war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian invaders kill two Ukrainian teenagers after torturing them as suspected rail partisans

Halya Coynash
There are serious discrepancies in Russia’s claim that 16-year-old Tihran Ohannisian and Mykyta Khanhanov were killed ‘in a shootout’

From left Tihran Ohannisian, Mykyta Khanhanov ii

From left Tihran Ohannisian, Mykyta Khanhanov ii

Mykyta Khanhanov did not live to celebrate his 17th birthday on 25 June. He was killed by the Russians illegally occupying Berdiansk the day before, together with his friend Tihran Ohannisian.  Tihran had earlier been abducted by the Russians and tortured, and Russia was threatening a ‘trial’ against both lads accusing them of acts of sabotage on railway tracks. The case was shocking and prompted the European Parliament to issue a resolution demanding an end to the lads’ persecution. Instead, the two boys were killed, with their parents convinced that the supposed shootout was staged in order to kill the boys.

There are a number of unexplained circumstances around the young boys’ killing on 24 June, and Olha Reshetylova, Coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights [MIHR] which first reported the boys’ persecution, stresses that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions as to what happened. MIHR will, however, be carrying out an independent investigation.

Reports and a video, showing Tihran Ohanissian, first appeared on various Telegram channels on Saturday evening.  Notorious collaborator Vladimir Rogov asserted on his channel that there had been a shootout and that “two pro-Ukrainian terrorists’ had been killed.  Rogov named only Tihran Ohannisian, mentioning nothing about the lad’s age, but saying that he had earlier been detained “for anti-Russian activities”.

The Berdiansk Municipal Military Administration posted the video circulating on social media on which Tihran is wearing a combat glove and holding a rifle. Tihran appears to suggest that two have been shot [“Two, definitely”], and then says “That’s it, death, guys.  Farewell! Glory to Ukraine!” 

By Sunday, it became clear that both Tihran and Mykyta had been killed, with this only exacerbating the many doubts about the supposed shootout with the occupation enforcement bodies.

According to Tihran’s mother, she had spoken with her son half an hour before the so-called ‘investigator’ rang the family to say that Tihran and Mykyta had been killed.  She says that her son sounded calm, and told her that he and Mykyta were hanging out and planning how to celebrate Mykyta’s 17th birthday on 25 June.  Reshetylova reports that there are also discrepancies regarding time and clothes (presumably the black T-shirt that Tihran is wearing on the video).  

Both lads’ parents believe that the claims made by the Investigative Committee that their sons were killed after they attacked two occupation ‘police officers’ are false, and that the video was staged. It is also telling that the parents have not been asked to identify the lads’ bodies, with the suspicion obviously arising that the boys’ bodies would also contradict the claims about how they died. Instead of allowing the parents to see their children and to grieve, the invaders have subjected them to interrogation and armed searches.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor has initiated a criminal investigation over the killing of the two teenagers.  MIHR is helping with that investigation, but will also be conducting their own.

As reported, Russia was planning to put the two underage Ukrainians ‘on trial’, accusing them of planning attacks on railway tracks – the tracks which Russia is using to carry out its war of aggression against Ukraine. 

Armed Russians had burst into the home in occupied Berdiansk where Tihran Ohannisian was living together with his grandmother on 30 September 2022.  Tihran’s mother Oksana Starovierova told MIHR that there were around 20 armed Russian soldiers and that both Tihran and his grandmother were beaten with the butt of a machine gun.  The Russians carried out a ‘search’ during which they took computers, laptops; a children’s tablet; telephones and phones – in Oksana’s words, breaking what they couldn’t steal.  The Russians put a bag over Tihran’s head and forced him into their car.  They later tortured him with electric currents and took him to a field where they subjected him to mock executions. He was initially thrown into a cell with adult civilian hostages, but was then moved into a cell by himself.  It was only on the third day, when he already had a high temperature that they at least allowed his grandmother to get a blanket and some other things for him.  She was not, however, allowed to see him. 

It is likely that the publicity around their torture and imprisonment of a child led to his sudden release on 6 October 2022.

Russians had also turned up at Mykyta Khanhanov’s home, but nobody was there.  When they appeared again, two weeks later, they took both Mykyta and his father away for interrogation but did finally release them.

Both boys were regularly interrogated, and other searches were carried out.  The lads had to report to the occupation ‘police station’ every day, and had done so on Friday, the day before they were killed.  Reshetylova also reports that the ‘investigators’ had come for the two lads a few days earlier, arriving with an armed convoy.  On that occasion, the lads had managed to flee, and it is not clear whether they were later able to return home.

MIHR had learned of the situation very early on but initially hoped that the Russian invaders would consider the boys’ age and end their persecution.  They sounded the alarm on 25 May, the day after Russia’s Investigative Committee formally charged Tihran and Mykyta with ‘sabotage’, under Article 281 of Russia’s criminal code. They claimed that both lads had damaged railway tracks to prevent supplies reaching the invading forces.  Whether or not there were grounds for such assertions in Tihran and Mykyta’s case, it should be stressed that rail partisans in Ukraine and Belarus have played a heroic role in obstructing Russia’s flagrant violation of international law through its war of aggression.

In its resolution from 13 June 2023, the European Parliament urged Russia to immediately release both boys from house arrest and to cease their mistreatment.  They condemned “Russia’s actions deliberately targeting Ukrainian children and teenagers, including their detention, mistreatment, forcible transfer within parts of Ukraine’s territory temporarily occupied by Russia, unlawful deportation to Russia and Belarus and forcible adoptions by Russian families as well as their so-called “re-education”.

The two lads had been facing possible 20-year sentences, with effectively no chance of a fair trial.  There is, unfortunately, no possibility either that the Russian Investigative Committee will carry out any proper investigation into the circumstances around the killing of these two very young boys.

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