Know No Mercy: The Russian Cops Who Tried To Storm Kyiv By Themselves

On the morning of February 25, a motley crew of specialized Russian cops found themselves choking on the acrid stench of sulfur and the metallic, sickly-sweet smell of death. 

They say it’s not the sights or sounds, but the smell that first traumatizes those thrust into war. 

The officers had known it conceptually, but now as the noxious fragrance of human conflict wafted over them, war’s reality became unmistakable. Unfortunately for the ill-fated lawmen, they happened to be arriving at this awakening outside the most dangerous place in the world to be a Russian soldier: the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv. 

Why did an odd medley of Russian riot police pull a real-life Leeroy Jenkins on the 2nd day of Russia’s invasion? 

The simple answer is staggering incompetence. 

POW interviews, conversations with various Ukrainian sources, family members, and open-source information, intermixed with some reasonable speculation, however, offers a more comprehensive understanding of one of the most bizarre and largely overlooked  events in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

The narratives provides an almost humorously macabre window into how what was once viewed as the 2nd most powerful military in the world ended up limping away from the Battle of Kyiv in humiliating defeat after only a month. 

This is the incredible and tragic true story of a small group of Russian riot and SWAT cops who tried to storm the Ukrainian capital by themselves. 

Russian OMON Riot Officers. (Image Source: Wikicommons/The Debrief)

The saga begins over a month before the invasion, 2,000 miles from Ukraine, in the administrative state of Kemerovo Oblast in southwestern Siberia. 

An amalgamation of Russian settlements dating back thousands of years, Kemerovo is one of Russia’s most urbanized regions, with nearly 70% of the population living in one of nine principal cities dotting the lush and mountainous Tom River basin. 

Behind the Urals, the oblast serves as one of Russia’s most important industrial regions and is home to some of the largest coal deposits in the world. Steel from the Novokuznetsk Iron and Steel plant alone helped produce over 50,000 tanks and 45,000 aircraft for the Red Army in World War II. 

The starring cast for this bizarre story involves a group of roughly 80 men from two specialized police units from the Kemerovo towns of Krasnoyarsk and Novokuznetsk. 

The exact number remains obscure, thanks almost exclusively to draconian measures imposed by the Kremlin to keep troop losses from being exposed. However, of the Kemerovo crew, roughly 60 officers are believed to have been part of the “Otryad Mobil’nyy Osobogo Naznacheniya,” or “Special Purpose Mobile Unit,” better known as OMON. Another estimated 20 were members of the “Spetsial’niy Otryad Bystrovo Reagirovaniya,” “Special Rapid Response Unit” in English, typically known by the moniker SOBR. 

In Russia, SOBR and OMON serve as a paramilitary police force akin to a gendarmerie, under the jurisdiction of the National Guard or Rosgvardia. 

OMON units serve primarily as riot police, rapidly deploying to quell any unrest that might threaten civil order. In Putin’s Russia, where displaying a sign that reads “No War” can be grounds for treason, the availability of a full-time riot squad is a necessity. 

Meanwhile, performing a range of law enforcement roles that might require more specialized equipment and tactics, SOBR forces can be likened to SWAT units in American policing. 

Aside from beating the locals into compliance, OMON and SOBR units equipped with machine guns and light-armored vehicles often patrol some of Russia’s more volatile regions, like Chechnya or the North Caucasus. The forces will also deploy outside Russia’s borders to support the Kremlin’s foreign interests, such as Syria or former Soviet vassals like Kazakhstan. 

Within Russia’s National Guard, SOBR and OMON are considered Spetsnaz units or “special forces.” 

To a fortississimo of techno and rock music, in a 2007 Moscow demonstration, OMON officers showed off their toughness (perhaps stupidity) by laying shirtless on broken glass while colleagues dropped knives, point down, on their stomachs.

“This is a warning,” beamed OMON Colonel Vladimir Antonovich as he watched three officers smash flaming bricks with their bare fists. “We want to show off what we can do.”

In the early 1990s, post-Perestroika Russians were treated to the American Power Team tearing phone books in half for Jesus. Now, Russian police officers jump through car windshields and stab themselves in the stomach for Putin. 

Despite these displays of ultra-machismo, the Rosgvardia officers cannot be justifiably considered equivalent to being infantry soldiers within the Russian military, but instead more like 80% militarized police force and 20% Hells Angels. 

OMON Officers Demonstration in Moscow. (Image Source: Wikicommons)

In late January, OMON and SOBR commanders from Kemerovo huddled in a pale yellow three-story building at 14 Ulitsa Kirova Street in Novokuznetsk. 

Stately oak trees lined a weathered sidewalk as an aged wrought iron and brick pillar fence stood sentry over the building’s unkempt front lawn. A large recruitment banner hanging from the fence reads, “Ros Guard of Kuzbass” and features two police officers in blue woodland camo, riot helmets, and a German Shepherd. None of them, including the dog, are smiling. 

The officers’ stern expressions could stem from the fact that the starting salary for police officers in the Kemerovo Rosgvardiya is 372,000 rubles annually. A little over $5,100 a year, or the average monthly pay for a police officer in the United States. 

Or perhaps another reason can be found on a red plaque hanging beside a dull black uninviting door that reads: “Department Of Private Security At The Department Of Internal Affairs In The Central District Of Novokuznetsk.” 

