Two years ago, the Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko was executed near Izyum. The official investigation suspects Luhansk militants. But Truth Hounds thinks of the FSB and a Russian colonel. Key investigation facts

Oleksandr Myasishchev
Dmytro Rayevskyi
Two years ago, the Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko was executed near Izyum. The official investigation suspects Luhansk militants. But Truth Hounds thinks of the FSB and a Russian colonel. Key investigation facts

Volodymyr Vakulenko.


On March 24, 2022, Russians kidnapped the Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko in the village of Kapitolivka near Izyum. He was the author of 13 books, mostly for children, and the laureate of numerous literary prizes. For many months, nothing was known about the fate of the writer. After the liberation of Izyum, Vakulenkoʼs body was found at the place of mass burials under number 319. On January 24, 2024, President Zelenskyy posthumously awarded Vakulenko with the Order of Merit. The Prosecutor Generalʼs Office suspects four militants of the "LPR" in the murder. However, it turned out that, in fact, Russian military personnel, in particular the FSB and a colonel of the Russian army, were involved in this. This was the conclusion reached by the Truth Hounds investigative team, which spent a year and a half investigating the murder. The initiator of the investigation was the writer and documentarian of the Truth Hounds organization Victoria Amelina, who was killed by the Russians on June 27, 2023 in Kramatorsk. On April 11, 2024, Truth Hounds presented the results of its work. Babel correspondent Oleksandr Myasyshchev listened to the report and recounts the main points of the investigation into the writerʼs murder.

On March 7, 2022, Russian troops entered Kapitolivka, where Volodymyr Vakulenko lived. Most of the occupiers are soldiers of the 488th Motorized Rifle Regiment and the 856th Guards Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment. The latter is commanded by Colonel Aleksandr Melnikov. Locals say that there were also units of the Russian Guard and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation in the village. In a few days, units of the "LPR" also appeared there. According to the locals, they obeyed the Russians: usually the militants detained and kidnapped civilians, and then handed them over to the Russians.

For the first time, the occupiers kidnapped Vakulenko on March 22 from his house, where he lived with his father and young son. Volodymyr was preparing food in the yard, when suddenly at least four representatives of the "LPR" entered the yard. They asked the father: "Where is your nationalist?" and took the writer with his son. The writer and the child were taken to the “LPR” headquarters in Kapitolivka, where there was also a torture chamber.

There, the writer was interrogated, stripped, searched for tattoos and beaten. After a few hours, he was released and told not to leave the village. At the same time, Vakulenkoʼs house was searched: all his documents and books were taken away.

And on March 24, 2022, the occupiers again came to Vakulenko and took him away. The writer was taken in the direction of Izyum. Since then, no one has seen Vakulenko. However, on April 3, 2022, the Russian propaganda Telegram channel "Older than Edda" published a video in which investigators later identified Vakulenko. In the video, Russian soldiers throw out a lot of rare weapons from an armored car, and later take out a man with a cap on his face. According to the description of the video, a man was detained in Kapitolivka.

Volodymyr Vakulenkoʼs fatherʼs calendar, on which the date of his sonʼs abduction is marked.


The fact that it was Vakulenko in the video was evidenced by the manʼs physique, as well as the clothes he was wearing. It was in such clothes that Vakulenkoʼs body was later found. But the weapon that the Russians showed then did not belong to him. Its owner is another resident of Kapitolivka, Viktor Stolyarov, participant of the military operatio in Donbas until 2022 who was interested in antiques and reconstructions. He died on March 9, 2022 in the battles for Izyum.

The video with Vakulenko was recorded in the backyard of Izyum School No. 2. There, on March 12, the Russians set up a base and a torture chamber. The video was shot between March 13 and April 3 — between the day the Russians occupied the school and the date the video was published. It was during this period of time that Vakulenko was also kidnapped.

Footage from the detention of Volodymyr Vakulenko by the occupiers.

Locals found the body of the writer on May 12, 2022 in a ditch between Kapitolivka and Izyum. How it got there and who brought it is unknown. It was deformed, so it could not be identified. The writerʼs body was buried in an unmarked grave at number 319 in Izyum. Only after the liberation of the city, exhumation and DNA examination was it possible to confirm that this is Volodymyr Vakulenko.

The official suspects in the case are "LPR" fighters with the callsigns "Lev" (unit commander), "Udod", "Akademik" and "Kirʼyan". The immediate intention to kill Vakulenko arose from the commander, the investigation says. "Udod" shot the writer twice with Makarov pistol — Vakulenko died on the spot.

It was the Russians who sought and wanted to kill Vakulenko. At the beginning of the occupation of Kapitolivka, the writer was actively sought by the commander of the 856th self-propelled artillery regiment, Colonel Aleksandr Melnikov with the call sign "Ufa". He was the commandant of the village and commanded all units of the Russian Federation that were there. It was he who gave orders to beat civilians in Kapitolivka.

In Kapitolivka, Colonel Melnikov asked locals where Vakulenko was, and mentioned that he "was on the Maidan." In addition, the FSB knew about Vakulenko in detail — service employees directly told his relative about this when he was leaving the occupation. The FSB had all of Vakulenkoʼs personal data, contacts, and addresses — the service carefully worked on his file. Currently, there is no evidence that it was Melnikov who gave the order to execute Vakulenko. However, it is certainly known that the Russians were looking for him and wanted to detain him.

"This gives grounds for asserting a Russian trail in the case of Vakulenkoʼs kidnapping and murder. He was targeted because of his actively expressed pro-Ukrainian position," Truth Hounds investigators say.

Colonel Aleksandr Melnikov at the May 9 celebration.

The involvement of the colonel in the kidnapping is also indicated by the armored car in which Vakulenko was taken to occupied Izyum. It was "Tiger-M" — a specific modification, which has a large loudspeaker "Yazikoved". Such cars are intended for psychological pressure on the population and military personnel on the front line. This car was seen in Izyum at the beginning of the occupation, it was Colonel Melnikov who drove it.

"Indeed, there is no clear picture with all the participants, written orders with names that would directly indicate who planned and committed the murder. However, the Russian military is present at every stage of the murder. These facts can become an impetus for further investigation," explained Maryna Slobodyaniuk, head of the Truth Hounds investigation department.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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