Chernihiv Court of Appeals in session on 22 January 2024.
Chernihiv Court of Appeals in session on 22 January 2024. © Iryna Domashchenko

Russian Pilot’s Appeal Rejected

Defence lawyer had asked for offence to be reclassified from war crime to intentional murder.

Tuesday, 30 January, 2024

Russian pilot Oleksandr Krasnoyartsev, sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison for killing a Ukrainian civilian in the Chernihiv region, has had his appeal rejected.

Defence lawyer Valentin Leskov, from the Ukrainian Centre for Free Legal Aid, had called on the court to reclassify his client’s crime and thus reduce his punishment.

In October 2023, the Novozavodsky district court of Chernihiv found Krasnoyartsev guilty of murdering 42-year-old Vitaliy Sergienko, a resident of Chernihiv. It also ruled that he must pay two million hryvnias (53,000 US dollars)  in moral damages caused to the victim’s sister, 41-year-old Svitlana Voyteshenko, who did not participate in the appeal as her presence was not required. 

In March 2022, during the Russian siege of Chernihiv, Krasnoyartsev’s Su-34 fighter jet was shot down over the city. The pilot ejected and landed in the courtyard of the house where the brother and sister lived. As he attempted to hide, Krasnoyartsev shot Sergienko twice with his Makarov pistol and killed him. 

Krasnoyartsev was later captured, and soon after exchanged in a prisoner swap.

Leskov argued that the Russian pilot was trying to save his own life when he shot Sergienko and could not have known that he was not a threat, arguing that there was no proof that the Ukrainian was unarmed. Krasnoyartsev had alleged in an interview that Sergiyenko had been holding a pitchfork.

Leskov added that Krasnoyartsev pistol had not been included in the case as an “instrument of crime” or recorded in the protocols of the crime scene inspection. 

“This indicates the incompleteness of the pre-trial investigation,” he told the court. “Can it affect the qualification of the crime? Yes, it can. If during the inspection of the crime scene, the instrument of the crime - a gun - was not found, then how can we trust that the victim Sergiyenko did not have any object with which he could [confront] Krasnoyartsev? Maybe he had something in his hands, but it was not recorded in the documents?” 

Leskov also argued that as Sergienko was not in occupied territory and thus not under Krasnoyartsev’s control, his murder was not a violation of the Geneva Convention on the protection of the civilian population in time of war.

“By shooting at Sergiyenko, he [Krasnoyartsev] was defending his life,” Leskov said, asking the court to reclassify the pilot’s actions under part 1 of Article 115 of the criminal code concerning “intentional murder" and reduce his punishment.

Prosecutor Kyrylo Pugachev objected to the satisfaction of the appeal, noting that the pistol had not been available to investigators.  

“The prosecution did not have access to Krasnoyartsev,” he said. “The military took him prisoner and later exchanged him, even before the report of suspicion.”

He explained that investigators had examined the cartridge from Sergiyenko’s body and the cartridge case from the scene of the crime in order to identify the weapon.

“This type of cartridge and year of manufacture were not used by units of the armed forces of Ukraine, therefore by way of exclusion we conclude that this cartridge was used by a serviceman of the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Krasnoyartsev was the only one alive at that time in that territory,” the prosecutor said.

Pugachev also noted that the fact that there was no pitchfork or shovel near the body of the deceased, according to witness testimony from the Ukrainian serviceman who detained the Russian pilot. 

“Krasnoyartsev, parachuting and descending into the private sector of residential development, and not to the position of the enemy, not to a military unit, had to understand that he could be next to civilians,” he said, asking the court to leave the verdict unchanged.

The appellate court examined the case materials and witness statements and agreed with the court of first instance that Sergienko was without weapons or objects that could cause physical harm. 

In their January 22 ruling, the Chernihiv court of appeal judges judged that Krasnoyartsev had indeed been a combatant, since his actions were directly related to the performance of tasks during the large-scale military invasion of Ukraine. This meant that he had violated the laws and customs of war and norms of international humanitarian law, which he should have known about as an officer of the armed forces of the Russian Federation.

The court left the Russian pilot's sentence unchanged, which means that it has now entered into force. The verdict can be appealed within three months in the Supreme Court of Ukraine, but Krasnoyartsev's lawyer told IWPR that he did not plan to file a cassation appeal. The term of the Russian pilot's sentence will be counted from the day of his actual detention.

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