30 years of impunity of the organized crime group “Bashmaki": the end of a criminal legend
The nineties are notorious for gangster lawlessness, on which many works of art are made, however it is one thing to read a book or to watch a thrilling movie, and quite another to be a living witness of the era. The true story of the nineties had it all: the permissiveness and notoriety of some, the pain and despair of others, the helplessness and indifference of the rest.
On the night of December 16th, Simferopol law enforcement officers arrested two leaders of one of the oldest and most dangerous gangs of the peninsula. Criminal authorities, Nikolai Kozhukhar (Moldovan, i.e. Moldavian) and Alexander Danilchenko (Danila, who led the "Bashmaki" ("clogs") organised criminal group, (OCG) were taken into custody. The difference between the "Bashmaki" and other criminal organisations was that the members of the group were known for their cruelty, not recognising any laws, including the notorious thieves’ law.
The arrest operation was fast. Money, digital equipment and documents were seized from the criminal bosses. Witnesses of the arrest say that neither Moldovan, nor Danila struggled on arrest, even though both of them were "unpleasantly surprised" about the sudden appearance of law enforcement officers.
On February 10th, the bandits were charged, as the Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya reported to the press. According to the prosecutor, the offenders face a life sentence for the creation and management of the OCG, racketeering, murders, kidnappings and other offences of varying severity. The crimes of the "Bashmaki" gang were committed between the years from 1987 to 2015. The court was presented with the body evidence base for 8 counts.
Thus, the wild nineties are being echoed nowadays. Due to thirty years of impunity, the authorities most likely did not expect any coercive measures against themselves.
Why could the authorities and the police not detain criminals until now, and what were the real roles of the Crimean leaders Sergey Aksyonov and Natalia Poklonskaya in this story?
The "Bashmaki" have been legendary for a long time. Their story became the basis for many films, TV shows and books. The leader and the godfather of the gang, Victor Bashmakov, whom the gang was named after, headed the "thimble-riggers" in the early nineties, and then began to rapidly subjugate Crimea to its rudiments of still very "tender" resort infrastructure.
Those of you who had the opportunity to go to the Crimea at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, will certainly remember fidgety boys in caps, these diligent con men and "scammers" victimising unsuspecting vacationers. So young and still so weak thugs beginning their careers. Thimbles, card games and standard con games with onlookers on the beaches of Yalta, this could have been the height of these youngsters’ criminal paths, as they say: quit before you’re ahead. However, the spirit of that time did not call for the lazy pacifism of 60-s or the dull conservatism of the 70-s.
According to the trends of the era, Viktor Bashmakov who worked as a driver at the Yalta winery, Massandra, ended up being the driver for the notorious crime boss Sakhan (Alexander Tkachev), and the management of a much more profitable machine - a criminal "thimble-rigger" gang.
Sakhan saw Bashmakov’s true value and immediately invited him into his inner circle. By that time, the sunny coast of the peninsula was under the control of the "Seylem" group, with which the criminal duo "Sahan and Bashmak" had started a serious struggle for territory.
Outwardly calm and worldly-wise, Victor Bashmakov did not look like a criminal , writes the "Necropolis" site, specialising in obituaries of famous personalities. He considered himself as the "ward man of society," a Robin Hood figure, taking away money from the "rich and dishonest."
In fact, Victor Bashmakov was the main organiser of extortion on the entire peninsula. In fairness, it must be said that during that period, only the lazy would not rob the shops and stalls of the resort towns under the guise of the fashionable concept of "racketeering". Not only criminals considered themselves racketeers, but also high school students, athletes and vocational college students, in general, all those who didn’t have much of a brain, but had enough muscles and ambition. Victor Bashmakov and Alexander Tkachev undertook a mission to to take all the criminal organisations under their own control. Bashmakov invited his stepbrothers - Pavel and Stanislav – to "the cause". During the same period Moldavan (Nikolai Kozhukhar) and Boroda, i.e. Beard (Sergey Khabibulin) joined the mob. After a couple of months of hard recruiting, the gang had more than fifty notorious thugs on their books, and their numbers continued to multiply. The racketeers levied a tribute from all who tried to do business. Stalls were burned and debtors’ vehicles were "blown sky-high". Some burgeoning entrepreneurs went to the bandits themselves for protection: it was easier to work for them than hope for protection from the local law enforcers. Can it be true that no one could resist these insolent criminals? Businessmen attempted to stop the criminal activities of the bandits, but they were so hopeless, and Sakhan and Bashmak’s protection and support was so strong and unwavering that once they were released directly from the courtroom, despite the fact that the prosecution had presented substantial evidence of extortion, beatings and death threats.
