THEY could have been two shoplifters nervously waiting for a magistrate’s ruling.
But the skinny pair slumped behind bulletproof glass were captured Russian soldiers — and among the youngest war criminals of the Ukraine conflict.
Alexander Bobykin, 26, and Alexander Ivanov, 21, were in an artillery unit that fired at least 38 missiles at civilians and destroyed a school in the early days of the war.
The Sun was at Kotelevska district court of Poltava region yesterday as they each received 12-year sentences.
Despite the enormity of the occasion, the pair sat emotionless as the judge returned his verdict.
But before they were lead away Bobykin told The Sun it had all been a mistake and he wished “the bloody conflict would end”. He even branded it a “failure” by Vladimir Putin.
The pair’s unit fired Grad missiles into Ukraine’s Kharkiv region from neighbouring Belgorod in Russia.
The shelling destroyed a school in the town of Derhachi but caused no casualties, prosecutors said.
Bobykin and Ivanov, described as an artillery driver and a gunner, were captured after crossing the border.
A specialist police investigation, working with prosecutors in Kharkiv, has brought them to justice.
In court yesterday Bobykin spoke to The Sun, insisting that he regretted his actions and even wanted to defect to join Ukrainian forces.
The extraordinary exchange lasted a few minutes before his handcuffs were placed back on and he and his co-defendant Ivanov were led away.
Bobykin was asked by The Sun why he did what he did, whether he had any regrets and what he thought of how the war had gone for Russia.
Speaking in short sentences, without emotion, he said: “I want to change to the Ukraine military.
“Putin should stop the war now. It is a mistake. The war is a failure.
“I’m satisfied with my conditions in prison. My family know I am here. I have changed my mind about what I did. My verdict is true.”
Finally, asked if Putin had been a failure he replied swiftly: “Yes.”
Throughout the hour-long hearing the pair remained silent and listened to the judge laying out the facts.
Other legal officials were also in the room, along with members of the Kharkiv prosecution office.
Meanwhile, armed police officers watched the two defendants closely.
Prosecutors had asked the court to jail the Russians for 12 years, while their defence asked for leniency as they had been following orders. Both pleaded guilty last week to “violating the laws and customs of war”.
At the end of the trial Judge Evhen Bolybok said: “The guilt of Bobykin and Ivanov has been proven in full.”
Putin should stop the war now. It is a mistake. The war is a failure.
Outlining the case he said: “At about five o’clock on February 2, the first fire platoon of the first artillery battery of the specified unit located near the village of Malinovka, Belgorod region of the Russian Federation received the command “Fire!” from the battery commander.
“At the same time, no amendments and adjustments were made to the BM21 Grad package.
“Upon receipt of this command, the commander, aware of consequences in the form of warfare prohibited by international law, other violations of laws and customs of war, returned a special key and pressed the button to open fire with BM21 ‘Hail’, covered by Bobykin’s criminal intent.
“As a result of these actions, and with BM21 ‘Hail’, in the calculation of which was Bobykin, there was a volley of rockets in the amount of 38.
“Then, in the same period of time Bobykin, following the orders of the leadership, managing BM21 ‘Hail’, left the firing positions and 20 minutes later arrived near the Malinovka Belgorod region of Russia, where the command commander — acting on a preliminary basis for the entire calculation — charged BM21 ‘Hail’ rockets in the amount of 38 units.”
The convictions were welcomed by authorities in Kharkiv who are currently investigating more than 1,000 war crimes. Across the country they are probing 14,000 cases — although officials believe the true figure will be more than 100,000.
A legal source said yesterday after the judgement: “This sends out a tough message that we are thoroughly investigating the barbaric acts the Russians are responsible for.
“Their soldiers have committed shellings, murders and rapes and thought they would get away with it.
“The truth is they won’t. We have intense and forensic investigations in place in order to bring them to justice so they face the consequences of their actions.”
The source said the investigation in this case began when the two soldiers were captured.
And the source added: “The same methods to any police investigation are in place with war crimes, we produce the evidence. The evidence leads to a prosecution.
This sends out a tough message that we are thoroughly investigating the barbaric acts the Russians are responsible for.
A legal source
“Today is the second round of convictions — I promise the people of Ukraine there will be many, many more.”
The source also said it was a “miracle” nobody was killed in the blasts and added: “It was incredible to be honest that nobody died. Their attacks hit a school and destroyed it.”
One war crime that is currently being investigated by the authorities is a shelling in Kharkiv last week which killed a dad, his baby son and many other civilians.
And today The Sun can also tell that horrific story in full.
Meanwhile, Bobykin and Ivanov’s unhappiness at their role in the war is not unique.
Two Russian colonels have been intercepted criticising President Putin and his Kremlin defence minister Sergei Shoigu over the failing offensive in Ukraine.
Their outbursts in a private voice call — allegedly bugged by the Kyiv secret services — show deep dissent among Russia’s high ranks.
The pair are named as Maxim Vlasov, 42, and Vitaly Kovtun, 47, by Radio Liberty/Svoboda.
In the expletive-laden call Kovtun says there is anger in Russia over Putin’s failure to order missile attacks on key sites in Kyiv linked to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, including the parliament building.
And Shoigu, who did not rise though the ranks, is dismissed as incompetent in military affairs.
The pair also hint at devastating losses among Russian forces.
The latest trial follows one last week where Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin, 21, got life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian.
Shishimarin was accused of shooting Oleksandr Shelipov, 62, in the head in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region in the early days of the war.
His lawyer said an appeal will be lodged against the verdict.
More than 4,000 civilians — including dozens of children — have been killed in Ukraine, according to the United Nations.
The toll includes suspected war crimes victims in areas currently or previously occupied by Russian forces, such as Mariupol and Bucha.
The UN has said it believes the true figure for civilian casualties is likely to be “considerably higher”, with ongoing hostilities making efforts to count the dead difficult and many reports of killings still pending corroboration.
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