This is the third part of our investigation about the infamous Ukrainian riot police force Berkut whose members have been identified at Minsk OMON special-purpose police force that has been officially sanctioned by the United States. The OMON command is also under the sanctions of the European Union, Canada and the UK.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus itself significantly helped us in the preparation of this part of the investigation. It unwittingly provided the necessary information and confirmed the results of previous investigations.
Large-scale information leak from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus
In 2018, happened one of the largest leaks of personnel data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus. The Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee (hereinafter Minsk city police) published the names of its employees on the housing queue list at the place of service. The lists included up to 2149 (!) persons.
In addition to personnel of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs, the lists contained data of law enforcement officers from all nine metropolitan district divisions of internal affairs, as well as from the Minsk Transportation Department of Internal Affairs. The most valuable part for our investigation in this array was the information about 345 policemen of the Minsk special-purpose police force. Given the low outflow of personnel (until 2020) and the small number of transfers to other units, it can be assumed that the vast majority of the listed persons continued to serve in their units.
Screenshot of the website of the Main Directorate of the Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee with the riot police data
It should be noted that the published information fully confirmed the reliability of the information provided by the BYPOL initiative regarding the personnel of the Minsk special-purpose police force.
The mentioned housing queue list of Minsk riot police contains a significant number (eight) of Berkut fighters found in Belarus.
Eight ex-members of Berkut on the housing queue list among the employees of the Minsk OMON
Almost at the very end of the list under #333 is the Berkut policeman Serhii Panasenko. He was slightly behind Mykola Stohorniak, who occupies position #329, and their colleague from Odesa Serhii Kiminchidzhi, who is under #291. We have already mentioned them in the previous investigations.
Interestingly, the other five former Berkut members are queued together, in a group, at positions from 255 to 259. The first place in this group is occupied by the former employee of the Berkut special-purpose police unit of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in the Mykolaiv Oblast Ievhenia Lysak.
Her name was also recorded on the contact lists of subjects of our previous investigations who are now serving with her in the Minsk OMON special police force.
From pediatric dentist in Mykolaiv to paramedic of Minsk special police force
Lysak Ievhenia Mykolayivna (transliterated from Russian: – Lysak Evgeniya Nikolaevna, Ukainian: Лисак Євгенія Миколаївна) was born on September 8, 1984 in Riga, Latvian SSR. She lived in Ukrainian Mykolaiv. In 2002 she graduated from the Mykolaiv Medical School (now the Mykolaiv Basic Medical College).
Before joining the Mykolaiv Berkut, she worked in a social rehabilitation secondary school and in the Mykolaiv city children’s dental clinic.
She was identified in a group photo of the Mykolaiv Berkut made during a meeting of this unit, probably in 2011.
Lysak is circled. Photo by news.pn
Unlike most of her colleagues from the Mykolaiv unit of Berkut currently serving in Minsk OMON riot police, Lysak did not hide her place of residence since 2014. In her account on the OK social network, she indicated the capital of Belarus as her city of residence.
According to the BYPOL initiative, Lysak works as a paramedic of the 2nd OMON Operational Company of the Minsk city police, holds the rank of senior warrant officer of the police.
During the investigation, we found a group photo of this company, and it is very likely that we see Lysak on it.
Policemen of the 2nd OMON Operational Company of the Minsk city police. Photo by Novy Chas
Lysak is followed on the housing list by her Berkut colleague from Mykolaiv Mykola Cherepin, under #256.
Cherepin Mykola Mykolayovych
(transliterated from Russian: Cherepin Nikolay Nikolaevich, Ukrainian: Черепін Микола Миколайович) was born on August 11, 1988 in Mykolaiv, Ukrainian SSR. He studied at the Mykolaiv Polytechnic College. After military service, he joined the company Mykolaiv Berkut. Apparently, in November 2013 he was sent to Kyiv with his unit. After the victory of the Revolution of Dignity, together with other colleagues, he fled to Belarus. He received the Belarus citizenship and has been serving in the Minsk OMON.
Cherepin was identified in the video of the state television channel STV which had previously helped us to identify a subject of a previous investigation, police captain Dmytro Antsupov. The video uploaded on YouTube, shows Minsk OMON policemen taking an examination for the right to wear the black beret. Qualification tests took place on November 20, 2019 near Minsk, as well as at the permanent station of the capital’s OMON force.
The video shows the last stage of the exams with the operator filming a dynamic sparring, and the camera following the movements of a pair of special forces servicemen in an impromptu ring. The lens also captures other riot policemen who are watching the fight. Cherepin got into the frame for just a few seconds (timing 01:27-01:31). However, this was enough for his identification.
