Why not kill them all?

Keith Gessen in Donetsk
LRB | 11 September 2014

Mikhail Mishin is a small, fit man with a couple of gold teeth in his mouth. He grew up in Makeevka, a large town next to Donetsk, and for several years played professional football, rising to the Ukrainian Second League before eventually quitting at the age of 28. After a few tough years, his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government. He lobbied for money for sports facilities and attended their opening ceremonies, where he always gave a short speech about the moral and physical benefits of sport. No scholar of languages, he was never able to master Ukrainian fully, which perhaps would have kept him from climbing higher in politics if things hadn’t taken a strange turn for him, and the Donbass region, earlier this year. In any case, around Donetsk, Russian was the only language necessary for overseeing children’s football tournaments. Mishin’s salary was $300 a month and he didn’t own a car, but he didn’t mind too much. His costs were low – he was unmarried and lived in his parents’ flat – and if he needed a ride somewhere, his best friend Aleksandr was always happy to drive.

When the Maidan protests started in Kiev late last year, Mishin followed them with increasing anxiety. He watched as young men in masks and the insignia of old Ukrainian fascist movements attacked riot police – some of them from the Donetsk area – with Molotov cocktails. He saw governors in the western provinces pulled out of their offices and roughed up by furious crowds. It seemed that the country was descending into chaos. When he heard a rumour that some of the young men from Maidan were headed for Donetsk, he believed it. After work he started taking the bus to the centre of Donetsk to stand with the protesters who called themselves ‘anti-Maidan’. Some of them waved Russian flags; others held up posters of Stalin. But they all wanted to express their disagreement with what was happening in Kiev. Mishin supported this. He was worried that he might get into trouble – he was a city official, after all – but he figured that he was doing it in his own time, and it was something he believed in. But he concealed his new political activity from his parents, who would have worried.

‘The protests in March and April were the most massive grassroots protests I have ever seen in Donetsk,’ Yuri Dergunov, who is also from Makeevka and teaches political science, told me. ‘In my memory people here had never been so active and so involved in their own fate.’ He pointed out the very specific social composition of the protests in Donetsk. The pro-Maidan protests, when they took place, were middle class and nationalistic; anti-Maidan was lower class and anti-oligarchic (and Russian nationalist). ‘I would see the people at Maidan and think: “What nice people, so well dressed, so educated.” Then they would open their mouths.’ The things that came out of their mouths included slogans taken from interwar Ukrainian fascism. They also expressed what Dergunov calls barely concealed ‘social racism’ towards the members of anti-Maidan. Perhaps nowhere else in Ukraine was the split between pro-Maidan and anti-Maidan so visible as it was in Donetsk.

While Mishin was quietly attending the rapidly growing anti-Maidan meetings, Enrique Menendez, a businessman, was himself getting worried. Menendez, who is named after his grandfather, a Spanish Republican soldier who retreated to France and after the war ended up in the USSR, is thirty years old. He grew up in a town fifty miles north of Donetsk and moved to the city after high school to seek his fortune. Too poor to afford university, he found he could navigate the media business, and got work at a growing internet company in Donetsk. Three years ago he started his own company, the Ad Factory, which did online marketing for businesses in Donetsk. He was doing well and had seven employees. But he began to feel his city slipping away from him.

In early March, Menendez and some other local professionals decided to organise a big pro-Ukraine meeting. Menendez was tasked with ensuring security for the protesters: everyone knew they might be attacked. He approached the staff of the newly appointed governor, but they couldn’t guarantee the protest’s safety; eventually he got in touch with the organised fans of Shakhtar Donetsk (shakhtar means ‘miner’ – Donetsk is coal country). These ultras, who had been supporters of Maidan, agreed to provide security. The meeting went off, thousands came, and at the end a group of men approached with sticks. The ultras were as good as their word and confronted the attackers, with the result that several of the ultras (as well as several of the attackers) ended up in hospital. This was as expected, but Menendez was discouraged.

The first thing he noticed was that the separatist forces were simply stronger: there were more of them in general, and there were more of them who were willing to employ physical violence. The second thing he noticed was that they were local. The third thing he noticed was that the police were at best passive and at worst openly hostile to the pro-unity protesters, and it didn’t get much better the higher up you went. In mid-March representatives of the post-Maidan Ministry of the Interior visited Donetsk. They met with civic leaders but most of all they met with the football ultras, and demanded that they arm themselves and prepare for battle against the pro-Russian forces in the city.

Menendez was furious. The government was coming to his city and trying to get football hooligans to beat up protesters. ‘Resolving conflicts – that’s what government is for. If you’re incapable of that, you’re not a government, you’re a profanation. Either from ignorance of the situation, or from understanding it full well, they were igniting a civil war.’

Menendez wanted to set up a dialogue with the pro-Russian activists, but his fellow pro-unity organisers wanted another rally. Menendez refused to participate. He thought it was unsafe, and on Facebook he discouraged people from attending. The march went ahead anyway. At the end of it a group of unity supporters was surrounded by a much larger group of separatists. The separatists threw bottles, cans and punches; at the end of it, one of the pro-unity marchers, the 19-year-old secretary of the local branch of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, was dead.

Menendez knew several of the leaders of the pro-Russian movement in Donetsk. ‘This didn’t start yesterday,’ he told me. ‘If you look at photos of protests in Donetsk from 2003, you see the same Russian flags. The call for Donetsk to join Russia goes back a long way.’ Menendez was particularly friendly with Pavel Gubarev, initially the most visible of the separatist protesters. He liked Gubarev, whom he called Pasha, a lot. ‘He came from a poor family from outside Donetsk, as I did, and he rented his apartment in Donetsk, just like me, and was hoping to buy one.’ Gubarev sold advertising space on billboards in Donetsk and its environs; he had pioneered a system that allowed national chains to run advertising campaigns in the region without having to reach out to every individual billboard owner. ‘He was a great guy,’ Menendez said. ‘He worked hard and put a lot of money into his own education. He just happened to have always been a Russian fascist.’

Menendez hadn’t been in touch with Gubarev in some time when he called him in late February, to see how business was going (Menendez’s business was doing badly because of all the turmoil). ‘I could tell he was distracted when I called, like he was talking to someone else. It took him a moment to remember who I was. Then he said: “What business, bro? Donbass is joining Russia!” That’s when I knew we had lost Pasha.’

A week later, Gubarev was proclaimed the ‘people’s governor of Donetsk’, and a few days after that was arrested for separatist activity and taken to Kiev: at that point, the government was still able to carry out arrests in Donetsk. But things were spiralling out of control. In early March, there was a rumour that the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the ‘boss’ of Donetsk, owner of its football team, and the richest man in Ukraine, would deploy his private security force to restore order. It was an unappealing prospect, but better than a full-scale rebellion leading to war.

