The Russian investigative newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has identified a Russian Wagner Group contractor as the man responsible for the torture and beheading of a Syrian national back in 2017. 

The newspaper named the alleged torturer as Stanislav Yevgenyevich Dychko. He had been hired as a reconnaissance gunner by the Russian government-linked Wagner mercenary company. However, when a video of the reported execution first surfaced last fall, the Kremlin said that it “has nothing to do with the Russian military operation in Syria.”

In the gruesome video that surfaced on social media, four Russian-speaking men were filmed beating the screaming victim with a sledgehammer and then beheading, dismembering, and setting fire to the Syrian man.

The victim was later identified as Muhammad “Hamadi” Abdullah al-Ismail from the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. He had fled to Lebanon to escape the Syrian civil war. Upon his return to Syria, he was forcibly conscripted into President Bashar al-Assad’s army, but he deserted.

Wagner mercs in Syria. (Novaya Gazeta photo)

The victim was accused of being a jihadist because he attempted to flee his post and one of his torturers can be heard saying that “this will happen to every member of ISIS.”

During the video, the Wagner men were recorded cutting into the unresponsive victim as they said, “Cut him harder, come on! Just break his spine! Use a shovel.”

“Keep the legs, we’ll hang him by the legs,” the newspaper quoted them as saying. Another leaked video shows the masked men dousing an upside-down body with fuel and lighting it on fire. The men then kicked his head, asking if they were going to play soccer that day. 

There was likely a second victim of the torture, Novaya reported, referring to another severed head seen in the footage they obtained.

The torture site was geolocated as the al-Shaer oil fields in Homs, central Syria, according to British and Syrian news outlets. The al-Shaer oilfields were allegedly part of a deal between a Syrian state oil company and a Russian military contractor (Evro Polis). The deal aimed to share profits from the oil refineries taken from the Islamic State. Evro Polis is said to be a front company for Wagner in Syria.

The Wagner Group is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a catering magnate often referred to as “Putin’s Chef” due to his close links to President Vladimir Putin. Russia does not officially recognize the role of private contractors like Wagner, which has been conducting the lion’s share of Russian proxy operations all over the globe, including Ukraine, Syria, Africa.

Novaya Gazeta reported that Dychko was born in 1990 and joined the Wagner Group in February 2016 shortly after his discharge from the Russian Interior Ministry. 

“As far as we know, Mr. Dychko is alive and well today. He’s not hiding from anyone and is not wanted by anyone,” the newspaper wrote.

“Hide your face… Forget it, this video won’t appear anywhere,” one of the men filming the brutal torture is heard telling the others. But the video of the incident did get out and the newspaper is pushing for the Russian government to act upon this.

“If the previously published footage did not impress the Russian Investigative Committee’s staffers and the investigators didn’t see any signs of a crime, then we suggest that you watch more,” Novaya Gazeta wrote before publishing two new videos of the incident. 

But as mentioned above, the Putin government has distanced itself from the incident and has taken no responsibility. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said last fall that he had not seen the footage, but added, “I am certain that this has no relation to Russian military operations in Syria.”