Indeed, this is the local home of Kemerovo’s OMON and SOBR. The same guys who smash burning cinder blocks and wallow around in broken glass for fun. 

From this drab Khrushchyovka-style building, Rosgvardia commanders were told to prepare for a pilgrimage to the far western stretches of the Russian Federation. The purpose of the trip was loosely conveyed as “training.” 

With this, on February 3, the several dozen OMON and SOBR officers would embark on a 2,600-mile trek to the western Russian city of Smolensk. 

Situated along the northern Dnieper River, Smolensk has a long history of being the gateway of invasion. Napoleon’s Grande Armee and Nazi Germany both marched through Smolensk in their failed attempts to conquer Russia. 

The 1812 Battle of Smolensk is depicted in Leo Tolstoy’s literary icon War and Peace. Two hundred and ten years later, the tide of conquerors would flow in the opposite direction.  

In Smolensk, the Kemerovo officers met with over 25,000 Rosgvardiya troops, including SOBR and OMON officers from all over Russia and Chechens of the 141st Special Motorized Regiment. 

After spending several days assembling into formations, the division-sized force moved to Belarus to participate in a large-scale joint “training exercise.” 

Some Rosgvardiya troops likely bemoaned at the expected weeks filled with long hours roughing it outdoors in the field. 

Others, like 38-year-old Senior Lieutenant Denis Sokolov, from the Perm Krai region OMON, likely accepted this as the unavoidable perks of being Russia’s elite law enforcers. Serving with Rosgvardia’s police forces for nearly a decade, Sokolov had once told his longtime friend, Natalya, that he feared getting married or starting a family could interfere with his dedication to serving the Russian Federation.

“He said, ‘I have a service. Who knows how my life will turn out,'” recounted Natalya, who did not wish to share her last name out of fear of government persecution. 

Of course, time has a funny way of changing one’s life goals, and Sokolov did eventually marry and had a daughter. Perhaps those earlier fears tugged at his mind as Lt. Sokolv left his wife and young daughter behind to lead his officers into Belarus and beyond. 

Once in Belarus, the Rosgvardiya officers were told that this year’s large scale training exercise, “Zaslon-2022,” or in English “Barrier-2022,” was going to be part of a massive joint training exercise with Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces codenamed “Soyuznaya Reshimost-2022,” or “Union Resolve-2022.”

This, of course, was all a not-so-subtle way for Moscow to move the pieces in place for the impending invasion of Ukraine. 

Kemerovo officers made their way across Belarus, finally settling into an area near the scant village of Novaya Greblya, roughly 7 miles from the Ukrainian border as the crow flies, or 37 miles by car. For the next two weeks, tents set up along the dense Bragin District forest near the P35 Highway would become their home. 

By all known accounts, little training went on during this time. 

In fact, surviving officers would later claim there was never any overall training objective. The officers were only told that the goal was to achieve “combat cohesion of all the Guard units.” 

The general atmosphere seemed to be one of confusion as the group bivouacked in the rural Belarusian farmlands. A sense of uncertainty that, for many, would pervade for the rest of their tragically short lives. 

Simultaneously, Western intelligence agencies were sounding three-alarm warnings that Russia was on the cusp of invading Ukraine. If any of the Kemerovo officers shared these concerns, they never seemed to have voiced them to family or friends.

Instead, after two decades in power, portraying Russia as a reckless military power had become President Vladimir Putin’s standard method of foreign policy. There’s no evidence that any of the Rosgvardiya troops considered their amassing on the Ukrainian border to be different. 

Clarity of mission became further elusive when on the evening of February 23, members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB, came by and collected all of the Kemerovo officer’s cell phones and military-ID cards, and told them to prepare for mobilization. 

Eventually, in the early morning witching hours of February 24, SOBR commander, Colonel Konstantin Ogiy, gathered his troops and announced they’d be “providing assistance to the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces in the seizure of Ukrainian territory and ensuring control over it by suppressing possible resistance by citizens of Ukraine.” 

The OMON commander, Colonel Dilman Sergey Alexandrovich, did the same with his roughly 60 riot cops. 

There was no “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade” motivational speech as the cops began inching towards the border of Ukraine. 

“The last time I talked to him was on the eve of the invasion. He sent me a video saying they’d forced them to take the plates of their vehicles and turn over their phones,” one of the OMON officer’s friends told Radio Free Europe on condition of anonymity, citing fears of facing treason charges. 

“That’s the last I heard from him.” 

“Chief, to be honest, many commanders listened to this with bulging eyes, barely restrained their emotions. There was a lot of talk: many commanders are worried that they will have “refuseniks” who will refuse to write a report.”

Convoying southward as President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a “special military operation” to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine, none of the Kemerovo officers seemed to realize that Russia was now in the midst of a full-scale military invasion. 

Lieutenant Colonel Astkhov Mikhailovich, a senior detective in SOBR’s Department of Internal Affairs, would later tell Ukrainian interrogators he wasn’t even sure he was in Ukraine until the night of February 24, when the convoy stopped near the Exclusion Zone, the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. 

“Until the last moment, it was unclear because we were driving in a car in which there were a lot of things, and it was difficult to assess the situation outside the window,” recounted a dazed Mikhailovich, tufts of gray cascading down a coarse brown beard. “[But during] shift work, I went out for a smoke at night and saw a sign that said “Exclusion Zone.” This was Pripyat, in my opinion.” 