Akhmetov, it now appears, was playing a double game. Publicly he was silent; privately, it seems, he was financing the separatists (he denies it). But the rebellion soon developed a logic of its own. In early April, protesters stormed the regional government building for the third time in a month. One of them was the longtime local Communist parliamentarian Boris Litvinov; as one of the most senior members of the group, he was tasked with putting together a document establishing the region’s statehood. He went home and made himself a pot of coffee and looked up all the other declarations of independence on the internet. ‘From the United States to Kosovo,’ he told me. ‘Anything that appeared when you put “declaration of independence” into the search bar, I read.’ He drafted a short and punchy version for the Donetsk People’s Republic. Read aloud in the chamber of the regional parliament on the morning of 7 April, the hotchpotch declaration was met with raucous applause.

Throughout this time, Mikhail Mishin kept attending meetings. He signed up for volunteer defence work and was asked on several nights to guard the barricades in front of the regional government building; one night he was asked to help man a checkpoint on the road into town, overseeing the traffic police. He ran into a guy he used to play football with, Denis Pushilin, who had become one of the main organisers of the rebellion. Pushilin was glad to see him there.

No one was thinking that all this would lead to war. People were scared and unhappy and doing something about it. That the protest took on such a strong separatist colour was due less to the protesters’ basic demands (regional autonomy might have been enough for many) than to the recent Russian annexation of Crimea. ‘The contradictions didn’t necessarily lead to war,’ Dergunov said. ‘But when Crimea went with the option of total separation, it pushed the extremes, both pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian, to the fore. That was Putin’s real crime – this is what created the war.’

Then, on 12 April, the police station in the city of Slovyansk, fifty miles north of Donetsk, was taken over by a group of unidentified commandos. The police were overwhelmed. ‘These were not locals with hunting rifles,’ the new chief of the Slovyansk police told me. ‘These were highly trained, well-armed men.’ It soon became evident that the commandos had come from abroad: the Russian aid that the protesters in Donetsk had been calling for had finally materialised. At that moment, what had been a people’s uprising turned into an armed revolt, and some would say a covert invasion.

Disorganised and confused, the post-revolutionary government in Kiev was also intimidated: the Russians had massed troops at the border and repeatedly said that they were prepared to meet any violence against pro-Russia protesters with force. After the armed takeover of Slovyansk and then a dozen other cities in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the government sent in some tanks, unaccompanied by infantry, only to have local residents block their movements. It took several weeks before the government mounted a serious counterattack, which it called an ‘anti-terrorist operation’, or ATO.

Meanwhile the Donetsk People’s Republic, or DNR, was taking on some of the elements of statehood. First it organised a referendum (copied in neighbouring Lugansk) on autonomy; hundreds of thousands came out to vote ‘yes’. In mid-May, the DNR announced its first government. Boris Litvinov, the author of the declaration of independence, was named the executive officer of the council of ministers; Gubarev’s wife was made foreign minister (Gubarev himself had only recently been released in a prisoner exchange with Kiev); a newcomer from Moscow, a political ‘technologist’ called Aleksandr Borodai, was made prime minister; and Mikhail Mishin, the football player from Makeevka, was made minister of sport.

For the first few weeks after he took the job, Mishin went to bed each night wondering if he’d be arrested before morning. The Kiev government could still probably do that. But with each passing day he felt better, and started thinking about what the DNR could accomplish in the realm of sport. He certainly hoped league-leading Shakhtar Donetsk would return to the city, though that would have to wait until after the war.

War was getting closer. After a month of heavy shelling from the Ukrainian army, the rebel group in Slovyansk, led by a mysterious former FSB officer called Igor Strelkov, retreated to Donetsk. Once there, Strelkov established himself as the military commander of all forces in the region. It was estimated that the rebels had as many as ten thousand men under arms. To win the war now, the army would have to take Donetsk.


In early August I took the train from Kiev to Donetsk. Kiev was full of refugees from the east. Donetsk’s football team was staying at the Opera Hotel; others were staying with friends or relatives or in hostels and rented flats around town. The people of Kiev were not inhospitable, but they were wary, and they were angry. The ATO had been going on in earnest for two months, and each day brought news of more deaths from the front. The government had announced a ‘partial mobilisation’, calling up people who had once served in the armed forces, and there were also several volunteer battalions: some, like the Azov and Aidar battalions, were based on existing structures (in Azov’s case the Social-National Assembly of Ukraine, i.e. the far right, and in Aidar’s case the self-defence units of Maidan); others had been raised by locals who were willing to fight. In early August, the Maidan encampment was still partly intact, but the energy had vanished. One evening, at the edge of what remained of it, I happened across a group of forty men standing outside a bus and saying goodbye to friends and girlfriends. They looked tired, unshaven and for the most part out of shape. Eventually they lined up, did a roll call, and boarded the bus. They were volunteers for the Aidar battalion, and they were headed for Lugansk.

The post-Maidan government was now a war government. It banned the Communist Party from parliament for its alleged support of the rebels. It set up a gmail account for people in liberated towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions to write anonymous reports on fellow citizens who might have aided the rebels. And it was doing its best to scare people. A professor at Kharkiv University showed me an order from the Ministry of Education demanding that all senior university officials take part in mobilising staff for the ATO. Those who ‘sabotaged’ the process would be found guilty of ‘separatist tendencies’. ‘This language,’ he said. ‘It’s straight out of the 1930s.’

The day before I was to take the train to Donetsk I met a man from Lugansk called Kirill. He had been an outspoken supporter of Maidan and a unified Ukraine, and after the rebels took over the city they came to his house, arrested him and brought him in for questioning. They demanded that he admit he was a spy, and when he refused they shot him in the leg. They kept him another week, then dropped him off in the woods and suggested he disappear. He hid out with a friend until his leg got a little better, then made his way to Kiev. Now he spent his time playing video games and, out of some kind of repetition compulsion, watching YouTube clips of captured Ukrainian soldiers getting interrogated by the rebels. The films were horrible, and there were lots of them.

I arrived in Donetsk on a Tuesday; I knew we were getting close when I spotted the first slag heaps. I had been worried about document checks but no one asked for papers on the train or at the station. In fact there were no armed men at all until you got near the city centre. Then they began to appear, and unarmed passers-by correspondingly became fewer. Many stores were closed and car dealerships were entirely emptied out: it had only taken a few ‘mobilisations’ of new vehicles by the rebels for the dealers to take their entire stock out of town. The city looked half empty. Occasionally a group of people could be seen huddled around a cashpoint. Most of the banks felt unsafe filling up their machines. There were no police on the streets and the number of car accidents had increased. On the other hand there were advantages. One day I got into a taxi whose young driver had a crew cut and was blasting Russian girl pop from his radio. He didn’t look like the world’s most responsible driver. I reached for my seatbelt. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. ‘There’s no cops here.’ The rebels, apparently, were lax about seatbelts, though very strict when it came to drinking. People caught drunk in public were routinely picked up and forced to dig defensive trenches outside town. Habitual drunks had taken to wearing all black so as to be less visible to DNR militants at night.

