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.
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."