Did the ‘Kraken’ carry out this massacre of civilians? – The case to answer.

On October 1st reports about a ‘cruel’ massacre of civilians and children appeared in the western media. In all 26 people, including 13 children, fleeing in a small convoy of five cars and a truck, are now reported as killed in this atrocity. In photos and video footage of the scene, bullet holes could be seen in vehicles, with the dead inside. One man lain on the ground alongside a car. At the rear of the convoy the truck and its wagon had burnt out along with the corpses of their occupants. Ahead a small car had also burnt out. The victims bodies had been at the scene for a few days before the incident came to light. Video footage showed victims with flies buzzing around their bodies in the cars.

The date the attack took place has not been independently confirmed. Ukrainian sources reported the massacre took place on the morning of September 25th. It is not stated how this detail was known. Nor is it explained, consequently, why the incident wasn’t reported for five days. The dead had apparently been left unattended at the scene during that period. The savagery was attributed to a Russian ‘reconnaissance and sabotage group’. No supporting evidence for that claim was provided at the time.

The convoy was heading east away from the East Kupiansk area, recently recaptured by the Ukranians, and towards Svatove in LPR/Russian controlled territory. A Ukrainian TV channel later produced some dubious testimony. The purported survivors were at pains to explain why the convoy were headed to Russian controlled Svatove, implausibly claiming that it was the only route they could take to Dnipro. Which is well to the south-west. The most natural explanation is that they were Russian speakers who felt safer fleeing away from Ukrainian forces conducting “mop-up” operations.

Here, examining the location and context of the attack, I present the case that the atrocity was the work of a Ukrainian ‘Kraken’ unit. Kraken is a Kharkov based affiliate of the extremist Azov Battalion. According to the Washington Post, it “operates somewhat in a gray zone — a force that answers to the Defense Ministry but is not part of Ukraine’s armed forces.” The group’s conduct has raised human rights concerns.

A Kraken unit is documented to have been active in the locale in late September. Ukrainian media had announced the group taking control in East-Kubiansk on Sept 16 and then in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi on Sept 27. Graphic photos and video the Kraken group had taken in that locale in late September, were shared on their telegram account.

Their faces are obscured in the published photos, except for one; the group’s deputy leader, Sergey Vilichenko aka ‘Chile’, an infamous criminal who had like other Kraken members been released from prison to fight. In March he was responsible, for the shooting of the knees of surrendered Russian PoWs. The perpetrators had filmed their own crimes. Vilichenko is wanted by the Russian authorities who put up a reward for his capture.

Posing in front of a captured Russian APC, likely a BTR-80A

The BTR-80A is fitted with a 30mm 2A72 automatic gun and 7.62mm PKT coaxial machine gun….The 30mm gun has a maximum firing rate of 330 rounds a minute and can fire AP-T (armour piercing – tracer), HEF-I (high-explosive fragmentation – incendiary) and HE-T (high-explosive – tracer) rounds.

Returning to the convoy, it was heading out east along the railway line just beyond the far end of Kurylivka (a stretched out settlement east of Kupiansk-Uzlozovyia). The line then curves round to the south-east towards Svatove. The old cars were packed with heavy travel bags. This was not any day excursion.

See Googlemaps location of the scene.

When the convoy passed the farthest point of Kurylivka it would, presumably, leave the road (‘vulytsia Lozova’) using a cut-through to join the track that runs alongside the railway (Satellite view). They would only be some 250-300 metres further on from that point when they were killed. Had the convoy made it further to the next settlement of Pischane, some 2km on from the scene, it would have passed into the then LPR/Russian front lines.

According to quotes from investigators working under the auspices of the local prosecutor, 30mm and 45mm high explosive rounds, that come from heavy military vehicles were used. In addition, fragments of Vog 17 and Vog 25 grenades – which can be used with under barrel grenade launchers – were also reported. Both Vog17 and Vog25 grenades are used by the Ukrainian military.

