Russian troops executed one of their own men in Kharkiv after the February 24 invasion, then hid his identity so they could use him in an elaborate propaganda ploy.
That says a report released Wednesday by independent news channel Verstka, which traced the identity of the young soldier nearly six months after his death in the Kharkov region.
Ivan Levankov was killed on the first day of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, when reports of Russian troops targeting civilians began to trickle in. And his death was no secret at the time — it was captured practically in real time by a Ukrainian woman named Karolina Perlifon who posted images of the dramatic scene to Instagram.
“The Russians killed my mother!” Perlifon wrote in the viral post, alongside heartbreaking footage of herself sharing how Russian troops opened fire on her and her mother as they tried to flee the invading forces.
Amid the chaos, she wrote, two young Russian troops “barely holding their weapons” had rushed at them, and one of them threw her to the ground to protect her from heavy artillery fire, yelling: “Don’t . shoot… we’re yours [guys].”
That soldier was immediately shot and fell on her, she said.
Russian propaganda went into overdrive with claims that a Russian soldier was “heroically” killed by Ukrainian “Nazis” while protecting two civilians from artillery fire. The story was a win for the Kremlin’s story that Russian troops were on a humanitarian mission, and it spread like wildfire in the Russian media.
Families of Russian troops appear in Kremlin to appeal to Putin and destroy military copper
But the soldier’s identity was always omitted, and he soon became known only as “the unknown soldier” in pro-Kremlin records of the day.
And according to Perlifon, the secrecy surrounding his identity had only one purpose: to prevent the public from ever finding out that he had been killed by his own men for helping Ukrainians.
“He died saving us,” Perlifon was quoted as saying to Verska. “That soldier was with us and he was shot by his own people.”
The Russian soldier who had been with Levankov at the time of his death, Valery Vasilyev, was injured that day and was treated at a Ukrainian hospital. Footage later released by the Ukrainian security service showed him first identifying Levankov when he testified that they had been ordered by their commanders to block roads out of Kharkov and shoot at civilians as they tried to evacuate.
But when they saw Perlifon and her mother, they tried to get them to safety, he said, and “the lieutenant colonel noticed that we were rescuing civilians, and he gave the order to shoot us and them.”
It was not immediately clear whether Vasilyev is still in Ukrainian custody, as a list of Russian prisoners published by Ukrainian authorities was no longer available.
According to Verstka, Levankov was not laid to rest until late June, when a regional newspaper in his hometown in Russia’s Smolensk region announced his funeral on social media without detailing the circumstances of his death. Wreaths from the Russian Defense Ministry were placed near his grave, where his death date was listed as February 24.
But while local authorities and religious figures have made a show of publishing and attending the funerals of other Russian troops from the fallen area in Ukraine, Verstka reports that Levankov’s funeral was bizarrely kept secret. Local lawmakers and religious authorities in the small town where he grew up knew nothing about it, and the deputy governor said his name was not on the list of military dead in the region, despite his prominence in pro-Kremlin propaganda.
For Perlifon, it makes perfect sense that the Russian authorities should erase Levankov from public memory because, as she told Verska, it is “easier for them to just bury him and not let anyone know or remember him about him. To tell the truth? They will never tell the truth in their lives.”
Read more at The Daily Beast.
Get the Daily Beast’s biggest scoops and scandals straight to your inbox. Sign up now.
Stay informed and get unlimited access to Daily Beast’s unparalleled reporting. Subscribe now.