After the images of the torture and execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war spread all over the internet, The Insider and Bellingcat started searching for the culprits. Bellingcat managed to establish that the torture of the prisoner of war took place at the site of the Privolye sanatorium in the Luhansk region and that the fighters from the “Akhmat” battalion took part in the torture. The Insider spoke with the torturer, a Tuvan named Ochur-Suge Mongush (born in 1993), who tried to deny his involvement but gave himself away by getting confused in his own testimony.
A sadist in the hat
The sadist's face
Sadist's phone and new photos
A Conversation with the Sadist
On July 28, two videos of the torture and execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war circulated on pro-Kremlin social media. The videos were first posted on the Russian Telegram channel “Cargo 200,” dedicated to casualties among Ukrainian soldiers, and then on the Telegram channel Rosich, run by a group of mercenary nationalists.
The clips were initially welcomed by the channel's administrators and most of the commenting users, until a few hours later they were suddenly dismissed as “probable fakes” allegedly thrown into pro-Russian channels by Ukrainian agents to discredit the Russian army.
The footage shows soldiers in Russian uniform torturing a bound Ukrainian prisoner of war with a knife, abusing him, and then executing him with a shot to the head. There have been attempts by various media outlets to identify the main perpetrator, flaunting a cowboy hat, but those attempts have been misguided.
A sadist in the hat
The video of the torture and execution of the prisoner of war consists of two videos from which it is difficult to determine the location and time, but there are many other details which were closely analyzed by the Conflict Intelligence Team. First of all, the perpetrator's hat with a seashell pattern and tassels above the brim catches the eye:
A fragment of the hat caught in the frame in the first video
In addition, the second video shows a black bracelet on the killer's left wrist:
The same bracelet can be seen in the footage depicting the sadist in surgical gloves, mutilating the prisoner:
He is wearing a Ukrainian military shirt (not uncommon for poorly supplied Russian mercenaries in Ukraine). An equally important detail in the background is a white car with a black “Z” spray-painted onto the passenger door. The model of the car is IKCO Samand, a four-door sedan made in Iran.
Both the man and the car can be found in other videos. In at least five videos you can see the same “cowboy” with the bracelet, and in significantly better resolution (RT, RIA Novosti, Patrick Lancaster, Investigations and Portraits, Kadyrov 95).
Two screenshots from a video report published by RT of “Akhmat” fighters at the Azot plant in Severodonetsk
For example, on June 27, RT and RIA Novosti published their videos shot at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk. The facility, which housed hundreds of civilians fleeing the invasion, was taken over by Russian mercenaries, including those from the Chechen “Akhmat” battalion, on June 25. When an “Akhmat” fighter with a Chechen flag patch on his arm speaks to the camera, a “cowboy” in an identical hat can be seen getting ammunition in the background.
Another still image from the video shows black bracelets identical to those in the torture video.
A video published on June 28 by pro-Kremlin American blogger Patrick Lancaster shows the same group of “Akhmat” fighters, along with the sadistic man wearing the hat, in Severodonetsk. The same video shows the IKCO Sarmand with the letter “Z” spray-painted on it.
Finally, on July 11, the YouTube channel Investigations and Portraits published a half-hour long video shot near the Donetsk River west of Lysychansk, which was then under Russian control. In the footage, the “cowboy's” bracelet is particularly clearly visible, as is the military shirt with the same armband on the left arm.
But, of course, the main detail that allowed us to identify the perpetrator and compare his image on various videos is his face.
The sadist's face
We were able to identify the “sadistic cowboy” with the help of face search sites. The site search4faces found an Odnoklassniki profile of a person named Ochur-Suge Mongush, but it displayed an insufficient level of reliability - 55%.
A screenshot from search4faces showing Ochur-Suge Mongush's profile
Then using Findclone, which searches for faces on VKontakte, we identified one of the members of the group of killers, with his profile registered under the name Zhenya Zibrov; his friends, judging by their profiles, fought with “Akhmat” in Ukraine. Exploring Zibrov's wider network of contacts, we found a group photo of “Akhmat” fighters in Chechnya.
In the center of this photo is a man (wearing a cap) who looks very much like the “sadistic cowboy”; after searching for this face on FindClone the VK profile of Ochur-Suge Mongush popped up again, but this time with a much higher degree of reliability - 73% (in practice, numbers above 70% on that service mean that there is no doubt as to the person’s identity).