Handcuffed and lying injured on a stretcher, an incredulous Mikhailovich recounted to his Ukrainian captures that he had hoped this was all a training exercise. 

“We all hoped to the last that, since we are policemen, we would not enter the territory of another. Okey, Belarus, there may be some agreements there. But with Ukraine, in theory, this could not have happened,” Mikhailovich, looking tired and old, stared at the ceiling. 

“Nevertheless, it so happened that we entered the territory of Ukraine.” 

Other group members considered that perhaps, this was a “Crimean scenario” when, in 2014, Russian forces faced minimal resistance in seizing the Crimea peninsula and Ukrainian lands in the eastern Donbas. 

That scores of Russian soldiers could have been cluelessly pressed into war without proper forewarning seems incomprehensible.

Yet, the remarkable consistency and sheer volume of accounts from soldiers all suggest that, at minimum, most were oblivious that they had just become combatants in the most significant European military conflict since WWII. 

Aside from the apparent excessive maintenance of operational security, there is a potentially plausible reason–though perhaps not a good one–as to why so many Russian soldiers were never told they were going to war. 

According to intercepted phone conversations between Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and the deputy head of the Russian Guard for Chechnya, Colonel Daniil Martynov, it had only been a week prior that Rosgvardiya commanders had found out about the plans to invade Ukraine. 

Evidently, news that they’d be invading their southern neighbor came as a severe shock for many of the Russian commanders. 

“Today [in Smolensk], all groups have gathered, the commanders of all SOBR, OMON, military detachments of special units have gathered. Most of the commanders today heard for the first time all the tasks and goals that we face,” Marytynov excitedly told Kadyrov. 

“Chief, to be honest, many commanders listened to this with bulging eyes, barely restrained their emotions. There was a lot of talk: many commanders are worried that they will have “refuseniks” who will refuse to write a report.”

“Write a report” being  not-so-subtle code for soldiers’ willingness to fight. 

“Naturally, this does not concern us. We have been repeatedly set as an example today,” Martynov assured his ginger-bearded leader, Kadyrov. 

Many Russian commanders may not have told their soldiers out of fear that some might refuse to fight. Particularly since many of these young soldiers had grown-up being taught that Ukraine was “Little Russia” and Ukrainians were their “Little Brothers.” 

As political scientist Andrey Okara puts it, “Ethnic Russians, even the most pro-Putin and most committed Vatniks … in extreme situations always find a common language and point of contact with Ukrainians.” 

Russian VDV Paratroopers storming Hostomel Airfield on February 25, 2022. (Image Source: The Russian Ministry of Defense)

At 8:00 a.m. on the first day of the invasion, paratroops, referred to as VDV in Russia, of the 11th and 31st Guards Air Assault Brigades launched an audacious air assault on the Antonov Airport in the Kyiv suburb of Hostomel, less than 6 miles from the capital. 

Even though Ukraine had been well warned by the CIA before the attack, defenders seemed to have been caught by surprise. 20 to 30 Mi-8 helicopters, supported by Ka-52 attack helicopters, swiftly ferried in hundreds of VDV troopers, who were able to quickly seize the strategically vital airfield just outside the capital.

Thanks to civilian videos and a field dispatch by a nearby CNN journalist, the assault on the Hostomel airfield became one of the most dramatic and iconic first moments of the invasion. 

The paratroopers’ success, however, was short-lived. 

Shortly after landing, the VDV troops quickly found themselves beset by local armed civilians and the Special Forces soldiers from Ukraine’s 3rd Special Purpose Regiment. 

By late morning, a large-scale counter-attack involving Ukraine’s 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade and elements of the Georgian Legion had encircled the isolated paratroopers. With Russia’s initial barrage of missile strikes failing to neutralize the Ukrainian Air Force, Su-24 and MiG-29 fighter jets soon joined the fray, adding showers of 23mm and 30mm cannon fire to the paratroopers’ misfortune. 

Commander of the Georgian Legion, Mamuka Mamulashvili, said when his unit ran out of ammunition, he started running Russian paratroopers over with his car. 

“We had no more bullets. I ran them over in my BMW,” Mamulashvili proudly chuckled. “I can show you the dents in my BMW if you want.” 

By late afternoon or early evening, what remained of an estimated several hundred Russian paratroopers, had fled into the nearby neighborhoods and surrounding forest. 

The disastrous initial defeat at the Antonov Airport of the best trained and most revered soldiers in the Russian military was the Kremlin’s baptism by fire that this invasion of Ukraine was going to be much different than the one it had undertaken eight years prior. 

Ultimately, the loss of the Antonov Airport was one of several critical initial failures that Russia was never able to overcome in its battle for Kyiv. 

Still, far from these initial front lines, the Kemerovo officers enjoyed a blissful ignorance of these battles raging ahead of them in the invasion’s first 24 hours.  

Lumbering at the tail end of a long military column along the P35 Highway, by nightfall on the 24th, the Kemerovo officers reached Chernobyl Nuclear facilities and the ghost city of Pripyat. The infamous site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters had already been captured by elements of the Russian 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade. 

Senior OMON Sergeant Oshlykov Evgeny Valerievich would later say he could hear planes, gunfire, and explosions far off in the distance. Yet, everything in those first 24 hours seemed to be going according to plan for the Kemerovo officers. 

