Wednesday, August 31, 2016


What Do We Know About Kazakh Border Guard No. 15?

Vladislav Chelakh wrote his family that he was happy with his job guarding the border. (file photo)
Vladislav Chelakh wrote his family that he was happy with his job guarding the border. (file photo)
By Farangis Najibullah and Yelena Veber
As Kazakhstan mourns the loss of 14 border guards and a forest ranger in a mysterious mass killing along the country's Chinese border, all eyes have turned to the man who has reportedly confessed to the crime -- the 15th border guard.

Who is Vladislav Chelakh and what light can he shed on what happened that fatal night of May 27-28 at the Arkankergen checkpoint, high in the Tien Shan Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan?

CHARGES BROUGHT: Kazakh prosecutor says surviving border guard charged in murders

Nearly as soon as Chelakh was discovered on June 5 wearing civilian clothing and carrying his commander's gun in a village not far from the scene of the crime, he became the prime suspect in the eyes of the public. Those suspicions were confirmed a day later when the 19-year-old reportedly confessed and was formally arrested.

Vladislav Chelakh (family photo)Vladislav Chelakh (family photo)
Vladislav Chelakh (family photo)
Vladislav Chelakh (family photo)
Now, as his high-profile case enters the justice system, the question on Kazakhs' minds is what might have driven the young man from the central city of Qaraghandy to commit such a crime.

His family has painted him as someone incapable of murder -- a "very ordinary boy who always dreamt of becoming a border guard," says his mother, Svetlana Vashenko.

In a country where many young people try to avoid service in the conscript military, Chelakh signed up voluntarily. Sobbing, Vashenko shows the reporters what she says is her son's last letter from Arkankergen.

"Dear Mom, I'm writing you from Kazakhstan's borders," reads the handwritten letter, penned on a sheet of notebook paper. "I'm finally here. Now I'm a member of the Border Guard Service."

He goes on to describe his beautiful surroundings in the remote mountainous area that clearly captivated his imagination.

"It's beautiful here," he writes. "There are all mountains around us -- Chinese [mountains] on one side, our [mountains] on the other side, and there is a hill in between where my checkpoint is located."

TV TWIST: Anchorman quits, alleging "lies" in reports on confession

The letter suggests Chelakh was content with his life as a soldier. "It's very good here," he writes. "It's quiet and peaceful. Now I know what serving in the army really means."

Family In Disbelief

Before the army, Chelakh completed special courses to become a train engineer, following in his father's footsteps.

His most immediate plan, however, was to return home for a 10-day vacation to see his baby brother, Pavlik, according to Vashenko. The family was expecting him to come home in July, his mother says.

Vladislav Chelakh's grandfather Vladimir says he can no longer eat or sleep.Vladislav Chelakh's grandfather Vladimir says he can no longer eat or sleep.
Vladislav Chelakh's grandfather Vladimir says he can no longer eat or sleep.
Vladislav Chelakh's grandfather Vladimir says he can no longer eat or sleep.
Chelakh's relatives said ahead of the reported confession that they hadn't seen or spoken to their son since news of the slayings broke. Security officials first informed them about the killings and then later about their son's reappearance.

The family said they had mixed feelings -- on the one hand happy that Chelakh was alive; on the other fear that their teenage son could face a life in prison.

Chelakh's grandfather Vladimir, speaking after Chelakh emerged on June 5, expressed the belief that his grandson was being made a "scapegoat for some crime."

"I don't sleep at nights, or during the day," Vladimir Chelakh said. "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I don't know how I managed to survive. My will is keeping me alive."

Written and reported by Farangis Najibullah, with additional reporting by RFE/RL Kazakh Service correspondent Yelena Veber in Karagandy
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 06, 2012 20:26
The report I saw on NTV, interviewed a relative who indicated that without proof of having completed military service it was impossible for a young (ethnic Russian?) man to find work in Kazakhstan. Is this true? Link below.
In Response

by: KTH
June 08, 2012 10:28
First of all, I'd like to point out that Chelakh is not quite typical Russian last name, Eastern European - most likely but might not be Russian. Another thing, even though it is not mentioned in this particular article some of them state that allegedly he was the only Caucasian person at the checkpoint which is not true. The other one was Dennis Ray, ethical German, if it even matters since I would believe both of them were regarded as "Russians" anyway. Besides, killed chasseur/gamekeeper was ethnically Korean. Just trying to say, that ethnicity probably has little to nothing to do with the events.

