«Bunker for the General»: How Chief of General Staff of the Russian Army Gerasimov was Hiding from the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Berdyansk

Валерий Герасимов на ВОТ Запорожской области, 01.08.2023. Фото: скриншот с видео пропагандистов

Valerii Gerasimov, the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation and Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, appeared in public outside Russia for the first time after «Prigozhyn’s plot». Russian propagandists and Ukrainian media reported on August 1, 2023 that Gerasimov visited the forward command center of the Russian occupation army in Zaporizhzhia region.

The Center for Journalist Investigations identified the whereabouts of the bunker for Gerasimov and determined the date when he visited temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. 

In January 2023, Gerasimov has been appointed as the Commander of the United Army Group of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. He replaced disgraced Sergei Surovikin whose destiny is unknown. 

Russian and Ukrainian media mentioned Gerasimov within the context of confrontation of Prizozhyn and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

After failed Prizozhyn’s coup d’etat, Gerasimov has not appeared in public. It was rumored that he has been dismissed from the position of the Commander of Russian troops in Ukraine. In order to disprove rumors, the Russian Ministry of Defense published on July 10 the record of the meeting of the Chief of Staff of the Russian Army. 

Then, the Russian General Staff reported about Gerasimov’s visit to the Ukrainian front. 

Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Gerasimov somewhere on the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine in summer 2022, screenshot of Russian propagandists’ video 

It is important to keep in mind that the Russian Ministry of Defense has regularly published photos and videos of its military commanders «from combat zone in Ukraine». Some photos and videos were fake. For example, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation published on December 18, 2022 the video presenting Minister Sergei Shoigu. The Ministry pretended that its head flew by helicopter and inspected frontline positions of the Russian troops. As it turned out later, Shoigu has been 80 kilometers away from the front line, in temporary occupied Crimea. 

The best examples of the lies of Russian propagandists are visits and meetings of Russian President Putin. In April 2023, the Putin’s press office persuaded that the Russian Commander-in-Chief visited the headquarters of Russian Amy Group «Dnepr» near the frontline. As the Center for Journalist Investigations found out, Putin has been one hundred kilometers away from the frontline. He visited the Arabat Spit and the resort complex stolen by Russian occupants from «Metinvest» holding of Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. The resort complex is easily identified. 

The same story happened now with Valerii Gerasimov. The news from the Russian Ministry of Defense said on August 1, that Gerasimov «inspected the forward command center of the Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia region». As it can be assumed, the forward command center should be situated very close to the combat zone or the frontline. 

Gerasimov in the bunker, the command center of the Russian occupation troops; screenshot of the Russian propagandists’ video 

In fact, the First Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia visited the bunker of industrial enterprise in temporary occupied Berdyansk. 

How did we identify the bunker? There is a community of local pro-Ukrainian telegram channels in Zaporizhzhia region. It is kind of «information guerilla movement». Administrators of channels represent the following cities: Tokmak, Polohy, Melitopol, Yakymivka, Prymorsk and Berdyansk. 

Telegram channel «Приморская редакция» asked its readers to identify the place where Russian propagandists made a movie with Gerasimov. Other channels distributed this request. It has been viewed by over 33.5 thousand people. 

Residents of Berdyansk reported that the bunker with the Russian forward command center looks like the shelter under the main shop of company «Azovska kabelna kompania» [Azov cable company] on Promyslova street in Berdyansk. 

The office of the company under which the Russian bunker is located. Archival photo of website «Бердянськ24»

Before the Russian invasion, the managers of the company organized a sports facilities for its employees on these premises. All communications were working. Several former employees of the company confirmed that Russian propagandists demonstrated the video of the underground of «Azovkabel» as the forward command center.

Possible location of the underground facilities of the Russian forward command center in Berdyansk. Source: Google Street View

It should be noted that Ukrainian LLC «Azovska kabelna kompania» as well as other related companies has been owned by Oleg Vladimirovich Potanin, the richest Russian oligarch in 2021 and ex-Vice-Prime-Minister of the Russian Federation in the Cabinet of Ministries of Chernomyrdin. The network of related companies include «Keruucha kompania «Azovska kabelna kompania», «Investytsiina holdingova kompania», «Kabel-invest» and JSC «Ukrainsky Naukovo-Doslidny Instytut Kabelnoi Promyslovosti». 

Potanin has been final beneficiary of these companies until October 2018. That is to say, he controlled Ukrainian enterprise during four years after the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war. 

Vladimir Putin and Oleg Potanin in Kremlin. Source: globalmsk.ru

In March 2018, the State Security Service of Ukraine accused LLC «Azovska kabelna kompania» of supplying its products for submarines of the Russian aggressor state. However, the investigation has stalled in several months. The ownership of the company changed. Potanin was replaced with Kyiv resident Dmytro Kokoshkin and Cypriote offshore company «Dermikato Holdings Limited» owned by Latvian citizen Rudans Igors.

The bunker has been chosen by Russian occupants as the forward command center under the pressure of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Army reaches even the far rear of the Russian troops. On July 11, 2023, it destroyed hotel «Dune» in Berdyansk by Storm Shadow rockets. The hotel hosted the headquarters of the Russian 58th Army. Deputy Commander of the Russian Southern military district General Lieutenant Oleg Tsokov and many other senior officers were killed. 

As an outcome, Russian occupants have chosen more protected place under the buildings of «Azovska kabelna kompania». 

Location of company «Azovska kabelna kompania» with bunker on the map of Berdyansk. Photo: Google Street View

The Armed Forces of Ukraine successfully targeted places closer to the bunker. On May 25, 2023, a number of explosions destroyed neighboring shop of company «Azovska kabelna kompania» where there was a warehouse of Russian ammunitions. These explosions were detected by the NASA satellite. 

It seems that the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation came to Berdyansk by helicopters flying from Rostov, where the headquarters of the Russian Southern military district are situated, along the seashore of the Sea of Azov. 

We think that Gerasimov visited occupied Berdyansk on the 27th of July, not on the 1st of August, as officially declared. It seems a number of helicopters of his delegation flying back to Rostov were photographed by residents of Mariupol. Several Ka-52 followed MI-8. Gerasimov used MI-8 on the video published by Russian propagandists.  

Gerasimov takes helicopter MI-8, screenshot of the video 

Russian media coverage of the Gerasimov’s visit to Ukraine demonstrates that the Russian Ministry of Defense still treats him as Commander of the Russian occupation troops. 

Gerasimov in the bunker in Berdyansk, around July 27, 2023. Screenshot of the video of Russian propagandists 

General Gerasimov is positioned by Russian propagandist video as «the architect of Russian defensive operations against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the South of Ukraine», as reported American Institute of War Studies.