The popular longtime mayor of Donetsk, Aleksandr Lukyanchenko, had fled to Kiev in July after being asked to pledge allegiance to the DNR and also, it was said, to prepare for the siege of the city by blowing up large buildings on the outskirts. But public buses, rubbish trucks and emergency repair crews were still working. In the centre of town, the rebel fighters were concentrated around the SBU (formerly the KGB) building – where Strelkov was said to have his headquarters and where a rebel codenamed Nose oversaw a growing population of hostages – and the 11-storey regional government building, now the seat of the government of the DNR. The rebel fighters came in different shapes and sizes. Some were kids, barely 18, of the sort who fill any army and always look too young to carry guns. They were in the minority. Most of the fighters were grown men: some were unemployed miners who had joined the rebels out of conviction or anger, and others were well-trained and well-disciplined troops. These last were partly local ex-military or ex-police, while others came from abroad, though they didn’t advertise this. (The most visible foreign fighters were those from the Caucasus, since they had more trouble blending in.)

At its maximum extent in late May, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics formed a bloc (they called it Novorossiya, New Russia, after the old tsarist term for the area) extending about ten thousand square miles west from the Russian border: about the size of Belgium, and one twentieth the area of Ukraine. In two months, starting immediately after the election of President Petro Poroshenko, rebel-held territory had shrunk by more than half. Donetsk had been the south-west corner of the territory; after the rebel retreat from Slovyansk, Donetsk had become more of a south-west redoubt. As a result, the city was being shelled from the west and the north.

And yet the rebels didn’t seem that worried. In the regional government building they held meetings and press conferences and updated their website. I spoke for a long time with Litvinov, who’d recently been elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet and added to the EU and UK financial sanctions lists. For him, it was as if 1917 had come to life from the yellowed pages of Lenin’s collected works. Was he worried about international recognition for his republic? ‘No. Think how long it took the Soviet Union to be recognised.’ (The US only recognised the Soviet Union in 1933.) ‘The only country that’s recognised us so far is South Ossetia.’ What about passports? ‘Here I think the Transnistrian experience is useful. People still have Moldovan passports. They know if they put a stamp in those passports that says “Transnistria” no one will acknowledge it. So what they do is, they have an insert that says “Transnistria” that they put into the passport when necessary, but also take out when necessary.’ Was he worried about the DNR becoming as isolated as Transnistria? ‘We won’t become Transnistria, for simple reasons of geography. On the one side of Transnistria is Moldova, on the other side Ukraine. They had to beg for the use of a little bit of the mouth of the Dniester from the Ukrainians. Whereas we have a nice long border with Russia. And we also have access to the sea.’ He pointed to the map on his wall that showed Donetsk and Lugansk with their pre-independence borders. When we talked, the coast of the Sea of Azov that he referred to, which included the big port city of Mariupol, had been under Ukrainian control for some time. But Litvinov was calm. ‘It’s not going to be a quick process. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. But we’ll get through it.’


In Donetsk I had expected to find a totalitarian proto-state, and I did. The Kremlin liked calling the government in Kiev a ‘junta’, but here you had a real one. Professional mercenaries in fatigues called the shots and even ministers of state felt compelled to cross the street at the sight of armed men, lest a misunderstanding occur. What I didn’t expect to find were so many people who believed in all of it with such certainty, and with such hope.

One day I visited Mishin in Makeevka. He and his friend Aleksandr Bik took me on a tour, past the giant Makeevka Iron and Steel Works, which in the 1930s was the largest steel plant in the USSR (producing more steel than the whole of Italy, it was said), and which continued to be a major player in Soviet steel until perestroika. In 1997 it filed for bankruptcy. It’s now owned by Akhmetov’s Metinvest and employs a fraction of the people it did during Soviet times. Nearby was a huge slag heap. I asked if we could climb it, but this was deemed inadvisable: the hill was full of dangerous chemicals, and people sometimes fell into holes in it.

We drove to the fields west of Makeevka to visit an old cow shed where Bik now raises worms to produce fertiliser; according to the US government, it was from one of the nearby fields that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 had been fired on. As we drove, Mishin and Bik described a world in which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rackets took over. People started disappearing. With inflation skyrocketing, it was impossible to survive on a salary. You had to have your own business, and not everyone was cut out for that. Even once things stabilised there was banditism. As we got outside town, Bik pointed to what looked like abandoned digging projects. They were illegal coal mines run by Aleksandr Yanukovych, son of the former president, he said. They had scarred the fields and left craters and dead bodies in their wake. ‘You think we liked living under these people?’ Bik said. ‘No, we didn’t. But there wasn’t anything we could do.’ The anti-Maidan uprising changed all that.

For Mishin and Bik, the signal events of the past year looked very different from the way they looked to my friends in Kiev or Moscow. When liberals in those places had seen young men on Maidan attacking the riot police, they thought, ‘people power’; and when they saw men in Donetsk beating pro-Ukraine protesters, they thought, ‘fascists’. But that wasn’t how it looked from Donetsk. From Donetsk they saw fascists on Maidan and, on the streets of Donetsk, people power. Whether the actual fascists on Maidan made them more or less certain of this, I don’t know, but hearing it gave body to something the sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko had said to me in Kiev: ‘It was the liberals’ tolerance of the nationalists on Maidan that led to this. If they had rejected them right away, things might have turned out differently. It might have led to the collapse of Maidan. It might even have meant that Yanukovych remained president. But at least there would have been peace.’

Mishin and Bik were what the sociologists call the ‘losers’ of the post-Soviet transition. In Soviet times Bik had been a coal miner with aspirations to join the KGB. ‘They didn’t take Party bosses’ sons, you know,’ he said (wrongly). ‘They took working people like me.’ And Mishin was a mighty athlete. He recalled playing in a tournament in Leningrad and being promised a trip to the United States. ‘The USA!’ he recalled thinking. And then the whole world collapsed. Industrial regions like Donbass were hardest hit by the changes: it was the region’s industrial output that plummeted furthest in the 1990s; it was industrial plants over which the bloodiest turf wars revolved. And it was in these places that the loss of status was most extreme. Industrial work was championed by the Soviets, both in word and in deed: coal miners in Donbass earned on average two or three times what a software engineer like my father earned in Moscow. (In the early 1980s, Bik had been working as a miner for just a few months when he bought a motorbike. The girls went crazy for it.) When the Soviet Union ended, the entire country experienced what Nietzsche might have recognised as a transvaluation of all values: what had been good was now bad, and what had been bad was now good. Some people liked it and grew rich; other people were left behind. With the victory of protests that were still referred to by some of their supporters as Euromaidan, the people of this industrial region were being asked to endure yet another round of deindustrialisation – of austerity, unemployment and social death. They had balked at this and, what was more, they had an out. Deindustrialisation had gone hand in hand, the first time, with the collapse of the empire. But what if the empire could be restored? Maybe the jobs would come back? If the Russians felt they had ‘lost’ something in Ukraine, many people in Eastern Ukraine felt as if they’d been stranded from their motherland. ‘They call us traitors and separatists,’ Bik said. ‘But I don’t feel like a traitor. I felt like a traitor before, when I had to call myself Ukrainian. I don’t feel like a traitor now.’

