"This investigation began with a VKontakte post about death of some Anton, who was killed "fighting for Motherland":
We started to look for information about this Anton and found within Anna's friends (Anna was the author of the above mentioned post) a profile of Anton with a fake name and last name, but real photos. The last photo is dated Oct. 25, 2014:
Anton is pictured on the background of an IL-76 plane of the 224th flying squad (a subsidiary of the Ministry of Defense); the photograph is geotagged "airfield Rostov-on-Don Central."
His profile also includes various photos showing his military service and karate hobby. Judging from the photos, Anton held a black belt in karate; he often won at various competitions. One of the photographs of his awards shows his real name: Anton Savelyev.
We continue to look for information on the circumstances of Anton's death and find a profile of his female friend who went to school with him. In her profile we find her photo of Anton uploaded on May 10 and signed with "Anton Savelyev, 20 year-old, died while on military duty. Graduate of our school":
Details are becoming more interesting, it becomes apparent that they died together. We started to look for the names of two other soldiers killed alongside Anton. We scroll through profiles of Anton's friends and find this message, from which we learn call names of all three: Sava, Cardan, and Mamai.
The man's profile has all sorts of references to the Special Forces (photos, statuses); the man clearly shows that he is "one of them." We begin to look for the other two by their call names, and immediately find Mamai: on the background of two separatists' armored troop-carrier vehicles.
The "toothy" armored vehicle on the right has been photographed many times before on the territory of Luhansk city, including in video of Feb. 15, 2015, where it is riding with a 'LPR' flag on the background of the "humanitarian convoy" of the Emergency Situations Ministry of the Russian Federation. A photo of this armored carrier in Luhansk, an 'LPR' sign is visible:
Judging by the beige color of the building and a metal fence, Timur must have taken his picture in this very place.
Among the reposted messages we come across another user profile alluding to the fact that Mamay, whose full name is Timur Mamayusupov, belonged to the Russian Special Forces:
The profile of the man contains a post dated May 9, 2015 and a video of the 16th special purpose brigade of the GRU, and the user himself points out that he is a member of this unit:
To avoid any confusion, let's summarize the evidence we have so far: Anton Savelyev, soldier of the 16th brigade of GRU special forces, was killed in early May (first message from the family is dated May 6) while "defending the Fatherland" and being "on duty." A number of profiles from the same GRU special forces brigade announce two more casualties apart from Anton. One of them was Timur Mamayusupov with the call sign Mamay, the other one was Kardan.
Interestingly, the "parade video" of the 16th GRU brigade makes an important point: a member of the GRU Special Forces does not necessarily looks like a pumped bodybuilder. Incidentally, each of these three victims had exactly the same body structure as the men in the video.
Moving on, we come across a website of another project which also deals with war investigations and contains information on Timur "Mamay" Mamayusupov. It turns out they have found out about Timur before we did and published the information a long time ago. The Project cargo200.org established some key points on Timur through the messages posted by his close ones: Timur was a military, he was a member of the Russian Special Forces, and he died in the war:
On Albina's wall, this information is immediately followed by the series of commemorative posts about Timur, with a clear mention of both contexts of the GRU Special Forces and the war.
In Odnoklassniki social network, we find a serviceman of the same 16th brigade of the GRU Special Forces. His joint profile photo with "Sava", "Mamay," and "Kardan" clearly indicates that all three were good friends and served together in the same unit.
While viewing the accounts of friends of the killed commandoes, we come up with a series of profiles containing joint photo with "Kardan." At the same time, a certain Alexey Butiugin comes up repeatedly as the best friend, his profile has no picture. Also, we find additional confirmation of the fact that "Kardan" was named Ivan:
In addition, "Kardan"'s girlfriend profile has a joint photo with Timur "Mamai" and Ivan "Kardan". It is marked with "Matveev-Kurgansk region" location, which is an area of direct border with Ukraine.
"We are onto something here", we thought, but we still needed more direct, rather than circumstantial evidence. Since the social media profiles of both Anton and Timur indicated Tambov as a location in Russia, we figured that they might have been buried there. We quickly packed and took a bus to Tambov. Upon arrival, we had a complicated task of figuring out the cemetery where Anton and Timur were buried, as there are three cemeteries in the city itself, in addition to graveyards in the nearby villages. During our conversations with local cab drivers (without giving them too much details about our mission), we were advised to visit the main cemetery in the city first and ask its custodian about the location of Anton's and Timur's graves, as he should have this sort of information.
