The war correspondents of KP found the only survivor of the terrible massacre in which the photo reporter of MIA Rossiya Segodnya was killed.
The Road on the Front Line
From the final correspondence with Andrey Stenin:
AS: God’s protecting us, that’s for sure.
KP: What happened?
AS: My emotions are running high. Basically, we passed an Ukrop [term for Ukrainian ultra-nationalists –ed.] ambush, and they took out the car after us. Three of them “200” [Russian military jargon for killed-in-action –ed.].
KP: Where was it?
AS: Near Snezhnoye. We passed them by an arm’s length. We drove to the position on the field, I saw a stirring in the bushes, and a soldier wearing a helmet, hiding a machine-gun in the bushes. I thought it was our secret. I thought the guys in front of us saw it, but they said they didn’t see anyone. We drove past him by a metre. We arrived at the village, the fighters told us only that the car was shot-up. We went to look—and there was the shot-up car with three dead bodies in it. If I’d said straight away that I’d noticed the machine-gunner, we would’ve stopped to look, and would’ve been killed. I didn’t say anything to the Militia in the village, I thought it was their secret. And now I’m sitting and thinking it’s my fault…
The final news from Andrey came to us late at night on August 1. He wrote that the situation was worsening, and the intensity of fighting was increasing. He asked us to bring cash—it had long since run out, and it was difficult to get cigarettes and provisions. More than that, Andrey did not communicate. What happened in the Donbass in those days, we fully realized only after a year. Patchworks, a broken front-line, cauldrons—“wandering” and “stationary”, cauldrons inside which the Militia was caught in further cauldrons. Breakthroughs by the UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces –ed.] in the deep rear, and relieving counter-strikes.
From the place where Andrey died to the Russian border it is no more than ten kilometres. In the village of Dmitrovka, half-encircled, the Militia were fighting, trying to hold the 72nd and the 79th Airborne Brigades, and the 24th Mechanized Brigade in another cauldron. They were located to the east of Dmitrovka, while, in the west, the Dnepr Battalion was trying to relieve them, along with the 90th Brigade and the 30th Mechanized Brigade. Unhappy Dmitrovka was caught between two fires. On August 6, a Renault Laguna carrying the unarmed journalists, Andrey Stenin, Sergey Korechenkov, and Andrey Vyachalo, ran right along the front line… They were heading towards encircled Snezhnoye on, apparently, a “clear” road. At first the crackle of bursting glass rang out, the shards rained down in their faces. “This is it”—the thought whiplashed through the passengers. Metal pounded on the body of the car, explosions burst out nearby, and the driver fell with his chest on the steering wheel and drove off the highway into a field…
Bloodbath by Peresyp
Together with colleagues from “LifeNews” we found that Laguna two weeks after the death of the lads. All that time, Andrey Stenin and his two companions were reported as missing. Three charred bodies, two charred lenses… There was no doubt. Genetic examination did not to leave any hope.
Later, there were different versions of how the three war correspondents had died… It was said they had driven in a convoy of refugees and had taken a direct hit from a tank… But in those days, the nearest border crossing was controlled by Ukrainian security forces; and, according to the trail in the field, they had been driving in the opposite direction. We found out what really happened that day. And the real story was far more terrible.
“They would usually call, to warn us that they were coming,” recalls the commander of the Dmitrovka Militia garrison—call-sign Poet. “We would meet up, if necessary. I can’t understand where they were going that day. Everything here was in rapid flux. Ukrainian troops were tearing along the border, trying to reach Lugansk. At first we were dislodged from Stepanovka, then Marinovka; we dug in at Dmitrovka. Our territory here, it was two kilometres. And all around—the UAF.”
We stand at the memorial cross established last year by friends and colleagues of the killed journalists. It is clear that locals often visit this mournful place. From the road to the cross, mowed grass in the field, flowers and wreaths. In the place where the car was—a burnt patch. The sun glitters on the stainless steel buckle of a seatbelt…
“The road from the border to Snezhnoye was clear, we went through it. First time we ran into an ambush was in early August. Three or four tanks and APCs [armoured personnel carriers –ed.]. We had to turn around and hit the gas. At the time, Donetsk and Snezhnoye were already encircled… My guys tried to go to Snezhnoye to get some food. They got hit by tanks—six people were killed. On this road anything that moved was burned. Military or civilian—they didn’t care. One scout, who crawled out of here with no legs, saw how they fired at the car with automatic weapons, then approached it and took documents and money from civilians, and body armour and weapons from fighters. After that, they set the car on fire. Here, the entire road was strewn with such cars, about eighteen if I’m not mistaken. Andrey I knew from Slavyansk. He came with us to Semyonovka, a fearless correspondent. We respected him very much.”