Makeevka at this time was relatively quiet – it was in the rear of the fighting, behind Donetsk – but occasionally artillery could still be heard going off in one direction or another. It sounded like thunder, but louder and closer to the ground. In Kiev people believed armed men had taken over part of Ukraine and needed to be dealt with. From here it sometimes seemed as if the local population had finally taken their lives into their own hands, and then the army had come for them. ‘I feel bad for these people,’ a woman from Slovyansk told me. ‘They tried to change things, but in doing so they brought the enemy into their house.’ By the enemy she meant Russia. But it would be just as true a statement if the enemy was Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army was coming, and if the individual soldiers were for the most part coming reluctantly, the people who stood behind them, the media and political cheerleaders of the ATO, were coming with full intent. When they called the people of Donetsk ‘barbarians’ and ‘non-people’, they weren’t simply reacting to the things the rebels had done. They were reacting to what they’d done in Ukrainian politics for twenty years.

The people from the west wanted to be rid of the people from the east. Not so much in the name of Ukrainian nationalism as in the name of progress. For two decades the centre and especially the west of the country had been pursuing Europeanisation. There was certainly a socioeconomic difference in Donbass between the supporters of a unified Ukraine and the supporters of the DNR. The night after I visited Mishin in Makeevka, Enrique Menendez invited me to meet a small group of young, pro-Ukraine professionals who had remained in the city, doing humanitarian work. After delivering food to a dormitory housing more than a thousand refugees from the region, we drove to Havana Banana, a favourite haunt of mid-level rebel commanders, who ate, drank mineral water, and met up with prostitutes there. We drove in a new Fiat which Marina, at the wheel, had trouble handling. ‘This is my friend’s car,’ she said. ‘I’m borrowing it because she’s in Kiev. My real car is a BMW.’ We ate sushi and drank beer. At one point a yellow Porsche pulled up and some rebels hopped out. ‘Ah,’ Marina said. ‘They got it.’ She’d noticed the car around town, with its original owner, and wondered how long before ownership changed. The bill came and, given the low prices in Ukraine, was larger than I’d anticipated. ‘Who ordered $20 worth of sushi?’ I asked. ‘I did!’ Enrique said. Then we all went home, to avoid being out after curfew.

I mention all this to stress the difference between those who supported the DNR in Donetsk and those who didn’t. But among the young professionals I also met a journalist from Lviv. She wasn’t just dressed better than anyone in Donetsk, she was dressed differently, as if on a civilisational level. She looked like she was from France.

And so imagine if for two decades you have been trying to pull your country, bit by bit, into Europe. Imagine that it’s been a bumpy road – everything you accomplish seems to get sabotaged by the political forces from the east. Imagine that finally the contradictions within your country have come to a breaking point. Imagine that all the people who opposed your politics for twenty years – all the most backward, poorest, least successful people in the country – got together in one place, declared an independent republic, and took up arms? What would you do? You could let them go. But then you’d lose all that land and its industrial capacity and also what kind of country just lets chunks of itself fall off? Perhaps you could think of it as an opportunity. Something similar happened when the old Stalinists and nationalists took over the Supreme Soviet in Moscow in 1993. All the enemies of progress in one place, all the losers and has-beens: wouldn’t it be better just to solve the problem once and for all? Wouldn’t it be a better long-term solution just to kill as many as you could and scare the shit out of the rest of them, for ever? This is what I heard from respectable people in Kiev. Not from the nationalists, but from liberals, from professionals and journalists. All the bad people were in one place – why not kill them all?

asked Mishin and Bik if they’d known, when they declared independence, that it would lead to war. ‘If you pick up a gun, they’ll come for you with guns,’ in the words of one anti-DNR resident of Donetsk. But Mishin and Bik, like every other DNR supporter to whom I put this question, said no. They were just trying to be heard. And they pointed out that even in early April, before Strelkov and his crew had taken Slovyansk and escalated the conflict, Ukrainian fighter jets would fly very low over the pro-Donbass protests held in Donetsk. From the very start, Kiev had been prepared to use force.


As August went by, the Ukrainian army drew nearer. In my first few days in Donetsk, the fighting, if highly approximate shelling of each other’s positions can be called that, was on the outskirts of the city. A group of us travelled to the western edge of Donetsk to find houses, a market and a school that had been hit by Grad rockets and shells from what appeared to be Ukrainian positions. One man had been killed when the market was hit (the shell landed near him and ripped off half his head); a woman had been killed in another part of the city. By the end of the week the shelling had reached the centre of Donetsk. It usually started at 4.30 a.m., lasted half an hour, and then resumed around seven, again for a short period of time. To have shells falling within a half-kilometre of you is very loud and, really, very scary. Sometimes you hear a whistle followed by a crashing explosion. At other times you just hear the explosion. My first reaction when the shelling woke me up was to go to a high floor – we were in a nine-storey high-rise – and stick my head out the window. After I’d seen a flash not far from us and felt the entire building shake, I went quickly back down the stairs and into the building’s boiler room. A family of three and I sat silently there for half an hour until the shelling stopped. There were people in other towns in the east who’d sat in basements like this for weeks.

The centre of the city was being shelled by howitzers and tanks. On the outskirts of the city I had seen the traces of Grad rockets: a terrifying instrument that burns up much of its length before launching, like a space rocket, and then flies highly inaccurately into enemy territory, generally setting fire to whatever it hits. One night the Ukrainians bombed Donetsk: we heard the planes overhead (otherwise, especially at night, the city was extraordinarily quiet) and then the muffled sound of bombs dropping miles away. The next day we went to see the large craters they’d left in the road. I never once saw an actual military target – the SBU, for example – get hit, only civilian locations. Possibly the army had poor aim; possibly the army was hoping to encourage the remaining civilian population to leave. Or possibly the army didn’t care. Most of the people with means or connections were long gone. As one of Menendez’s friends from Kiev had said – to Menendez’s great annoyance – ‘all the normal people have left already.’ So the shelling increased.


I decided to leave Donetsk after seeing a man getting shoved into the trunk of a car by a group of armed men in fatigues. ‘Get the fuck in there, blyad’!’ one of them shouted at him. The man was blindfolded and had his hands bound behind his back. He was unsteady on his feet, either because he was drunk or they’d beaten him, or both. This was going on a few paces from the headquarters of the DNR, where Mishin was working on an organisation chart for his proposed ministry of sports.

I got on the train and travelled to Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, where the war had begun. Slovyansk, in particular, was a revelation. I had seen photos and videos of it under occupation, when people were being shot in the street. A month after the rebels had left, people were walking around eating ice cream. There were still plenty of ruined buildings, but the atmosphere was almost festive. I saw a group of children who were so cute and happy I wanted to take a photo. I asked their mothers if this was all right, and they said yes, except, they added, they weren’t from Slovyansk. They had come from Yenakievo, Yanukovych’s hometown, where the fighting between government forces and the rebels was fierce. Slovyansk, once a byword for the war, had become a place where people took refuge from it.

Not everyone felt better in Slovyansk after the departure of the DNR. I met a woman who’d been roughed up by ‘investigators’ interested in her vocal support for the separatists. Others, less involved, had simply enjoyed the rebels’ style of governance. ‘When they were here, there was order,’ one man told me. ‘After some of the shelling, there were copper and aluminium wires lying in the streets! No one dared steal them. They chased the Gypsies off from the train station where they sold drugs. There was order!’ As soon as the rebels left, the Gypsies returned, paying the police to look the other way, just as before. In general, things had gone back to the way they were.

