They Call This Man "The Demon," And He's Believed to Have Shot Down MH17
This is Igor Bezler, commonly known as "the Demon."
Bezler is the man Ukranian forces blame for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, an attack that killed all 298 people on board.
But what's he really like? That depends on who you ask. Pro-Russian fighters fear and respect him. Pro-Ukrainians demonize him. His nickname comes from his last name, Bezler: "Bes" means "demon" in Russian.
Two phone recordings released by the Ukrainian government reflect Bezler's downing of MH17. In the first recording, someone told Bezler, "A bird is flying toward you," hard to see, flying above the clouds:
Twenty minutes later, during the second call, Bezler was recorded saying a plane had been shot down:
As we scramble to understand what really happened that tragic day, we're learning more about Bezler, who is a leader amongst the pro-Russian separatists fighting against Ukraine in the country's eastern region. He leads a team of men willing to die for their cause — a "new" Russia, autonomous from Ukraine.
While Ukrainian security forces believe Bezler is a Moscow agent, it's possible he's already several layers removed from Moscow, now on his own erratic mission.
Image Credit: AP. An apartment building damaged after shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Local residents tie the shelling to Ukrainian security forces.
Shaun Walker of the Guardian visited Bezler's headquarters in Gorlovka, Ukraine. Walker described a scene so perfectly ominous that it could be out of a cartoon — and not just because of the walrus-like mustache Bezler sported for many years.
His headquarters are deeply reminiscent of aggressive, militaristic Russian culture.
Bezler made reporters meet his prisoners before they could meet him. Walker talked to a journalist in captivity who had been forced into a taped mock execution. The rebels have captured 717 people, 46 of them journalists, in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, according to the UN. Walker met a select few.
When asked why he keeps prisoners, Bezler threw a tantrum:
"They are fascists!" he screamed. "So why should we stand on ceremony with them? Questioning, an execution, that's it. I will hang those fuckers from lampposts!"
When he noticed reporters recording the scene, he lashed out and eventually threatened to shoot them: "Burn their notebooks! Seize their electronics! Search everything for compromising material and then destroy it! If you find anything, execute them as spies!"
Now that we have a window into the life of Bezler and his men, it is less shocking that they, mistakenly or not, committed such an atrocity. Walker writes that many of the rebels expect to die in eastern Ukraine. They know they're no match for the Ukrainian army's size. And as martyrs, they are willing to sacrifice innocent civilians for their cause.