From this palpable tension, the sun’s rays fell gently across the sprawling metropolis, winking hints of gold from the tops of centuries-old monasteries. Perched atop the 200-foot tall Independence Monument, the statue of Berehynia stretched out her arms and declared three decades of freedom from the former Soviet Union. 

It is near impossible to know precisely all of the actions, much less the thoughts, of the Kemerovo officers that fateful morning of February 25. 

Bluntly, most would never live to tell the tale. And of those known who have survived, they did so as casualties and prisoners of war. 

Survivors’ memories are marred by the sudden menacing crack of bullets and deafening blasts of their comrade’s bodies being torn apart. Less than ideal conditions for conducting a thorough forensic examination by eyewitness testimony. 

We cannot be confident survivors’ accounts are valid, even when they are trying to be entirely honest. Likewise, it is challenging to determine when any witnesses to war are being 100% honest. 

It’s human nature to exaggerate one’s own feats while at times diminishing the actions of others. In war, most heroics go unnoticed, while sometimes cowardly deeds become lionized.  

Such is the study of warfare. Military historians simply accept that it is virtually impossible to ever understand the myriad of consequential matters that occur while groups of armed combatants are trying to kill each other. 

Nevertheless, there is enough information to form a slightly better-than-opaque understanding of this incredibly bizarre and chaotic event, aided by some pragmatic supposition. 

To truly appreciate what comes next requires an understanding of the situation around the Kemerovo officers as they approached Kyiv’s western suburbs on the morning of February 25. 

Russian forces were already running behind the Kremlin’s expected timetable after facing far stiffer than expected resistance. One of the most significant blows to initial plans seems to have come when the VDV paratroopers were chased out of the Antonov Airport. 

By securing the airfield, it would have opened up an incredibly significant air bridge on the outskirts of Kyiv. 

By some accounts, Russia had intended to land 18-20 Ilyushin IL-76 transport planes at the Hostomel airfield invasion’s opening hours. An aerial convoy this size could have potentially brought two entire battalion tactical groups (BTGs) worth of troops and equipment to the capital’s doorstep within the first hours of the invasion. 

In a perfect scenario, Russia likely envisioned that five distinct east and west axes of advance, plus airborne forces at Hostomel, would already be on the outskirts of Kyiv by February 25. 

As the Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke famously said, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” Popular amongst contemporary military circles, the phrase has been shortened to “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Boxer Mike Tyson offered his own take, saying “everyone has a plan until they get hit.”

By the morning of February 25, Russian forces weren’t close to Ukraine’s throat, much less in a position to strangle Kyiv into submission. 

East of the capital, the closest Russian troops had been able to reach was near the town of Konotop, 150 miles away from Kyiv. Other forces were bogged down trying to bypass Chernihiv, and light infantry VDV troops were being decimated as they attempted to enter Sumy without armor or artillery support. 

With less ground to cover, the western advance on the capital wasn’t fairing much better. Having lost the Hostomel airfield, ground troops weren’t closer than Ivankiv, roughly 60 miles from Kyiv. 

The bulk of the VDV paratroopers who were supposed to land at the Hostomel Airfield had been redeployed to the eastern-Kyiv approach near Chernihiv for reasons that cannot be fully explained and not along the westward advance where they were initially designated. 

This was the situation that morning as the Kemerovo officers continued to trek southward along the P02 Highway. 

By this point, the police officers were still in the rear echelon as the 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade, acting as the vanguard, began assaulting Ivankiv, a town of 10,000 residents, 50 miles northwest of Kyiv. 

Russian commanders should have accessed the gig was up, and they were never going to recapture a usable airport west of Kyiv. Nevertheless, Moscow decided to launch another air assault on the Antonov Airport. 

For round two (possibly three or four), the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed it deployed “200 helicopters” laden with VDV troopers. However, this has been refuted by journalist Timur Olevsky, who witnessed the battle. 

Nevertheless, suddenly realizing that dropping even their most esteemed soldiers onto an island surrounded by angry armed Ukrainians was a bad idea, some of the Rosgvardiya motorized infantry forces in the column on the P02 Highway were instructed to bypass Ivankiv and race to Hostomel to support the paratroopers. 

To recap, some Russian ground forces were engaged in fierce battles near Ivanka. Another contingent of mechanized infantry troops was making their way towards the Hostomel. 

Several hundred paratroopers were in the process of conducting a second large air assault on the Antonov Airport. Meanwhile, a nominal group of surviving paratroopers from an earlier failed air assault were last seen frantically running around the residential areas near Avtodorozhinia Street, not far from the monument to Soviet WW2 flying ace Valery Chkalov. 

Blessed with hindsight, we at least have a vague understanding of the chaos going on just west of Kyiv that morning. However, it doesn’t appear that any of the Kemerovo Officers were aware of anything going on around them. 

Instead, following the initial vague instructions to “go to Kyiv and [provide] assistance to the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces,” the cops fell in line behind soldiers bypassing Ivankiv and heading to Hostomel. 

“The task, again, was not set specifically,” Lt. Col. Mikhailovich later sighed. 

The Ukrainian capital Kyiv. (Image Source: Wikicommons)

By daybreak on February 25, a dense late winter’s fog mixed with the smoldering fumes of devastation lingered over Kyiv. 

In the city’s vast underground train network, masses of citizens huddled together in refuge, while an odd mix of cars wandered the near vacant streets in search of normalcy. 

