A Dangerous Climate for Russian Puppets

On December 22nd, in the Kherson region of Ukraine, Andrei Shtepa’s life was ended by a car bomb. Shtepa, nicknamed “Schnir,” was the Russian-appointed government official of Lyubymivka and Vasylivka in the Kakhovka district. The locals referred to Shtepa as a “Gauleiter,” which was the term for a Nazi provincial governor under Adolf Hitler.

This video captured by a passerby shows Shtepa’s car totally engulfed in flames and putting out an enormous billowing cloud of black smoke. As you can tell by the text in the Tweet, people didn’t exactly seem fond of him.

Pro-Russian officials took to Telegram to make their announcement of his death:

Today Andrei Nikolayevich Shtepa, a sincere patriot of his native land, died tragically as a result of a car explosion set up by Ukrainian terrorists.”

Russian News agency TASS stated, “He died; explosives were planted in the car. Today Ukrainian terrorists attempted to attack the head of the village of Lyubimovka of the Kakhovsky municipal district, as a result of which he died.” He reportedly burned alive in the car with another man who was probably the vehicle’s driver and personal security for Shtepa.

Shtepa in an undated Selfie. Screenshot from mil.in.ua

MSN reports that Shtepa was of “Russian origin” but had been living in the village of Vasylivka for 15 years, where he worked nearby on a communal farm. Before the invasion,  he had previously sought positions in local government but was never elected. Moscow appointed him to a leadership position in June of this year. The Ukrainian news website Censor.net pegged Shtepa as a traitor for aiding the enemy in overthrowing the legitimate government of the region.

Death Comes in the Form of a Car Crash

Vehicle-related assassinations and “accidents” have seemed to become popular fates for Russian sympathizers in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. A few weeks ago, in November, the Russian-installed deputy head of local administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, died in a car crash under mysterious circumstances. Like Shtepa, Stremousov sought public office, but when he ran for mayor of Kherson in 2020, he only managed to garner 1% of the vote. He was born in Ukraine and eventually worked in the state fisheries inspectorate.

Kirill Stremousov in his Kherson office, with President Putin keeping a close eye on him. Screenshot from theguardian.com

In August, The Guardian conducted a phone interview with Stremousov, and he seemed to be on top of the world. Moscow had named him deputy governor of the region in April, but he quickly stole the spotlight from his comparatively timid boss and became Russia’s de facto voice in the region. He eagerly told The Guardian, “I am on a constant high; we have won. I am living a dream. Russia is in Kherson forever”. Most of the interview supposedly consisted of Stremousov prattling on about how much he was against the Nazis he claimed were running Ukraine. He also took a swipe at what he called “perverted western liberalism.”

Stremousov’s dream, however, was to be short-lived. By the time of his death on November 9th, he was well aware of the fact that Ukrainian troops were moving in fast to liberate the city as he literally sped away from it to his meet his demise.

Death and Destruction in the DPR

One day before Shtepa’s firey death, former Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin  (who also used to head the Russian space agency Roscosmos) was injured when his hotel in Donetsk, part of the breakaway region of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) was struck by Ukrainian shells. The area has been under the control of Russian proxies since 2014. Through Telegram, Rogozin stated the following, “I have wounds — a piece of metal 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters (1/3 to 1/4 inch) that entered above the right shoulder blade. There will have to be an operation. Several people close to me were also hit.” Ukrainian media sources later reported that two people were killed in the attack.

The Inn where Rogozin and others were injured in a precision strike. Screenshot from dailymail.co.uk

TASS quoted one of Rogozin’s aides as saying their boss would have to be transported to Moscow for surgery, as local doctors deemed doing a procedure there would be too risky.

Kyiv continues to vow they will retake all territories taken from them by their neighbor to the north as the result of their February 24th, 2022 invasion.