On Sunday, April 2, 2023, Vladlen Tatarsky, a prominent military blogger who supported Russia’s war in Ukraine, was killed by a bomb blast in a cafe in St. Petersburg. The bomb was hidden in a bust of the blogger that was given to him as a gift by a woman who was later arrested as a suspect. Tatarsky, whose real name was Maxim Fomin, had more than 560,000 followers on Telegram, where he posted his reports and opinions on the conflict in Ukraine. He was known for his criticism of the Russian military leadership and his calls for more aggressive actions against Kyiv. He also attended a Kremlin ceremony last September where Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia’s annexation of four partly occupied regions of Ukraine.
Tatarsky was hosting a discussion with other pro-war commentators at the Street Bar cafe on the banks of the Neva River when the explosion occurred. According to witnesses and video footage, he was presented with a statue of a helmeted soldier by a woman who claimed to be his fan. He joked about the bust and put it on the table next to him. Minutes later, the bust exploded, killing Tatarsky and injuring more than thirty people, some of them critically.
The woman who delivered the bomb was identified as Darya Tryopova, a 26-year-old St. Petersburg resident who had been previously detained for taking part in anti-war rallies. She was arrested on Monday morning after a search in an apartment in St. Petersburg.
The motive behind the killing of Tatarsky remains unclear. Some speculate that he was targeted by Ukrainian agents or radical groups who opposed his views and actions. Others suggest that he may have fallen out of favor with some factions within the Russian establishment or the Wagner paramilitary group, which he often accompanied on the frontlines. The Russian authorities said that the attack was planned by Ukrainian security agencies with the involvement of people who cooperated with an anti-corruption foundation created by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that he did not blame Kyiv for the attack and that it was likely the work of “a group of radicals not linked to a government”.
The death of Tatarsky has sparked an outpouring of grief and anger among his supporters and fellow bloggers, as well as condemnation and suspicion from his critics and opponents. Some have called him a hero and a martyr, while others have accused him of being a warmonger and a propagandist. His killing has also raised questions about the security situation in Russia and the risks faced by journalists and bloggers who cover sensitive topics. Tatarsky’s case is not the first one of its kind in Russia. In recent years, several journalists and bloggers who reported on or expressed opinions about the war in Ukraine have been killed, attacked, or threatened by unknown assailants. Some examples are Pavel Sheremet, Oles Buzina, Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, and Yevgeny Zhumchev. The perpetrators of these crimes have rarely been brought to justice.
The violent death of Vladlen Tatarsky has exposed the dangers and complexities of covering and commenting on one of the most controversial and violent conflicts in Europe today. It has also shown how fragile and polarized the Russian media landscape is, where dissenting voices are often silenced or marginalized by violence or censorship.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Anton Vaganov