In the meantime, our team members kept looking for additional information about the location where Anton and Timur might have been buried in the social media and local internet forums. At the Ask.me service site, they found a profile of a girl who used to go to school with Anton. Information about the exact location of Anton's grave reaches our team while we are already on the way to one of Tambov's cemeteries.
This is in Talinka, a village in the Tambov region. I immediately recall the fact that Anton has graduated from the Novolyadinskaya school (Novaya Lyada, another village near Talinka) according to his profile at Odnoklassniki.ru (a Russian social network). After consulting with our taxi driver, we went straight to the cemetery and managed to find Anton's grave right away.
Upon the link, there is a photo album with original high resolution photographs available. In the album, there are pictures of funeral wreaths with the names of Anton's relatives. We also found accounts of some of the relatives on social media, where they talk about their loss (see screenshots below).
There is also a wreath "To Defender of Motherland from the Ministry of Defense".
At 7 a.m. that day, we made a video recording (which was made public later) where we mentioned that "the relatives had not been contacted by us yet" (which was true at that point of time).
After that, we talked to the cemetery caretakers and asked them a few questions about Anton. They confirmed him being that same military serviceman who was recently put to rest there, but also said that did not know any details about how he died. We also asked them whether they heard anything about a recent funeral of another officer (i.e. Timur), to which they replied "no". The guards also told us where to find Anton's mother.
While reading comments of the relatives on the Internet, our volunteers were able to find information about the circumstances of Anton's and Timur's deaths. Some of the commentaries claimed that "they died as a result of a shootout".
However, if you seek any information or reports in mass media about military incidents on the border, let alone those with three casualties, during that period of time, you won't be able to find anything. And this is odd, since any incidence on the border, especially that with casualties among the Russian military personnel, could be used as a powerful argument by the Russian Ministry of Defense in accusing Ukraine of breaking the peace agreement. On the other hand, if the deceased were indeed volunteers (officially, Russia does not deny the presence of volunteers, from the ranks of its former military personnel), rather than servicemen of the Russian Army on duty, why would such an atmosphere of secrecy exist surrounding their deaths and funerals? And why were their graves marked with high honor (i.e. the wreaths were placed on behalf of the Ministry of Defense) by the local military base representatives?
Other relatives also referred to the circumstances of Anton's death as a "military secret".
It's now about 8 a.m. and we are in the process of deciding how to proceed: where to look for Timur's grave and how to approach Anton's family. Our taxi driver suggested that Anton's mom was likely to be leaving for work (presumably to Tambov) around that time and we decided to try meeting her for a conversation. A still photo from our video recording:
As we approached Anton's house, we realized that this was the same house we saw previously on one of the photographs of Anton with his sister and the location of which we were trying to determine back then through locals:
Anton's mother was not home when we arrived, but one of the neighbors we talked to gave us her cell phone number. Vadim Korovin contacted her over the phone, introduced himself as assistant of a Russian Duma MP and offered her assistance in negotiating a fair compensation for the loss of her son with the Ministry of Defense. Natalia (Anton's mother) said that she was at the military base at the moment and could not speak. She also suggested calling her later.
Next, we made a trip to the military base where according to our knowledge all three offices were serving before their deaths. While pulling into a parking lot, we met a sergeant from the GRU (Spetsnaz or Special Operations Forces of the Russian Federation), who also happens to be an acquaintance of our taxi driver (the taxi driver has been driving the cab in the area for a while and knows many people around the city). In response to the driver's question about the two recently deceased Spetsnaz officers from the local base, the sergeant told us about the only one he knew about and who was just buried in Novaya Lyada (the name of the place was given by the officer himself and was not previously mentioned to him by us). At this moment, another officer (a Spetsnaz lieutenant) left his car nearby and started approaching us. The grimace on his face was telling us that he did not want us "hanging around here". We got into the car and left to avoid any confrontation.
We used the pictures of Timur available from online to determine where he was from. Two of the photographs from Timur's profile had cars in the background with the number "36" (which identified the Voronezh region) on their registration plates.
