Judges at the Chernihiv District Court on February 21, 2024 for the case against Russian soldiers Artem Tereshonkov and Vladyslav Dongak who are accused of shooting at a car with six civilians on March 3, 2022, killing two.
Judges at the Chernihiv District Court on February 21, 2024 for the case against Russian soldiers Artem Tereshonkov and Vladyslav Dongak who are accused of shooting at a car with six civilians on March 3, 2022, killing two. © Irina Domashchenko

Two Russian Soldiers to be Tried for Shooting Civilian Car, Killing Two

The men opened fire with machine guns on a vehicle carrying fleeing villagers.

Tuesday, 27 February, 2024

Two Russian soldiers will be tried in absentia for shooting at a car carrying civilians in March 2022, killing two passengers including a judge. The men shot at the car on March 3, 2022 in Rogoshchi, a village about 24 kilometres north of the regional centre of Chernihiv, which Russian forces had entered on February 25, one day after launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Investigators found that Artem Tereshonkov, 21, and Vladyslav Dongak, 33, were in a military column that on March 3 crossed Rogoshchi on its way to the neighbouring village of Khmilnytsia as Russians were pushing to advance deeper into the region and occupy Chernihiv.

The column met a grey Renault Duster car with six passengers who were trying to leave the village. On board were Lyubov Kharechko, 46 - a judge of the Chernihiv Court of Appeal -n her 22-year-old son and another family of four - a man, a woman and two 16-year-old girls. 

The suspicion in absentia issued against the two soldiers states that the car, coming from the opposite direction of the military vehicles, pulled over and stopped, letting the column pass. The passengers reportedly sat still, did not make any sudden movements and did not resist the advance of the Russian military: therefore, they did not pose a threat to them and could not be considered active combatants or participants in the armed conflict. 

However, according to the investigation, Tereshonkov, a native of Tula, a city 185 kilometres south of Moscow, and Dongak, from the Tuva Republic in southern Siberia, and their accomplices opened fire against the vehicle. They shot 11 bullets from machine guns from a distance of about 45 metres. The driver and the judge, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, died immediately. Kharechko’s son was injured.

Witnesses reported that after firing at the car some Russian soldiers jumped out of the military vehicle, pulled out the surviving passengers and took them to a house nearby. Neighbourhood residents took the two bodies away.

Rogoshchi resident Viktor Hryhorus told reporters that he and other villagers transported the bodies from the car to a barn, where they laid them out on bales of hay. When the Ukrainian forces regained control of the village in early April, the bodies were retrieved and buried.

“I asked people to help me dig a hole,” he said. “They helped me to dig and we buried them, but of course there were no graves: they were wrapped in a sheet.” 

Donghak and Tereshonkov were notified of the suspicion in absentia in November 2023. A month later, Chernihiv’s Desnyan District Court gave permission for a special pre-trial investigation in absentia. The suspects did not appear when summoned and in January 2024, the case was referred to the Chernihiv District Court. 

According to the court register, at the time of the pre-trial investigation Dongak was in the Russian Federation, and Tereshonkov was in the territory of the occupied Luhansk region. They are on the Ukrainian police’s list of wanted individuals. 

The investigation identified the accused through the testimonies of survivors and witnesses and photos. On February 21, at a preparatory meeting, the two suspects’ defence lawyer Valentin Leskov, assigned from the centre of free legal aid, asked for the recusal of one of the judges, Viktoriya Oleshchenko. 

Judge Oleshchenko had stated that she was friends with one of the victims, while another one was her husband's godmother. She disclosed the information as “[it] may raise doubts about the judge's impartiality” and the defence lawyer stated that “the presented circumstances are grounds for [the judge’s] recusal”.

The court accepted the defence attorney’s recusal request: according to the Ukrainian criminal law, a judge cannot consider a case if there is doubt about his or her objectivity and impartiality. 

The case against the two soldiers will be transferred to the chancellery to determine the new composition of the court and will then be summoned to a preparatory meeting. If they do not appear three times, then this will be a reason to start a trial in absentia.

If proven guilty of violating the laws and customs of war under Part 2 of Article 28 and Part 2 of Article 438 of the criminal code the two soldiers face from ten to 15 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment.

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