War crimes in the Kyiv region: a Russian soldier sentenced to 12 years

This case is one of the rare trials of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, for a war crime that took place near the city of Borodyanka, 25 kilometers distant from the martyred city of Bucha. One of the thousands of crimes committed in the Kyiv region in the early days of the Russian invasion. On April 9, the Russian soldier was sentenced to 12 years of prison after he admitted his guilt.

Trial of a Russian soldier for war crimes near Kyiv, Ukraine - Photo: a Ukrainian civilian walks down the street while smoke is visible in the distance following a Russian shell strike.
In the case heard by the Borodyanka court, the victim was one of the thousands of residents of the Kyiv region who were fired upon by Russian troops at the start of the invasion. Photo taken on 24 March 2022 near a burning warehouse hit by a Russian shell on the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine. Photo : © Fadel Senna / AFP
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There are no reporters inside the District Court of Borodyanka, in the Kyiv region (Ukraine), for the trial of Radik Gukasian. No journalists listening to the testimonies, taking down notes, or whispering on the benches, as the trial goes on. Why? The captive Russian soldier is tried in a closed session as his testimony, said the court, “could have negative consequences for his relatives living in the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as negative consequences for the accused himself in the event of his return to the territory of the Russian Federation”.

The accused is not even in court himself: the building of the Borodyanka court burnt down in March 2022 as a result of the hostilities between Ukraine and Russia, so that its trials are held in another building, which is not considered to be suitable for the accused. Therefore, Gukasian participates via videoconference from the Kyiv pre-trial detention center.

Far from the eyes and ears of the press, the court tried to understand how and why this member of the Russian Armed Forces and his unit shot killed a Ukrainian civilian in March 2022. One among hundreds of civilians killed by Russians soldiers in this area close to the martyred city of Bucha, a quiet commuter town northeast of Kyiv, occupied by the Russian army for a month.

Captured by the Ukrainian army in August 2022, the 29-year-old is the only member of his military unit to answer for this crime.

Who is Radik Gukasian?

Born in 1995, Gukasian was less than 20 years old when he joined the Russian army in 2014. The young soldier has been under contract with the 331st Parachute Regiment, 98th Airborne Division of the Russian Armed Forces since 2015. His military unit is stationed in the Russian city of Kostroma, north of Moscow, where his wife and two children live.

In March 2022, Gukasian took part in the invasion of Ukraine, namely in the Kyiv region. He served as a mechanic-driver in the seventh company. Following orders from their superiors, the soldiers established firing positions in the area of the road between the village of Zdvyzhivka and the village of Babyntsi in the Bucha district, where military equipment such as infantry fighting vehicles (BMP-2) and other weaponry were deployed.

The company stayed in the region for less than a month. By the end of March, Gukasian and his unit retreated to Belarus. However, he soon returned to Ukraine, first to Donetsk region, then to the city of Izium in the Kharkiv region. On August 29, 2022, the Russian soldier was captured near the village of Olhyno, in the Kherson region.

Trial of a Russian soldier for war crimes in Ukraine. Photo: Borodyanka courtroom.
In the small courtroom where the Borodyanka court sits since it was destroyed as a result of the fighting in March 2022. The accused participates in his trial via videoconference from the pre-trial detention centre in Kyiv. Photo : © Iryna Salii

A red car with no military mark

Soon after his capture, Gukasian has himself told Ukrainian law enforcement officers that he was tormented by his conscience. In a written statement to the Office of the Prosecutor General from September 24, 2022, Gukasian stated that in late February and early March, he, along with other Russian servicemen, following the command of the deputy commander of the seventh company, were involved in the shooting of a car driving on a road.

According to the case files and Gukasian testimony, around March 5, the first deputy company commander, Nikolay Simov, came to his subordinates’ position and warned them about a red car driving down the road, along the military unit’s positions from the village of Babyntsi to the village of Zdvyzhivka.

When the car approached, Simov gave them the order to fire. The indictment states that the car was not marked with any military signs, and the driver was a civilian citizen of Ukraine. According to Gukasian, everyone fired, with assault rifles from a distance of approximately 50 meters, and he fired half a magazine of ammunition.

The car caught fire. The driver managed to rush out, but fell down nearby. According to Gukasian’s testimony, when the car burnt down, Simov came closer. A shot was heard, then he ordered the other soldiers to bury the body.

Russian soldiers’ position was near the house of a villager. They would come to his yard to get water. The resident testified in the case and recognized the accused as one of the soldiers who came for water. In early March, he heard machine gun fire and an explosion. The next day, while the occupiers were not in sight, the man came out and saw a burnt car on the road. He said that, three meters away, a boot was sticking out from the ground. The villager recalled that after the de-occupation, human remains were dug up at that exact place.

During a reconstruction of the events organized during the investigation, in September 2022, Gukasian showed the location of his combat position from which he fired, and where the body was buried. Law enforcement officers dug up the corpse, which was no longer identifiable six months after death, but the man was wearing a cross around his neck.

A civilian who was fleeing Kyiv

Back on April 12, 2022, a woman had filed a report with the Ukrainian police stating that her son had disappeared on February 28 in the Kyiv region. DNA analysis confirmed that the body found in the woods was her son’s.

At the court hearing, another of her children testified via videoconference that the deceased was his brother, who lived in Kyiv at the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. From phone conversations, he could tell that on the first day of the war, on February 24, 2022, his brother left Kyiv in his car in the direction of Irpin and spent the night near the Gostomel airport. He was not familiar with the area, so he got lost and spent the night in the woods. He then tried to get to the village of Halynka, where the family has relatives, near Borodyanka.

The last time the witness spoke to his brother, he said a local resident agreed to provide him with shelter, and then the communication was cut off. The deceased worked as a home appliance repairman and carried the tools he needed for his work in the trunk of his car.

A guilty plea, backed up with a polygraph test

According to the case file, during the polygraph test, Gukasian’s reactions did not indicate that he started shooting at a civilian car without an order from the deputy company commander, nor that he knew there was a civilian in the car, nor that he intended to kill the civilian. 

Gukasian pleaded guilty, confirming the driver was no threat to him nor to his unit, but he had opened fire because he was following the order of his commander.

Another criminal offence committed by Gukasian was the embezzlement of civilian property not substantiated by any military necessity. On March 20, 2022, Gukasian and a group of other soldiers broke into a private three-story house in the village of Lubyanka entering through a damaged metal door. The soldiers saw that the house had already been looted before their arrival. Gukasian went upstairs and saw a PlayStation in the children’s room on the third floor. He took the game console and later sent it to his children in Kostroma.

The court found him guilty of violating the laws and customs of war. For his cumulative crimes, Gukasian was sentenced, on April 9, to 12 years in prison.

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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