Since our investigation in Tambov was completed (we established preliminary contact with Anton's mother, talked briefly to the local Special Operation military unit personnel who confirmed that Anton was indeed their serviceman; other relatives of Anton did not return our phone calls) and Voronezh was not far away from Tambov, we decided to go there. We were in the process of buying bus tickets on the local bus station, when we received some additional information about the details around Timur's death from our other team members, who searched for clues on VKontakte (the largest Russian social network). This new records mentioned "Almetyevsk" (a city in Tatarstan, Russia) and stated directly that Timur died in the Donbas area.
It becomes clear why in a city of Tambov no one was aware about his funeral (apparently relatives immediately took his body from Rostov military hospital and buried at his home town). We put a new task before the team: find contacts information of Timur's relatives and friends who we can contact to identify the exact place of his burial.
We call several phone numbers and say that we are close family friends of Savelyev, we learned that Anton and Timur died together in a battle, want to commemorate Timur and do not know where he is buried; his military unit does not give information as well. Some say they do not know where he is buried, but after a series of phone calls we got lucky: a guy who was acquainted with Timur said that he knew where he was buried - in a village, but he does not remember the name of that village, he will find this out by the evening, and we will get the name when we call him back later. Meanwhile, we are looking at Timur's friends' home villages in order to determine place of origin of Timur himself: whether it is Izhevsk, Kazan, Aznakayevo, or Mamadysh. After some time, we call Timur's friend back and he gives us correct name of the village where Timur is buried: Kuk-Tyaka, Aznakayevsky district, Republic of Tatarstan.
This village is very far away, so we decide to make it easier - we set a goal to the team to find in the social networks some young (16-20 years old) boy, get in touch with him, gain his trust and ask for his help using a made-up "legend" ("we are close friends of the deceased colleague"), tell him this is urgent and even offer money for this job. Why "the boy of 16-20 years"? Because at this age, they are the easiest to be talked into a sidekick like this. A few minutes of searching, a few minutes of talking, and now we have photos of the Timur's grave, which is located 950 km away from the city of Tambov (a lot of saved time and money on travel).
Based on this photograph, we found out that Timur's legal last name is not Yusupov (as was stated in social networks), but Mamayusupov. It also became clear where the call sign "Mamay" came from. Date of death on the tomb stone of Timur is the same as that of Anton's: May 5, 2015 (let me remind that there was a bunch of messages that Timur died in Donbas; about Anton's death, there were no direct words about the war, but there were a lot of messages like "died by getting under fire at the border" and "it's a military secret"). An eye catches two more points: the exact same wreath "To Defender of the Fatherland from the Ministry of Defense" as on the grave of Anton, plus a wreath with a ribbon with an inscription "From the Commanding Officers of the Regiment".
In order not to get lost in abundance of information, let us once again summarize: there was a lot of written evidence that Timur died in Donbas during combat operations; he obviously served in the 16th Brigade of the GRU Special Forces - mourners constantly refer to the context of the GRU Special Forces; other troops of this brigade know him and call him by his call sign, post his photographs along with call signs "Sava" and "Kardan"; there are photos of Timur in the city of Luhansk, near militia's armored vehicles with weapons, there is a photo of Timur in some facility a la "Luhansk Administration" with an "LPR" flag; Anton "Sava" was killed the same day as Timur, on May 5, 2015; to the question "how he was killed" his relatives answer either "came under fire at the border" or "this is a military secret"; active military personnel of the 16th Brigade of the GRU Special Forces in personal conversation with us confirmed that this is their fighter ("Sava"), they buried him a few days ago; on the graves of both Timur and Anton are identical wreaths from the Ministry of Defense, in addition, there is a wreath "From the Commanding Officers of the Regiment" on Timur's grave; Timur and Anton have a close friend named Ivan with call sign "Kardan", with whom they served and who also died at the same time as they did, who is also mentioned and called by his call sign by other soldiers of the brigade of the GRU Special Forces.
Lunchtime is approaching, we are calling Anton Savelyev's mother again, but this time she interrupts us mid-sentence and explicitly states that she will not meet us, won't answer questions (though we did not even hint at it), and asks not to call her again. It becomes clear that she has already been instructed by military not to talk.
Meanwhile, volunteers of our team are searching for phone numbers of close friends of Ivan "Kardan" so that we can get through and somehow find out where he was buried and his last name (at the time we did not know it). After an hour of searching we got a phone number of a guy who is Ivan's best friend's best friend. We get through, again acting under the legend that we are relatives of Savelyev family, know that Ivan "Kardan" died together with Anton "Sava", want to pay Ivan's grave a visit but do not know where he is buried.