But not in Donetsk – not yet, and possibly not for a long time. Even as reports came in that Russian armoured vehicles were crossing the border, the Ukrainian army continued to press into Lugansk and Donetsk. In mid-August the trains stopped running into or out of Donetsk. On Independence Day, the DNR paraded its Ukrainian prisoners of war through the streets. A crowd gathered to watch (the press department of the DNR had sent out invites by email), and people threw eggs and hurled curses at the prisoners. Meanwhile in Kiev the capital was treated to a large military parade. Some of the hardware that had been causing so much damage in the east was rolled down the streets of the city, in the very spot where Maidan had once been. Two days later, a Russian force crossed the border in southern Donetsk province and started heading for Mariupol. They were trying to establish the access to the sea that Litvinov had talked about two weeks earlier. At the time it sounded delusional. Now it was here.

I called Mishin. He was excited about the counteroffensive in the south, though also sick and tired of the war. A friend with whom he’d played football had been out grocery shopping when Makeevka was shelled. He was hit in the head by shrapnel and killed.

Enrique Menendez’s office building had been shelled too. Menendez was upstairs but ran down and outside unharmed. He had shown me the headquarters of the Ad Factory while I was in Donetsk. Inside the empty office eight computers stood silent. Google, one of Menendez’s business partners, had sent him two beanbag chairs, which still sat in their plastic wrapping against a wall. ‘We’re the only company in Donetsk that’s an official Google ad affiliate,’ Menendez said. ‘They were supposed to send those during the holidays, but they only arrived recently. I was so mad at them.’ The Ad Factory’s offices were on the seventh floor. Looking out, we saw on the northern horizon the distinctive grey smoke that rises from a house or other object on fire after a rocket attack. ‘I need to say goodbye to all this, mentally,’ Menendez said. ‘It’s all from a different world.’

29 August


Boston Marathon Bombing Coverage–02 Sep 14

Gelzinis: Dzhokhar’s pal lost in translation
Peter Gelzinis
Boston Herald | August 22, 2014

GUILTY: Dias Kadyrbayev, a college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, with his defense attorney Robert Stahl at his left, pleads guilty yesterday before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock for impeding the investigation into the deadly attack.

Dias Kadyrbayev came to court yesterday flanked by his lawyer and his translator, a woman who looked a lot like my third-grade teacher.

She planted herself by Kadyrbayev’s left shoulder and only sprung into action on those occasions when the 20-year-old Kazakh’s brow wrinkled, or U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock would ask, “Do you understand me?”

The kid nodded politely, answered, “Yes sir,” and “No sir,” but never once, “I understand, your Honor.”

This bit of lost in translation became all the more curious when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Seigmann rose to read six pages of stipulated facts about Dias’ role in trying to get rid of evidence that allegedly ties his UMass Dartmouth buddy, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to the marathon bombings.

The most chilling part, the one without a trace of an accent, was the fateful text exchange Dias had with Tsarnaev on Thursday, April 18, 2013, the night he saw his friend in those pictures the FBI flashed around the world. There was nothing “foreign” about it.

“Yo, bro, u saw the news?” Dias asks.

“Yea bro, I did,” Tsarnaev responds.

“For real?” texts Dias

“I saw the news,” Tsarnaev replies, then follows it up with a warning, “Better not text my friend.”

Though Dzhokhar tries to lighten things up with a quick “LOL,” Dias asks, “U saw yourself in there?” meaning strolling with backpacks among all those unsuspecting strangers on Boylston Street.

Dias then adds, “ahaha…hahaha.”

What kind of virtual laugh do you suppose that was? As it turns out, it became Dias Kadrybayev’s entry into a situation that would have him copping a plea to obstruction of justice. He would find himself up to his ears in a vicious terrorist incident.

When the brief courtroom proceeding was over, Kadrybayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, told reporters that he was convinced his client had no role in the planning of the bombing, or that his friends might be involved.

That might well be true. But when it comes to this horrific act, joining in the cover-up is just as bad. I rode the elevator down yesterday with a sergeant from the Somerville Police Department, a woman who politely declined to say anything beyond, “I needed to be here.”

This cop came to court yesterday to see a kid admit that he obstructed the justice that might well have prevented the murder of MIT police Officer Sean Collier, who had just learned he was going to join the Somerville police.

That text conversation, which is bound to play a role in Dzhokhar’s upcoming trial, ends with Tsarnaev telling Dias “If yu want yu can go to my room and take what’s there…” He ends with “Salam aleikum.”

Dias responds with: “what’s wrong with u?

He should have taken that question to the police.


Boston Marathon bombing: Dias Kadyrbayev guilty of obstructing justice
Prosecutors to ask for seven years or less, but judge will review deal
Associated Press | Aug 21, 2014

Attorney Robert Stahl speaks to media outside federal court in Boston, after his client, Dias Kadyrbayev, pleaded guilty to impeding the investigation into the deadly attack in April 2013. (The Associated Press)

A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded guilty Thursday to impeding the investigation by removing incriminating evidence from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room several days after the deadly attack.

Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, admitted in federal court that he removed Tsarnaev’s laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder from Tsarnaev’s room.

Twin bombs placed near the finish line of the 2013 marathon killed three people and injured more than 260.

Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors said they would ask for no more than seven years in prison. The agreement allows his lawyer to argue for a lesser sentence. The Kazakhstan-born Kadyrbayev also agreed not to fight deportation after he completes his prison sentence.

Judge will review plea agreement

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock set sentencing for Nov. 18 but did not immediately accept the plea agreement, saying he first wanted to review a report that will be prepared by the probation department.

Kadyrbayev’s decision to plead guilty came just two weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial and a month after his friend and co-conspirator, Azamat Tazhayakov, was convicted of identical charges by a jury.

During Tazhayakov’s trial, prosecutors described Kadyrbayev as the leader in the decision to remove the items, but said Tazhayakov agreed with the plan. They said Kadyrbayev was the one who threw away the backpack and fireworks, which were later recovered in a landfill.

Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client made a "terrible error in judgment that he’s paying for dearly."

Stahl emphasized that Kadyrbayev — a native of Kazakhstan who came to the U.S. in 2011 on a student visa — "had absolutely no knowledge" that Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were planning to bomb the marathon and was "shocked and horrified" when he learned they were suspects.

He said Kadyrbayev, who was 19 at the time, "now understands he never should have gone to that dorm room, and he never should have taken any items from that room."

Backpack, laptop taken from dorm room

His plea agreement with prosecutors does not make any mention of him agreeing to testify against a third friend who was also charged. Robel Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators about being present when Kadyrbayev took the items from Tsarnaev’s room. Phillipos is scheduled to go on trial next month.

The backpack, fireworks and laptop were taken from Tsarnaev’s room hours after the FBI publicly released photographs and videos of Tsarnaev and his brother as suspects in the bombing.

Prosecutors said Kadyrbayev exchanged text messages with Tsarnaev after seeing the photos, and Tsarnaev told him he could go to his dorm room and "take what’s there."

