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Senior Sailor Kirill Cherepakhin

BMP-3 Gunner-operator
47th Air Assault Battalion, 155th Naval Infantry Battalion

     One of the most researched and provenanced pieces I’ve come across from Ukraine, this jacket belonged to Senior Sailor Kirill Cherepakhin, a BMP-3 gunner of the 47th Air Assault Battalion, 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, who was wounded by Ukrainian artillery outside Teterivs’ke on 21 March 2022.

     Kirill Cherepakhin was born in December 1997 in the far-eastern Russian city of Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai. He grew up in the city and worked within a consumer cooperative but enlisted in the Russian Navy sometime in the late 2010s. He was eventually selected for service in the Russian Naval Infantry, the elite marine branch of the Russian military, and trained as an armored vehicle crewman. Being from Ussuriysk, he was assigned to the 155th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade based out of Vladivostok, less than a hundred kilometers away from his hometown. The 155th, created in 2009, serves as part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet and saw much action in Chechnya and Syria throughout the 2010s.

     Cherepakhin, now a Senior Sailor, was assigned as a vehicle crewman within the brigade’s 47th Air Assault Battalion, the organic air assault unit composing half of the brigade’s standard infantry detachment. Here Cherepakhin joined a BMP-3 team, a newer Russian infantry fighting vehicle and an increasingly common primary support vehicle for the units of the 155th, as a Gunner-Operator. Sometime in early 2022 Cherepakhin and his brigade were transferred to the southern border of Belarus for “training exercises” far from their home of Vladivostok. This was his disposition at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

     In the early morning hours of 24 February 2022, just after a surprise speech from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cherepakhin and his unit were given the green light to stop their “exercises” and drive across the Ukrainian border, invading the nation and entering full-scale war. The 155th, positioned between Kirov and Pryp’yat’, began its assault by pushing deep into Kyiv Oblast along the Dnipro River, reaching the area around Ivankiv before the brigade and other Russian units were halted on 26 February by the mass of Ukrainian defensive forces gathered to push back the invaders. It was here that the slogging onslaught of the war began as the marines and other elite Russian forces of the north, bearing the distinctive “V” marking upon their vehicles, faced severe resistance from determined Ukrainian defenders. For the next several weeks this area, just north and around Ivankiv, became the focal point of 155th operations as they sought to break the Ukrainian line to reach the capital.

     By 21 March the 155th had developed a defensive trench line along the Kropyvnya River between Zhereva, occupied by the marines, and Teterivs’ke, the target of their attack. The Russian forces were positioned along the northern side of the river while the Ukrainian defenders, most likely the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade, held heavy fortifications on the southern side. The fighting was back and forth with the only constant being an insane level of Russian artillery pounding all along the Ukrainian territory, completely flattening the town of Teterivs’ke in the process. Even so, the Ukrainians held strong and the Russian marines sought to find a way to break the line.

     On the 21st a column of around fourteen BMP-3s from the 47th Air Assault Battalion began traveling along a concealed path within the forest north of the fighting positions along the river. With the path under forest cover and roughly 4-500 meters behind the Russian lines, the BMPs traveled casually with marines riding on top and their crews driving with hatches open. Amongst one of these crews was none other than Cherepakhin. The column was going down the path toward the Myslyvs’ka Baza, a hunting camp in the middle of the forest, to prepare for a potential armored attack against the Ukrainian lines. By the time they reached the end of the path, however, the plan quickly fell apart.

     While stopped along the forest past near the end of the road the column was sighted by Ukrainian forces, likely by some hidden observer or drone. Not long after it halted, the marines were met with massive barrage of heavy 120mm mortars from Ukrainian troops, tearing apart the forest and raining shrapnel down upon the exposed marines riding atop and peeking out of their BMPs. The results were devastating. Two BMPs were totally destroyed while marines across the column were hit by the pinpoint artillery and those not struck went into emergency procedures to gather and save those who were. With the exposure of the open road many of the wounded were dragged a short distance off the road into the forest floor where they were stripped of their heavy outer gear and treated with whatever medical equipment was on hand. Among these wounded was Cherepakhin.

