelsk Oblast, where one can work at a factory and then be released on parole. His sentence would be up in 2021.
The former militia, mayor, opposition leader, and director of the sports school reads a lot in jail. Russkiy's wife shows the books that had already been read and handed back to her — Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clayson. They have seals «checked» of the Federal Penal Service in Komi.