From this palpable tension, the sun’s rays fell gently across the sprawling metropolis, winking hints of gold from the tops of centuries-old monasteries. Perched atop the 200-foot tall Independence Monument, the statue of Berehynia stretched out her arms and declared three decades of freedom from the former Soviet Union.

Some of the Kemerovo officers likely couldn’t help being taken in by the distant skyline as they approached one of Eastern Europe’s oldest cities. 

For some, this may have been the first time they’d ever seen the birthplace of Russian culture. Yet, this was no sightseeing tour, and the Russian cops were hardly welcome guests. 

After reasonably smooth sailing on their first day of the war, as the Kemerovo officers closed in on Kyiv’s periphery, they suddenly and inexplicably found themselves all alone.

“I don’t know what happened,” Lt. Colonel Mikhailovich later wondered. “We rode at the tail of the column, but for some reason, we got in the front, and there was no one else there.” 

How exactly the police officers became separated from the large convoy of mechanized ground forces remains a mystery. 

All of the survivors have maintained that their orders were just to go towards Kyiv, and they’d receive further instructions. If there was a designated rally point outside the capital, none seemed to know about it. Likewise, none of the police officers appear to have had any clue about the plans to recapture the airfield at Hostomel. 

The bulk of the initial convoy the officers were following had bypassed the fighting in Ivankiv and briefly traveled down the two-lane P02 Highway before turning southeast near the settlement of Fenevychi to follow several narrow roads to approach the Hostomel airport from the northwest. 

Speculatively, having never been informed of the change of plans, the Kemerovo officers could have likely missed the turn towards the Hostomel airport and continued to head east on the P02 Highway. 

In fairness, the Kemerovo crew weren’t the only ones who didn’t get the memo. 

Around the same time they became separated, reports emerged that Russian national guard troops were seen dismounting in the town of Dymer along the P02 Highway, 15 miles north of Kyiv and on the banks of the Dnipro River. 

Regardless of how it happened, shortly before 8:00 a.m. on February 25, the group of approximately 80 Kemerovo OMON and SOBR officers, in a caravan of three KamAZ 6×6 armored vehicles, an olive-drab GAZ-66 4×4 truck, a Tigr all-terrain vehicle, and a BTR armored personnel carrier, suddenly found themselves all alone and deep within the midst of enemy territory. 

Presumably, Colonel Alexandrovich was still with his OMON shock troops, and Colonel Ogiy was likewise commanding the SOBR officers. However, it’s not entirely clear who, if anyone, was in overall command of the lost convoy of police officers at this point. 

Isolated and alone, if there was an overall commander, that officer suddenly found themselves faced with making a consequential decision.

Typically, if an element becomes separated from a larger convoy, the lost units would move to a designated rally position, establish a defensive perimeter and regain accountability before continuing on the mission. 

Since “go to Kyiv and we’ll tell you when you get there” seems to have been  the officers’ only mission, it’s doubtful any predetermined rally points were ever established. 

Officers could have tried to identify a nearby defensible position, dismount, and set up an ad hoc rally point until contact could be established with additional units. Another group that had befallen a similar fate and went with this option could explain the lightly armed troops seen dismounting near Dymer. 

The soldiers could have considered turning around and returning to where they came from. In this case, that would have been back towards Ivankiv, where units from the 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade were in the heat of battle. Not particularly an ideal option for a group of glorified cops, but still an option nonetheless. 

Finally, the group could have continued advancing in hopes of making contact again with the larger military column. A nerve-wracking prospect, yet still a viable solution. 

Perhaps in these lost moments, the ancient city of Kyiv called out to the Kemerovo officers like a Slavic mecca urging them to come into her embrace. Or maybe the group’s commanders were devotees to General George Custer’s Art of War.  

Because when it came to deciding what to do next, someone felt the best course of action that morning was Option E: 

Hey-diddle-diddle-straight-up-the-middle and into the heart of Kyiv as fast as you can. 


CCTV footage of the Kemerovo OMON and SOBR officers passing through Hostomel on February 25, 2022. (Image Source: Anonymous)

With Kyiv in their sights, the police officers dashed towards the capital with the reckless abandon of an insensible child playing Grand Theft Auto

Constricted by tunnel vision, the convoy turned off the P02 Highway, somehow ping-ponging their way to Sviato-Pokrovska Street and racing straight towards Hostomel and the central junction of Bucha and Iripin. 

At one point, the officers were less than 2 miles away from the Antonov Airport. Had they slowed down and turned right just past a brick Monopoly house surrounded by a bright aqua fence and onto Leotovycha Street, they would have run into the airfield and possibly the comfort of fellow Russian forces. 

Instead, they barrelled along streets that would eventually become ravaged by weeks of warfare and serve as the stage for numerous war crimes and into the heart of Hostomel. 

Jaw-dropped citizens still coming to grips with war watched stunned as the convoy turned onto the E373 Highway, galloped past the massive City Time shopping center, and headed straight for the Obolon District of northern Kyiv. 

At 8:11 a.m., the convoy was spotted on a closed-circuit television camera dashing through the intersection of E373 and Chkalova Street like a herd of mechanical buffalo. 

Like a 21st Century Paul Revere, the CCTV images quickly spread like wildfire across social media. Various sources issued similar warnings that Russian soldiers had seized two Ukrainian vehicles, and disguised as Ukrainian soldiers, were now trying to infiltrate Kyiv. 

