This is a powerful story of a rescue operation with a Ukrainian drone that makes your blood run cold and yet shows the courage and resilience of Ukrainian civilians and military in the face of danger. The events occurred in Izium Raion, Kharkiv Oblast in June 2022.
Valeriia Ponomarova and her husband Andrii Bohomaz set out to Bakhmut to help their elderly parents leave the city, which was under constant enemy attacks. But, they took a wrong turn and ended up near the frontline where Russian troops had taken up their positions. Suddenly, the Russians opened fire and targeted their vehicle; they came under heavy enemy fire. The footage captured by Ukrainian soldiers monitoring the situation with a drone shows the couple trying to escape but repeatedly coming under fire.
The Russian IFV targeted and hit the couple’s vehicle; Andrii was seriously injured, and Valeriia frantically tried to stop the bleeding.
But in the midst of this chaos and danger, a glimmer of hope shone through. The Ukrainian soldiers stationed nearby decided to take a risk and help evacuate the couple. They charged the drone and attached a sign reading “Follow me”, hoping that Valeriia would react and follow the route to safety. And that’s exactly what she did. She hurriedly left the scene of the shooting and followed the Ukrainian drone.
Soon after, a group of Russian soldiers approached the couple’s bullet-riddled car, picked up wounded and unconscious Andrii and threw him into a ditch
Despite fear and uncertainty, Valeriia continued to follow the drone, knowing that it was the only way to get help for her injured husband. Meanwhile, after a harrowing night spent in the trench, Andrii woke up in the rain and mud, and summoned the strength to walk to the Ukrainian positions. There, he received first aid, and medics tended to his wounds.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Following the liberation of the region in September 2022, the Kharkiv Regional Police Department initiated a pre-trial investigation under Part 1 of Article 438 (violation of the laws and customs of war) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The investigators subsequently examined the scene and confiscated all the material evidence and investigative information. Additionally, the investigation team identified the location of the infantry fighting vehicle, which had fired at the car, found ten shell casings from large-calibre weapons and took them into custody. They interviewed the victims and witnesses of the incident, and added all collected evidence to the ongoing criminal proceedings. Forensic examinations were also conducted.
During operational and search activities conducted with the assistance of the Kharkiv cyber police, the investigation team identified the Russian soldier responsible for the attack as Klim Dmitrievich Kerzhaiev, a 26-year-old senior lieutenant from Moscow. He serves as commander of the Motorized Rifle Company of the Russian Armed Forces, part of the 1st Tank Army in the Western Military District of the Russian Federation.
According to Serhii Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv police investigation department, the investigation included evidence collected by cyber police, who monitored the Russian officer’s social media accounts and phone calls, in addition to drone recordings. During one of his conversations, he informed his wife that he “had killed a man today” by firing at a vehicle with his Soviet-era BMP. A day later, he called a friend and confessed to the murder, adding that he did not care about it.
The Ukrainian National Police has collected irrefutable evidence of the Russian officer’s guilt. The offender was served with a notice of suspicion in absentia for committing a crime under Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine
There are many similar stories in today’s war-torn Ukraine, stories of bravery, ingenuity, and the triumph of good over evil. It reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there are still heroes among us, willing to risk their lives to help others. They are the ones who inspire us to be better, to do better, and to strive for a better tomorrow.