This gruesome tableau we found a year ago. Two dozen burned cars with charred bodies. Next to Andrey’s Laguna there was a burned “Six” [Russian nickname for a Lada 1600 –ed.]. On the front seat—what was left of the driver. Behind—a grid with burned, compacted apples and potatoes. Fuel tank flap open, the lid lying neatly on the trunk. The car had been set on fire after everything valuable had been taken away. On this spot now, there is also a cross. On it—a name: Zolotous, Vladimir Stepanovich…
“The Ukrainians came from the village of Grushevaya. ‘We are peacekeepers,’ they said. They were from Zhytomyr. They turned their tank barrels on wheat, on barley, and started firing,” says Natalya, a resident of Peresyp village. “Everything caught fire, the gardens were ablaze. They wouldn’t allow us to put out the fire, they kept shooting. They told us: ‘You want to live? Stay in the cellars, eat grass and leaves.’ They came here on the night of August 6. In the morning, at about 8am, we heard a dog barking. We looked, and saw a woman with a stick. She was wrapped in some sacks, blood was oozing from her leg, badly wounded. We brought her in. We ourselves didn’t really know what to do. We gave her some antibiotics so her temperature wouldn’t rise. The Ukrainian soldiers came over, and we asked for permission to take her to the city. They wouldn’t allow it. She came to us on Wednesday, and only on Sunday they allowed her son-in-law to pick her up.”
That woman was Maria Zolotous, wife of the corpse in the “Six”, Vladimir Stepanovich. She survived that bloodbath by a miracle. The woman was immediately taken for medical treatment to Russia. We found her in Tver.
“On August 6, at seven o’clock in the morning we went from Dmitrovka to Snezhnoye,” recalls Maria. “I picked up the kids to take them to Russia, because the town was under a terrible bombardment. Ukrainian tanks broke in in the middle of the night, but we didn’t realise. They got to the hillock and started firing at us. Ukrainian soldiers were under every bush. With machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades. Around us, civilian cars, people-carriers were already burning. People were screaming everywhere. My husband died right away, shot in the chest. he just had time to shout ‘jump out!’ I fell on my shoulder. I jumped out and they were shooting and shooting. A woman screamed: “Don’t shoot!” But they were firing and firing, they didn’t care. Behind us, in a car two women were burned alive. Ahead of us there was a car from our village—also on fire. Next to ours—your guys’ car [the journalists’ –ed.]. Well, I didn’t know it then. It had already been burnt out. I crept past along a ravine. I was already losing consciousness—my leg was shattered. I thought I’d bleed to death. Fear was gone at that point. But, thank God, I crawled to those people. My sister called me, saying that later, after it was all over, the old ladies went and collected the bones and buried them somewhere in a mass grave.”
KP: “How do you feel right now?”
“The leg isn’t working, it’s numb, they might have to operate again. But I don’t have money at this point. I need to go back there for the anniversary, to visit that place. Tell his mother [her husband’s –ed.] that I’ll go back there and visit the grave. To pray for all who are lying there.”
Some day the international community will come to its senses and draw attention to the glaring inhumanity of this episode in this war—the mass firing on cars with civilians inside who were trying to escape from the war zone. Back in September, on the border of the LPR and the DPR, hundreds of cars were shot up and the people inside them killed. Minibuses with huge red crosses daubed on their sides, dozens of buses and people-carriers. It was such a frequent occurrence—the UAF hunting for civilian cars—that the taxi-drivers between Krasnodon and Lugansk learned by experience: when driving at over 120 kilometres per hour, the tank’s automatic target-tracking could not follow them. God alone knows how many lives were given for this terrible knowledge. The death of this honest journalist, Andrey Stenin, unwittingly spoke of this little-known fact of a deliberate extermination of the civilian population. If it had not been the Moscow journalist Andrey Stenin who had died tragically in that Laguna, the dead would have simply been buried in a mass grave near Snezhnoye, and the burnt metal would have been taken to the scrap merchants. Andrey Stenin performed his professional duties to the end, and expects, perhaps, that we will not forget those who organized this monstrous meat grinder at Peresyp on the sixth day of an “evil August” in 2014.