​     Amidst the barrage Cherepakhin, likely sitting outside or poking out of his hatch on the BMP, was struck by a piece of shrapnel along the right side of his skull, tearing into his head and causing a massive wound. He was dragged off of the vehicle and into the forest along with the other casualties where he was stripped of his heavy jacket and bandaged to hopefully keep him from bleeding out then and there. Several other marines were placed beside him and treated, medical equipment being strewn across the ground. After several minutes the marines began to gather as many wounded as they could gather, loading them back onto the vehicles and evacuating down the same road they came down. In the rush to safety, however, roughly fourteen or so dead were left along the road, including regular marines and crewmen of the BMPs.

     After a few more days, as Russian forces began to slowly withdraw from Kyiv Oblast back towards Belarus, the Ukrainian territorial defense forces once again recaptured the area between Zhereva and Teterivs’ke, including the forest path where the marine column was struck. Here, Ukrainian troops walked through finding many pieces of abandoned gear including backpacks, clothes, helmets, webbing, and other such items that had been thrown about and lost in the rush of the artillery fire and, particularly, in the medical treatment of those wounded. Off to the side of the road in a patch of used bandages, arm tape, medical equipment, and other miscellaneous supplies, this very jacket was found left on the forest floor, likely taken off of Cherepakhin while being treated and forgotten as the Russians evacuated the area. Other items in the area found included a helmet belonging to Sodnom Bairovich Shoydonov as well as two coats, a helmet, and other personal items of Bator Dondokov, both of whom were BMP crewmen killed in the barrage. Other jackets, personal items, and gear from others were found scattered around the area and, most poignantly, the fourteen bodies of the abandoned dead.

     Cherepakhin was returned to Russia for medical treatment and, as far as the records show, recovered before returning to service. The title photo at the top of this page was taken in November 2022 with Cherepakhin, now healed, and his younger brother. As for the Ukrainian forces, this engagement near Teterivs’ke was one of the last fought in the area before the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from northern Ukraine in early April after their complete failure to take Kyiv. This jacket, as well as other pieces taken from the battle, were souvenirs of men from the Ukrainian territorial defenses that fought off the attackers until a few were recently sold off to help fundraise for the armed forces to buy necessary equipment. Today, it rests in the collection as a reminder of the pointless and tragic costs of Putin’s war as well as the distinct valor of the Ukrainian men and women sacrificing to drive the invaders from their land.

     An intriguing note to the story is that Cherepakhin was picked for an unknown military decoration, but was distinguished across a wide range of Russian media outlets in June 2022 when a press release described some supposed actions her performed during this battle:

​Guards Senior Sailor Kirill Cherepakhin:The gunner-operator of the marine brigade of the Pacific Fleet, Kirill Cherepakhin, acting as part of the unit, performed the task of organizing the safety of the movement of the marine brigade. Accompanying the column in his BMP, Kirill discovered a group of nationalists in the forest belt adjacent to the road, which he immediately reported to the senior command. Kirill moved to the flank of the column and opened fire on the positions of the militants, giving the column the opportunity to gain momentum and get out from under enemy fire. Having taken an advantageous position, Kirill Cherepakhin destroyed 5 enemy saboteurs with aimed fire, preventing the destruction of Russian military equipment. During the battle, the marine was wounded, however, having provided himself with medical care, he continued to fire at the enemy.

     The citation may refer to actions that occurred prior to his wound at Teterivs'ke, or, if referring to this battle, was likely a propagandistic falsehood as there were no Ukrainian soldiers around during the artillery strike with hit the column. They were well-behind Russian lines.

     The uniform was gathered by Ukrainian forces amongst other remnants from the battle in the days afterward. The commander of the unit took numerous videos and extensive photos documenting the battle site and recording what might have otherwise been a list and forgotten part of this war. Other items taken from the column are photographed and included in the post.

     This is not a lighthearted piece, it is a memorial and reminder of the pain caused on both sides of this war. Let us pray it ends quickly to prevent further lost sons, brothers, and fathers.

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