The claim that Russian soldiers had disguised themselves as Ukrainian troops first came from Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Mailer. Mailer shared an image from the CCTV video in a Facebook post, warning Kyivettes that some deceitful Russians were on their way. 

The sentiment was echoed in another Facebook post by the Ukrainian State Service for the Special Communications and Information Protection shortly after that. In the post, the Special Communications agency shared a 9-second clip of the CCTV footage, adding, “In particular, the enemies use two Kozak armored personnel carriers, three KRAZS, and a GAZ-66. In addition, the invaders are dressed in military uniforms of the armed forces of Ukraine.” 

However, in actuality, this was the lost convoy of Kemerovo officers blundering their way towards Kyiv and not a group of cunning saboteurs in disguise. 

In fact, shortly after making the claim, Deputy Minister Mailer edited her original post, deleting the image and saying, “As it turns out, it’s not those ZSU [The Armed Forces of Ukraine] cars that disappeared, but identical.” 

In their afternoon briefing, the Ukrainian General Staff later said, “Enemy reconnaissance and sabotage groups operate insidiously, disguising themselves in civilian clothes and infiltrating cities in order to destabilize the situation.”

So aside from Mailer’s initial retracted statement, no Ukrainian officials ever actually claimed Russian soldiers were disguising themselves as Ukrainian soldiers. 

In all likelihood, the initial claim that the Kemerovo group were disguised infiltrators came from the fact that the OMON officers’ two KamAZ armored trucks lacked the distinctive “Z,” “O,” or “V” symbol being used by Russian forces to distinguish themselves from other allied or enemy forces. The SOBR officers did have a white “V” prominently displayed across the front grill of their KamAZ. 

Examining photos taken in the early days of the invasion reveals that many Rosgvardiya units didn’t have distinguishing markings on their vehicles. Less by design, this was probably another side effect of terrible planning. 

Regardless, Mailer’s warning was futile because the Kemerovo officers had already met their fate before it went viral. 

Irpin River Bridge sign full of bullet holes. (Image Source: Anonymous citizen/ Dattalion)

Less than a minute after being captured on CCTV, the officers approached the E373 bridge over the Iripin River, heading straight for the heart of Kyiv’s Obolon District. 

Unfortunately for the Kemerovo crew, this would be the bridge too far. 

The lead Tiger armored truck suddenly exploded as Hell’s fury rained against a dissonant clear sky just as the armored truck crossed over the bridge. Chunks of metal and body parts were flung in all directions. Sweltering flames angrily lashed out from the contorted truck’s remains. 

The pursuing BTR and trucks screamed to a halt as their driver’s desperately tried to avoid the same fate. This was futile. The officers had ensnared themselves within a fatal funnel on the bridge, and now it was just a turkey shoot for Kyiv’s defenders. 

Next, the BTR collapsed in agony as an anti-tank missile gashed open its hull, transforming the armored personnel carrier into a scalding metal sarcophagus.  

Machine-gun fire crackled from the opposite bank while well-placed mortars joined in the symphony of destruction. Shell fragments, sizzling bits of metal, and clumps of concrete rained down as Kyiv’s defenders poured out their indignation.

Roughly 100 feet back, the lead KaMaz truck filled with OMON officers sat idly watching the carnage unfold. The vehicle’s driver had already been shot dead or was perhaps rendered immobile by fear. 

It didn’t matter. A massive fireball tore through the truck in the next instant, blowing its armored shell to pieces and twisting its carbon steel frame like Silly Putty. 

Remains of KaMaz armored truck on the Irpin River Bridge. (Image Source: Anonymous citizen/ Dattalion)

At least five OMON officers, fully engulfed, made it out of the truck. Only one would make it as far as the opposite guardrail before succumbing to the inferno. The misshapen corpse lay smoldering on the payment, an RPK machine gun still clutched within the blackened remains. 

The remaining OMON and SOBR officers quickly dismounted, widely firing their rifles in the general direction of Kyiv, desperate to avoid war’s insatiable appetite for death. 

One-by-one, the remaining vehicles were engulfed by a hornet’s nest of varied ordnance. The cool pavement stained bright red as 7.62 mm bullets and burning shrapnel tore through those officers who were “fortunate” enough to make it out of the inferno. 

In all, the Kemerovo Officers had lasted less than 24-hours in war. Their Battle for the Irpin River Bridge was mere minutes. 

Smoldering in a cacophony of violence, what had once been a convoy of military vehicles and nearly 80 specialized police officers, had been rendered to an unrecognizable heap of burning debris and twisted scrap metal. 

A single pale blue smog-camo jacket lay destitute on the pavement amongst shards of broken glass. Streams of thick black smoke poured skyward, temporarily shielding onlookers from the carnage. 

Though asinine at this point, the Kemerovo Officers never actually achieved their singular, albeit ambiguous, primary goal. Half a mile from Kyiv’s city limits, the group’s remains lay in a burning waste. 

Aftermath from the battle on the Iripin River Bridge.(Image Source: Anonymous citizen/ Dattalion)

Of the 80 Kemerovo Officers, only three are known to have survived the absurd attempt to plow straight into the heart of Kyiv. 

