Bullet Holes

As of Sept. 13, 2023, the Russian military has killed more than 500 Ukrainian children during its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Dozens of them were shot at close range with small arms.

The Kyiv Independent’s War Crimes Investigations Unit is telling the stories of three children killed by Russians in three different oblasts of Ukraine: 10-year-old Kateryna Vinarska in the Kharkiv Oblast, 12-year-old Vladyslav Mahdyk in Kyiv Oblast and 15-year-old Mykhailo Ustianivsky in the Kherson Oblast.

The Kyiv Independent’s findings point to the systemic and deliberate nature of child murders by the Russian military in Ukraine. Our in-depth investigation allowed us not only to establish clear circumstances of the murders but also, in one instance, to identify those responsible for the killing of a child.


This documentary is essential to understand the brutal strategy of war crimes Russia is deliberately committing in Ukraine. The well researched material proves the fact that Russia's full scale invasion is a genocide of the cruelest kind. A must-see documentary for everybody trying to understand why Ukraine must win a war it never chose in the first place. Highly recommend. Thanks to the brave team of investigators of the Kyiv Independent.
Frank Peter Wilde
Human rights activist
It’s an incredibly painful film to watch, but also very moving. It’s also very important in that it highlights the lives of the children and the relationships they’ve left behind, as well as the damage caused to their families because of the very dramatic way their lives were cut short at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion. It is an important story to tell outside of Ukraine, in particular because the three children in the film are just three of over 500 killed by Russia’s war. I think there will be a massive amount of interest in this impactful story.
Gillian McCormack
Chief of Party for USAID’s Media Program in Ukraine
I am very grateful to the Kyiv Independent that it is telling these types stories in English so that they can reach a wider audience. All of Russia’s war crimes must be documented, investigated, and those guilty brought to justice. Thank you for making this film and for all that the Kyiv Independent does. The world must see the truth of the atrocities that the Russian army has committed and is still committing.
Andy Hunder
President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine
As a fact-checker for the documentary, I read the script before it was released. As part of my work, I have the professional skill to turn off of my emotions during my work. But it was almost impossible while reading the script for the first, second and even third time. And only after reading it several times, could I turn off my emotions and start analyzing the facts and conclusions of the investigators. As a viewer, however, I could barely stop crying because I was no longer reading the script and analyzing facts, but listening to and seeing the emotions of the parents and grandparents who lost their children and grandchildren. It’s incredibly hard to watch and understand that at least 500 children are reported to have been killed by Russia’s war and that the number is likely much higher.
Svitlana Slipchenko
Head of VoxCheck project


On a cold March morning, the Mahdyk family bundled themselves into their minivan. Their village near Kyiv was occupied, and they couldn’t bear staying there any longer.

The family – mother Olha, father Valerii, and their two children, 16-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Vladyslav – decided to try to escape the horrors of Russian occupation and nearby fighting.

"We'd had enough of sleeping in the basement," recalls Anna.

The family set off in their minivan to unoccupied territory on March 9, 2022, placing a sign on its windscreen reading "Children" in Russian. They thought it would protect them.

On their way, the family ran into a Russian military convoy.

The Mahdyks stopped, turned their car around, and began driving back. The Russian troops pursued them and opened fire. A single bullet hit the car, went through Anna's body, and killed her younger brother Vladyslav.

“I kept saying to him: ‘Get up, it’s safe now’,” Anna says. “He wasn’t answering.”

Vladyslav is one of over 500 Ukrainian children who have been killed by the Russian army since the beginning of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Most of the children have died in Russian missile or artillery attacks, but dozens have been gunned down with small arms at close range. The murders were perpetrated by different Russian units in different regions of Ukraine, but they all seem to share the same purpose – to induce terror.

The Kyiv Independent documented three cases of deliberate murder of children committed by different Russian units in different parts of Ukraine. In one case, the unit commander was identified by name and rank.

Oleksandra Matviichuk, the head of the Center for Civil Liberties and one of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winners, sees the child murders as part of a deliberate terror policy pursued by Russia's army in Ukraine. She considers these war crimes to be part of Russian military culture.

"Russian troops have committed horrible crimes in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia, Mali, Libya, and elsewhere," Matviichuk says. "They have never been punished. They believe they're allowed to do anything. This impunity, this long tradition of impunity, has become part of Russian culture."

Danylo Mokryk
Editing Director
Maria O'Reilly
Liza Pyrozhkova, Serge Hahamidi, Oleksandra Lunina, Kolian Pastyko, Denys Rumiantsev, Vitalii Havura
Line Producer
Yevheniia Sobolieva
Yevheniia Motorevska
Editor-in-Chief of the Kyiv Independent
Olga Rudenko
Released with the support of
and the Kyiv Independent community