Snapshot from the STV video. Cherepin circled
Below is a comparison of a frame from the STV video with photographs of Cherepin posted in the social accounts of his relatives. They helped identify the Berkut officer.
According to the BYPOL initiative, Cherepin is the commander of the 9th platoon of the 3rd OMON Operational Company of Minsk city police, holds the rank of a police praporshchik (senior warrant officer).
Interestingly, on the day Cherepin was filmed by the STV channel (November 20, 2019), he had the rank of police starshina (master sergeant).
Our investigation also established that in the summer of 2014, the family of Cherepin used the services of freight forwarding companies to deliver furniture from Mykolaiv to Minsk. According to the information posted on the carrier’s website, cargo weighing up to 2 tons was loaded into the carrier’s transport on August 17th, 2014 (1, 2).
This further confirms the relocation of the Cherepin family to Minsk in the summer of 2014.
It was also established that six months later, in February 2015, his family was looking for those who could provide permanent registration in the Minsk region and also posted ads about looking to rent an apartment in the Uruchye district of Minsk, the location of the base of Minsk OMON.
Cult of force
Since August 2020, the regime has been persistently trying to revive the cult of force and revive the role of the national leader like the one in Soviet totalitarian era. The dictatorship in Belarus has neither the strength, nor the means, nor the consent of the silent majority, the key resource it has irrevocably lost. But despite this, the Belarusian offspring of the Soviet repressive system seeks to resemble it, albeit superficially. At the same time, Russian Federation, the survival guarantor of the of Lukashenko’s regime, provides him with vital systemic support.
In these realities, a demonstrative heavy reliance on the security forces acquires strategic importance. That is why Lukashenko, surrounded by security officials, personally travels with weapons to the central avenue of Minsk. That is why, the day before the New Year, December 30, 2020, he visited the base of the Minsk OMON, where he distributed state awards.
That is why on January 27, 2021, special forces servicemen and their families were invited to the Palace of Independence. Of course, not all, but only selected few. In total, the published photos from the Palace of Independence show the faces of more than 30 Minsk OMON servicemen, as well as their family members.
Among these riot policemen there is also Mykola Cherepin – he was identified in one of the photographs from this visit, published by the press service of the Minsk city police department.
Subjects of our previous investigations also got into the photos of the press service. One of the group photographs from Lukashenko’s residence shows Serhii Kiminchidzhi, as well as, with a high degree of probability, another former Berkut officer, Serhii Panasenko. The quality of the photograph does not allow for certainty, but some signs give grounds for such an assumption.
By inviting riot policemen to his main residence, Lukashenko showed his recognition and respect to the fighters of the Minsk OMON, some former Berkut officers – participants in the confrontation on the Maidan among them. It is surprising that the press service of the Minsk city police department openly publishes photographs of both the policemen and their family members, while at the state level their identification in the media, is made especially difficult.
Further positions on the housing queue list of Minsk riot policemen are occupied by the subjects of our previous investigations Serhii Havryliak and Anatolii Prymak – places 257 and 258, respectively. The last of the group of five Mykolaiv Berkut members is their colleague Ihor Zapalukh at #259.
Zapalukh Ihor Yuriyovich
Zapalukh Ihor Yuriyovich (transliterated from Russian: – Zapalukh Igor YurievichYuriyovich, Ukrainian: Запалух Ігор Юрійович) was born on April 17, 1984 in the village of Kutsurub, Ochakovsky raion, Mykolaiv Oblast (Ukrainian SSR). After military service, he was admitted to the Mykolaiv Berkut company. Probably, as part of the unit at the end of November 2013, he was transferred as a reinforcement to Kyiv. Together with other colleagues, after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity, he fled for Belarus. Currently, he serves in Minsk OMON.
Zapalukh is identified in a group photo of the Mykolaiv Berkut made in July 2009. Also in this photo, there is another subject of our previous investigation Dmytro Antsupov.
In the foreground (in front of the APC): Antsupov (second on the left) and Zapalukh (third on the left)
Like Cherepin, Zapalukh remains cautious and does not post his own photos on social media. However, relatives again helped us collect the necessary information about him.
Relatives of Zapalukh have many joint photos with him, that were taken in the Belarusian capital. This is typical for most guests of Minsk who admire the city’s architectural monuments and picturesque landscapes. Furthermore, one of the accounts features a photo taken next to a paddy wagon, the main symbol of the repressive security unit where Zapalukh serves.