Prosecutors said the fireworks had been emptied of explosive powder that can be used to make bombs.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin in November.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s College Friend Pleads Guilty
If a judge accepts the agreement, Dias Kadyrbayev, facing obstruction charges for disposing of Tsarnaev’s backpack after the Marathon bombings, will serve a maximum of seven years.
Susan Zalkind
Boston Daily | August 22, 2014

In a major turnaround, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college friend Dias Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty to charges he obstructed the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings in a court hearing on Thursday.

Wearing a blue shirt and jeans, 20-year-old Kadyrbayev admitted he knew Tsarnaev was a bombing suspect when he went into Tsarnaev’s UMass Dartmouth dorm room and took his laptop and a backpack containing fireworks, Vaseline, and a thumb drive, and then threw the backpack into a dumpster. His guilty plea is the result of an agreement worked out between prosecutors and the defense, whereby Kadyrbayev will only serve a maximum of seven years instead of the potential 25 if found guilty. Judge Douglas Woodlock must still approve the plea agreement for the deal to move forward.

The prosecution said it took 25 agents two days to search through a landfill to find the backpack, and once they did, the items and the backpack had been altered.

“Is it all true?” Woodlock asked.

“Yes,” said Kadyrbayev, with his head down.

He stood solemnly when entering his guilty plea, a shift from his typically jovial mood—he started the hearing by flashing his attorney Robert Stahl a toothy grin. Despite the serious nature of his charges, Kadyrbayev comes off as a bit of a class clown. He has already taken the stand in attempt to suppress statements he made to the FBI on the grounds that he did not understand his Miranda rights. Expert witnesses argued that his reliance on slang masked his inability to comprehend complex phrases. Back in June, his first word to the court was, “Sup?”

Stahl later told reporters that Kadyrbayev has spent the past year alone in his cell, reflecting on his actions. “He understands he should not have gone to that room,” he said. “He did not do so out of malice.” None of the Tsarnaev’s friends facing charges are accused of knowing about the bombing beforehand.

Kadyrbayev’s plea is just the latest in a series of legal happenings stemming from Tsarnaevs associates, coming just a month after his friend and co-conspirator Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction after agreeing with Kadyrbayev to remove and throw out Tsarnaev’s backpack. He could face up to 25 years.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev are both from Kazakhstan. They became friends with Tsarnaev in 2011 during their first semester at UMass because they all spoke Russian and, according to friends’ testimonies, bonded over an interest in video games and weed. In an opening statement, Myers argued that they originally went to Tsarnaev’s room get his marijuana.

Missing from the courtroom yesterday was Robel Phillipos, another friend of Tsarnaev’s who allegedly was in the dorm room when Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov took the backpack. Phillipos is not facing charges of obstructing justice but is facing one count of lying to the FBI. His trial is set for next month.

Phillipos grew up in the same Cambridge apartment complex as Stephen Silva, who was arrested last month for selling heroin and for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number in February 2013. The Ruger model P95 is believed to be the same gun the Tsarnaevs allegedly used to shoot and kill MIT officer Sean Collier.

“He basically let him use it but having no idea what he was going to do with it, and next thing you know, he’s a terrorist,” said a friend of Silva’s who asked not to be named.

Silva was friends with Dzhokhar and has an identical twin Steven Silva, who was reportedly even closer to the Tsarnaevs. Stephen Silva was arrested in November 2013 and told law enforcement, “I smoke weed because my friend is the bomber.” Silva’s friends tell Boston magazine Silva grew increasingly depressed after the bombing. His next court hearing is set for October.

Two additional Tsarnaev friends, Khairullozhon Matanov and Konstantin Morozov, were detained in separate incidents on May 30 of this year. Matanov is charged with three counts of lying to federal authorities and two counts of obstructing justice. His trial is set for June 2015.

Morozov was detained on immigration charges. His attorney Carlos Estrada says Morozov was applying for asylum and was detained after FBI agents asked him to become an informant. Morozov refused.

Tsarnaev’s capital case is set to start in November. The emerging theme from the testimony and documents of Tsarnaev’s associates’ cases is the younger Tsarnaev’s cool demeanor in the days after the bombings. In a video released in Tazhayakov’s trial, Tsarnaev appears to smile nonchalantly on the way to the gym, just a day after the bombings.


Legal analyst Tom Hoopes discusses Kadyrbayev plea
7News Boston WHDH-TV | Aug 21, 2014

BOSTON (WHDH) – Dias Kadyrbayev, a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges Thursday.

Legal analyst Tom Hoopes weighed in on the hearing. He said the outcome of the Azamat Tazhayakov’s trial likely influenced Kadyrbayev’s plea.

"I think probably if they tried this case, exactly the same thing was likely to happen, at least that’s what the defendant and his lawyer thought. The prosecution was going to call all kinds of witnesses and this defendant wasn’t going to have anybody to call, and in this environment, the jury was probably going to find him guilty, and as a result of all that, he was going to do a longer sentence," he said.


Guilty plea opens evidence vs. Tsarnaev
Experts: Prosecutors must prove conspiracy
Bob McGovern
Boston Herald | August 22, 2014

Evidence dug up as part of yesterday’s guilty plea by a former college roommate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be used against the accused Boston Marathon bomber if prosecutors can show they were part of a conspiracy to thwart investigators, according to legal experts.

“If people are considered co-conspirators, anything one says can possibly be used in the case of another,” said Peter Elikann, a Boston criminal defense attorney. “If these guys were doing anything to help Dzhokhar out, and he knew about it, they would be considered co-conspirators since they worked together to achieve a goal — to get rid of the evidence.”

Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to charges that he hindered the investigation into the deadly 2013 bombings. He could spend up to seven years behind bars if Judge Douglas Woodlock approves the agreed-upon plea.

As part of his plea, Kadyrbayev admitted to a series of facts, including a text exchange with Tsarnaev that occurred after the attacks.

One comment could show that Kadyrbayev and pal Azamat Tazhayakov conspired with Tsarnaev to hide a backpack and laptop that were key aspects of the obstruction charge Kadyrbayev admitted to.

“If yu want yu can go to my room and take what’s there (SIC),” Tsarnaev texted Kadyrbayev, after it became clear that Tsarnaev was involved in the twin bombings that killed three and injured more than 260.

The statement, which was made before Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov raided Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dorm room, could show that they were in a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation. If prosecutors prove the conspiracy, Tsarnaev’s words could be used against him as a co-conspirator, even if he isn’t indicted as one, according to an expert.

“As long as the government can establish someone is a co-conspirator in the charged conspiracy, they don’t have to be indicted,” said Brad Bailey, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “It is sufficient to label someone an unindicted co-conspirator. However, the government still must prove the existence of the conspiracy charged and that the unindicted co-conspirator was part of it.”

Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction and conspiracy charges last month. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison when he’s sentenced Oct. 16. Kadyrbayev is set to be sentenced Nov. 18.

A third friend, Robel Phillipos, is charged with lying to investigators.

Boston Marathon Bombing Coverage–01 Sep 14

The Tsarnaev Women Tell Chechnya’s Story
Julia Ioffe
The Moscow News | 23/07/2014

There were three important women in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s life—five, if you count his sisters—and each is a window into the culture to which he seemed to cling in the final years of his life.

