Matresses are seen in a basement where people were held by Russian forces, on April 21, 2022 in Hostomel, Ukraine.
Matresses are seen in a basement where people were held by Russian forces, on April 21, 2022 in Hostomel, Ukraine. © Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Russian Major General Accused of Ordering Abuses

Detainees were allegedly held in refrigerators and denied food and medical treatment.

Tuesday, 12 December, 2023

A Russian commander stands accused of ordering the brutal treatment of prisoners of war and civilians in Hostomel, Kyiv region, at the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vadym Pankov, 55,  is accused of a war crime under Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine concerning the violation of the laws and customs of war.

Pankov, originally from the Gomel region of Belarus, has a Russian passport and lives in Moscow. He graduated from the Kyiv Higher General Military Command School in 1990 and took the oath of allegiance to the people of Ukraine in 1992, when he served in the armed forces and was the commander of a specialist group in a military unit in the Ukrainian city of Kirovohrad, now Kropyvnytskyi. 

In 1993, he moved to Russia and graduated from the General Military Academy of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in 2003. Since 2014, he has been the commander of the 45th special brigade of the Airborne Forces of the Russian Armed Forces, stationed in the city of Kubinka, Moscow region.

According to Ukrainian military intelligence, Pankov took part in armed conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union, including as a participant in the first and second Chechen wars. In 2001, he received the title of Hero of Russia for his role serving in the territory of the North Caucasus. His brigade took part in the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and in hostilities in the east of Ukraine, including carrying out sabotage and reconnaissance tasks around Mariupol.

At the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pankov commanded the seizure of Antonov airport in the village of Hostomel. A year later, in February 2023, he was promoted to the rank of major general.

The Ukrainian pre-trial investigation established that the Russian army seized the airport in the afternoon of February 24, 2022 and controlled it until March 7. The airport was a strategically important facility, located ten kilometres from Kyiv and capable of receiving military aircraft. Its capture could have significantly expanded the capabilities of the Russian army to establish control over the capital of Ukraine. 

According to the investigation, after seizing the village of Hostomel and the airport on Pankov's instructions, the Russians captured 28 Ukrainian soldiers, including 13 border guards and 13 national guardsmen. The Russian military also killed 30 local residents who were hiding from shelling in the basements of houses.

All the prisoners were taken by the Russian military to a basement on the territory of the airport and kept in very cold conditions, without ventilation, lighting, bedding or proper sanitary facilities.

On March 2, the prisoners were divided into groups and placed in refrigerators in the airport cafeteria. These were cold and damp and people were forced to sleep on the bare concrete. Prisoners were not provided with medical care, and allocated approximately one spoonful of porridge and 150 ml of water per person per day. 

Around March 3-5, Pankov ordered six prisoners to be taken to load the corpses of Russian soldiers into trucks. He also warned the detainees that a journalist from a Russian TV channel would be coming to interview them and that no one should complain about the conditions of their captivity. 

Subsequently, a journalist from the Pervyi Kanal Russian channel visited the prisoners and filmed a report about Hostomel airport.

The investigation alleges that Pankov was fully aware of these conditions of detention. It maintains that Pankov, as a military official with a long record of service in the Russian army, was familiar with the laws and customs of war and therefore was clearly aware of the criminality of his orders.

On March 7 2022, Russian troops began to withdraw from the Antonov airport. According to the prosecution, they illegally moved their prisoners through the Republic of Belarus to various detention centres on the territory of Russia.

In early 2023, Ukrainian investigators informed the Russian commander of the suspicion in absentia. Pankov's case was sent to the Irpin city court in November and the Russian major-general has now been summoned. A lawyer from the free legal aid centre has been appointed for him.

The details of the indictment and the fate of the prisoners will be known only when the court grants permission for a special trial in the absence of the accused. If there are motions for the non-disclosure of information about the Ukrainian military, the court may be held in closed session.

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