Russian military pilot who knowingly bombed Kharkiv civilian targets sentenced to 12 years
A Russian pilot, who admitted in March 2022 that he knew he was bombing civilian targets in Kharkiv oblast, including the Kharkiv TV tower, has been sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. The court also allowed three civil suits for compensation of 1.1 million UAH.
The Prosecutor General’s Office announced on 3 March 2023 that a pilot of the Russian Federation armed forces had been found guilty of bombing the Kharkiv television tower, a civilian target. It is a war crime to target civilian objects and the defendant was, therefore, charged with and convicted of violating the law and practice of war (under Article 438 § 1 and 28 § 2 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code). Although the report does not name the individual, it is clear from the information provided that the defendant was Maksym Sergeevich Kryshtop, the deputy commander of an aviation regiment who was in an SU-28 fighter plane shot down by the Ukrainian National Guard on 6 March 2022.
The pilot had received orders to destroy civilian facilities in Kharkiv and Kharkiv oblast, and specifically given the coordinates of the e TV tower on which he dropped eight bombs. The report stresses that the Radio and Television Broadcasting Company whose tower was targeted carried out purely civilian functions and there was nothing that could have been deemed a legitimate military target. This was an attack that hurt civilians since the tower’s functions included a public warning system, alerting the public to emergencies and danger to health and safety.
Over the last year, Russia has attacked a huge number of civilian targets, including residential homes, hospitals and schools. While it is not always clear whether some civilian objects were specifically targeted, or hit because of the notorious inaccuracy of many of the Russian missiles, this is not true of television towers which the invaders have been targeting since 2014.
Kryshtop was one of three Russians who appeared at a press conference on 11 March 2022. He stated that he was carrying out his third bombing flight when he was shot down on 6 March, catapulted and was taken prisoner. He had understood, he said, that his targets were not military sites, but residential homes, yet continued obeying orders. He asserted, however, that two of his bombing ‘missions’ had hit Ukrainian servicemen or military equipment. When asked by a journalist whether he could have refused to obey the order to carry out such attacks, he said that he could have, but had lacked the courage. He added that he understood that he had committed terrible crimes and asked for ‘forgiveness’.
Kharkiv and Kharkiv oblast, which are close to the border with Russia, were targeted by the invaders from the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, with bombing inflicting massive destruction and loss of life.
Almost 70 thousand war crimes
As of the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Yuriy Bielousov, head of the War Department within Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported that they had recorded 68,6 thousand war crimes committed by the Russians, as well as almost 17 thousand crimes against Ukraine’s national security. 276 individuals are suspected specifically of war crimes, with the indictments sent to the court in case of 97 of these. There have been 25 sentences to date, with 14 of these against Russians physically in Ukraine, while the others have been passed in absentia.