It is worth noting that the talks and attempts to convince Ivan's friends were the most time-consuming part of the investigation. Let me remind you that Ivan created his profile in the VKontakte social network using an assumed name, and never uploaded pictures where he could be seen (he really is a special ops guy). His friends turned out to be a match for him, very suspicious, very reluctant to make contact (it took a lot of time to convince them), they were constantly asking us again who we are, how do we know him.
In the end it turned out that the guy we called is brother of Ivan's best friend (and not just a friend of a friend). He knows many of his friend's colleagues in the face, but he doesn't remember anyone by the name of Ivan, so he asked us to send a photo. We sent him the photo; he replied, yes, I saw this Vanya, he should be buried in the city of Shumikha, the Kurgan region. But it is better to speak to his brother (who's Ivan's best friend).
While we were on the phone talking to Ivan's friends, another part of our team found further evidence from Ivan's friend social network pages that the three commandos were killed at the war,
as well as confirmation that Ivan hails from somewhere in the Kurgan region, since Irina Shumilova is from Kurgan too.
In parallel, the team began to look for a "runner" in Shumikha, in order to repeat the "Kuk-Tyaka village" algorithm, but all conversations were ending the same, that is information about the funeral of Ivan in Shumikha did not find convincing evidence at that time.
It was getting late, we had already gathered all possible information in Tambov by the time; we found the grave of Timur in another part of Russia and acquired pictures of it. Went to the railway station and bought tickets to Moscow, started waiting for the train. All the while, in parallel, we were talking to Ivan's friend trying to make him talk, it was a difficult and long process but it was worth it: a few hours later, when we boarded the train, he finally gave the name of Ivan "Kardan".
It all fits: "Kardan" means Kardapolov.
While me and Vadim went by train to Moscow, volunteers examined social network profile of Timur's mother, Tuzali Mamayusupova (Vagizova) and found a fresh joint photograph of Ivan "Kardan" Kardapolov and Timur "Mamay" Mamayusupov, taken presumably in Donbas.
Why do we think that it was taken in Donbas? The photograph was taken at about the same time as the picture of Timur in Luhansk; Timur and Ivan wear visible white armbands, very typical of the Russian military involved in the fighting in the Donbas; they are in a half-ruined room with weapons (so obviously not training and not somewhere in the unit).
They also found a photo where there are three of them together (Sava, Mamay and Kardan); this photograph also came from Timur's mother profile.
They also found a photo of Timur with a special forces-issued gun typical for the 16th brigade of the GRU.
There was a message in a social network profile of a Timur's relative that Timur had been killed on a combat mission.
This profile has been removed when the information about relatives surfaced on the Web.
By noon May 20, we were looking for people from Shumikha, we asked them about the funeral of Ivan Kardapolov in their town, but everybody was responding that they never heard of it. Therefore, upon reaching Dozhd TV studio, I again spoke with Ivan's friend, asking about exact location of the grave. After another dose of suspicions and questioning, I finally got an answer where exactly Ivan Kardapolov is buried.
I did not articulate this new information on Dozhd TV for we wanted to first find someone living nearby who could go and photograph the grave. At the same time, our team has found an oldaccount of Ivan Kardapolov in the "My World" social network, which had not been used by him since 2013. There are lots of photos of him in the army. This account proved his real name was indeed Ivan Kardapolov. The city of residence is listed as "Plast, the Chelyabinsk region".
Mikhaylovka village is 15 km away from Plast. When we started to check this information, local residents reported that locals are usually buried in Demarino. Information about Ivan Kardapolov's burial location was immediately confirmed after questioning locals.
We are confident that Ivan Kardapolov has been buried in the cemetery which is located to the left of Demarino. The only person who is willing to help us will be able to go and photograph the grave in the coming days. We decided not to wait any longer and are publishing this information with exact coordinates of the cemetery - you can go there, check, photograph.
Three killed special forces soldiers are:
1. Saveliev Anton Aleksandrovich, 12.05.1994 - 05.05.2015, call sign "Sava";
2. Mamayusupov Timur Bakhtiar uly, 21.11.1993 - 05.05.2015, call sign "Mamay";
3. Kardapolov Ivan, 12.07.1992 - 05.05.2015, call sign "Kardan".