Ukraine: "Human Shield" Trial Proceeds

Local residents forced into basements while soldiers moved into their apartments.

Ukraine: "Human Shield" Trial Proceeds

Local residents forced into basements while soldiers moved into their apartments.

Meeting at the Irpin city court of the Kyiv region, July 17, 2023.
Meeting at the Irpin city court of the Kyiv region, July 17, 2023. © Iryna Domashchenko
Tuesday, 25 July, 2023

A Russian military commander has been summoned by the Irpin city court for allegedly ordering 150 civilians to be held as human shields in the town of Hostomel in the Kyiv region.

Huseyn Mezhidov, 38, is a citizen of the Russian Federation from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. He is accused of a war crime under Part 1 of Article 438 concerning the violation of the laws and customs of war regarding the cruel treatment of civilians. 

The investigation believes that on Mezhidov's order, from February 25 to March 13, 2022, the Russian military took Hostomel residents hostage and kept them as human shields in the basements of multi-story buildings. If found guilty, Mezhidov could face eight to 12 years in prison.

The Ukrainian special service reported that the suspect is the commander of the South battalion of the 46th separate operational brigade of the North Caucasus District of the Russian Guard and a close associate of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic. 

On February 24, the Russian military seized control over a part of the Kyiv region, including the village of Hostomel. These troops included the 249th separate unit South motorised battalion under Mezhidov’s leadership, who crossed the state border of Ukraine in the area of the city of Pripyat town, Kyiv region, and arrived in Hostomel no later than the next day. 

Russian military commander Huseyn Mezhidov. © SBU

According to the investigation, the commander ordered his subordinates to set up roadblocks and control the movement of civilians, including driving people into basements.

People were questioned about the Ukrainian military and territorial defence, about the location of weapons, and were ordered to hand over their phones. Those found in their apartments were forcibly taken to the basements and forbidden to leave, with guards posted at the entrances. 

Also, on the commander’s orders, the Russian military placed military equipment near the houses and moved into the apartments of civilians who were in the basements. In this way, according to the investigation, the Russian military ensured their safety against possible shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces.

Those forcibly held in the basements were kept in confined spaces, without lighting, heating or ventilation and with limited access to food, water and medicine, from February 25 to March 13 last year. 

Mezhidov's suspicion refers to some 150 civilians - children, women, and elderly people. Some became ill and, according to information from the SBU, those who died were buried near the house. 

A few days after the civilians were taken hostage, Mezhidov allegedly forced several people  to express their gratitude on camera to the Russian military of the Chechen Republic for the assistance they had provided. According to the investigation, Mezhidov posted this video online on March 4. In it, he reports that he came on Kadyrov's personal orders to check on the conditions in which civilians were living.

In August 2022, SBU investigators informed Mezhidov of the suspicion against him in absentia. In September, a preventive measure was chosen in the form of detention without determining the amount of the bail.

The indictment was sent to court in November and the first court hearing was scheduled for January 9, 2023. However, the preparatory stage has not yet been completed. The trial was delayed for several reasons, including an air alert that meant court sessions were not held and the retirement of the first judge appointed to hear the case.

The Irpin сity court scheduled a preparatory hearing for July 17, on which eight injured residents of Hostomel came to the hearing. In total, 25 people have exercised their right to participate in the court proceedings as victims. Materials from the court register indicate that witnesses and victims recognized Mezhidov from a photo as the person who led the servicemen to hold civilians hostage. 

According to the prosecutor's information, Mezhidov is currently in the territory of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation and has been declared an internationally wanted person. The victims and the public prosecutor did not object to the preparatory meeting without the participation of the accused. 

The accused's lawyer, from the Ukrainian Free Legal Aid Centre, told the court that he had been unable to contact his client.

“I tried to find him on social networks…. But, in particular, I had no contact with him,” he said. The lawyer did not submit a request for a collegial hearing of the case by three judges, to which the accused has the right. The defender explained that as he was unable to contact Mezhidov, he does not know his position on this issue.

Following the procedure of summoning the accused to the court, the court postponed the preparatory session. The next one should take place on September 18.

Another Chechen commander, Daniil Martynov, is also being tried in absentia in Borodyanka for allegedly using 500 civilians as human shields. The hostages were the patients of the Borodyanka special needs boarding school, along with staff and residents of the old age people’s home of the settlement of Borodyanka.

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