SOBR Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Mikhailovich, whose right leg was severely wounded in the short-lived battle. OMON Senior Sergeant Kobelev Yevgeny Vitalievich was also severely injured in his right leg. And OMON Captain Evgeny Plotnikov, who later appeared in videos shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense with a massive grapefruit-sized purple gash covering nearly half his face. 

In a video statement recorded after the three had been taken as prisoners of war, Mikhailovich claimed 70 of the SOBR and OMON officers had been killed on the Irpin River bridge that morning. 

In a since-deleted article, on February 27, the local Siberian news outlet Tayga said at least 42 SOBR and OMON officers from the Kemerovo region had been killed, including SOBR commander Colonel Konstantin Ogiy. 

However, on March 4, Novokuznetsk mayor Sergey Kuznetsov posted on Instagram that Colonel Ogiy was alive, showering the Afghan and Chechen war veteran with praise. “The only one in Kuzbass [who] has three Orders of Courage. I emphasize Three Orders of Courage!” Kuznetsov wrote.  

On the same day, Russian news outlet 360Tv, claimed Ogiy, “along with five subordinates, were able to fight back and escape into the forest. A local resident helped them out of the encirclement.” 

Both Kuznetsov and 360Tv said the officers had fallen victims to a Ukrainian ambush. This was a slight subterfuge given the three-time Orders of Courage award winner, Colonel Ogiy, had absurdly tried to drive the Kemerovo officers straight through Kyiv’s heavily fortified front door. 

Aside from these claims, no evidence supporting Colonel Ogiy’s resurrection or the survival of any other Kemerovo officers has ever materialized. 

An expectedly hopeless request was made to the press offices of the Kremlin, Russian Ministry of Defense, and National Guard for clarification on the number of Kemerovo officers killed on February 25. Predictably, none of the agencies responded. 

At a meeting at the OMON base in Novokuznetsk on March 5, family and friends of the Kemerovo officers confronted Kemerovo governor Sergei Tsivilyov. 

“They lied to everyone! They deceived everyone!” a woman in the crowd yelled. “No one has lied to anyone,” Tsivilyov calmly replied. 

“They were sent as cannon fodder! Why did they send our boys there?” the woman fumed. 

“It’s a special operation, and since it’s a special operation, nobody [can] comment on this for now,” Tisvilyov nervously tried to placate the increasingly hostile audience. “They didn’t even know their objective,” a crowd member cried. 

“They were used for….” Tisvilyov began before being interrupted. “They were used for! Our children were used?!” a woman angrily exclaimed.

“We shouldn’t criticize. When it ends, and it will end soon….” Tisvilyov made another feeble attempt to calm the aggrieved mob. 

A balding OMON commander seated on Tisvilyov’s right removed his eyeglasses, nervously fidgeting with the spectacles while refusing to look up at the angry faces. In a camouflage uniform and prominently displaying the white and red horizontal striped undershirt of Rosgvardiya, a National Guard commander to Tisvilyov’s left gazed-on expressionless. 

Echoing against the wooden walls of the gymnasium, outraged murmurs among the crowd were suddenly pierced by someone shouting, “[You mean it will end soon] when everyone dies!” 

OMON Survivors
The only three known survivors of the Kemerovo OMON and SOBR officers. From left to right: OMON Senior Sergeant Kobelev Yevgeny Vitalievich, SOBR Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Mikhailovich, and OMON Captain Evgeny Plotnikov.

On March 7, the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency of News (UNIAN) organized a press conference with the trio of known Kemerovo survivors.  

Acting as the effective spokesman for the group, Lt. Col. Mikhailovich expressed regret for having taken part in Russia’s invasion and urged compassion for Russian soldiers who had been deceived into war by self-serving leaders. 

These types of POW appearances serve as exceptional propaganda for a warring party, and therefore prisoner comments are inherently untrustworthy. And yet, a sanguine-looking Mikhailovich spoke with an air of surprising sincerity and unscripted candor. 

Softly gazing at questioners in a fresh-pressed olive green commando sweater, Mikhailovich certainly didn’t look like a man under duress as he calmly explained how the Russian people had been inundated with false claims of Ukrainian Nazis. 

“We were told that Ukraine allegedly, we were told while in Russia, via the media, that Ukraine is dominated,” Mikhailovich paused, shaking his head and holding up his hands for forgiveness, “literally, I’m 100% wrong now. Don’t judge too harshly.” 

“Ukraine’s territory is dominated by a fascist regime, nationalists, Nazis have seized power [and] ordinary people need some help to get rid of this ‘yoke.’ This was the aim.”

Mikhailovich explained how the Kremlin’s domination of information leaves Russia’s citizens incapable of conducting analysis or forming their own opinions of anything outside their immediate view. Even those with doubts were left conceding it was nearly impossible to determine the truth.

Spontaneously sharing with the audience his enthusiasm for boxing, the SOBR Deputy Commander said it was his admiration for some of Ukraine’s professional brawlers that finally made him question Moscow’s narrative. 

“When I watched the address of the professional boxers, your boxers. Back home, I always loved watching them. Usyk and Lomachenko,” Mikhailovich’s face lit up. “They’re my favorite. I mean that when I say it. [That] these people are ready to take arms, and they say ‘we did not call you.’ [Now] I feel shame that we came to this country. That we came to Ukraine’s territory.” 

“This woman is just standing here crying,” Mikhailovich said, extending an open hand toward the crowd. “I feel shame. I don’t know why we are doing this.” 

