In the beginning of March, Ukrainians watching YouTube and reading media were shocked by the video of a Russian pilot in a blue uniform who had a self-made patch on his cheek.
With a voice full of tears, he was explaining during the interrogation who he was and what was he doing in the skies above Ukraine.
At that time, Russians were using the tactics of heavy aircraft shelling that targeted residential areas of the Ukrainian cities.
Pilot’s name was Aleksandr Krasnoyartsev – and he became first Vladimir Putin’s “ace” who surrendered to the Ukrainian side.
So, Ukrainians paid a lot of attention to him, especially taking into account that he was captured in Chernihiv, a north-eastern city that was shelled by the Russian aircraft to a quite severe degree.
However, later Krasnoyartsev’s name disappeared from the news.
NV paid a visit to Chernihiv to find out more about this pilot and talked to local residents, above whose heads Krasnoyartsev was flying in his Su-34 aircraft.
A bomber in the sky
In the morning of March 5, Yulia Grebneva, a member of Chernihiv Oblast Council and organizer of Free Shop social project, went down to the basement of her two-story house. She was followed by three of her sons and all wanted to take care of things in the basement.
The city of Chernihiv at that point was experiencing daily shelling conducted by the Russian army which used both Grad rocket launchers and military aircraft. That’s why Grebneva along with her three sons – aged 6, 10 and 17 – was spending each night in the basement, while her husband still slept in the building, on the first floor.
Yet in the morning she decided to change bed sheets and do a little bit of cleaning in the temporary bedroom. Suddenly, she heard horrible noise. “I clearly understood: my house is being destroyed,” Grebneva tells NV, while standing on the ruins of her place.
Basement went on fire – things started burning, water pipe got broken and the water was all over the place. Grebneva was laying on top of her kids, scared to make a single move.
In a few minutes, she heard voices from the outside – that was her husband. He was lucky: when the house was hit, he was repairing a door lock at his property and, therefore, stood outside, not inside the building. “He yelled: my wife and kids are in there, save them, dig them out,” Yulia recalls.
Territorial defense fighters and Yulia’s husband cleared away all the blocks and bricks, taking the family out of the basement. When Grebneva was standing outside, she figured out that Russian military plane Su-34 which was hit by anti-aircraft missile fell on her house. That plane was bombing the city with high-explosive bombs.
The remains of the plane’s wing can still be seen in the yard, while its engine is still in the neighbors’ yard – their house got ruined as well.
In the house on Krasnosilsky Street Grebneva has been residing with her family for the past four years.
Her husband has 4th stage cancer. That’s why after the house was ruined, whole family made a decision – their husband and father would evacuate abroad, while Yulia will keep on volunteering for the needs of Chernihiv and its population.
Before the war, Grebneva was running a social project that included free shops for poor families and families with many kids where they could get food and other products without paying anything.
For the past four years, social chain grew to 11 of such shops. “We’ve been helping the poor all the time and now I’m the one who needs help,”says the woman.
She wasn’t crying when her house got ruined, but was rather happy that she managed to survive – with her children.
However, Yulia was in tears when the next day after the incident some people came in and brought all the necessary things for her family – including socks and underwear. Moreover, those people gave Yulia keys to the apartment where she could stay with her family for a while.
“It is different on TV. When it comes to your house – that is such a horrible thing. At a single moment you might lose all you have – even photos of your children’s graduation from the kindergartens and schools, photos of your late mother. All of those stayed only in our memories,”says Grebneva.
She registered the incident at Diia, a government-run mobile application, and signed a request for legal conduct that she submitted to the local police. However, she understands that too many Ukrainian families are in a pretty much similar situation – they have their houses ruined. That’s why Yulia is not expecting to be compensated anytime soon. “Right now, I don’t have where to come back with my kids,”she admits.
Grebneva knows one thing very well: were it not the Ukrainian soldiers who shot down the plane, number of victims could be much bigger. Su-34 piloted by Krasnoyartsev had three bombs, each carrying 500 kg of weight. All of them were supposed to be dropped on Chernihiv.
Svitlana Voyteshenko lives in a residential area in Chernihiv, on Rudnev Street – not far away from Grebneva’s place.
On March 5, she was in her house, accompanied by her brother Vitaliy Sergienko.
When the shelling was coming, they would hide in the basement of a small building for storing farming utensils that they had in their yard. But on that very day they stayed inside the house.
