Sergeant Bator Dondokov
Squad Leader, Commander of BMP-3 No. 238
47th Air Assault Battalion, 155th Naval Infantry Battalion
Sergeant Bator Gavrilovich Dondokov was born in January 1999 in Osinsky District, Irkutsk region, deep in the heart of Buryat country in south-central Russia. A child of the Russian Federation, Dondokov grew up amidst a changed country adapting to new challenges and circumstances as Russia sought to redefine and refind itself in the wake of its prior collapse. He attended grade and boarding school in Ulan-Ude, graduating in 2014. He was considered one of the most driven and responsible students in his class and excelled academically. According to his teachers, he was “honest, kind, and principled.”
Alongside his academics, Dondokov became quite the athlete, performing well at Zarnitsa, a children’s war game of the Young Pioneers, and freestyle wrestling. In his summers he built his strength working on his grandparents’ farm, working with livestock and upkeep the property. This rural lifestyle fostered a love for the natural land, leading to service with the volunteer movement of the Republic of Bruyatia, an environmental preservation organization.
Upon graduation, he enrolled at the Technical College of the East Siberia State University of Technology and Management training for work in emergency planning management. In 2017 he was drafted into the Russian armed forces, thriving in the military service like a “fish in water,” according to his family. Signing a five-year contract with the military, he was transferred to the Marine Corps where he joined the 47th Air Assault Battalion, 155th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade out of Vladivostok, part of the Russian Pacific Fleet. It was here that Dondokov found his technical skills coming in handy as he was transitioned to the battalion’s armor support element. Proving his talent as a leader, by 2021 he was selected to command the crew of the newly assigned BMP-3 No. 238, one of the battalion’s infantry fighting vehicles designated to provide fire support and transportation for the marine infantry. As vehicle commander, Dondokov was responsible for the well-being of his crew, his vehicle, and the improvement of their combat capabilities. In 2021 he and his driver were selected to test out the BMP-3s for marine service through a series of field trials and training at Bamburovo Training Ground where Russian military media took numerous photos of Dondokov in action. In early January of 2022, Dondokov 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, Dondokov and his crew were given the green light to stop their “exercises” and drive across the Ukrainian border, invading the nation and entering into 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 Dondokov. 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 a 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 Dondokov.
Amidst the barrage Dondokov, likely sitting outside or poking out of his hatch on the BMP, was struck by the artillery and severely wounded. He was dragged off of the vehicle and into the forest along with the other casualties where he was stripped of his heavy jacket, helmet, and several personal effects to be bandaged and stabilized. 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 them down the same road they came. In the rush to safety, however, roughly fourteen or so dead were left along the road, including regular marines and crewmen of the BMPs.
Dondokov, heavily wounded from the attack, was taken with other casualties to an abandoned hunting lodge at the end of the road where the marines were likely attempting to perform life-saving first aid. It was here that this demi-season jacket, salty and worn from use, was left abandoned alongside guns, equipment, gear, medical supplies, and more. Despite the attempts at treatment, Dondokov did not make it through the day, succumbing to his wounds sometime after the attack. When the marines evacuated the area they took Dondokov with them, leaving behind this jacket and many other items from the devastated and distraught column.
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 began the process of deactivating the many pieces of live ordnance left along the roadside. Walking around, they also came across many pieces of abandoned backpacks, clothes, helmets, webbing, and other such items that had been thrown about and lost in the rush of the artillery fire. While Dondokov’s heavy coat was missed until a Ukrainian officer investigated the site many months after the fact, his light jacket, multiple other coats, several helmets, and other personal items of marines caught in the barrage were found scattered around the area. The most powerful things found, however, were fourteen bodies of abandoned dead.
Dondokov was quickly returned back to his hometown of Kakha and buried on 3 April 2022 in a newly christened military cemetery south of the town. Quickly filled with the bodies of the city’s fallen soldiers, Dondokov’s family joined a long line of mourners to say goodbye to their son, brother, and husband. Shortly after his death, Dondokov was honored with the Order of Courage for actions he performed in Ukraine. One of the first Buryat casualties of the war, he has been continuously honored by his childhood schools where photographs and information about him have been posted for the children to use in memorial ceremonies, a way to remind the young people about the very real and tragic consequences of Putin’s war of expansion.
This uniform is not one I take lightly. While Dondokov did violate the sanctity of Ukrainian soil, likely killing or harming Ukrainians in the process, he was one of the many young men forced to his death during mandatory service in Russia’s armed forces. Thanks to Putin’s immoral and unwarranted aggression into Ukraine, Dondokov’s home is left emptier. While this uniform was originally to be thrown out and disposed of, I will now care for it as a steward of the history, preserving this small but tragic reminder of the ultimate cost of such a horrid war.
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.