After a while Sakhan was arrested again. He skilfully "played the fool," and spent the remaining two years of his life relatively uneventfully, wandering from one mental hospital to another, in one of which he was eventually shot in 1992. The onlycrime lord left was Bashmak. Definitively coronated, making sure of his impunity, and even infallibility (in the 90-s the main element was the people’s admiration for criminals), Bashmak appointed himself as the Godfather of all the Crimean Mafia.
Thus, one of the most famous criminal empires of the 90-s began to develop. It developed a strong business, the foundation of which was the production of vodka and the sale of second-hand foreign cars. Later, Bashmak broadened his network of legitimate business by establishing several construction companies, pharmacies, cafes and shops.
This 90-s oligarch had everything. Even his own army was constantly on full alert.
Bashmakov became the absolute leader of the Crimean mafia and ruled the organisation until his death, which, in fact came very soon, on July 21st, 1994.
The death of the godfather became a legend. Just imagine this moment: The Simferopol-Yevpatoria highway, anunsuspecting Victor Bashmakov quietly returns to his car having visited his old mother in Ukromnoye village. He’s driving himself, although, as always, his two bodyguards are with him. At one point Victor slows down, and suddenly a motorcyclist appears next to his car. Almost without changing his speed, the motorcyclist shoots Bashmak from almost point-blank range, then kills the guards, ditches his weapons and disappears beyond the horizon. It is necessary to understand the confusion of the mob, who were awkwardly standing at the murder scene an hour later, mourning the kingpin. It seemed incredible that Bashmak could be so easily killed.
The person who ordered the hit, as it turned out later, was one of Victor’s loan debtors, the other kingpin Oleg Dzyuba (Alik), who "went out into the world" from the competing thimble-rigger gang back in the 80-s. They say that the debt was not the only reason for murder: Dzyuba held a grudge against Victor over the death of his old friend, Sergey Timofeev (Jonik).
However, Victor’s "Bashmaki" gangfirst suspected the Sevastopol tycoon Evgeny Podanev. Rumours of Podanev’s involvement were persistently disbanded by Dzyuba himself, who at the same time prudently fled to Germany. The Bashmaki, being radical men, suspected the oligarch and immediately shot him down. Podanev’s murder happened right at the time of Bashmakov’s funeral feast.
It is worth noting that recently, another interesting person is suspected of the murder of the godfather: the first and only President of Crimea Yuriy Meshkov (1994-1995). The first thing he came up with when he became president of the Republic was a "take down list", on which Bashmakov was number one. Only one coincidence speaks in favour of this version: the first year of the Meshkov’s presidency concurred with the year of Bashmakov’s murder.
An eye for an eye
However, with Bashmakov’s death little has changed in the criminal structure of its gang. After the mob shot down Podanev, as a result of Dzyuba’s tip-off, the anger of the gang was temporarily channeled towards the Crimean law enforcement authorities. In clashes with the police a lot of criminals were killed, and those that survived, ended up getting involved in the redistribution of the empire.
Alik, while residing in Germany, was very happy to have defeated two competitors (Podanev and Bashmakov). However,the kingpin’s triumph was premature. They tried to shoot him even at the very airstrip at Borispol airport, just after he arrived home. Dzyuba’s eldest son was killed a week after the attempted assassination on his father, his body was found in a container on the outskirts of the city. After that, Dzyuba’s personal guard in Crimea was entrusted to Tatars of the "Imdat" ethnic criminal group. There were also those, they say, to intercede for him before the Moscow mafia bosses and temporarily reconciled Alik, "Bashmaki" and "Seylem". But not for long.
Alik, nevertheless, died. According to the official version of the time, he committed an unusual suicide. He blew himself up with a grenade in his garage. Just a few hours before, the rest of his family were killed: his wife and daughter. They say Dzyuba’s mother refused to go to the identification of her son.
After the godfather’s death, Moldovan and Danila took power into their own hands. A certain Karas, i.e. Carp (Victor Karasev) became the third leader, the main "top brass" of the OCG. He took over the management of contract killings in the region.
It must be noted that these men were not the classic cinematic "ghouls and freaks". They are athletes, Komsomols and "just handsome fellows." Here's the proof: Danilchenko and Kozhukhar are functional presidents of the Boxing and Wrestling Federationsof Crimea, respectively. Both have higher education. It is curious that the Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergey Aksenov, is the head of the same Federation of wrestling, which Kozhukhar manages.
The mob was always seriously interested in not only wrestling, but also football. In the 90-s, they expressed clear interest in the Saki football club "Tavria", to which the president of "Dynamo", the famous coach Mammad Isayev, gave their best players. "Tavria" was owned by Karas, and Mammad made a fatal mistake, because he wanted to start selling successful players to "Tavria" in a Western manner, that is in dollars.
Since the sports club’s staff at the time were managed by another famous "Bashmaki" Ruvim Aronov (Roma), a misunderstanding emerged. Gangsters were used to taing money, not giving it away The outcome of the conflict was Isayev’s painful death as a result of multiple injuries
However, Isayev managed to give testimony to the investigator before his death, so that in 2011, Ruvim Aronov appeared in court... and, you are not going to believe this, was let go peacefully. The court was possibly simply receptive to the person who had just left prison, in which he had spent 4 years due to causing a fatal accident. In 2002, the kingpin knocked down and killed an elderly woman near Simferopol airport. Thus, in 2009 Roma was sentenced to 4 years in prison. But just for that one incident! And after 7 years said accident! Maybethe court was impressed by the fact that Ruvim Aronov was a member of Parliament?
"Bashmaki", and especially their leaders, in some incomprehensible way, won the trust of the Ukrainian MIA. It is known that they were favoured by many prominent politicians, such as Yan Tabachnik. The same cannot be said about Natalia Poklonskaya, who acted as the public prosecutor in a number of gang cases, including the case of Ruvim Aronov. The Crimean prosecutor, it is said, has her own bone to pick with "Bashmaki". In 2011, after a meeting, during which Poklonskaya demanded for Ruvim not to be released, Moldovan and Danila took a serious swipe at the prosecutor, according to some, beating her and threatening to kill her. It seems that at that time the mob had made themselves a truly powerful enemy...
Throughout the nineties, officials and political figures from different levels of government became the victims of gangsters. It is noteworthy that some of those killed were related to "competitors" of the “Shoemakers”and “Seylems”, while others were simply undesirable. The most famous victims are Oleg Dzyuba’s family, Mammad Isayev, the Kolkhoz chairman Valery Siroshtan, members of Parliament Sergey Mishak and Alexander Vishnyakov, the first Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Safontsev and several criminal leaders.
Is it possible that the "Bashmaki" were never caught? The fight against illegal armed groups was fought continuously over the years 1985-2016, but it always came up against corruption in the police. One of the episodes was the following: in 1998, the former employee of the SBU Special Forces "Alpha" Vladimir Kirillin got involved with an affair involving the "Shoemakers’" and was killed. The murderers, of course, were never found. Partly thanks to Kirillin, several important members of the gang were arrested. Currently 24 members of the “Bashmaki” are behind the bars. However, the prisoners are just ordinary soldiers, i.e. the tentacles of the mafia octopus. Although it well known, that if the hydra’s head is in place, she will grow new tentacles
The ‘00s: the Kiev period
From 2000 to 2003 the "Bashmaki" were, from time to time, subjects to police raidsin Crimea. The top management of the gang raced off to Kiev, and to their sources left behind in Crimea, , according to the law of “nature abhorring a vacuum”, were immediately taken over by Donetsk mobsters.