“And we see from the window that something fell from the skies and produced lots of smoke,” recalls Voyteshenko. Her brother went outside to see what happened.
What he saw was Su-34 pilot, a man in his 30s, who catapulted on the neighbors’ roof. His parachute was all over the Voyteshenko’s yard.
Russian pilot jumped off the roof and came into the house. “My brother saw him, went after him, while pilot was retreating to a chicken coop. He shot my brother with a hand gun,” Voyteshenko said.
She buried her 42-year old brother the next day after he was killed, close to where their parents had been buried on a local cemetery.
“People were saying that dead would have to be buried in collective graves, and I didn’t want it, so had to hurry up. People helped me a lot, yet before the shelling was still going on,” says Voyteshenko as she stands near the chicken coop where her brother was killed.
On March 14, Svitlana evacuated from Chernihiv to Vinnytsya Oblast and came back only two months later. On the day when she was talking to NV, she was expecting to meet the prosecutor who came to the city to investigate the death of her brother.
Russian pilot who catapulted to the house roof at Rudnev street was identified. That’s Aleksandr Krasnoyartsev, he’s 36.
According to the information that Ukrainian investigators have, he is a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city in Russia, and conducted his service at military division 86789. Krasnoyartsev had a senior pilot rank and a position of the head of tactical preparations unit. On a photo posted on the social media he can be seen with Syrian authoritarian leader Bashar Assad and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin while in Syria.
Fighters of Chernihiv territorial defense found Krasnoyartsev in a different yard on Rudnev street – after killing Sergienko he decided to hide away in a barn. “As we walked along the street, we heard from one of the barns: “I’m ready to surrender, don’t shoot!” – tells Ivan Lut, soldier at 119th brigade of Chernihiv territorial defense who found the Russian pilot. “We said: come out, hands behind your head, lay down on the ground” – recalls Lut.
Read also: The Tragedy of Russia
Lut, 37-year-old Ukrainian soldier, had his own plan in case the war should start. Yet in 2014, when Russia invaded Donbas and Crimea, he understood: the full-scale war would eventually happen.
“I’m a historian by training. As a historian and as a patriot I knew that the war would happen,” said Lut who used to be a construction worker in the peaceful times.
That’s why on February 24, when the Russian army started its invasion of Ukraine, he reported to the military recruitment office and signed a contract, joining the territorial defense reserve unit.
On March 5, after getting information about a Russian plane that was hit, Lut and some of his comrades went around looking for those who catapulted from the Su-34 aircraft. “We had an order: to keep those arrested alive,” said Lut.
One of the pilots – Konstantin Krivolapov – died. But the other one went into hiding. However, self-defense fighters still managed to find him.
While in the barn, Krasnoyartsev put a bandage on his neck as it was bleeding.
Ukrainian officers arrived to the place immediately after Krasnoyartsev was found. They tried to ask him questions, but it didn’t work smoothly.
Locals came over and soldiers had to defend Krasnoyartsev from getting killed by the angry mob. “People were asking – why did you bomb Chernihiv? Pilot was answering according to the legend that he had – that he didn’t know anything, he was participating in the military exercise. He refused to take any responsibility, blaming own commanders,” said Lut.
Svitlana Voyteshenko also came over to her neighbors’ place to look into the eyes of a man who killed her brother. “I told him: what have all the peaceful civilians done to you? Why are you doing this? He said: I didn’t know where I was,”she tells.
While a court in Kyiv hears the case of Russian sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian, Chernihiv expects a case on pilot Krasnoyartsev. His whereabouts have not been made public by the Ukrainian investigators.
Voyteshenko hopes Krasnoyartsev will receive a life-imprisonment. Yulia Grebneva wants him to get the same punishment.
“He was killing people, he was damaging our city. That’s why he has to spend remaining part of his life in prison, so no one would ever want to do something like this again,” she said.
On April 23, Ukrainian investigators accused pilot Krasnoyartsev of violating article 438 of the rules of war that included a homicide.
Lut, a self-defense soldier, says he wasn’t interrogated as a witness yet, but he’s ready to provide all the necessary information, so Krasnoyartsev would be punished in a proper and just manner.
During the arrest, Russian pilot was receiving phone calls – twice. He said, those where his commanders in the Russian army calling.
“On his phone we found messages from his wife who was wishing him luck at work,” Lut said.
He is sure Krasnoyartsev won’t have any luck in his life ever.