A compound the unit were using. The captured APC’s Z’ markings had been painted over.

It seems likely that the unit attacked with their heavy vehicles, probably including the captured BTR-80A (pictured). The unit had boasted of two captured APC’s. The use of a captured Russian fighting vehicle could allow that forensic findings falsely point towards Russian forces. Their photos also show they had a Canadian made Roshel Senator (Infantry Mobility Vehicle) and a pick-up.

A matching compound to that shown above, close to the scene. To the front (north side) of the compound the road vulytsia Lozova. The rear (south side) backs on to the tracks with cut-throughs to the railway embankment. (Geolocation)

1km before the scene of the attack, the convoy would have passed, towards the end of the village, a small compound backing on to the the railway. The photo above suggests it was used by the Kraken unit. Operating from the compound, it would have been easy for them to see the convoy passing – on one side or the other – perhaps without alerting the civilians to any threat. Once the convoy had passed, the sadistic men could easily drive their vehicles onto the track, pursue the convoy and open fire using the heavy automatic guns on their vehicles. Then used their automatic rifles, some fitted with under-barrel grenade launchers.

Looking back towards Kurylivka. Photos suggest that the rear of the convoy was passed on its left side by the Kraken vehicles – as shown by bullet holes on their left (driver) sides. Whilst the front cars of the convoy went (or were shunted) off the embankment to the left, with the attackers passing and firing from behind and the right. A pick-up could also have been used to hunt down anybody trying to run. Ukrainian sources subsequently reported, that two other bodies were found nearby.

I believe the scenario I have just outlined accounts quite simply for the basic ‘logistics’ of this attack. The answers to ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘from where’ are all supported by the evidence provided. ‘Means’, ‘method’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘motive’ are accounted for:

  • Means – fighting vehicles, including captured Russian fighting vehicle
  • Method – let the civilians pass, then pursue, attack with the vehicles’ guns, and then automatic rifles with under-barrel grenades.
  • Opportunity – provided by the location of the compound between the road and the tracks where the civilians would just have passed.
  • Motive – fanatical hatred of Russian identifying Ukrainians, by those with a known record of extreme violence.

Different explanations or attributions will likely produce a more complicated scenario or leave rather more unexplained.

Footage of the scene was uploaded to Telegram on the 30th, probably by a different Ukrainian unit. Which may, conceivably, have been unaware of who carried the massacre out. The incident could and would, though, be used to bolster the narrative of Russians wantonly killing civilians that was featuring in the media that day.

On the southern front a convoy of civilian cars looking to leave Ukrainian held Zaporozhzhia and cross into Russian controlled territory, were killed by an explosion, whilst waiting at a transit point that morning on the edge of town. This time there would be no delay in media reports circulating and blaming the Russians. That the civilians were attempting to leave Ukrainian control was explained away. Officials claimed that they were on a ‘humanitarian mission’ and planning to deliver aid, before returning. Pictures of the aftermath revealed families travelling with pets and their vehicles jammed full of personal belongings. But such insults to the intelligence of western news consumers often seem to go unregistered.

*The working out of this account was done openly on the research wiki A Closer Look on Syria. The sources, reports and geolocations referenced above were compiled here.

Update: November 30, 2022

Kraken’s official YouTube channel published on November 6, this video of their claimed exploits in Kupiansk area in late September. With sections focusing on Kupiansk-Vozlovi and Kurylivka.

The British tabloid The Sun published shortly after a shortened version of the video. There are many supportive comments of these “heroes”. The Kraken youtube account commented back to The Sun: We are very grateful for the support of all our friends and allies from other states. All Ukrainians and fighters of the Kraken unit see this support, your kind words and appreciate it very much, this is important for us, do not doubt. For our and your freedom, on guard of Europe and the whole world! Together we will win!

I don’t know if the people at the Sun know they are supporting the very same criminals who carried out this attack. Which it had called ‘cruel’ and ‘evil‘. Either way, I don’t expect they will ever acknowledge the fact.

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