“For those who would watch this video, you might think about me whatever you want,” Mikhailovich sat up. “That I was forced, intimidated, or the text was prepared in advance, whatever. I’ll give it to you straight. If someone came to my territory, I would do the same as these people did. And I would be right! And they are right now! My grandpa fought [against the Nazis in WW2], and now I am here like a death squads member.”

“This is my personal feeling concerning the Russian armed forces. If they can hear me. Guys,” Mikhailovich closed his eyes, searching for the right words. “Be Brave! It’s easier for me because I am already in this situation. You are in a tense situation going against your own commander. But this is genocide. People are just being killed.” 

During the nearly 10-minute address, the visibly emotional Mikhailovich never asked for leniency for himself but pleaded with Ukrainians to show mercy on those Russian soldiers who found the courage to surrender rather than die in an unjust war. 

“I cannot find the right words to say sorry to the Ukrainian people. I plead with you for those who are prisoners or wounded, save their health and life. I sincerely hope for your mercy towards those who will come out to you with their hands up,” Mikhailovich urged. 

“[Then] thanks to you, you will become winners not only physically, but also spiritually.” 

Journalists sat in silence as an impassioned Mikhailovich explained why it was impossible for Russia to ever achieve victory in Ukraine. “We can invade the territory, but we cannot invade the people,” Mikhailovich placed his hand over his heart. “Russians will be ashamed to confess that they are Russians for the deeds we are doing now.” 

“I’m begging you. Stop before it is too late.” 

Jacket from one of the Kemerovo OMON officers lying on the ground at the Iripin River Bridge. (Image Source: Radio Free Liberty)

Wars are typically remembered by historic rallying cries like “Russian Warship Go Fuck Yourself,” or more lighthearted myths, such as the “Ghost of Kyiv,” and a sprinkling of evanescent tales involving tragedy or heroism.  

As time passes, conflicts are recalled by metanarratives and the bookends of how they began, or more typically, how they ended. 

And yet, the bold, unrecognized actions of a small few soldiers are what often decide the fate of skirmishes. A misjudgment in necessary ammunition, fuel, or supplies can determine the entire outcome of battles. 

In reality, the body of war consists of countless micro-narratives, seemingly inconsequential actions, and unglorified events. Ultimately, the willingness to fight often determines whether wars are won or lost.

This elaborate synthesis of distinctly human factors makes the study of war so morbidly fascinating. 

The bizarre tale of the Kemerovo officers’ attempt at storming Kyiv and subsequent annihilation offers a unique glimpse into war’s varied and often overlooked nuances. 

Objectively, one can’t help feeling a tinge of sympathy for the Kemerovo officers, who were thrust into war wholly unprepared and in an entirely suicidal position.

A hint of sadness that Senior Lieutenant Denis Sokolv’s earlier fears of starting a family became prophetic. His return to Russia would come in a casket. At his funeral, a colleague recounted how Sokolv had planned to retire from OMON and “devote himself to his children.” 

It’s hard not to be moved by Lt. Col. Mikhailovich’s impassioned explanations of how the Russian people are deceived by their political leadership and pleas for forgiveness. 

Yet, none of the OMON and SOBR officers, including Sokolov and Mikhailovich, are innocent victims of fate. 

52-year-old Iryna Filkina, who was shot and killed in cold blood by a Russian soldier while riding her bike in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, is truly an innocent victim. Clearly, the Kemerovo officers who perished on the Iripin River bridge cannot and shouldn’t share in the same distinction as Filkina, whose body was left discarded on the side of the road for weeks during Russia’s occupation of Bucha. 

Whether for ideological reasons, such as a sense of duty, financial motivations, or longing for power that comes from being part of Russia’s imposing law enforcement apparatus, the OMON, and SOBR officers voluntarily chose their professional paths. 

It would be unfair to say these men did so for pathological bloodlust, but it would be equally naive to assume the officers didn’t realize their professional expectations included the potential for killing or being killed. 

These are, in fact, Moscow’s “special” lawmen. At some point while wallowing in broken glass and breaking wood beams over your back to show “strength,” one has to ask, “Who or what exactly am I supposed to be serving and protecting?” 

With scores of innocent Ukrainians losing their lives or becoming victims of war crimes in Moscow’s unprovoked war of aggression, subjectively, it becomes challenging to find any mercy for the Russian soldier. 

And this is why wars are remembered by overarching broad themes. The intimate details of human conflict often leave one feeling morally confused and with conflicting emotions. It is far easier to dispassionately view war as an impalpable abstract. 

This contradictory reflection is not limited to war’s outside observers. Many veterans likewise describe their time in combat as both the best and worst experiences of their lives. 

Ultimately, perhaps, the official motto of the Moscow OMON division offers the most respectful way one can mitigate any conflicted feelings about the Kemerovo officers’ pathetic attempt at storming Kyiv. 

Surrounding the image of a powerful and enraged bison on the division’s badge, the motto reads:

“Special forces know no mercy and never ask for it. That is how it was, how it is, and how it will be.” 

(Special thanks to the open-source intelligence group: Conflict Intelligence Team, who were the first to notice the bizarre actions of the Kemerovo officers early in Russia’s war in Ukraine. You can follow CIT on Twitter @CITeam_en

Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing covers defense, national security, and the Intelligence Community. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan.  Tim can also be reached by email: or through encrypted email: