Russia passes breathtakingly lawless 18-year sentence against Ukrainian POW defending Mariupol
Russia’s notorious Southern District Military Court has sentenced Anton Baidrakov to 18 years on absurd charges, some of which effectively rewrite the historical facts and legal status of the territory on which the Ukrainian defender was taken prisoner. It is indicative of Russia’s violation, not only of international law, but even of the fundamental principles of law, that Baidrakov was accused of an entirely different ‘crime’ from that impugned against fellow Ukrainian soldier Anton Cherednyk, although the two men were taken prisoner at the same time, while defending Mariupol.
It is typical of all Russia’s illegal ‘trials’ of Ukrainian prisoners of war is that effectively the only information about them comes from reports, issued after the sentence has been handed down, either by Russia’s prosecutor general or the Investigative Committee.
The prosecutor general on 13 December 2023 that Baidryakov had been sentenced to 18 years, with the first three years in a prison, the very worst of Russian penal institutions, with the remainder in a harsh-regime prison colony. The Ukrainian soldier, seized while defending Mariupol, had been illegally charged under Russian legislation. The four specific charges were of ‘planning an armed seizure of power’ (Article 278); ‘undergoing training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities’ (Article 205.3). ill-treatment of the civilian population (Article 356 § 1); and murder (Article 105 § 2). Two of the charges pertain solely to Badryakov’s role as a soldier, defending his country, and are, therefore, in violation of the Third Geneva Convention. While, in principle, prisoners of war [POW] are not protected from prosecution for ill-treatment or killing of civilians, there must be proof that such actions did take place. There is none, only provided by two men who have very clearly been beaten and have difficulty even speaking.
The report claims that the court established that Baidrakov had, “from July to August 2021, undergone training in military action for the purpose of violently seizing power and changing the constitutional order” of the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [hereafter ‘DPR’] which Russia had not at the time formally recognized. The indictment becomes even more surreal with the assertion that Baidrakov was, in December 2021, sent to serve “on the territory of DPR” as part of the Ukrainian marines. This nonsense is seemingly an attempt to claim that Mariupol was part of ‘DPR’ before and while Russia was relentlessly bombing and killing civilians from the beginning of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine until it seized control in May 2022.
It is then asserted that in March 2022, while serving in Mariupol, he detained a local resident in the industrial zone and, on 27 March, killed her.
Although of the proceedings are available on the Southern District Military Court website, these state only that the case was heard by a panel of three judges, with Denis Aleksandrovich Galkin presiding. There were a number of hearings, so Baidrakov must have denied the charges, however it is not clear whether Y.Z. Redkina, identified as his lawyer, was his choice to represent him, or the person appointed by the ‘investigators’. This is of major importance, given the lack of any information to back the charges regarding the claimed killing of a civilian.
There are numerous other reasons for doubting these charges. Russia is currently staging a huge number of such illegal ‘trials’ of Ukrainian prisoners of war who have protected status under international law. Most are held in the proxy Russian ‘Donetsk and Luhansk republics’, with this meaning that there is no access to the prisoners of war themselves, who are prevented even from enjoying the right to visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. There is also no free media or any other way of obtaining reliable information about the charges against the men. In the vast majority of cases, the first mention of a ‘trial’ comes when horrific sentences, including several of 30 years or life, are reported. These are typically published, together with videos, where the men are, almost certainly under torture or other forms of duress, shown ‘confessing’. Russia was unable to totally conceal the charges against prominent Ukrainian human rights defender Maksym Butkevych, and his 13-year ‘sentence’ was passed and upheld despite proof that he was nowhere near the place where the alleged crime took place.
Baidrakov is probably still imprisoned in ‘DPR’, and it seems likely that his trial was held at the notorious Southern District Military Court because he was seized together with Anton Cherednyk, who was sentenced by the same court on 8 November 2023 to 19 years. Both men clearly rejected some or all of the charges and there was one other telling difference. Unlike all of the ‘trials’ in occupied Donetsk or Luhansk oblast, where the only ‘evidence’ comes from videoed ‘confessions’ tortured out of men held incommunicado, there was one element of the indictment against Cherednyk which he did not deny. Cherednyk had, indeed, killed a civilian, Oleksandr Piskunov. This, however, was the only undisputed aspect of the story, since Cherednyk stressed that he had opened fire because Piskunov had made a sudden move, while part of his body was turned from Cherednyk who had no way of knowing that the man was unarmed.
The indictment took on openly absurd elements, confirmed only by the above-mentioned ‘videoed confession’ which Cherednyk retracted in court. The claim was that, on 27 March 2022, Cherednyk was patrolling Myrne, together with Anton Baidrakov, and stopped two local residents, Oleksandr Piskunov and Serhiy Potseluyev. He allegedly fired into the air and ordered the two men to lie on the ground. According to the indictment, Cherednyk searched the two local residents and then began questioning them. He supposedly demanded that Piskunov pronounce the ‘word «паляниця» [‘palianytsia’]. This refers to a type of bread but has become a kind of code word for distinguishing Ukrainians from Russians, since the latter cannot pronounce the word correctly. Russia clearly wanted such an insane ‘motive’ which suits its anti-Ukrainian narrative. They had so badly beaten Cherednyk, however, that the story went awry with the POW, who could scarcely put the words together, saying that he had killed Piskunov because the latter didn’t answer, but let the other man go because he said that palianytsia is bread.
For more details about this and the other bizarre claims (such as that Mariupol was “territory of the independent state with its centre in Donetsk which was temporarily occupied by Ukraine”, see: