Ukrainian hackers’ hoax unmasks Russian pilots accused of Mariupol theatre bombing

Military wives and girlfriends duped into posing for photoshoot in ‘virtual false-flag operation’

Mariupol theatre
Russian soldier patrols ruins of Mariupol theatre where up to 700 people died in bomb attack last year
(Image credit: Alexander Nemenov/Getty Images)

Ukrainian hackers claim to have tricked a group of Russian military spouses into exposing the identities of pilots accused of killing hundreds of civilians in Mariupol.

In what the Kyiv Post described as a “virtual false-flag operation”, the Cyber Resistance group reportedly hacked into the email and personal files of Colonel Sergei Atroshchenko, commander of the 960th Assault Aviation Regiment, who is alleged to have ordered the bombing of a theatre in the besieged Ukrainian city. Up to 700 people died in the attack last March.

The regiment “are also thought to have bombed the Mariupol maternity hospital, which killed at least four people, injured 16 and led to at least one stillbirth”, said Metro.

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According to a report by InformNapalm, a Ukrainian open-source journalism group, the hackers identified a woman living in Crimea as Atroshchenko’s wife and then contacted her.

Posing as an officer from the regiment, they “convinced her to organise a photoshoot with herself and 11 other squadron wives to produce a pin-up calendar to boost morale”, said The Telegraph. A group shot released by InformNapalm “showed 12 military spouses wearing their partners’ uniforms and medals with an Su-25 jet in the background”.

Russia has denied responsibility for the deaths at the Mariupol theatre, which Moscow claims was blown up by Ukraine’s Azov Brigade. The theatre strike was classed as a war crime by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Amnesty International.

Pointing the finger at Colonel Atroshchenko, Ukrainian official Pyotr Andryushchenko, advisor to the mayor of Mariupol, said: “The number one killer of Mariupol residents has been established. The one who gave orders and controlled the bombing of the drama theatre, maternity hospital and the children’s hospital.”

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Jamie Timson is the UK news editor, curating The Week UK's daily morning newsletter and setting the agenda for the day's news output. He was first a member of the team from 2015 to 2019, progressing from intern to senior staff writer, and then rejoined in September 2022. As a founding panellist on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, he has discussed politics, foreign affairs and conspiracy theories, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. In between working at The Week, Jamie was a senior press officer at the Department for Transport, with a penchant for crisis communications, working on Brexit, the response to Covid-19 and HS2, among others.