The Ukrainian drone that said “follow me”

Klim Kerzhayev, a Russian soldier, was accused of opening fire on a civilian car in Northeastern Ukraine, back in June 2022. The woman inside the car escaped thanks to the ingenuity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Her husband was left for dead. Later in a telephone conversation, Kerzhayev allegedly confessed to his wife that he had killed a civilian. He was convicted in absentia by a Ukrainian court.

The story of how a Ukrainian drone helped a woman escape a war crime - Photo: Valeriya Bohomaz walks along a country road (aerial photo taken from the drone guiding her).
Valeriya Bohomaz follows the drone that points her in the direction of the Ukrainian military, in June 2022, in the Kharkiv region (screenshot from the film "Follow Me").
5 min 27Approximate reading time

With the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Valeriya and Andriy Bohomaz, a married couple from Bakhmut, moved to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. Later they decided to relocate Andriy's parents there as well. To do this, on June 23, 2022, they both drove back to their hometown in Eastern Ukraine. After reaching the territory of the Kharkiv oblast, said Andriy Bohomaz's in court, they made it through several checkpoints and then took a country road that was controlled by Russia’s occupation forces. At that moment, explosions started blasting around the car, the couple rushed out of the vehicle and ran to a public transport stop to hide from the shelling. After a few minutes, the shooting stopped, so Andriy and Valeriya decided to return to the car to get their documents and mobile phones. At that moment, another explosion went off near them.

"I saw that [my husband's] head was injured. I washed his head immediately. I started bandaging it, taking out big towels. I didn't know what to do, I'm not a doctor. I said: ‘Please don't die. Don't leave me’," Valeriya Bohomaz recalled.

The shelling of the civilian car by the Russians was recorded by a drone of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who were stationed near Barvinkove, in the Izium district of Kharkiv oblast. One of them testified in court about how they made the decision to send a drone up in the air when they noticed a civilian car passing through their positions towards the occupied territories. The drone footage shows Valeriya struggling to provide her husband with first aid, while blood was spreading around the car.

The drone footage shows Valeriya Bohomaz giving first aid to her husband, Andriy, who has suffered head and leg injuries.
The drone footage shows Valeriya Bohomaz giving first aid to her husband, Andriy, who has suffered head and leg injuries (screenshot from the film "Follow Me").

Valeriya’s escape

Ukrainian defenders then flew the drone over to the woman and tried to make her leave the scene of the attack and follow the drone. However, Valeriya kept pointing at Andriy, who was bleeding, and did not want to abandon him. This lasted for about 20 minutes. Eventually, a Ukrainian serviceman, who later became a witness at the trial, attached an A4 sheet of paper to another drone, wrote “Follow me” on it and then lowered the drone to an altitude where Valeriya could see the instruction.

The woman got up and started walking quickly to follow the drone. At the same time, the camera on the drone recorded three Russian soldiers approaching the Bohomaz's car. They tried calling Valeriya and waving at her, but the woman did not turn and continued to follow the drone. Soon, she was met by Ukrainian soldiers.

As a result of his serious injuries, Andriy Bohomaz had lost consciousness near the car. According to investigators, the Russians assumed that the man was dead, so they dragged him away and dumped him into a ditch.

“I f**king killed a man today!”

A few hours later, Russian soldier Klim Dmitrievich Kerzhayev, who had allegedly opened fire on the civilian car of Bakhmut residents, called his wife and said that he had killed a man. This conversation was intercepted by Ukrainian security forces, so it became evidence in the case. The fact that it was Kerzhayev's voice on the recording was confirmed by another Russian soldier who fought with him in the Izium district but was captured by the Ukrainian army.

This is how the conversation between Kerzhayev and his wife Anastasia went:

"I see, and I f**king killed a man today!"

"You killed?"



"Who the f**k knows. I don't know who the f**k he was."

"A khokhol [pejoratively “a Ukrainian”] or something?"

"Yes, yes, yes."

