The murder of Arseniy Pavlov known as Motorola, the commander of a Donetsk-based unit of Russian-backed mercenaries, made international headlines on Oct. 16.

Pavlov was only one of many separatist leaders killed in the east of Ukraine since early 2015. The separatists blamed the Ukrainian army in most of the killings, but some of the killings have signs of infighting among the separatist leaders.

The Kyiv Post takes a look at the Russian-backed separatist leaders killed in the Donbas in 2015-2016.

Alexander Bednov

Luhansk-born Alexander Bednov, known also by his nickname Batman, was an active separatist fighter and the leader of a pro-Russian militia unit in Donbas. Bednov was active in patrolling Luhansk during spring and summer 2014, then he was described as the defense minister of separatist-controlled Luhansk.


He had planned to participate in the sham elections for head of the separatist-controlled Luhansk in November 2014, but in the end, he didn’t run – allegedly due to a conflict with Igor Plotnitsky, the leader of the Luhansk separatists.

Bednov was killed on Jan. 1, 2015, when a minibus that was carrying him and six other separatist fighters was hit by heavy gun fire. Following the news of Bednov’s killing, the members of his fighting unit accused Plotnitsky of killing their commander.

Yevgeniy Ishchenko

The Kremlin-backed separatists appointed Russian-born Yevheniy Ishchenko as the mayor of Pervomaisk, a town in Luhansk Oblast, after they seized the city.

Ishchenko had a critical attitude towards Luhansk’s Plotnitsky, whom he publicly accused of robbery and corruption. He was one of the commanders of the Cossack National Guard, led by Russian Cossack Nikolai Kozitsin, who allegedly had arguments with Plotnitsky.

Ishchenko was shot together with three other fighters on Jan. 23, 2015. Plotnitsky accused the Ukrainian military of killing Ishchenko, and said that Ishchenko’s body was found some 70 meters away from his car.

Alexei Mozgovoi

Mozgovoi, a Ukrainian-born separatist commander, was killed in an ambush in Donbas on May 23, 2015. His vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device and then raked with machine-gun fire.


Mozgovoi reportedly had worked in Russia before going back to Ukraine in 2014, where he took control of the city of Alchevsk in Luhansk Oblast after the region was caught up in the separatist conflict in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He was a leader of the Prizrak (Ghost) Battalion.

Mozgovoi caught the attention of the global media when he presided over a “people’s court” that sentenced a man accused of rape to death by asking an audience to raise their hands, and sent another accused to fight on the front line. Later, he caught the media eye when he said that women shouldn’t go out and spend time in the restaurants.

Pavel Dryomov

Ukrainian-born separatist Pavel Dryomov was the head of an ethnic Cossack militia in Luhansk Oblast. Known by his nom de guerre Batia (Father), he initially was close to Mozgovoi, the leader of Prizrak Battalion, but their alliance reportedly fell apart. Dryomov was a fierce critic of Plotnitsky. In a video message Dryomov once sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he accused Plotnitsky of stealing Russian humanitarian aid and selling coal from rebel-held territories to Ukraine.


Dryomov was killed along with his driver when his car exploded at a petrol station in separatist-controlled Pervomaisk in Luhansk Oblast on Dec. 12, 2015. Kremlin-backed separatists accused Kyiv of the killing, which they called “a terrorist attack.”

Artem Shevchenko, the director of communications for Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said Dryomov was on his way to the city of Stakhanov, which is controlled by his militia, to celebrate his recent wedding.

Yevhen Zhylin

Kharkiv-born Yevhen Zhylin was the leader of a militant anti-EuroMaidan group called Oplot (Stronghold), which evolved out of a local fight club. After ex-President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014, a group of anti-EuroMaidan protesters, including Zhylin and his Oplot, attempted to seize the building of Kharkiv state administration in April and declare the “Kharkiv People’s Republic” in a similar way as happened in Donbas.

Zhylin was shot dead in an upscale Moscow restaurant on Sept. 19. According to investigators, the killer had been waiting for the victim at a nearby table for 20 minutes and took several shots. Zhylin reportedly died on the scene.


Gennadiy Tsypkalov

Gennadiy Tsypkalov, one of the leaders of the Luhansk-based separatist groups, was arrested in mid-September for “plotting a coup” in the region. He used to be an adviser to Plotnitsky. Russian-born Tsypkalov was a prominent anti-EuroMaidan activist and later took part in the takeover of the Ukrainian Security Service building in Luhansk in April 2014. Tsypkalov died in detention under mysterious circumstances on Sept. 24. A representative of the Luhansk separatists told Interfax news agency that Tsypkalov committed suicide.

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