First, there is his aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva, a Chechen refugee from Kyrgyzstan and now a resident of Toronto, by way of the U.S. In a press conference the day her nephew Dzhokhar was being hunted in the streets of suburban Boston, Maret, with her rust-colored hair and silvery manicured nails, gave a magnificent performance. She was brassy and assertive, commanding the attention of the reporters calling to her with questions. “I’m lawyer from back home,” she declared, exhorting the FBI to prove to her that her nephews were responsible for the bombing of the Boston marathon. “How difficult is that? Give me evidence!” she demanded, flicking her hand into the air as if peppering the press with her disdain. She talked about her nephews, but also about her youth in Kyrgyzstan, where the Tsarnaev brothers spent part of their childhoods. As a Chechen, Maret said she had to prove her mettle, to go over and above her Kyrgyz and Kazakh peers because, unlike them, “I was not in my land.” Asked about Tamerlan’s radicalization, Maret acknowledged that he did indeed turn to Islam in recent years. “He started praying five times a day, but I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” she said. “You just say words, gratitude to Creator.”

Maret is the old Chechnya: secular, Soviet, severed from its roots, paranoid and cynical in its knowledge, acquired painfully and firsthand, of what a government can do to its subjects. When Maret talked about her nephews being framed, she knew what she was talking about: “Lawyer from back home” actually meant state prosecutor, a key actor in a judicial system that was in practice a political bludgeon, one that actively invented charges against potential opponents. Maret also talked about Islam as a thing that is both native and foreign to her. Islam was something into which she was born, and which, to her, likely, is a set of pleasant traditions and holidays that give her a sense of belonging to an old history. For someone who had a Soviet upbringing, being born a Muslim was akin to being born Chechen; it was just another mark of ethnicity, and, towards the end of the Soviet experiment, didn’t mean much more than having a non-Slavic name.

Enter her sister-in-law, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, wife to her brother Anzor, mother to her nephews Tamerlan and Dzhokhar. You look at that old baby photo of Tamerlan from the late 1980s, and you see Zubeidat looking like a more sullen version of Maret. Her hair is uncovered and fashionably teased; her dress is secular, even stylish. At a press conference in Makhachkala, Dagestan, a quarter of a century later, she is a woman transformed, though the long, morose face is still the same. In between, she had moved from the wasteland that was nominally Buddhist Kalmykia, where Tamerlan had been born, to nominally Muslim Kyrgzystan, had another son, Dzhokhar, and two daughters, emigrated to America, gone to beauty school, married off her older son and daughters with uneven success, was arrested for shoplifting, divorced her husband, and moved back with him to her native Dagestan.

Somewhere along the way, Zubeidat found Islam in a way Maret never did.1 It is said that Zubeidat pushed Tamerlan toward the old faith when he started to lose his way, and it is also said that Mikhail Allakhverdov, the mysterious “Misha,” a Ukrainian-Armenian convert to Islam, had pushed Zubeidat or Tamerlan or both closer to Islam. And from there, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar seem to have moved on to more intense forms of the religion, including an interest in the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. It is something that seems to have percolated through the house and into Zubeidat’s newfound faith: She told one of her customers that the September 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job designed to turn the world against Muslims. “My son knows all about it,” Zubeidat is said to have claimed . “You can read on the Internet.”

Zubeidat is the new Chechnya, and the new Dagestan. At the Makhachkala press conference, she is dressed in a long-sleeved black caftan, her face framed tightly by a black and white hijab. Her mourning is expressive and theatrical, almost Middle Eastern. She talks about how she regrets moving to America— “why did I even go there?”—about how she expected America to keep her children safe, but instead “it happened opposite,” she says, weeping. “America took my kids away.” If the Tsarnaevs hadn’t emigrated, Zubeidat contends, “my kids would be with us, and we would be, like, fine.”

That, in the new Chechnya and the new Dagestan, is highly unlikely. While the Tsarnaevs were in Kyrgyzstan and America, the region began to change rather violently. After the First Chechen War ended in 1996, Chechnya became a mix of lawless wilderness rife with violence and kidnapping, and pockets ruled by fundamentalist warlords, like Aslan Maskhadov. After a second war between Russia and Chechnya broke out in 1999 and dragged on for years, Vladimir Putin installed Ramzan Kadyrov as president of Chechnya. Kadyrov was the son of a separatist mufti and led a vicious militia that switched to the Russian side early in the second war, and become allied with the FSB.

Kadyrov, who now posts photographs of his devout family at play or going on Muslim pilgrimages on his Instagram account, is accused of grotesque human rights violations. He now rules Chechnya with a mix of terror and a torrent of money from Moscow. He has led Chechnya down the path of increasing Islamization. Women are now required to cover up, lest they be harassed by the authorities or, worse, subject to paintball attacks by Kadyrov’s modesty vigilantes. Kadyrov has also voiced his support of honor killings, a rather stark turn for the once secular republic. “Now Chechen women must wear hijab and long dress with long sleeves to go anywhere out of home. There have been many situations of the public humiliation of those who tried to resist,” a Chechen woman told me. She asked to remain anonymous for fear for her family’s safety. “The previous generation was under the radicalization of Wahhabi regime during 1996-1999, but the Wahhabis lost, they didn’t achieve the goal to cover all Chechen women with hijab. But now the government has achieved that goal. This young generation of radicalized girls and boys might be a real threat to the society in the nearest future.”

Even before this policy had firmly taken root, the region became a source of unique terrorism: the female suicide bomber. The first woman to detonate herself was 22-year-old Khava Baraeva, who, in 2000, drove a truck packed with explosives into a local Russian military base, killing three. She was going after the commander who had killed her husband. Other Chechen and Dagestani women followed her lead, blowing up military posts as well as civilian targets inside Russia. Two women, for example, simultaneously brought down two Russian airliners in 2004, killing 89, and two young Dagestani women blew themselves up in the Moscow metro, in March 2010, killing 40. Half of the terrorists who seized the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002 were women, strapped with explosives. Experts estimate that up to 40 percent of suicide bombings originating in the region are perpetrated by women.

The women have come to be known in Russia as “Black Widows.” At home they are known as shakhikdi, the Russianized feminine form shakhid, or martyr. “A lot of the women in these radical Islamic groups, for example, in Indonesia, they don’t get personally involved in frontline warfare but they raise their sons so that if their father is killed, they can step right away into his shoes,” says Mia Bloom, a scholar at Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, and author of Bombshell, a book about women suicide bombers. “Women act as the glue within the terrorist cell,” she explains. “The daughter of one cell leader will marry a cell leader in another area to create linkages, like in 15th century European courts. And the women are to make sure that their men stayed fierce.” Bloom adds that, though it’s hard to do this in the U.S., in conflict zones “the mothers will convey a certain ideology or worldview to the children.” Others, like Mariam Farhat, a Hamas activist, encouraged her sons to go on suicide missions, and publicly bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have more sons to send into battle.