Photos of Zapalukh’s relatives next to a prisoner transportation van (near the BelExpo National Exhibition Center)
During the investigation, it was revealed that Zapalukh also loves hunting. Accounts of his relatives contain joint photos with him and other hunters showing their trophies. Probably, these pictures were taken in the Mykolaiv region, even before the flight of the Berkut serviceman to Belarus.
Zapalukh in the center
Zapalukh second on the left
Open source intelligence also helped establish that Zapalukh participated in competitions and championships of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in practical shooting and multidiscipline events among snipers. As part of the team of the Main Directorate of the Mykolaiv police from April 26 to April 29, 2010, he participated in the championship of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in professionally applied sports, which was held at Zaporizhzhia Law Institute and the training center of military unit 3033. Participants competed in practical shooting with Makarov pistols and Kalashnikov rifles.
Practical shooting team of the Mykolaiv police. Zapalukh – far right
From 14 to 17 August 2012, Zapalukh participated in the multidiscipline championship among snipers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, which was held in Donetsk and at the training grounds of military unit 3037 in Yasynuvata (both cities are now under the control of Russian troops). Teams of regional divisions of the Ukrainian police took part in the competition.
Zapalukh (right) with members of the Mykolaiv police team. Donetsk, August 2012
The championship program included shooting exercises with a Makarov pistol, 5.6 mm and 7.62 mm sniper rifles, as well as duel shooting.
Shooting range, military unit 3037 Zapalukh in the foreground, center. Donetsk, August 2012
Zapalukh was identified in a group photo of law enforcement servicemen taken after departmental competitions already on the territory of Belarus.
According to the BYPOL initiative, Zapalukh is the deputy commander of the operational-combat platoon (22nd OCP) of the Minsk OMON holding the rank of senior police lieutenant. According to the staffing table, he combines this position with the duties of a sniper.
The OCP appeared in the structure of the Minsk OMON only in April 2018. It is a separate subunit that does not belong to any of the operational units. One of its main functions is to provide situational support to government agencies during security operations.
The most experienced and proven fighters of the force are selected for this platoon. Its organizational and staff structure includes 4 sections of 7 fighters in each: the unit commander, his deputy – a sniper, as well as a machine gunner, an explosives expert, two rangers with training in mountaineering and a policeman-driver.
Zapalukh on October Square in Minsk. Taking into account the specifics of the tasks, soldiers of the OCP are allowed to have a non-statutory appearance
According to the Russian propaganda outlet strana.ua, Zapalukh not only participated in the confrontation with the defenders of the Maidan, but was also lightly wounded. It happened on February 18, 2014, the day the storming of the Maidan began, the decisive and the most tragic stage of the Revolution of Dignity.
Zapalukh was wounded at 14:00 on Hrushevsky Street, near the Mariinsky Park. There were violent clashes between the police forces and armed ‘titushki’ [government-sponsored thugs] on the one side and the defenders of the Maidan on the other.
One of the most famous photographs taken on that dramatic day. Kyiv scientists, father and son Mykola and Ihor Kuznetsov, beaten by the Berkut officers. Photo by Reuters
The investigative bodies of Ukraine have the exclusive right and full competence to investigate the activities of Zapalukh as a sniper-shooter of the Berkut unit during the Revolution of Dignity. He could be implicated in the actions of the so-called “black company”, whose fighters are suspected of mass shootings of people in Kyiv in February 2014.
It should be noted that the discovered OK social network account of Zapalukh is teeming with re-posts from the Anti-Maidan groups, Russian chauvinist and separatist public groups created as part of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine.
Some groups followed by Zapalukh’
An interesting detail: Ihor’s grandfather, Zynovii Zapalukh, in the fall of 1990 held a patriotic protest in Ochakiv – he went out in the city center with a blue and yellow flag. Then he and his friend were severely beaten by representatives of the Communist Party, their Ukrainian flag was torn and burned. However, neither the patriotism of his grandfather, nor the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people under this flag have prevented Ihor Zapalukh from serving today the closest satellite of Russia, the aggressor state which tramples this flag on the occupied territory of Ukraine.
Further integration of Belarus into the so-called Union State carries a strategic threat of the eventual direct involvement of the military potential of Belarus into a hybrid war between Russia and Ukraine. Yesterday’s Berkut members can take up arms against their own compatriots, whose lives and rights they have sworn to defend.
Thus, ten former Berkut members have already been found in Belarus and the service of nine of them in the OMON units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus has been documented. However, these figures are not final.
- Ex-officers from Ukrainian Berkut riot police who fled to Russia attack Russian protesters
- Runaway Ukrainian Berkut fighters in the Police Service of Belarus
- Special investigation: what does Berkut defend in Belarus?Part I
- Special investigation: what does Berkut defend in Belarus?Part II
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