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Russian soldier in grenade-dropping Ukraine drone video purportedly identified, interviewed

Readers of DroneDJ will remember a story published earlier this month about video captured by a Ukraine drone – which later went viral – as it dropped a series of grenades on a Russian soldier lying on his side, who responded by irritably tossing the munitions away before they exploded. Now information has arisen claiming to add details to the story behind the footage.

Given the provenance of the reports – an English version of Pravda – it would be wise to factor in an even larger dose of discretion in contemplating the account than usual in claims flowing from a conflict in which manipulating communication (when not flagrant disinformation) has routinely been used as a tool of war by all sides.

Fact-checkers and distributors of large grains of salt have been warned.

Read moreUkraine drone video captures Russian soldier tossing away grenades before they detonate

According to Pravda (which itself relied on third-party media to piece its story together), the soldier videoed by the bomb-dropping Ukraine drone is Rustam Khudaynurov, identified as a member of the 127th battalion in the 5th brigade of the People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic. That last detail would suggest he’s from Ukraine, or had joined those separatist forces.

In an earlier story, the publication said Khudaynurov was an infantry soldier with the 138th motorized rifle brigade hailing from Leningrad – quite a trick since the city has been called Saint Petersburg since 1991. That piece also identified him “Alexi S” – not even close enough to its current rendition for cigar ashes.

Quoting from a piece it sourced to “Life publication” (which, if the Life would be another feat, since it hasn’t been in print since 2007), Pravda quotes Khudaynurov saying the Ukraine drone dropped a total of eight grenades on him, only three of which appear in the video. In that footage, the Russian soldier seen lying on his side in a trench snatches the bombs up and chucks them away shortly before they detonate. 

Though Pravda does not say so, enlarged footage of the video shot by the Ukraine drone as it drops grenades on the soldier reveals what appears to be a blood-soaked bandage or piece of cloth under his arm – possibly an injury the could explain his generally lethargic, prostate movements in what was clearly an urgent situation. 

“A ‘bird’ flew up and dropped the first grenade,” Khudaynurov is quoted saying. “I passed out for a little bit, but then I crawled away a little. And then it started approaching me, dropping bombs.”

Pravda says Khudaynurov tossed away four bombs dropped directly on him; three others landed outside the trench; and the last – as seen in the Ukraine drone video – blew up near his feet. The publication says the Russian soldier eventually escaped and returned to his unit, and is currently in the hospital being treated for shrapnel wounds – though whether those were suffered before or after the UAV attack is not specified.

ReadDrone performance in Ukraine may force military strategy rethink 

In its initial story on the soldier in the video, Pravda says the Russian only had between 3.2 to 4.2 seconds to get rid of the grenades the Ukraine drone dropped before they’d explode. Its source cited for that fact, however, is the notorious pro-Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, who has stirred international fury over his frequently outrageous TV commentary about Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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Avatar for Bruce Crumley Bruce Crumley

Bruce Crumley is journalist and writer who has worked for Fortune, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, The Guardian, AFP, and was Paris correspondent and bureau chief for Time magazine specializing in political and terrorism reporting. He splits his time between Paris and Biarritz, and is the author of novel Maika‘i Stink Eye.