A Ukrainian police officer stands guard in the hallway of a preliminary detention centre which is believed to have been used by Russian forces to jail and torture Ukrainians in Kherson, Ukraine.
A Ukrainian police officer stands guard in the hallway of a preliminary detention centre which is believed to have been used by Russian forces to jail and torture Ukrainians in Kherson, Ukraine. © Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Russian "Commandant" Sentenced for Kidnapping Kherson Official

Victim was beaten in an attempt to force him to collaborate with the occupation authorities.

Monday, 19 February, 2024

Russian soldier Sergey Palamarchuk has been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison for ordering the kidnapping and torture of a local leader in the southern region of Kherson. On February 1, the Suvorovsky district court of Odesa found the 37-year-old guilty of violating the laws and customs of war by a group of persons under Part 2 of Article 28 and Part 1 of Article 438 of the criminal code. 

According to the pre-trial investigation, on February 24, 2022 Palamarchuk, from the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s far east, crossed with his unit into Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson from occupied Crimea. In the first days of the full-scale invasion the Russian army advanced rapidly through the region and in March Palamarchuk was appointed head of the garrison stationed in the resort village of Lazurne. 

This settlement on the Black Sea, with a pre-war population of about 3,000, lies near the island of Dzharylgach and is about 100 kilometres south-east of Kherson and a similar distance from Crimea. Palamarchuk, who was based in the cChaika complex, was also in charge of neighbouring villages along the Black Sea coast: Prymorske, Krugloozerka, the Zalizny port and the territory of the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve.

During this period, Palamarchuk wore a military camouflage uniform with Russian chevrons and a pistol on his belt and introduced himself as a “commandant”. He was in charge of forcing local Ukrainians to collaborate with Russian authorities and participated in the selection and appointment of residents who collected intelligence that he relayed to higher military ranks.

On the morning of April 4, 2022 Palamarchuk and his accomplices met Mykhailo B, the head of the territorial community, which included some of the villages under Palamarchuk's jurisdiction. The accused pointed a gun at the 64-year-old man and pulled the trigger several times, but the gun was unloaded. The Russian soldiers then put a bag on the man's head and forced him into a bus. The man did not understand where he was until later in the afternoon, when he was brought to the basement of the Chaika.

He was kept there for one day and, on Palamarchuk’s instructions, was beaten. The beating was so intense that his ribs were broken. The Russians interrogated him over his alleged cooperation with Ukraine’s armed forces, demanded information about residents’ cooperation with the Ukrainian secret service and, threatening him with death, forced him to record a video about his willingness to cooperate with the Russian administration. He was then released. 

Palamarchuk was informed in absentia of the suspicion in March 2023 and in September he was tried in absentia. The accused did not appear when summoned to court.

His defence attorney, appointed from the Regional Centre for Free Legal Aid, asked for his acquittal, claiming there was insufficient proof of guilt. However, the court decided that the evidence confirmed that the Russian soldier was responsible for the crime.

Mykhailo B, who has since managed to leave occupied territory, testified during the trial via video link. He said that Russian troops led by Palamarchuk demanded that he accept Russian humanitarian aid and film its distribution to local residents. Mykhailo B and his colleagues refused, whereupon the accused took out a gun, pointed it at them and pulled the trigger.  When the gun did not fire, he drew it and pulled the trigger again but once more misfired.

The victim recalled Palamarchuk saying “We will take him,” right before a black bag was put on his head. He remembered the accused and recognised him from four different photos at the pre-trial investigation.

A female eyewitness also recognised Palamarchuk. She told the court that she saw how the accused took out a gun and twirled it in front of the victim's face before pulling the trigger and shouting. Then Russian soldiers grabbed Mykhailo B and dragged him onto the bus. The woman clarified that the Russian troops were following the accused’s orders. 

Among the evidence, the court examined intercepted telephone conversations of the accused, which confirmed that he was in Lazurne in the spring of 2022. In one of the conversations, Palamarchuk gave an instruction to promote the distribution of humanitarian aid. 

The defence has 30 days to appeal. At the time of the suspicion, the investigation found that Palamarchuk was already in occupied Crimea.

The investigation also identified one of Palamarchuk's alleged accomplices, Serhii Yevarlak, who was his deputy in the occupation’s de facto commandant's office. The 38-year-old Russian soldier, who was born in Ukraine, received in absentia a suspicion of violating the laws and customs of war and treason for the illegal detention and torture of civilians in 2022. His case is in court.

This is not the first case of kidnapping of representatives of local authorities in the occupied Kherson region. On March 28, 2022, Russian forces detained Oleksandr Babich, mayor of the city of Hola Prystan; he is still in captivity. In June 2022 Ihor Kolykhaev, mayor of then-occupied Kherson, disappeared. There is still no news of his fate.

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