Russian Officer Sentenced for Attack on Residential Building

Although tanker was captured on the day his offence was committed, he was exchanged in a prisoner swap.

Russian Officer Sentenced for Attack on Residential Building

Although tanker was captured on the day his offence was committed, he was exchanged in a prisoner swap.

Leonid Shchotkin appeared in a video interview with Volodymyr Zolkin.
Leonid Shchotkin appeared in a video interview with Volodymyr Zolkin. © V. Zolkin
Tuesday, 25 April, 2023

A Russian tank commander has been sentenced in absentia to 11 years in prison for ordering an attack on a civilian target in the city of Chernihiv on February 26, 2022 at the start of the full-scale invasion.

However, although Leonid Shchotkin was captured on the same day that the offence was committed, he was exchanged in a prisoner swap a few months later and so is no longer in Ukrainian custody.

The 35-year-old, who has the rank of major, is a native of the city of Mozhga in the Udmurt Republic of the Russian Federation. The father-of-two serves in military unit 41659, which is stationed in the Altai region in the city of Aleisk. 

The investigation found out that on the morning of February 24, Shchotkin, as part of the crew of the T-72B tank, crossed from Belarus into Ukraine in the area of the village of Senkivka, Chernihiv region. His convoy moved towards Chernihiv city and on February 26 arrived there and continued in the direction of the airfield. 

According to the investigation, Shchotkin ordered the tank operator-gunner, sergeant Mikhail Kulikov, to turn around the turret of the armoured car and fire a high-explosive projectile at a high-rise building on 43 Rapoporta street. The building was behind the tank in the direct hit zone at a distance of 253 metres and was not a military target.

Kulikov carried out the order. As a result of a direct hit by a high-explosive tank projectile, two apartments and a maintenance area were destroyed. Material damages were estimated at more than 918,000 hryvnias (25,000 US dollars). There were no civilian casualties because it was a new building and no one had yet moved into the apartments.

On the same day, February 26, 2022, the Ukrainian military destroyed Shchotkin and Kulikov’s tank and took them into custody.

On August 8, 2022, Kulikov was sentenced to ten years in prison for executing the order and sent to Kolomyia Correctional Colony No 41 in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. On March 14, the Kolomyia city and district court released the prisoner from serving his sentence due to the decision to hand him over for exchange. 

Shchotkin, however, was exchanged a few months after being captured. On May 24, 2022, Shchotkin was informed of the suspicion of giving an order to commit actions that violate the laws and customs of war. The document was published on the website of the prosecutor general's office, as required by the legislation in case of absentee notification of suspicion. This means that by that time the captured Russian had already been exchanged. 

At Shchotkin's trial, a resident of Chernihiv who lives in a private house near the building that was fired upon testified that on February 26, 2022, she and her sister had hidden in a cellar from shelling. 

When plaster and stones fell into their shelter, they ran to hide with neighbours across the street. After the firing stopped, the witness returned to her home. On the road opposite her house, she saw a tank on fire. When the woman opened her barn door to feed the chickens, she saw two men in military uniform. One of them pointed a gun at her and put a finger to her lips to keep her quiet. The woman closed the door and went into the road where civilians and Ukrainian military were located, and informed them about the men in the barn. 

The second witness, another Chernihiv resident, told the court that on February 26, 2022, at the intersection of Kiltseva and Travnia streets, he saw a crashed Russian tank on fire.  

Ukrainian soldiers were  at a bus stop nearby, and two Russian soldiers were sitting on the curb. Next to them lay a pistol with cartridges and holsters. The witness addressed one of the Russians, who said that he was a sergeant from Altai. The second man did not respond to the witness’ question and a Ukrainian soldier attributed this to shell shock. 

The witness confirmed to the court that the identification was conducted with his participation in the presence of two witnesses. He was confident that he recognised Shchotkin from photographs.

Among the documentary evidence provided by the prosecution in support of Shchotkin's guilt were copies of the inspection reports of the scene, where investigators recorded damage to apartments and recovered fragments of tank ammunition. The investigators also examined the burnt-out Russian tank and the area nearby and found that the angle of elevation of the tank barrel corresponded to the height of the damage between the ninth and eleventh floors of the new building.

The prosecution also provided the court with the protocol of Kulikov’s interrogation, conducted in Russian and video recorded in the presence of a lawyer. The captured Russian tanker driver described how Shchotkin had lined the crews up at 1 am on February 24, 2022, explained how to use their battlefield medications, ordered them to get rations and said that they were moving towards the border with Ukraine "to reinforce it and demonstrate military equipment". 

By 6 o'clock in the morning, the column of tanks had already crossed the border of Ukraine and was moving through the Chernihiv region. The tankers spent the first night in the forest and on the second stopped in the village of Terekhivka. 

On the way, the tankers asked the commander about their orders. Shchotkin replied that it was necessary to get to the Chernigov airfield in order to dig in and hold the defence there. 

The witness said that Shchotkin ordered the tank mechanics to go “forward, forward, at maximum speed". 

After entering Chernihiv, Shchotkin ordered Kulikov to load the tank and fire, because an enemy rocket propelled grenade was located on the tenth floor of a building behind them.

Kulikov fired and began to turn the turret of the tank forward, but he saw a Ukrainian tank. They felt an impact and the tank caught fire. The mechanic was killed in the explosion, and Kulikov helped the wounded Shchotkin to get out of the tank. They climbed over a fence and hid in a barn. 

On April 11, the Desnianskyi district court of Chernihiv city concluded that the charges against Shchotkin were fully proven and correctly qualified by the pre-trial investigation body under Part 1 of Art. 438 of the criminal code as giving an order to commit actions that violate the laws and customs of war. Having passed its verdict, the court found no mitigating or aggravating circumstances when sentencing. 

Shchotkin's sentence is close to the longest term of imprisonment under Part 1 of Art. 438 of the criminal code concerning the violation of the laws and customs of war - 12 years in prison.

According to Ukrainian legislation, the Russian tanker's lawyer has 30 days to file an appeal. If there is no appeal, the verdict will enter into force after the expiry of the appeal period.

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