One year after being exchanged, a Russian pilot sentenced in Chernihiv

The images of the pilot shot down in the early days of Russia's all-out attack on Ukraine made the headlines. But despite his relative celebrity and his confession to bombing Chernihiv, the man was exchanged before he could be tried. It was only on October 26, that a local Ukrainian court convicted him in absentia for war crimes.

Aleksandr Krasnoyartsev: a Russian pilot captured in Ukraine, exchanged with Russia and then tried in Ukraine in absentia (in the absence of the accused) for war crimes.
Russian pilot Aleksandr Krasnoyartsev, who was shot down in Chernihiv in Ukraine in the early days of Russia's all-out attack, was convicted of war crimes at the end of October.
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On March 5, 2022, Russian senior pilot Aleksandr Krasnoyartsev made a take-off in a Su-34, a multi-role fighter jet of the Russian Armed Forces, from a military airfield near the village of Seshcha, Bryansk region, a region of the Russian Federation close to Ukraine. On the same day, at approximately 11:30 a.m., his plane was shot down by the Ukrainian defense forces over Chernihiv, a town north of the capital Kyiv.

Krasnoyartsev and his co-pilot ejected. After landing in the yard of a residential house, Krasnoyartsev attempted to escape in spite of his injuries. The co-pilot died as a result of the downing of the plane. Krasnoyartsev was spotted by the owner of the house. The Russian opened fire on him at least twice with a Makarov gun, thus killing the Ukrainian civilian, but Krasnoyartsev ended up apprehended by Ukraine’s territorial defence.

Exchanged for five Ukrainian pilots

However, as early as in the first months of his captivity, Krasnoyartsev was exchanged. According to the head of the State Security Service of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, the Russian pilot was exchanged for five Ukrainian pilots. So that the investigation and the trial were held in absentia, by the Novozavodsky District Court of Chernihiv.

The sister of the deceased testified in court that she and her brother had their permanent residence in this house. The brother worked as an electrician at the "Sporttehnika" company and was actively involved in the upbringing of her daughter, both financially and spiritually. On that day, she was in the house as well and heard something fly by. Her brother saw the smoke through the window and went outside, dressed in civilian clothes and not holding anything in his hands. The witness heard a few separate shots and came out of the house when Krasnoyartsev was already detained, only to discover her brother's dead body.

The husband of the victim's sister said to the court that he went out in the yard with nothing but a fire poker in his hands. He saw a person wearing blue clothes run. The witness did not see who was shooting and under what circumstances, he only heard the shots.

A man in civilian clothes, face down

A member of the territorial defence said to the court that he was searching for ejected pilots from a downed enemy aircraft that had just bombed Chernihiv. He heard a few separate shots and followed their direction, then saw a parachute on the roof of a house. In a yard, he saw the dead body of a man in civilian clothes, with a gunshot wound to his head, lying on his stomach, face down. He found the pilot in the neighboring yard, in a technical building. Krasnoyartsev surrendered and came out with his hands up, holding a gun. He was wearing a blue overall and had a slash wound on his cheek. Detainee Krasnoyartsev did not deny that he had bombed the area and opened fire on the victim.

On April 2022, journalist Volodymyr Zolkin recorded an interview with the captured Krasnoyartsev. The latter confirmed that he had shot several times at a man who was running after him. During the proceeding, the video was the only source of the accused testimony.

Krasnoyartsev claimed that the civilian man allegedly chased him with a pitchfork. But the family members said in court that they did not have a pitchfork at the time because it was broken and kept in the shed, which was too far for the victim to get to. 

According to the forensic medical examination, the man was killed at close range, meaning that the military had the opportunity to both predict the fatal outcome and be certain he was confronting a civilian who was not directly involved in hostilities.  

Leather gloves and a mint lollipop

The following personal belongings of the accused were seized at the scene: a mobile phone, a brochure with the title "Special cases during flight", a metallic device of orange color with an inscription "Do not open the emergency recorder", leather gloves, a parachute in orange and white color, shell casings, a candy labeled "Mint lollipop", etc.

It was after this procedure in absentia, when other Russian pilots were judged in Ukraine before being exchanged, that the Novozavodsky District Court of Chernihiv found Russian serviceman guilty of violating the laws and customs of war. More than a year after his exchange, on October 26, Krasnoyartsev was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The court also ruled in favor of the civil suit filed by the murdered man's sister, ordering the Russian soldier to pay 2 million hryvnias [around 50.000 euros] compensation for moral damages.

This report is part of our coverage of war crimes justice produced in partnership with Ukrainian journalists. A first version of this article was published on the "Sudovyi Reporter" website.

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