Stolen Clothes, Gold and Scooters: Prosecuting Russian Looting

Sentences for robbery have already been handed done; many more are expected.

Stolen Clothes, Gold and Scooters: Prosecuting Russian Looting

Sentences for robbery have already been handed done; many more are expected.

Russian military personnel at the post office in Mozyr, Belarus.
Russian military personnel at the post office in Mozyr, Belarus. © Screenshot from the video of the Telegram channel "Belarusian Haiun"
Tuesday, 22 November, 2022

Russian soldiers are being prosecuted in Ukraine for widespread looting committed during their occupation of cities and villages. Two men have already been convicted, and trials in absentia are ongoing for many others. 

Investigators list a wide range of stolen goods, from clothes, jewellery, laptops, mobile phones, and household goods, which cannot be used for military purposes and therefore their possession is a war crime in violation of the norms of international humanitarian law.

One ongoing case involves 18 Russian soldiers suspected of sending looted goods from Ukrainian territory to Russia. 

The investigation centres on evidence collected in the Belarussian town of Mazyr in April, from where stolen items were dispatched en masse via the Russian SDEK express delivery service.

According to Ukrainian law enforcement officers, the case involves soldiers from various military units who sent loot to Rubtsovsk, Moscow, Birobidzhan and Omsk. Most were from the 6720th military unit of the Russian National Guard in the Altai Region. 

On April 1, the independent Belarusian Hajun Telegram channel reported that Russian military KAMAZ trucks were accumulating in Mazyr, with soldiers sending items obtained through looting to Russia via the SDEK service. 

Images broadcast via the channel the following day showed an electric scooter, air conditioners, alcohol and car batteries being sent, as well as a bag with the logo of the Ukrainian Epicenter mall.

The channel reported that, in total, the Russians brought more than two tonnes of goods to SDEK on April 2 alone. 

On April 4, Belarusian Hajun published the names of 16 people who it claimed had sent cargo weighing from 50 to 450 kilogrammes to Russia.

Each name was accompanied with a contact phone number, details of the package’s contents and its destination. Belarusian Hajun did not specify the source of this information, stating only that it had received a "significant array" of personal data. 

A suspicion brought by Ukrainian law enforcement officers against Russian soldier Serhii Ivanisov, accused of sending a 5.68 kg parcel from Mazyr to Rubtsovsk, details the alleged looting.

"While in the village of Blystavytsia, he broke into a privately owned house, where, taking advantage of the fact that no one was in the house and no one was watching his actions, he unlawfully took possession of the following items: men's clothing, shoes, two clippers, a netbook, with a Xiaomi mobile phone,” the suspicion read.

The 30-year-old is a serviceman of unit 6720 of the Federal Service of the National Guard of the Russian Federation in Altai Region, Rubtsovsk. 

In August, the 18 men were declared internationally wanted persons, due to the fact that their location not been established, they were likely to be outside the territory of Ukraine and did not appear when called by the investigator. In September, the court began issuing arrest warrants in absentia for the suspects. 

There was no information available on how Ukrainian investigators identified the Russian soldiers and the exact details of the robberies they allegedly committed.

This will likely be announced in the indictment or during the investigation, unless deemed to be confidential. It can also be assumed that Ukrainian law enforcement officers made use of  the information made public by the Belarusian Hajun Telegram channel.

In response to an IWPR request in late October, the department of security service investigators in Kyiv and the region said they had conducted pre-trial investigations in which 1,909 facts of crimes under part 1 had been documented. 

Crimes under Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code refer to facts of torture, abuse, or robbery of civilians by the Russian military.

ROBBERY CONVICTIONS

Sentences for the robbery of civilians have already been handed down to captured Russian soldiers. 

In August, the Shevchenkivskyi district court in Kyiv sentenced 38-year-old Serhii Zakharov from Samara to 12 years in prison. 

In early March, in the village of Peremoga in the Kyiv region, Zakharov robbed a house together with other Russian military personnel. After he was captured, valuables worth 13,000 hryvnias (350 US dollars) were found in his possession, including gold jewellery. 

Asked by the judge what he thought of his actions, Zakharov said, "I understood that this should not be done" and requested that he be exchanged.

Also in August, the Novozavodsk district court of Chernihiv sentenced 28-year-old tanker Nikolai Filatov from a military unit in the Altai Region to eight years and six months in prison. On March 1, in a village near Chernihiv, he ordered a man at gunpoint to remove a gold chain with a cross. 

Filatov said in the court that he was ashamed of what he had done and that he also hoped for an exchange.

If a Russian soldier was captured but later exchanged, or managed to escape from Ukrainian territory during a retreat, such cases are considered by the court in absentia. These make up the majority of cases. 

Serhii Shteiner, a 23-year-old tanker, was handed the first sentence in absentia after a court found he had ordered the looting of civilians in the village of Lukianivka near Kyiv and the destruction of their property. The Russian was sentenced to nine years in prison and will serve his sentence from the moment of his arrest.

In response to an IWPR request to explain the procedure for investigating robbery by the Russian military, a spokesman said, “Information that discloses the planning of investigative actions or operative-search measures for specific criminal proceedings is classified as secret service information in the security service of Ukraine.”

In some places, the Russian military themselves left clues for Ukrainian investigators. 

Ukrainian law enforcement officers completed a special pre-trial investigation into a Russian serviceman who they allege robbed an apartment in the city of Irpin, Buchansky district, Kyiv region. While in the apartment, the Russian soldier took a picture of himself with the camera of the owners and left this piece of evidence at the scene.

Considering the heavy workload of the Ukrainian courts and the special procedure of absentee hearings, verdicts in such proceedings may take a long time. Usually, about six months can pass from the capture of a Russian soldier to the announcement of a decision. 

"This category of cases is very specific,” Kyiv lawyer Oleksii Vynohradov told IWPR. “Law enforcement agencies, first of all, need to prove that this particular person is guilty of committing a crime. And considering the circumstances of the commission of such crimes, the evidence based on the entire arsenal of possible ways of proof provided by the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine, most often, can be the testimony of witnesses.”

He said that stolen items might even be recovered if the suspect had been captured.

“There is a high probability that the loot will be returned, since in such categories of cases the suspects are detained with the loot. After the judgment of the court, things will be returned to the rightful owners. However, even if the looted property has already been sold, the victim can always file a civil lawsuit as part of criminal proceedings demanding monetary compensation from the suspect.”

This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

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