Russian Commander Sentenced in Absentia Over Teen Hostage
Officer blackmailed child’s mother for information about the location of Ukrainian forces.
A 35-year-old commander of a Russian motorised rifle brigade has been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison for holding a teenage boy hostage during the occupation of the Chernihiv region in March 2022.
On December 4, the Chernihiv district court found Nikolay Khachaturyan guilty of violating the laws and customs of war based on a prior conspiracy by a group of persons (Part 2 of Article 28, Part 1 of Article 438 of the criminal code) for kidnapping a 15-year-old boy. The man also blackmailed the boy’s mother, an officer in the Ukrainian army, demanding information from her about the location of Ukraine’s Armed Forces in exchange for her son's life.
Born in Masis, an Armenian town close to Yerevan, Khachaturyan is a Russian citizen and commands a branch of the Russian forces’ motorised rifle brigade. From February 25, 2022, his brigade occupied Terekhivka, a village of about 500 people about six kilometres from the north-eastern city of Chernihiv.
According to the investigation, on March 19, 2022 Khachaturyan, together with accomplices who are indicted under a separate case, learnt that the mother of a teenage boy in Terekhivka was serving in the Ukrainian army. On the same day, the accused and his subordinates seized the 15-year-old and taped a cap over his eyes before forcing him into the back of a car and taking him to the nearby village of Petrushyn, eight kilometres away. There, he was held in a garage and forced to record a message for his mother on a dictaphone saying that he would be released if she provided information about the location of military facilities.
The teenager remained under round-the-clock guard in Petrushyn for two days. On March 20 Khachaturyan called the hostage's mother twice and messaged her demanding that she provide information if she wanted her son released. On the same day, the accused put the boy on the back of a truck and drove him from Petrushyn to another, unidentified location, where he put him in a cupboard in a private house. The Russians did not get the information they wanted from the hostage's mother and released the boy in the afternoon of March 22 in Terekhivka.
The Chernihiv district court examined the minor’s statements, which were recorded in August 2023. An 11th grade student living in Chernihiv, the boy recounted that he had been home alone when the Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
His father was on a business trip and his mother was on duty. She phoned the boy to tell him that the invasion had started and instructed him to get dressed, pack his things and wait for her call. Then neighbours invited him to stay with them, in a house just opposite his. In the afternoon of the same day, the boy, together with his friend's family and with his mother's permission, moved to Terekhivka. The Russian military occupied the village the next morning.
The teenager stated that when he was taken, his head was covered and taped by a soldier with Caucasian features, who was the head of the group and had his own guard. He looked to be in his 30s or 40s and had a strong accent; he was the one who asked the young victim about his mother’s whereabouts. The boy answered that she was a senior soldier in the military and that he did not know any other information about her. At that stage the soldier, identified as Khachaturyan, told him to record a statement.
“Mother, if you want to see me alive, you need to tell me the coordinates of the locations of some Ukrainian military units,” the boy said in his message. The victim said that it was a dictaphone, the investigation did not establish whose device it was.
The boy saw Khachaturyan again when he was released. The officer had removed his military balaclava, revealing his face. The victim recognised the accused through photos and recordings from Khachaturyan's social media accounts. Khachaturyan was also recognised by two witnesses who saw him taking the boy from the house in Terekhivka.
In court, the boy's mother said that she had lost contact with her son after March 12, 2022 when Terekhivka was already under Russian control. On March 20 she wreceived a phone call and a man, speaking in Russian, told her, “If you want your child to live, give us information about the ZSU [acronym of Zbroini Syly Ukrainy, Armed Forces of Ukraine].” She was given 15 minutes to respond.
The woman informed her superior officers about this phone call. On the same day she received a second message that said, “We know you are a smart woman, you don't wish harm for your child, let us know the location of the units.”
An officer from Ukraine’s security service (SBU) testified in court that they then took charge of the woman’s phone and communicated directly with the accused. They tracked Khachaturyan's calls to the village of Sedniv, in the vicinity of Terekhivka.
The SBU designed a plan of action to free the boy. The correspondence between the SBU and Khachaturyan was not included in the court’s registry and the details of the operation were not disclosed.
Khachaturyan used the mobile phones of various villagers whom he ordered to call the boy’s mother. A Terekhivka resident testified in court that two days after the boy was taken hostage, Russian soldiers gave him a phone and ordered him to call the mother, but her phone was out of range.
The boy, frightened and shaken, was reunited with his mother on April 4, 2022. She told the court he had told her that he was locked up alone and kept himself busy singing songs, including Ukraine’s national anthem.
Investigators established that Khachaturyan’s phone was in the territory of Chernihiv region between March 3 and 31, 2022; he is now reportedly in Russia. The investigation tracked the accused’s social media activity on VKontakte and Instagram, where he posted images of himself in military uniform. They found a 42-second reel on Instagram titled Pokatushki (ride in Russian) in which a man with facial features similar to Khachaturyan is seen driving a car, while in another video and a photo he is seen in a restaurant in military uniform.
Khachaturyan was notified of the suspicion in August 2023 and the case was then sent to the court. On November 9, the Chernihiv district court decided there would be a special court proceeding in absentia; the accused was declared wanted and summoned to the meeting.
Khachaturyan’s defence attorney claimed that the evidence was insufficient but the court considered it strong enough to prove that the Russian officer violated the laws and customs under Part 1 of Art. 438 of Ukraine’s criminal code. Khachaturyan was sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison, the maximum punishment foreseen under that article.
Khachaturyan has 30 days to appeal the sentence.
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