Russian Tankers Accused of Shelling Residential Houses

According to the investigation, they wanted to "teach" villagers a lesson by targeting homes.

Russian Tankers Accused of Shelling Residential Houses

According to the investigation, they wanted to "teach" villagers a lesson by targeting homes.

Tank gunner-operator Yuriy Zaporozhskyi and his commander Nikita Khlystov.
Tank gunner-operator Yuriy Zaporozhskyi and his commander Nikita Khlystov. © Security Service of Ukraine
Tuesday, 16 January, 2024

Two Russian tankers have been accused of the targeted shelling of residential buildings in a village in the Kharkiv region in the spring of 2022. 

Nikita Khlystov, 21, is from the Russian city of Barnaul in the Altai region, and 20-year-old Yuriy Zaporozhskyi is a native of the city of Zavolzhsk in the Ivanovo region. They are both privates of the 1st tank platoon of the 1st tank company of the 1st tank battalion of the 138th Separate Guards Motorised Rifles of the Krasnosil Order of Lenin of the Red Banner Brigade. It is believed that they are currently in Russia and will be tried in absentia if they do not appear when summoned.

The Ukrainian investigation established that Zaporozhskyi is a tank gunner-operator and Khlystov a commander. They were part of a tank crew that took part in the spring 2022 capture of the Kharkiv oblast.

On March 20, 2022, a column of Russian tanks and light armored vehicles entered the village of Verkhnya Rohanka in Kharkiv district. With a population of 200, this settlement is located on the outskirts of the regional centre, which the Russians attempted to capture during the offensive. It is 30 kilometres from Verkhnya Rohanka to Kharkiv, and about 50 km to the border with the Belgorod region of Russia. 

As part of their maneuver, Russian soldiers set up positions in the forest on the outskirts of Verkhnya Rohanka along the road in the direction of the neighboring village of Shestakovo. At least four Russian tanks took up combat positions between residential buildings in the village and near greenhouses on its outskirts. 

The investigators established that one tank had the inscription For The Truth in white paint instead of a license plate. It did not have a permanent position during the period of occupation and until April 28 was deployed around the village of Verkhnya Rohanka between the forest and Russian military positions.

On April 29 - the day before the Ukrainian army liberated Verkhnya Rohanka - the Russian military began to redeploy and all tanks left the village, except for the one with the For the Truth inscription. This remained on the territory of the village near Lebedynska Street. According to the investigation, the crew of this tank included the commander Khlystov and operator-gunner Zaporozhskyi. The other crew members were not identified during the pre-trial investigation.

On the morning of April 29, Khlystov allegedly gave an order to launch direct fire at residential buildings. Zaporozhsky carried out this order and fired no less than four rounds with a high-explosive fragmentation projectile from a 125-mm tank gun.

"They did this in order to ‘teach’ the population,” the press service of the Kharkiv regional prosecutor's office reported. “When the accused were in this village, a bag with personal belongings disappeared from one of them. The occupiers looked for it among the locals, but never found it. The accused told the people that if they did not find the bag, they would shoot their houses, and they did.”

The investigation qualifies this crime as a violation of the laws and customs of war based on a prior conspiracy by a group of persons, since there was a targeted attack on a civilian object that was not a military target (Part 2 of Article 28, Part 1 of Article 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine concerning the violations, laws and customs of war).

From the materials of the court register, it is known that a direct hit by artillery shells destroyed two residential buildings, forcing the families to evacuate to other settlements. Shells also hit the road and a non-residential building nearby.

On June 30, 2023, Kharkiv investigators informed Khlystov and Zaporozhskyi of suspicions against them in absentia. On October 19, the Kyiv district court of Kharkiv gave permission for a special pre-trial investigation. It was completed in November and the case was transferred to the Kharkiv district court which began the preparatory stage. Law enforcement officers substantiated the suspicion with collected evidence, in particular, from the interrogation protocols of the victim and witnesses, photo identification, conducting an investigative experiment and data from an inspection of the scene.

The accused have been declared wanted. If found guilty, they face from eight to 12 years imprisonment.

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