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'Magpies': Privateers or Profiteers?

Posted: 10/23/09



Etienne Bouller, a self proclaimed 'Magpie' lost his final appeal with the Supreme Court. He now faces 15 years in a French prison.

Many ZWN readers were not even aware of the existence of 'Magpies' until this story broke last week. However, I spent several days last year with a notorious Russian contingent of Magpies known as 'The SK-avengers'. They openly invited me to go along on their 'hunts' as they raided stores, warehouses, empty homes and abandoned trucks in search of 're sellable' goods. Profiteers who resell stolen commodities, supplying those less able (or willing) to venture out.

Those who were trapped in Undead infested 'no go' zones, were often willing to pay extortionate prices for essential items - everything from food, medical supplies. household hygiene items, clean linen and towels. Even pet food and in some cases 'luxuries' such as gas, generators, and tools.

The leader of the SK-avengers simply goes by the name Dokka. He is ex KGB. According to the Russian Tass news agency. -- Dokka was once shot in Moscow by the gang leader of a criminal group from the city of Saransk, he was seriously wounded, his main accomplice, Sergei Zlydon was killed. Three months later, when Dokka recovered, he seeked vengeance. His gang, armed to the teeth, raided his assailants home. They kidnapped him and his entire family. One week later, a video was posted online. It showed his rival and his wife, and three children, tied to chairs whilst three newly undead were corralled into the room. The screams and horror that followed were meant to provide a deterrent to their rival gang members. It worked. He was never opposed again.

The SK-avengers consist of approximately 30 well armed, organized militia. Many are ex Russian army. Some veterans of the ill fated Russian/Afghanistan conflict. They travel in convoys of customized cars, vans and trucks through the decimated ruins of Smolensk.

They operate with military precision and efficiency. Dissent in the ranks is not tolerated. In fact it is dealt with swiftly by a military tribunal consisting of Dokka and his two closest Generals.
Dokka and SK-avengers pose for ZWN in this rare photo  

But despite all their militaristic preparation, fatalities occur regularly. This is how one member explains it to me "At first it was easy. But after a while you run out of soft targets. The places you loot never refill do they? or some bastard got there first. so you have to travel a bit futher each time. But the roads are not maintained, so you run the risk of popping a tire or running into fallen debris, Last week we lost two comrades. They got lost. It's easy to do with no street lighting anymore. The road was blocked with overturned cars. They tried to race around them but their car hit a pot hole. They were stuck 17 miles from home. They never made it. They radioed for help. Their tire was deflated. That was it. A simple tire. They had no jack. They were stinking necrotics by the time we got to them."


A street littered with cars. The scene of their fallen comrades. 

He continued " Then you run out of stores to hit, so you loot houses. They are always a risk. You can't see what's in them. and you can easily get trapped. Or you might run into someone who still lives there, boarded up and half crazy. They will shoot you. And what do you find in these houses? Old food that has gone bad. Perhaps a starving dog the owner left behind. Some electronics. So what. They are no good without electricity. It's not worth our time."

Criticism has been leveled at these Magpies. And it has been harsh. Many complain that they clean out stores leaving nothing behind for others to find. "Like locusts" said one woman I interviewed. "what happens to those who can't afford their fees? we starve. Nothing left." she continued. Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation and Prime Minister of Russia - Vladimir Putin, recently announced a crack down on organized militia such as Magpies. Since the proclamation, over 150 such group members from various illegal outfits have been arrested. The main reason Dokka and his army have not been caught at this point, is due in large part to their willingness to hide deep within the labyrinth of abandoned and burned out buildings of the 'no go' zones of Russia.

City of the dead
Smolensk as a city is one of the worst infected urban areas outside of China. It is essentially annexed and sealed. Treated as toxic and unsalvageable. A Chernobyl for the 21st. century. The residents there have long been forgotten. Their screams and protests silenced by a Government who would prefer that they simply give up and die quietly.

Incredibly, there are approximately 8,000 residents still living within this city of the dead. Just how Dokka's SK-avengers managed to gain entry to the city is unclear. But as long as they remain, they are untouchable.


The city wastelands of Smolensk, where the SK-avengers hide

I was allowed access only after months of negotiation and civic unwillingness. It was quite surprisingly, the very Government body who are suppressing the truth that finally pushed for my admittance. As to why, I am still not sure.

Perhaps they thought I would be able to extract some information that may be deemed useful. I was indeed 'interviewed' extensively upon my exit. But I never actually got to interview Dokka himself. Everything was conveyed to me second hand. In fact, I am equally at a loss as to the SK-avengers motivation to allow me access. Perhaps it was simply a desire for notoriety.

Cost of goods sold
Yes, they charge for their services. If they are commissioned for specific requests, those scavenger hunts can cost the US equivalent of $10,000 per mission. However, most people simply cannot afford such fees, so Magpies typically hunt and gather anything and everything they can, return to secret and well protected safe-houses, then through a system of 'Gophers' spread the word to the local community, what they have and what it will cost to deliver those goods to your door.* Oddly enough, money is still valued even in this micro-community.

When I was with them, they even had the audacity to hold a makeshift market place, where they actually ferried the local people under armed protection, to view the goods. If you purchased, you were delivered home safely with your goods, if you balked at the price? you were left to make your own way back. I only saw one person who did protest at the extortion in progress. A disheveled man, I estimate to be in his 50's. He was escorted to the door and quite literally thrown out onto the street. The reinforced door closed shut. I did ask how far he had to walk. "He came from the towers, 7-8 miles. He probably won't make it. Lots of 'smellies' in his way." laughed an SK-avenger.

Whilst I was there I had the heartbreaking task of accepting hastily hand written notes from residents, trapped in the locked down quarantine. Messages pleading to authorities to rescue them and desperate notes to relatives and loved ones that they were still alive.

I was only allowed a 24 hour period to interview the Magpies. This was made plain by the Russian Government. In fact to emphasize their point, they made it quite clear that if I was not at the extraction point on time, they would not wait nor return. I would effectively be locked down with the rest of them.

Exit
I was eventually driven back to my pick up point. My escort joking along the way, that they could not recall the direction and could they should just drop me off. I was actually driven to within half a mile of the exit point. They would not go further for fear of being arrested or shot by authorities. That last half mile was the longest I had ever walked.

A Government official was there to meet me along with two heavily armed bodyguards. I gave him the notes that were stuffed in my pocket, explaining their significance. He briefly read two or three, betrayed no emotion, then said "I will have these processed."


*The fee is typically estimated cost of goods plus 500%.

 

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