"So did he go somewhere he wasn't supposed to or what?"

"Well, no. Anyway, the car was passing..."


"I f**king hit it with a thirty [thirty-millimeter gun] from an IFV [infantry fighting vehicle], moth**f**ker."


"Women [sic] were there as it turned out..."


"The woman came out. The man didn't, f**k."

"I see. What happened to her?"

"I don't know, she f**king took off somewhere."


"That's it."

"I see."

"Top up my phone with some money today, okay?"


Andriy Bohomaz, whom the Russians believed to be dead, regained consciousness after a while, climbed out of the ditch and got into the trunk of the car. Later, he decided to get out of the car and go in search of help. "The bandage was tied too tightly, and my leg became swollen. When I took it off, my leg started to shrink. I tried to step on the leg and realized I was able to walk. I walked towards the Ukrainian positions for about 30-40 minutes. I was walking with breaks because it hurt really bad. I would stop and sit on a blanket," Andriy told the court.

Ukrainian defenders took the victim to a hospital in Kharkiv. Later, the man continued his treatment in Kyiv.

Russian soldier Klim Kerzhayev
Russian soldier Klim Kerzhayev (photo from social media).

“I'm not a military man”

Journalists of Free Radio discovered that Kerzhayev was born on July 3, 1997, and is a resident of Moscow. He is a company commander in the 15th Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment (military unit 31134). Kerzhayev’s unit is located in the village of Kalininets in the Moscow region.

Russian sources indicate that after the beginning of the full-scale invasion, units of the 2nd Taman Division "were blocking Kyiv from the north, namely from Chernihiv region". The division was subsequently attached to the Russian army's West formation and sent to fight Ukrainians in the Kupyansk segment of the frontline in the Kharkiv oblast.

Journalists from Mediazona, a Russian media outlet that covers the judicial, law enforcement and penitentiary systems in Russia, called Kerzhayev and asked to comment on the intercepted audio recordings released by Ukrainian security forces.

"Do you know that your conversation with your wife was tapped by the Ukrainian secret services?"

"I'm not a military man."

"This number is registered to a military man."

"I'm not a military man, I don't know who was tapping what."

"Is Kerzhayev your surname?"


"Then how did it happen that you are involved in the Ukrainian investigation?"

"I don't know how it happened. I'm telling you, I'm not a military man."

The journalists also managed to talk to Klim's wife Anastasia Kerzhayeva:

"Do you know that your conversation was intercepted and published?"

"What conversation?"

"When your husband Klim called you and told you about the car he shot at. And you also asked him if he killed a ‘khokhol’"

"I'm not married."

"But you are Anastasia Kerzhayeva?"

"No, that's wrong. Why would you care who I am?"

"Anastasia, you even have a photo with Klim Kerzhayev on your avatar."

"I'm telling you once again, I don't know who that is."

Guilty of war crime

Anastasia and Klim closed their joint social media pages. And after talking to journalists, she replaced her main profile photo with a selfie that no longer includes her husband.

Despite these attempts, we found several photos of the couple online. Including their wedding photos. It is also known that in 2021, the Kerzhayevs had a son. At the time, Klim was engaged in military exercises in Belarus.

Anastasia and Klim Kerzhayev's wedding
Photo of Anastasia and Klim Kerzhayev's wedding, taken from social media.

Before the Krasnohrad District Court in Kharkiv oblast Kerzhayev's state lawyer asked the court to acquit his client. In his opinion, “the prosecution failed to prove where the shelling originated from, failed to identify the accused and that he was, in fact, the one who opened fire on a civilian car.” He also said that the evidence produced by the prosecution was obtained outside rules of procedure.

But the panel of judges found there was sufficient evidence of the Russian soldier's guilt for the "violation of the laws and customs of war." He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in absentia. Kerzhayev also has to pay a total of 32.1 million hryvnia (770.000 euros) in compensation for moral damages. He was officially listed as wanted by the state.

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 "Free Radio" website.

All our articles about: