The mother of Yevhen Kharchenko, a killed volunteer fighter in the Donbas Battalion, shows a photo of a destroyed fire engine near Ilovaisk. It was at the front of a Ukrainian military convoy that was moving along the “green corridor” on August 29, 2014. At point-blank range, the vehicle was shot at by a Russian T-72 tank. Natalya learned about the last seconds of her son’s life from his comrades:
“He said the fire engine had blown up fifty meters away from him. He said that Red had been on top of it with a grenade launcher (Red was my son’s callsign). He said he’d been smiling and waving to him. Then he was gone in an instant. We recognized his body by a tattoo.”
August 2014. Fierce fighting for the liberation of Donbas from the Russian troops. On August 18, Ukrainian soldiers took control of a significant part of Ilovaisk. But they did not manage to capture the entire city. On the night of August 23rd-24th, regular Russian troops entered Ukraine: thousands of ground forces, hundreds of pieces of equipment, dozens of stationary guns and mortars.
“The events that happened around Ilovaisk are evidence of the treacherous, vile aggression of the Russian Federation against our state,” says Vladyslav Seleznyov, Spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
August 28th, 2014. The Ukrainian military are surrounded by Russian forces. That day, the mother of Oleksiy Horay, a soldier in the battalion “Peacemaker”, found out that her son had been in the middle of the confrontation.
“He called me at about half past three. I heard something that resembled the rumbling of thunder, so I asked if it had been raining there. To what he replied that there had been rain and Grads,” remembers Nelya Horay, mother of the Deceased Soldier Oleksiy Horay.
Oleksiy was killed the next day. On the night of August 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin, playing the role of a peacekeeper, called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor for the Ukrainian military. The Russian officers promised them a safe exit. In the morning, organized columns of people and vehicles had been on their way out when the worst happened. They were shot at point-blank range from heavy armored vehicles.
“We were surrounded. They were shooting at us from the front, left and right. We could not even turn back. The range of fire from the road was about 700 meters,” says Oleksandr Deyneha, War Veteran In “Donbas” Battalion Who Fought Near Ilovaisk.
The car evacuating the wounded received one of the first blows. Even the symbol of the red cross did not stop the invaders. According to Deyneha, there had been roughly 20 people in it:
“Then they hit another car that had a red cross painted on a sheet. There had been medics and wounded in it. They burnt it down right before my eyes, too. I was following it, and I saw how people inside were burning, some fell out of the car in their last moments of life.”
Shooting a humanitarian corridor is a war crime. It is a violation of international conventions on the rules of warfare and is, therefore, a subject to criminal penalties. Ukraine’s evidence of Russia’s guilt in the Ilovaisk tragedy has already been transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“There is such a thing as treachery in the course of military operations, as in a tactical deviousness, a manifestation of the brutality of one side towards another. And that’s what the shooting of the corridor was on August 29, 2014,” explains Alina Pavlyuk, Lawyer, Expert of the Center for Strategic Affairs of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union on Human Rights.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, 429 injured, and 300 taken prisoner in the Ilovaisk tragedy.
“We said we loved him very much, that we were waiting for him. We are still waiting for him. And he will definitely come back,” says Natalya Kharchenko.