Authorities are investigating the murder of a 19-year-old Russian conscript in his motorized rifle regiment near Voronezh. The Western MD at first reported he died of a heart attack, but he was apparently beaten to death.
The regiment is a troubled unit where other servicemen have been murdered, died under suspicious circumstances, or committed suicide in recent years.
Last fall Stepan Tsymbal was called up to the army from his home near Korenovsk, Krasnodar territory. He was sent to military unit 91711 — the 252nd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 3rd MRD in Boguchar, Voronezh region.
He served in the regiment’s material-support company, possibly as a cook. The regiment was deployed to a field encampment on the Pogonovo range for training in early February.
Tsymbal was found dead on February 10. The commanding officer informed his family the next morning. They were told his heart stopped. The Western MD initially and inexplicably reported no signs of violence on Tsymbal’s body. However, the death notice from his regiment even indicated he was the victim of a violent attack.
According to Yuga.ru, the Investigative Department for the Voronezh garrison opened a murder investigation on February 11.
The military returned his body on February 13 but his family wasn’t allowed to view it completely. But they didn’t need to see much to see Stepan was beaten to death.
His stepfather Dmitriy told Yuga.ru:
“They didn’t show us the body fully. We saw his face a little. His mouth was all bloody, as if his teeth had been kicked in. It was also like he had no eyes, gauze was placed on them. And his entire face was wrapped [with gauze] and poured over with some kind of glue. In the temple area, we also saw a hematoma, a dent. And his hands were also very strange. Some kind of black like they hadn’t been washed.”
Dmitriy told the regional news agency that, in regular calls home, Stepan hadn’t complained about military service or mentioned any hazing or abuse.
His body came back without his documents, mobile phone, or the crucifix and glasses he wore, according to his stepfather.
His family said Stepan had no previous heart ailments. He passed through the normal medical exams prior to entering the service and the doctors had found nothing to keep him out of the army, according to the Kuban edition of Komsomolskaya pravda.
According to KP-Kuban, Stepan’s other relatives said:
“His mouth was bloody, near the temple there was a dent and hematoma. It was like he didn’t have eyes, gauze was on them, and his entire face was simply wound with bandages poured over with some kind of glue. The impression is as if they tried to hide something.”
His hands were reportedly purple in color right up to the wrist.
KP-Kuban reported that it obtained part of an investigative report saying:
“They found Tsymbal in the dishwashing tent, on the floor. He was in a sitting position with legs and arms taped together and stretched out in front. And there was a plastic bag on his head, wrapped around his neck with adhesive tape.”
The news agency’s source said his head was beaten. There was a large abrasion on the back of the head, so it’s possible he died from a closed head injury.
Relatives said they’d heard a lot about his unit, and other guys who died there. So, they won’t let the case be hushed up and want the guilty to be found and punished to the extent of the law.
According to Lenta.ru, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers says two servicemen have already been arrested on suspicion of involvement in his death while four others who found the body are being detained by base security.
It seems likely the law and order situation in Russia’s military has improved over the past five or six years since the armed forces have received greater funding and political attention. But the savage killing of Tsymbal shows it’s still not exactly safe for young Russians to serve in the army.
Furthermore, it’s difficult to gauge how frequently conscripts are dying today because the Kremlin and MOD have made a concerted effort to suppress bad news whenever possible. Their next step will be to lean on Tsymbal’s family or pay them off to stay quiet about what happened to him.
Today’s press said Tsymbal’s parents have created a petition addressed to the MOD, Main Military Prosecutor, and Main Military Investigative Directorate demanding punishment for the unit’s commander and the disbanding of the regiment.
Reports on the condition of the boy’s body have become more graphic and gruesome saying that half his face was gone. It certainly sounds like something more than a murder in the heat of the moment. It seems like someone was trying to send other soldiers a message.
See this old post covering Gazeta.ru’s reporting about this troubled regiment where Stepan Tsymbal served.
Officers reportedly often extorted money from conscripts for the “needs of the unit.” They also used soldiers from the material-support battalion as enforcers to keep other troops in line. The unit canteen was supposedly used as a “mobile trading post” for the financial benefit of officers. Perhaps something akin to this had some part in Tsymbal’s death. But there are likely plenty of men in the unit who know what led to this if they aren’t afraid to talk and are allowed to.
The case of Stepan Tsymbal might be galvanizing like that of Andrey Sychev. At least, it could take considerable effort for the Kremlin and military to quash it.