And, yes, this is true that is can be a challenge for some young men to find a good job in Kazakhstan. However, ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with that. The main reason is that serving in the army is not a choice but obligation - every mentally and physically healthy young man (18-27yy.) who hasn't been convicted in felony have to serve his country for one year (it used to be more). Certain things can serve as reasons to postpone/exempt recruitment (getting higher education, having under-age children and so on).

The unwillingness of employers to hire young men who didn't serve in army is totally explainable and understandable. Since country has all rights to such man for a certain period of time it doesn't make too much sense to hire a man who could be forced to quit with the next recruitment. It is a bit different with those who have higher education (very often they do not serve) but Vladislav graduated from vocational school and, according to his grandfather, wanted to get job at the factory.

In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 08, 2012 12:22
KTH, Thanks for the info. Just a couple additional questions. Do the wealthy in Kazakhstan find ways for their sons to avoid military service? How do most young Kazakh men regard the prospects of serving in the military? A rite of passage?
In Response

by: Willis Towers from: Park City, Illinois
June 08, 2012 16:20
Dennis Ray is an "ethical" German?
In Response

by: Anonymous
June 09, 2012 00:47
Yepe, pick on obvious typos such as ethNical. That's how we do it.
In Response

by: Zhanik from: Almaty
June 08, 2012 14:42
I am from Kazakhstan and we have around 150 nationalities and ethnic groups to live together. Russian, Korean, Polish never matters they all get good paid job, only one thing matters - your brain. If the person is smart enough he can be wealthy as he wish, if he is a wastage then of course he will complain till the end of his life that all are guilty and he is so nice and good but no one sees that. What happened at the border no one knows but we (kazakhstani people in majority) do not believe that 19-year old young innocent guy could kill 14 people. We know our system we know the levelof corruption we know our "justice" system, they all made him to confess!!! So many mishaps in investigations, it is only God knows the truth, but we all want to know the truth. There is one version that close relative of our President was there he went for hunting as it is very beautiful place and very rich people go there for hunting who knows maybe there was a big conflict and those 14 young men (aged 19-28) were killed for nothing.
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
June 08, 2012 16:19
Zhanik, Hi and thanks for the background info. Very interesting. Yes, I’m sure that the story is much more complicated than originally portrayed. However, why do you find it difficult to believe that a common person can commit a heinous crime? As you are aware, we have had a number of incidents in the US, where a single armed person has slaughtered dozens of people. Who can tell what thoughts lurk in the minds of men? Perhaps this soldier merely flipped out (went crazy) and decided to kill his comrades in a moment of madness. I’m more inclined to believe this version than some intricate conspiracy involving high-level officials.
In Response

by: Jane from: Almaty
June 09, 2012 12:50
Ray, hi. The official version of events based on "confession" of Vlad Chelakh raises more questions than in provides answers. If he was so emotionally disturbed at the time of the tragedy, why does he clearly remember all his actions and why did he act as a well trained cold-minded assassin? Have you ever heard the AK-74? It's thunderous! It would be heard at a distance of mere 100 meters, where he murdered his first victim, even by those in the most deep drunken sleep. And it is the state border, no shot is meaningless. Even with zero resistance from the sleeping 10-11 soldiers, of whom 3 were professionals, the commander who slept in a separate building and 1-2 awake soldiers, it would take him more that 3 minutes to kill or severely wound them all. And there was the gamekeeper whose house was in 150 meters. He had several rifles and was an ex-military officer himself. He was awakened by the sounds of massacre and ran outside to check the reason for the "inconvenience" unarmed? BS. There were no vehicles there, since there was no road even for off-roaders. There was a diesel-fueled stove and generator. Where did the teenage soldier take the petrol to fire up the buildings? Previous experts reports made before Chelakh was found mentioned some phosphorous-based substance that caused the enormous temperature of the fire. Where did that disappear now? etc etc etc

Some terrible truth is hidden beneath all these questions and answers, lets hope it will surface.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
June 11, 2012 14:18
yes, a single armed Wahhabi Sunni freedom activist shot 13 US servicemen to death in Texas. But that only counts as a crime if US servicemen are killed. When US-supported Wahhabi Sunni activists kill children in Syria, it counts as a liberation fight

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