I was saddened and dismayed yesterday to see a large-scale police action take place in Bender yesterday.
As I just wrote about a week ago, Bender was where the heaviest fighting occurred during the period of armed conflict between the Republic of Moldova and Pridnestrovie.
In that piece, I mentioned how several armed criminal gangs were operating at that time due to all the political instability. One of those groups was widely known as the “Badger” gang.
That name might sound cutesy, but they were responsible for several murders and a large-scale kidnapping, blackmailing, and extortion ring on both sides of the Dniester River.
RM Interior Minister Vladimir Turcan later declared that the Badger gang was “the bloodiest and cruelest in the history of Moldova.”
In 1992, one of the Beaver gang’s “lieutenants” was a man named Oleg Karabanov, who was just 26 years old at the time.
After the permanent ceasefire was signed in 1992, the MGB (mistakenly or intentionally referred to as the “KGB” by people who hate and fear this country) in Pridnestrovie quickly hunted down and disbanded the criminal gangs.
Some gang members, however, successfully fled the area, including Karabanov. But many members of the Badgers were arrested and convicted in Moldova in 2001.
Since 1992, no one had seen or heard from Karabanov, so it was widely assumed that he was dead. Nonetheless, his mother (a woman in her 80s) still lives in Bender, and yesterday, Oleg Karabanov apparently decided to pay her a (secret) visit.
Unfortunately, at some point yesterday evening, Oleg walked out into the street and was recognized by a 61-year-old neighbor. Oleg then shot the man in the leg, but the wound didn’t kill him, so the neighbor was able to call the police.
A team of PMR militiamen (police officers) then organized and blocked off all the surrounding streets. Unfortunately for the cops, though, there was a large school just down the street, and that’s where Oleg had gone to hide.
One officer, Sergei Yurko, saw Oleg and approached him, telling him to come out with his hands up. However, knowing that Bender police are, by rules of the 1992 ceasefire, unarmed, Oleg then fired his pistol and shot Officer Yurko.
Yurko was then transported to the hospital but he died on the operating table. Amazingly, Yurko’s colleagues were able to swarm Oleg and arrest him without anyone else getting injured.
Considering the gravity of his crimes and the evidence against him, it’s likely that Oleg Karabanov will spend the rest of his life in prison just down the street from where his mother lives.
Officer Sergei Yurko was 26 when he died. Although unmarried, he had a serious girlfriend and was still a young man with his whole life ahead of him.
Yurko’s family hail from Odessa (Ukraine), where they were forced to flee the fighting in 1992 in Bender. Doing the math, it’s clear that Sergei was conceived at or near that time. His family did not return to Bender, however, until 2012.
Here is a map of Karabanov’s mother’s house and the nearby school where he gunned down Officer Yurko:
As you can see, that’s one of the “Romanian” schools in PMR. I’ll write a full-length article about them one day soon, but for now, just know that it is paid for and administered by the Republic of Moldova despite it being inside PMR territory.
The presence and the activities of the schools have been a highly contentious issue in the relationship between PMR and RM over the past 27 years, so I was especially saddened to see this school was involved (albeit indirectly) in more misery, and I am truly sorry that the kids who attend that school had to arrive at a crime scene this morning.
Another interesting angle is that Karabanov’s gang was actually known as the “Beaver and Hon” gang, which is a quite unusual name.
The word “Hon” doesn’t mean anything in Russian, so it took me quite a while to track down to what it was referring. But then I discovered a short story written by the Russian author Nikolai Garin-Mihailovsky called “The Legend of the Beaver,” which purports to be an ancient tale from (South) Korea that takes place in a province called “Hon.”
It’s only available in Russian, but you can read it here. I’m extremely confident that this is the only logical explanation for why they named their gang that way. Russian “gang” names often seem strange to outsiders. For instance, one of their rivals in the early 1990s was the “Cucumber” gang.
The author of “The Legend of the Beaver,” Nikolai Mikhailovsky (better known as Nikolai Garin) was an ethnic Russian who grew up in Odessa (today’s Ukraine) and was quite an interesting guy, although his English-language Wikipedia page is sorely lacking. In his late 40s, he traveled extensively throughout China and Korea and wrote more than 100 “fairy tales” or “folklore stories” involving Korea, including, of course, the one about a magical beaver.
When Nikolai Mihailovsky was a young man, he was drafted into the Russian Army and participated in the fighting in Romania (see my article here for more information) as part of the wider “1848” revolutions that took place across Europe.
Nikolai was later given an award (the Order of St. George) by the czar for his outstanding bravery in facing a squadron of Hungarian lancers in the city of Sibiu. In the face of withering gunfire, Nikolai led his squadron into the main square (called “Piata Mare” now) and captured it from the Hungarians and thus helped secure Romania as an independent nation.
171 years later, the Badgers claimed their last victim when an ethnic Russian man shot and killed an ethnic Ukrainian police officer while hiding out in a Moldovan school in Pridnestrovie.
I am truly praying that Sergei Yuko’s death will be the last to stem from those awful days of the early 1990s.