The website Myrotvorets has been in existence since 2014. Before July 11 2023, however, it was hardly ever talked about in the Bulgarian media.
The website was mentioned briefly in 2015 and received a little more attention the following year, when it published the names of a number of journalists, including some Bulgarian correspondents in Russia.
The case of the Bulgarian citizen Georgi Bliznakov, who joined a special operations force fighting for the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, also gained popularity. It was mentioned that Bliznakov had been included in the Myrotvorets lists. A BTV report on the same topic mentioned four more Bulgarians featured on the website, one of whom was Magdalena Tasheva – an MP for the nationalist party Ataka at the time.
In 2018 a number of Bulgarian citizens were added to the Myrotvorets lists but the media did not take any particular interest in the issue.
Among the new additions wеrе then-president Georgi Purvanov, former Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) MP Ivo Hristov, Valentin Vatsev, historian, former BSP member and current member of the Russophiles for the Revival of the Fatherland party, Elena Yoncheva, journalist and current MEP, Velislava Dareva, also a journalist, Volen Siderov, leader of the Ataka political party, Vanya Dobreva, MP for BSP, Veliana Hristova, journalist, Pumen Petkov, editor-in-chief of Pogled.info and Sletlozar Lazarov, former chief secretary of the Ministry of Interior and national coordinator of the Ataka party until October 2018.
The reason for adding them to the lists were media publications according to which they were present or had been invited to participate in the international conference “Crimea in the Modern International Context”, which took place in Yalta in early November 2017.
During the conference the “Friends of Crimea” association was established. It was described as “an informal club for politicians, parliamentarians and public figures from countries around the world.”
In 2022 Kristian Vigenin, MP for BSP and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly at the time, was also added to the list. But despite the presence of so many Bulgarians on the website, Myrotvorets did not become headline news for Bulgarian media and the authorities until 2023.
On July 11 2023, Dilyana Gaytandjieva published the piece “Ukraine security services add journalist Dilyana Gaytandjieva to the Myrotvorets assassination target list” on her website Obektivno.bg.
Two days later, on July 13, Martin Karbovski published an interview with Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Although she was being asked about the risks of a nuclear strike in the context of the war against Ukraine, Zakharova herself decided to bring up the subject of Myrotvorets. Here is a translation of her precise words:
“You know perfectly well that there is a real hunt going on for the people working for the Russian state, our political and public figures and our journalists. They are being killed and that started long before 2022.
“On the territory of Ukraine and with the support of the United States, under their direct instruction, the Myrotvorets website is operating. It has a beautiful name (translator’s note: “Myrotvorets” literally means “peace-maker”) but in fact what it does is precisely the opposite.
“It is a list of people, a huge number including journalists, public figures and people dealing with the humanitarian situation, including children, whom the Ukrainian nationalists have declared a target for destruction. Can you imagine that? And you speak about rhetoric.
“Despite our multiple appeals for many years, including to the Americans to stop their support for that website and despite our appeals to the international community, on the international arena, that website continues to operate. And when people on that list get killed, a tick is placed next to their name to show that the person has been eliminated.“
On July 17 2023. the Union of Bulgarian Journalists (UBJ) published a statement, which included “a demand to the authorities to act in protection of the Bulgarian journalists on the Myrotvorets list”. The statement announced that “the notorious Ukrainian website” had added Dilyana Gaytandjieva to their list of “enemies of Ukraine” and mentioned that other Bulgarian journalists were also featured on “the sinister Myrotvorets list since 2018.”
In 18 July the political formation Vuzrazhdane declared their “full support for Dilyana Gaytandjieva and all the others targeted for assassination!” Vuzrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov said the following words in Parliament:
“Yet another Bulgarian has been included on a very sinister list. It is not a list of corrupt politicians but a list of people who think differently. A list of people to be eliminated. A list on a website cynically named Myrotvorets. A webpage that officially poses as Ukrainian but was registered in the United States, in the US state of Virginia.
“A page that is regularly updated, with some new names added and some old ones removed. And they get removed because they have simply been physically eliminated. In other words, people on that list are being killed … We could make a very serious accusation against the US government because after all that website is registered in the United States.”
Kostadinov repeats several times that this was a case of “death threats against Bulgarian journalists”, “we are talking about death threats”.
On July 19, President Rumen Radev said he “expected a reaction from the government to the information that Bulgarian citizens are included in the Myrotvorets list and their lives and security are under threat”. On July 20, government institutions were already engaged to work on the case.
“A list of targets for assassination“, “a list of persons to be eliminated“, “a death row list“, “a nazi terrorist organisation“, „digital Gestapo“ – these are some of the ways the Myrotvorets website has been described in the past few days. Are there any real facts and evidence behind this sensational language?
The Ukrainian website Myrotvorets is a public platform run by an NGO, whose purpose is to investigate “evidence of crime” against Ukraine’s national security, peace, himanity and international law. The ‘Purgatory’ section of the website allows readers to add persons meeting the criteria for being “an enemy of Ukraine”.
The website contains very detailed instructions on how to add people, what kind of information to present and what kind of evidence of the person’s activities needs to be provided. It is specifically emphasised that for persons outside Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the rules for publishing an address are not that strict.