Most of the publicly available photos of Ochur were about six years old, but more recent photos could be found on his Facebook page. Using a picture of his Facebook profile posted in 2019, we tried to find additional photos on Pimeyes that might help with identification. Several results included footage from the original RIA Novosti and RT videos:
Sadist's phone and new photos
Doing a search on VKontakte for the name Ochur-Suge Mongush, we found his ad in a Tuva group about a lost driver's license where he left his two phone numbers:
A screenshot from a public VK group for residents of Tuva, with Mongush's two phone numbers
A search based on those numbers led to links to Mongush’s two VKontakte profiles, which we used to find new photos and confirm that those phone numbers were indeed used by Mongush.
According to one of the photos, Mongush used to work for the Ministry of Emergency Situations:
A Conversation with the Sadist
We managed to talk to Ochur-Suge Mongush, and although he denied his involvement, his testimony definitively confirmed his guilt. He said that he hadn't tortured anyone and had never held a gun in his hands but was simply accompanying Russian journalists and that the video of him was simply doctored. He also claimed that immediately after the video was posted he received a phone call from his journalist friends. He told them the video was fabricated, and they advised him to visit the FSB and show his travel documents, from which it was clear when he arrived and left. Mongush claims that the FSB held him for two days, convinced him that the video was fabricated, and then told him that the video had actually been posted by the AFU and had fallen into the hands of the Ukrainians when they found the criminal who raped a 10-year-old child. Ochur-Suge also said that many people had a hat like his, and that he had never seen the car featured in the torture video. At the same time, Mongush admitted and repeated several times that it was really him in the video shot at the site of the “Azot” plant.
Thus, thanks to the phone call it was possible to establish that the person in the RT video was indeed Ochur-Suge Mongush. It is also obvious that Mongush was not telling the truth when he denied that he had never seen the car with the letters “Z” on it, since it is clearly visible in the Lancaster video, the authenticity of which Mongush did not deny. Mongush himself admits that his journalist friends whom he accompanied called him immediately after the story was published, telling him, “look what a load of crap they've written about you”, that is, in his own words, his friends immediately identified him in the video. If Mongush is to be believed, it turns out that the AFU soldiers found a video of a certain rapist mutilating a Ukrainian soldier, and then for some reason doctored it so that the rapist looked like Mongush, with all the little details, including the patterns on his hat and bracelets. Even if we accept that the AFU really wanted to defame the unknown Tuvinian for some reason, it is unclear how the car from the torture video appeared in the video of the pro-Kremlin blogger Lancaster, because definitely no-one doctored that video.
Mongush also claimed he had been told by the FSB that the video was filmed in Privolye, a sanatorium on the eastern bank of the Northern Donets. And indeed, after comparing certain stills from the torture footage and photos from the sanatorium, Bellingcat was able to find a place near the sanatorium, where there is a sewer manhole and a tree with a split trunk nearby, as seen in the video.
There are also similarities in the curbstone cracks:
Finally, in one of the videos, “Ahmat” fighters appear in front of the sanatorium along with the “sadistic cowboy”:
Mongush against the background of the Privolye sanatorium
The Investigations and Portraits channel video with the participation of the “Akhmat” fighters was shot literally dozens of meters away from the torture spot located by Bellingcat:
Thus, it appears that while speaking about the crime scene Mongush inadvertently told the truth. But in many other cases he blatantly lied, and not only in the case of the car which he allegedly did not see. For example, he claimed he had nothing to do with the “Akhmat” battalion, but he is present in the photos with the “Akhmat” fighters, including those taken in Chechnya. He claimed he had never held a gun in his hands, but on his Vkontakte page (now deleted) he posted photos with weapons:
He also claimed he had returned “home,” where he felt safer because no-one would find him, but he repeated several times that he was currently in Moscow. However, he had never lived in Moscow before: opensource data and the registration database suggest he lived in Kyzyl and St. Petersburg.
One way or another, Mongush's confession is very important: before the conversation with him, it was established beyond doubt that the person in the “Akhmat” video shot at Azot plant was the same person who appeared on the torture video, and that a man named Mongush who closely resembled the torturer had served with “Akhmat”; yet hypothetically it was possible that two very similar people with Mongoloid features had served with “Akhmat”. However, Mongush's confession that he was the man in the hat on the video from the Azot plant eliminates every last doubt.