The Donbass fighter-turned-war correspondent was killed in an explosion at a St. Petersburg café on Sunday. Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Who was Vladlen Tatarsky? Here’s what we know.
Vladlen Tatarsky was a military blogger and front line correspondent, with over 563,000 subscribers on Telegram, and 21,000+ followers on VKontakte, a Russian social media site.
‘Vladlen Tatarsky’ was his pseudonym – picked in honor of Vavilen Tatarsky – the hero from Russian writer Viktor Pelevin’s allegorical post-modernist novel ‘Generation P’. Tatarsky’s real name was Maxim Yurievich Fomin.
Fomin was born on April 25, 1982 in the city of Makeevka, a major metallurgy and coal-mining center in Donetsk region, into a family of coal miners. Graduating from high school in 1999, he briefly followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, getting a job in a mine, before deciding to go his own way and going into business for himself as the owner of a furniture company. The venture went sour, with his stores going bust. In late 2011, wracked with debt, Fomin and several of his friends made the foolhardy decision to rob a commercial bank. They were quickly caught, and Fomin was sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence in a penal colony in the northeastern Donetsk region city of Gorlovka.
In the spring of 2014, Ukrainian forces launched a full-blown offensive into the Donbass in an attempt to crush a nascent pro-independence rebellion by local residents and militias. By the summer, fighting approached right up to the prison where Fomin was doing his time, with shells, mortar rounds and bullets hitting the detention center and killing and wounding several inmates. Fomin managed to escape in the chaos, and soon joined up with militiamen fighting off Ukrainian forces.
Between late 2014 to 2019, Fomin served in several Donbass militia units, including the Vityaz Regiment, the LPR’s Fourth Brigade, and the Vostok Battalion. Fomin was briefly arrested by militiamen in 2014 after they learned of his criminal record, but received a pardon from late DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko in recognition of his service.
Fomin began covering events in the Donbass as a journalist in 2019 after retiring from military service.
His audience on social media ballooned after February 2022 with his front line coverage of Russia’s military operation, where he combined his job as a correspondent with service as a military drone operator. Fomin’s videos spread like wildfire across the internet, reaching not only Russian-language users, but foreigners as well.
Fomin received popularity – and occasional notoriety, for his brusque and to-the-point reporting style, and for his no-holds barred critical coverage, including discussion of some of the problems faced by Russian forces in the conflict.
Boris Rozhin, a military expert with the Center for Military-Political Journalism, called Fomin’s death a “big loss,” saying his reports constituted an honest appraisal of the real situation on the front. “He did not hesitate to reveal the problematic points which needed to be fixed. And in some areas, progress really began to be made after that.”
The war correspondent made “a very big contribution” to Russian military journalism, Rozhin said, adding that Fomin had “well-deserved popularity thanks to his reports, especially from Mariupol” – the Donetsk People’s Republic city which faced fierce house-to-house fighting during the spring of 2022. Fomin also did his part assisting in humanitarian aid deliveries. “He did not sit in the rear; he carried out his work to the end. We will all miss him,” the observer said.
Russian lawmaker and Russian Liberal Democratic Party fraction chief Leonid Slutsky said that while he would trust investigators in the case to figure out what happen there is every reason to talk about a “Ukrainian trace” in the attack on Fomin, “as in the case of the murder of Daria Dugina.”
“It has the same handwriting. This crime was committed by those who hate Russia, who are ready to kill Russian patriots,” Slutsky wrote in his Telegram page on Sunday evening.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out that Russian journalists are under constant threat of reprisal attacks by the Kiev regime and its patrons.
“They are subjected to harassment, branded in the literal sense with special markings on digital platforms on American internet companies, and face a ‘witch hunt’ in the Western media,” she said. “Not a single case of the violent death of a Russian journalist, assessed by the Kiev regime and its thugs as a ‘success’ has been investigated, or even treated with elementary human sympathy by Western countries, international organizations or foreign professional communities.”
Zakharova blasted Kiev’s “undisguised delight” in the wake Fomin’s death and said the lack of reaction in the White House, Downing Street and Elysee Palace “speaks for itself” in light of the lip service they typically pay to the “well-being of journalists and freedom of journalism.”