A video still from a press conference with captured Russian pilot Maxim Krishtop.
A video still from a press conference with captured Russian pilot Maxim Krishtop. © Interfax-Ukraine

Pilot Who Bombed Kharkiv TV Tower Convicted

However, as a valuable exchange asset, Maksim Krishtop will not spend time in prison.

Tuesday, 21 March, 2023

A Russian pilot who bombed the TV tower in the city of Kharkhiv last year has been found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison by the Dzerzhynskyi district court.

However,  Maksim Krishtop will not spend time in jail as shortly after his conviction he was released from serving his sentence in preparation to be exchanged as a prisoner of war. 

Krishtop was found guilty on March 2 of violating the laws and customs of war as a result of a prior conspiracy by a group of persons (Part 2 of Article 28 and Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). 

A lieutenant colonel, Krishtop is a native of the village of Novosyolovo, Krasnoyarsk Krai, in the Russian Federation. Married with two children, he serves as deputy commander of the 47th bomber aviation regiment, military unit 45117.

On March 6, 2022, Krishtop piloted an Su-34 combat aircraft and bombed Kharkiv city. On the same day he was shot down by the Ukrainian military, ejected from his plane and was captured after landing.

The TV station and the equipment located on it are civilian objects that were not used for military purposes. There were no weapons, military equipment, ammunition or units of the Ukrainian armed forces in the vicinity.

According to the investigation, the order to destroy the TV tower was given by Major General Oleg Makovetskyi, commander of the 6th Army of the Air Force and Air Defence of the Western Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. 

The order was carried out by Alexey Loboda, the military commander of unit 45117 (Bomber Aviation Regiment 6 of the Army), who communicated it to two pilots and two navigators. They in turn took off in two planes from the Baltimore military airfield in Voronezh city. They crossed the state border of Ukraine and at 18:09 bombarded the target with eight FAB-500 general TNT aerial bombs. Krishtop was the pilot of the lead plane. 

The commander of the military unit, who gave orders to Krishtop, is being investigated separately by Ukrainian investigators.

As a consequence of the bombing, the TV tower was no longer able to operate safely. Its metal structures were hit and an administrative building and equipment were also damaged.

After ejecting and landing around 2am Kyiv time on March 7, 2022, Krishtop was detained by the National Guard of Ukraine. 

On March 11, 2022, he took part in a press conference in Kyiv with two other captured Russian pilots. He said that this was his third combat flight to Ukraine. The first was on February 24, 2022 to the south of Balakliia, targeting a combat force, while the second on  March 3 was to attack  a column of armoured vehicles in the Izyum area. 

"The third combat flight was carried out on March 6, 2022,” Krishtop said. “After receiving an order to provide coordinates during a combat mission, I realised that the target was not the enemy's military facilities, but residential buildings and the civilian population. But I executed the criminal order.”

He continued, "I appeal to all military personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, to my fellow soldiers: immediately cease carrying out criminal orders, immediately cease hostilities, immediately cease bombing peaceful cities. I think we have already lost this war.”

Asked by journalists whether he had had the opportunity to not comply with the order, Krishtop said, “The horror of the criminal orders is simply terrifying. In any case, it’s possible not to fulfil the order. But I showed weakness, cowardice and carried out this order… A terrible order." 

The Russian pilot admitted that the city of Kharkiv "ceases to exist" following the Russian strikes. 

Before the trial, the Russian's lawyer requested it be considered in a closed court session, making the same request during the preparatory meeting due to the necessity of ensuring the safety of the accused.

The court partially satisfied the lawyer's request and decided to close the hearing only when the testimony of the Russian pilot was given.

The meeting was attended by representatives of Radio Broadcasting and Television Concern and Ukrainian mobile communication operators, whose equipment was damaged by the bombing. The companies filed a civil lawsuit and asked to recover material damages from the defendant. The court ordered more than 1.1 million hryvnias to be collected from Krishtop in damages.

Krishtop fully admitted his guilt. When passing sentence, the court recognised the Russian pilot's sincere remorse and active assistance in solving the crime as mitigating circumstances. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to the maximum punishment provided for in this part of the article. 

Krishtop waited a year for the verdict, remaining in custody in the Kyiv pre-trial detention centre as a prisoner of war. 

However, based on the information from the court register, the convicted Russian pilot will not be imprisoned in Ukraine. Shortly after the verdict, the Dzerzhynskyi district court of Kharkiv city received a request from the general prosecutor's office to release Krishtop from serving his sentence in connection with the decision to hand him over for exchange as a prisoner of war. 

On March 6, the Dzerzhynskyi district court granted this request, released Krishtop from serving his sentence and decided to transfer him to the representatives of the authorised body responsible for the treatment of prisoners of war to organise and carry out his exchange.

Russian pilots are believed to be a valuable exchange asset. Earlier it was reported that another Russian pilot Alexander Krasnoyartsev, who bombed Chernihiv and was captured, had already been exchanged and will be tried in absentia.

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