Chechen and Dagestani women took it one step further; they went into battle themselves. It is a stunning paradox, given that at home they live in what Bloom calls “an extraordinarily patriarchal society—so much so that the women at the Dubrovka theater were wearing explosive belts, they were not the ones with the detonators.” The man is the means and the ends of a Chechen home. When a Chechen woman is married, she is not allowed to speak at the wedding. Often, her relatives can’t even come. It is a celebration of the man’s acquisition. “In a Caucasian family, where the man dominates, woman is raised to take care of the man and to sacrifice for the man,” the Chechen woman told me. “The Caucasian code of ethics requires the woman to be modest and quiet. But during the war in Chechnya I have witnessed so many times how Chechen women would step before tanks and armed soldiers, aiming weapons at them, if their men were in danger of being captured or killed. So, this socially required behavior changes when it comes to a life and death issue. Mothers are ready to sacrifice for their sons, sisters for their brothers, wives for husbands, and so on.”

Though Zubeidat refuses to accept her sons’ guilt—“No, never,” she said that day in Makhachkala—and though a Russian wiretap caught her talking with Tamerlan about jihad, it seems unlikely that she would strap herself with explosives and charge forth against the enemy. Chechen and Dagestani mothers usually don’t. And that’s where Katherine Russell comes in, especially after a woman’s DNA was said to have been found on a fragment of the bomb.

Russell, the daughter of a Rhode Island doctor, met Tamerlan at a night club, converted to Islam, and, after marrying the elder Tsarnaev brother, reportedly became more observant and began to pull away from her family. She went to work while her husband stayed home. According to her friends, he was often abusive, calling her a “prostitute” and hurling furniture at her. This too is unfortunately common in the culture: Tamerlan’s naturalization was held up when he faced charges for slapping his girlfriend; his father, in an interview with The New York Times, wondered aloud at the strangeness of this country, where “you can’t touch a woman.”

But unlike a black widow, and unlike Zubeidat and Maret, when her husband was accused of blowing up the Boston Marathon and then died in a shoot-out with police, Russell, the American, did not pick up arms, verbal or physical, to avenge her man. She walked away. His violent attack on the state did not bond her to him; rather, it seemed to rip her out of his orbit, to shame and terrify her where, had Tamerlan been a radical in Dagestan, it may have brought her a certain grief-tinged honor. Instead, Russell issued statements in which she expressed her ignorance of the plot—the DNA was found not to be hers—as well as her shock and her family’s grief for the victims of the bombing. Most tellingly, she declined to claim Tamerlan’s body. Instead, it was claimed by his sisters, who though Americanized and horrified by Tamerlan’s act, said they would give their brother a proper Muslim burial.


Boston Marathon suspect’s sister allegedly threatened to bomb boyfriend’s ex
Associated Press | August 27, 2014

NEW YORK –  Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sister was arrested Wednesday on suspicion she threatened to bomb a woman who previously had a romantic relationship with her boyfriend.

Ailina Tsarnaeva, who lives in North Bergen, N.J., made the threat against an upper Manhattan woman via telephone on Monday, police said. She turned herself in at a Manhattan police precinct, and police charged her with aggravated harassment.



Several media outlets reported that Ms. Tsarnaeva told the Harlem woman she had "people who can go over there and put a bomb on you."

Officers gave Mr. Tsarnaeva an appearance ticket and released her pending a Sept. 30 court date.

A telephone number linked to Mr. Tsarnaeva was disconnected. Her lawyer, George Gormley, said he had left his office and would speak Thursday.

Ms. Tsarnaeva has been required to check in with Massachusetts probation officers since prosecutors said she failed to cooperate with a 2010 counterfeiting investigation.

Prosecutors said Ms. Tsarnaeva picked up someone who passed a counterfeit bill at a restaurant at a Boston mall and "lied about certain salient facts during the investigation."

At a hearing last October, Mr. Gormley said Ms. Tsarnaeva was pregnant with her second child and was unlikely to flee.

Ms. Tsarnaeva once lived in Cambridge, Mass., at an apartment linked to her brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who were the subjects of an intense manhunt in the Boston area in the days after the deadly April 2013 marathon bombing.

Records show Ms. Tsarnaeva now lives with a sister, Bella Tsarnaeva.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with building and planting the two pressure-cooker bombs that exploded near the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a gunbattle with police.


Defense Seeks to Move Trial on Boston Marathon Bombing
NYT | AUG. 8, 2014

BOSTON — Citing “an overwhelmingly massive and prejudicial storm of media coverage” here, lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused in last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, pressed their case this week for moving his trial to Washington.

In papers filed here in federal court, Judy Clarke, the lead defense lawyer, wrote in response to prosecutors’ arguments: “Although the government insists that Mr. Tsarnaev has not been portrayed in a negative light, ‘but rather [as] the sympathetic young man who appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone,’ the actual data show he has been portrayed as a monster, a terrorist, depraved, callous and vile. He is viewed as an outsider, a foreigner, disloyal and ungrateful.”

The defense team had already sketched out its arguments for moving the trial, which is scheduled to begin in early November. In papers filed in June, the defense said its research had found an “overwhelming presumption of guilt” in Massachusetts against Mr. Tsarnaev in the bombings of April 15, 2013, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. Mr. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the 30 counts against him, 17 of which carry the death penalty.

In filings on Thursday evening, the defense sought to bolster those earlier arguments with almost 10,000 pages of supporting documents. They included extensive analyses of news media coverage and community attitudes performed by Edward J. Bronson, a professor emeritus at California State University, Chico.

Mr. Bronson was part of the team that argued unsuccessfully for the insider-trading trial of Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, to be moved out of Houston, where the company was based. The court in that case ruled that pretrial publicity did not preclude a fair trial.

The Tsarnaev case is more frequently compared to that of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were killed. The court held that prejudice against Mr. McVeigh in Oklahoma was so great that he could not obtain a fair trial there, and it moved the proceedings to Denver. In that case, the federal courthouse where the trial would have been held had been damaged in the bombing, and waiting for repairs would have delayed the start of the trial.

In papers filed here, Mr. Bronson said the Tsarnaev case “is more like the Oklahoma City bombing case, where a whole state was found by the trial court to be biased, than the city of Houston in the Skilling case.”

Ms. Clarke, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, added that the marathon bombing “has been portrayed, and is likely perceived, as a direct attack on Boston, its institutions, its traditions and each of its residents.”

Mr. Bronson said his analysis of coverage by The Boston Globe showed that it had run 2,420 articles on the bombing in a 15-month period, a volume that he called “extraordinarily high.” The Globe’s themes, words, phrases and passages constituted inflammatory overload, he said.

Brian McGrory, editor of The Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the marathon bombing, said in response, “We believe our coverage to be fair, accurate and comprehensive, and will let our work speak for itself.”

It is not clear when the judge in the case, George A. O’Toole Jr., will decide whether the trial should be moved. The government will probably ask for time to respond to the latest filings.

Jeremy Sternberg, a former federal prosecutor in Boston and now a partner in the Boston office of the law firm of Holland & Knight, said the defense filings indicated that there were jurisdictions outside Boston, like Washington, that might be less prejudiced. But, he said, “they have not demonstrated that you can’t find a fair and impartial jury” in eastern Massachusetts.