During the Kiev period, Kolya Moldovan and Danila were joined by Yura Moldovan ,(Ernyak) who had been living in the capital for three years and was involved in buying gold. Coincidence or not, but almost immediately after the Crimean mobsters moved to Kiev, Yura found himself behind bars, and the gold business was taken over by Danilchenko and Kozhukhar.
Thus began a new stage in the history of "Bashmaki". The rest happened almost legally, under the wing of the Department of Organised Crime Control. In Kiev, "Bashmaki" were not being liberal with the local authorities, “removing” the most significant of them - including some Cherep (i.e. Skull). After that, everything ran like clockwork. Through personal charm, friends enlisted the support of the country’s judicial and executive powers. After that, several raids took part, in favour of the new Ukrainian leadership. .
And what about Crimea? At the time, in Crimea, crime management was conducted by some Rus (Russia), Vladimir Ryaboshapko. Alongsidehim, Vladimir Kvitko and Aydin Shabanov were in control.
Ryaboshapko was closely associated with the firms "Rus" and "Samantha", while the co-owner and manager of "Samantha" not so long ago had a very reliable patron, General Alexander Volkov ("Party of Regions").
Overall, "Bashmaki" still own 27 commercial organisations, whose co-founders include such interesting individuals, as Bashmakov’s widow Lidia, his other relatives, as well as bosses of the “Bashmaki” Victor Pleshakov, Igor Zabelin and of course, Alexander Danilchenko.
Business is business
Since Bashmak’s core business in the 90-s was the production of vodka, in the 2000-s there was a serious struggle for the management over the “Soyuz-Victan” alcohol company. There was an attempt to illegally seize the company, which was preceded by a frame-up of the company's management. The two leaders, Andrey Okhlopkov and his first deputy Victor Udovenko, were accused of the contract killing of "Bashmaki" members Gregory Posunko (Greene) and Sergey Kolesnik (Forty Eighth). In fact, it turned out that their deaths were ordered by Bashmak’s son-in-law, deliberately to start this game of chess, where the main prize was the "Soyuz-Victan". However, the Supreme Court justified the executives, who were originally sentenced to 15 years in prison. It was the first significant failure of "Bashmaki".
In 2005, there was a split in the criminal system. The top-brass, Karas, did not share his incomes from the sale of his sports club "Tavria" with Moldovan and Danila. The dispute resulted in fires at flea markets, controlled by both sides of the conflict. However, only one party was convicted of arson, namely, Karas. Favour of the native Ukrainian police? The mafia bosses have a fatal charm, don’t they?
Through a secret special operation, with the infiltration into criminal organisations, it was able to identify the involvement of several members of the MIA to the gang. In 2006, a former policeman Anatoly Zhizherun, Mikhail Pliz, Igor Chesnokov, and Yevgeny Korolev were detained in Crimea, accused of having a hand in the deaths of various persons, including crime bosses Seva Sevastopolsky and Yuri Ivanov in 1995.
In 2010, a few members of the "Bashmaki" were caught, amongst whom was Stepan Radchenko who escaped from prison in Odessa.
After 2013, the activity of the "Bashmaki" got a little lost in the murky waters of the Maidan.
The gang bosses Danilchenko and Kozhukhar were caught only in 2016. They arrived in their native Crimea from Moldova, for some very important business and with forged passports.
The officials have done of a lot of work to investigate the crimes that took place more than twenty years ago, tangled like the shoelaces of a fancy shoe. More than 20 volumes of the case have been investigated by law enforcement agencies. It was found that more than 50 individuals were directly related to the "Bashmaki". Many of these individuals still hold top governmental positions. Yet the leaders of the gang were arrested, and it gives hope for justice. Maybe suddenly a miracle will happen, and in the end justice, and not the ego of another crime boss, will prevail?!
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