Belarus ex cops and criminals join Russia’s side in Ukraine

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Poland

Publishing organisation: Belarusian Investigative Center

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-08-09

Language: Belarusian, Russian, English

Authors: Alexander Yarashevich


Has worked as a journalist since 2010. For a long time he worked in the oldest Belarusian private news agency BelaPAN. Joined the Belarusian Investigative Center in 2021. Participated in international investigative projects Pandora Papers and Shadow Diplomats. Collaborated on investigations with such media outlets and institutions as OCCRP, ICIJ, The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Siena, Re:Baltica, Delfi, Proekt.

Project description:

This investigation tells about Belarusians fighting in Ukraine for Putin. So far we’ve identified around a dozen of pro-Russian combatants, mostly ex-cops and criminals. Despite the risk of persecution in Belarus, they keep returning home for vacation and get interviewed by state media.

Impact reached:

The project has attracted the attention of the audience to the “grey zone” of pro-Russian fighters from Belarus. The thing is that despite the risk of criminal persecution in Belarus, those guys keep returning home for leave and get interviewed by state media. And the law enforcement agencies do nothing to stop them even despite the fact that most of them are criminals.

The investigation was widely republished and quoted by top tier regional media such as Delfi and Dozhd’. See links for more details.

Techniques/technologies used:

We have used OSINT tools to find and gather data in open sources and social networks about Belarusian mercenaries. We have also used databases obtained by CyberPartisans. We have also tried to reach those persons and in some cases we’ve succeeded.

Context about the project:

We have called the Ministry for Internal Affairs (MVD) to find out what measures are being taken against Belarusians who are fighting in Ukraine on Russia’s side. But the Minister’s deputies, Nikalai Karpiankou and Henadzi Kazakevich have refused to comment over the phone. The MVD’s Communications service has not responded to our calls and written enquiries either, thus confirming what several experts have been saying – that Belarusian authorities will not persecute mercenaries fighting on Russia’s side.

This could mean that Belarusian authorities want this practice to continiue as it make Lukashenka’s regime looks like helping Putin in his war without being directly involved in the conflict.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

How to search and verify data from open sources and social networks when you need to find particular persons.

Project links: