Weeks ago, the Ivankiv District Court sentenced in absentia Belik Bazarzhapov, a Russian military officer, to 11 years in prison for violating the laws and customs of war. According to the court's decision, the man mistreated civilians on the territory of the Ivankiv village, situated to the northwest of Kyiv, beat them with a rifle butt, confiscated and shattered a cell phone. The open court hearing was conducted in the presence of prosecutor Viktoria Prokopiv, defence lawyer Volodymyr Pratsuk, and the victim, whose name is protected.
The court found that Bazarzhapov, a Russian citizen from the Transbaikal region born in 1985 who served as a senior mechanic-driver of the 37th separate motorized rifle brigade (stationed in the Republic of Buryatia) while taking part in the all-out attack on Ukraine, was on February 25, 2022 personally involved in acts of armed aggression on the territory of Ukraine, in particular in the village of Ivankiv, Vyshgorod district of Kyiv oblast.
On March 23, 2022, Bazarzhapov and his fellow Russian servicemen stopped a car that was driving from Ivankiv to a neighbouring village, threatened the driver with execution, hit him in the shoulder with the butt of his rifle, seized and shattered his cell phone, using obscene language and calling him and his passengers “Banderas” and “Nazis”. The victim, testifying in court, explained that from the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine he remained in Ivankiv, which was then occupied by Russian troops. That day, at approximately 10 am, he and two passengers drove to the village of Zaprudka in order to make a phone call to relatives, as at that time mobile service could still be found in some places in Zaprudka.
“A genuine threat to his life”
The car was stopped at a checkpoint near Zaprudska Street in Ivankiv. Passengers were ordered to get out, stand in line, and one of the soldiers pointed an automatic weapon at them. They were asked about their cell phones. They replied that they did not have any. The soldiers began to search the car and found the victim's cell phone. This made Bazarzhapov very angry, he started behaving aggressively, forced the victim to kneel, and when he stood up, hit the victim in the right shoulder with the butt of his assault rifle, causing him to fall to the ground.
Also, according to the victim whose words were confirmed by the other passengers, during the inspection of the car, Bazarzhapov told other soldiers that the passengers should be executed. The Russian military asked about the locations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and whether they had any involvement with them. “During these events, the victim experienced a genuine threat to his life, as the Russian military, especially Bazarzhapov, clearly demonstrated that they intended to use their weapons against him,” the court ruling reads.
Not aware of the laws and customs of war
The defence lawyer argued that the prosecution failed to prove Bazarzhapov was aware of the laws and customs of war stipulated by international treaties, and therefore his actions should not be qualified as a war crime but under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, namely, inflicting bodily harm to the victim and appropriating his phone.
“The defence claims that the prosecution has not proved Bazarzhapov was acquainted with the laws and customs of war are refuted and dismissed by the fact that military personnel's awareness of the customs and laws of war is presumed by the nature of their service in the military,” the court ruling reads.
In an interview with “Hromada Pryirpynya”, defence lawyer Pratsuk stated that he had no contact with the accused but decided to appeal the decision of the Ivankiv District Court. “There is no definitive ruling on the case, so any comments are premature. I do not know the date of consideration [of the appeal] yet,” Pratsuk added.
The court found Bazarzhapov guilty of committing a criminal offence for violating the laws and customs of war and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. The sentence will be counted from the moment of his detention in order to implement this verdict. In December 2022, Bazarzhapov was included in the international and national wanted list.
A sentence of 9 years, for looting
Before the same court another Russian serviceman, Vladimir Nomokonov, also stationed in Ivankiv district, was recently found guilty of looting in the village of Ivankiv in March 2022. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
This verdict was issued by the Ivankiv District Court, after consideration in open court of the looting committed by Russian servicemen in the village of Ivankiv, in particular by Vladimir Nomokonov, a 20-year-old soldier of the 37th separate motorized rifle brigade of the Russian Federation (stationed, as for Bazarzhapov, in the Republic of Buryatia). The court hearing was conducted in the presence of the prosecutor, defence lawyer and witnesses.
On February 24, 2022, the armed forces of the Russian Federation engaged in a large-scale invasion of Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, illegally crossing the state border of Ukraine beyond the checkpoints and, pursuing the goal of occupying Ukrainian populated areas, began moving towards the city of Kyiv. The next day, while continuing to march towards Kyiv, Russian military units established ground positions in the Vyshgorod district of the Kyiv oblast, in particular in the village of Obukhovychi in the Ivankiv territorial community.
The court determined that the village of Obukhovychi, which was occupied as a result of hostilities, was under the control of the Russian Armed Forces and other military formations from February 25, 2022 until March 31, 2022.
Robbing the local population “for personal gain”
“At this same time, a number of Russian Federation servicemen, acting intentionally while on the territory of the Vyshgorod district where military hostilities were taking place and in violation of the laws and customs of war, robbed the local population, namely took private property from civilians, being aware that the taken property could not be used for military purposes but for personal gain only,” reads the court verdict.
During the court hearing, a victim's neighbour testified that he saw with his own eyes the Russian servicemen coming from all over the village to the house almost every evening until March 31. There were three Ural trucks in the victim's yard. The neighbour also said that Nomokonov, in a state of alcohol intoxication, came to his own house as well.
“One day he [Nomokonov] fell asleep, and the documents fell out of his uniform, the ones my wife took a picture of with her phone and handed over to the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine] after the de-occupation. I personally saw Nomokonov almost every day," the witness said in court.
The witness personally testified that, sitting on a bench next door to the victim’s yard, he saw how the accused and three other Russian servicemen were taking a washing machine out of the house and loading it on a Ural truck with Russian license plates (with the 25th region registration). Then the vehicle headed towards the village of Termakhivka, Vyshgorod district, Kyiv oblast.
The witness's wife, who photographed Nomokonov's documents, said in court that around the end of March 2022, in the afternoon, “two of them carried a washing machine, a generator and some other small things. They were leaving the yard and taking things out on the road. After their last exit, I heard a truck engine start, and they [the soldiers] went back to the victim's house," the woman said in court.
The court decision states that Nomokonov, acting out of self-interest together with unidentified Russian military personnel whose cases are under separate investigation, while in the area of hostilities -- namely in the village of Obukhovychi -- broke into the private house of a local resident, who had managed to get out of the village. The Russian servicemen unlawfully seized the victim's property, namely a washing machine, a screwdriver, a gasoline generator, a drill, a polisher, a chainsaw and an air compressor, causing material damage to the victim amounting to a total of UAH 36,432.44 [around 1,000 euros].
Judge Nataliya Slobodian ruled Nomokonov guilty of committing a criminal offence for the violation of the laws and customs of war with prior collective conspiracy of a group of persons, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. The term of the sentence will be counted from the moment Nomokonov is detained in order to implement this verdict. On February 16, 2023, Nomokonov was put on the international and national wanted list.
The verdict was not subject to appeal in the Kyiv Court of Appeal.
This report is part of our coverage of war crimes justice produced in partnership with Ukrainian journalists. A first version of this article (compiling 2 separate articles) was published on the "Kotsyubynske" website: here and here.