A major part of the people whose personal information can be found on the website are soldiers – mostly separatists and Russian army staff. However the list also includes public figures, popular politicians (including foreign ones), as well as journalists who according to the platform are linked to armed militias or terrorism.
There are several cases of influential persons who were killed soon after their names and addresses appeared on the Myrotvorets website. Those are precisely the cases on which the narrative about the ‘Myrotvorets hit list’ is built.
In April 2015 in Kyiv MP Oleg Kalashnikov from the Party of Regions and journalist Oles Buzina were shot dead. The former was close to Viktor Yanukovich – Ukraine’s former president who fled to Russia. Kalashnikov was also among the organisers of the Anti-Maidan (the counter-protests against the Maidan movement). The latter was pro-Russian. They were shot under similar circumstances one day apart. Hours after Buzina was killed Russian president Vladimir Putin described the case as “yet another political assassination” in Ukraine.
Other cases, some of which have been mentioned on Bulgarian websites as linked to Myrotvorets, include the assassination of Russian military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky and Darya Dugina – daughter of the propagandist Alexander Dugin. Those cases have also been quoted by the Kremlin as evidence that the website is “a hit list”.
Another argument Moscow uses to support their claims that the assassinations are linked to Myrotvorets is the stamp “eliminated” placed on the photographs of those persons on the website. However there is no proof that there is a link between publishing names on the website and the assassinations, nor that Myritvorets is in any way involved in them. We found that such a stamp has been placed on Darya Dugina’s photograph but also on that of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
“By labelling Myrotvorets as a hit list Russian state-controlled media seek to undermine trust in the organisaiton in the Western world. That label is an attempt to shock and anger Western human rights groups, to make them believe that the Ukrainian government encourages violence against the persons and organisations included in the list. It does not,” the DisinforWatch platform says.
According to the website, it provides information that can be used by law-enforcement authorities and security services about “pro-Russian terrorists, separatists, mercenaries, war criminals and murderers.” There is no proof of any links between Myrotvorets and the Ukrainian state. On July 20 2023 the Ukrainian Embassy in Bulgaria published a statement distancing itself from Myrotvorets’ actions.
Authorities in Kyiv have also done that on a number of occasions, including by an investigation into the website’s activities opened by the State Security Service of Ukraine in 2016. However, the investigation did not produce any results. The Ukrainian police also investigated Myrotvorets’ operations following calls by human rights organisations. Some Ukrainian officials, such as former interior minister Avakov, have defended Myrotvorets’ actions.
According to media investigations, the website was founded and is maintained by an employee of Ukraine’s interior ministry known by the alias Roman Zaytsev, who clearly has close ties with the State Security Service (SBU). Zaytsev’s Facebook profile, on which his face is covered, states that his current occupation is “head of Myrotvorets”. It says also that his previous employment was with the SBU. Zaytsev has given interviews on Ukrainian media about the platform. His real identity is unknown.
In 2016, in reply to a question from radio Free Europe, the then chief of staff of the SBU Oleksander Tkachuk said that “the Security Service of Ukraine has no connection with the creation of the Myrotvorets website and does not cooperate with persons linked to its operation.”
There are also claims that Anton Gerashchenko, former adviser to interior minister Arsen Avakov between 2014 and 2021, is among the persons managing Myrotvorets. Geraschenko confirmed his involvement with the website to Al Jazeera in 2019, pointing out that Myrotvorets was not a penal body but an investigative organisation.
There is no proof that Myrotvorets is linked in any way with the United States. In the upper right corner of its homepage there are two ‘addresses’: Langley, VA, USA (the city where the U.S. CIA has its headquarters) and Warsaw, Poland. Those addresses, however, can not be considered as an actual indication of the location of the people working on the website. The tool Wayback Machine shows that up until December 7 2021 the location information in the upper right corner of the homepage said: Ukraine, Kyiv.
The user profiles publishing information in the ‘Purgatory’ section are named after intelligence services and organisations: CIA, MI5, SBU, NSA, Nato, among others.
There is no proof that the United States is managing the website. The US State Department actually openly criticised Myrotvorets in a 2016 report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. The report’s 2022 edition says that Myrotvorets is linked to Ukraine’s security services.
Factcheck.bg found the domain is registered in Thailand.
In the years following its creation the website has been subject to serious international criticism on multiple occasions.
On May 7 2016 Myrotvorets published a list containing personal information on about 4000 journalists who had been granted ‘accreditation’ in the Donetsk separatist republic (DPR) in the past. The data had been obtained by hacking the databases of the DPR’s so-called interior ministry. The journalists whose personal information was published, are labelled as collaborators for the separatists. Many of them have received death threats as a result. This caused a reaction by a number of international organisations and media.
Human Rights Watch denounced Myrotvorets’ actions and pointed out that “irresponsible comments and behaviour of this kind are a threat to the safety of journalists and human rights defenders and a violation of their right to privacy.”
The UN Committee on Human Rights in their report on the human rights situation in Ukraine between May 16 and August 15 2017 called on Ukrainian authorities to carry out a quick and effective investigation into alleged violations and remove personal data from the Myrotvorets website.
In a resolution in 2021 the EU Parliament urged authorities in Kyiv to “firmly condemn and ban the operations of extremist and hate-incentivising groups and websites, such as Myrotvorets, which incite tensions in society and misuse the personal data of hundreds of people, including journalists, politicians and members of minority groups.”