EXCLUSIVE by Sara Sidner, Sandi Sidhu, Vasco Cotovio, Kostyantyn Gak and Oleksandra Titorova, CNN
Russian soldiers shot two unarmed civilians as they walked away after an encounter in the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
CNN has obtained surveillance video of what is now being investigated as a war crime by Ukrainian prosecutors.
Both civilians died after the heartless shooting that goes against the so-called rules of war that outlaw the targeting of civilians. CNN has identified the victims. One was the owner of the vehicle dealership that was looted, whose family does not want to be named. The other was Leonid Oleksiyovych Plyats, a 68-year-old grandfather who worked as a guard there.
His daughter, Yulia, cannot bear to watch the video of the day her father died, but she is saving it to one day show her children, so they don’t forget how savage the invaders were.
“They are executioners,” she told CNN. “It’s awful because my father was a civilian, he was 68, a peaceful unarmed man.”
Killing caught from multiple angles
The images from security cameras capture the initial Russian attempt to take Kyiv in March. On the main road to the capital, the fighting was fierce as Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops and tankers to stop the advance.
But what happened outside the car dealership on March 16 was not a battle between soldiers or even soldiers and armed civilians.
The video has been verified by CNN. It is compiled from a number of cameras around the property and, while it has no sound, its pictures are clear. It was a cowardly, cold-blooded killing of two unarmed men.
Five Russian soldiers arrive and try to break into the businesses — firing at locks and smashing glass.
As the owner approaches with hands raised, they stop him and appear to search him for weapons. Plyats then arrives and is also frisked. There seems to be some conversation before the soldiers turn away and the two civilians begin to walk back to their guard post.
Then at least two of the soldiers come up behind the men and open fire. Both civilians drop to the ground.
CNN has requested comment from Russia’s defense ministry but has not had a response.
A top Ukraine prosecutor says the incident is being investigated as a war crime after viewing the video CNN obtained.
In addition to the killing, the video shows plenty more unprofessional behavior by the group of five soldiers, identified as members of the invading force by their uniforms, analysis of who controlled what area at the time and witness statements.
The men are seen inside the dealership removing their body armor and looking through drawers and desks. One man grabs a bobble hat from a shelf and puts it on. Two men get drinks and apparently toast each other.
The grandfather tried to save himself
While the soldiers were ransacking the businesses, Plyats was still alive. The video shows him struggle to his feet, tie what looks like a tourniquet around his thigh and hobble back to his guard post.
There, he gets a phone to call for help.
That call went to his compatriots, more Ukrainian citizens who stayed to defend their neighborhoods.
The ragtag force of volunteers tried to rescue Plyats, exchanging fire with Russian forces as they struggled to reach him, said the group’s commander who did not want to be identified to protect his safety.
The surveillance footage shows Plyats slumped inside the guard hut as the Ukrainians make it to him. They drag him out, leaving a wide swath of blood. He died there outside the guard shack. The commander said he bled out as the civilian fighters initially had to retreat, they simply did not have the firepower to take on the tanks and guns the Russians had in the area.
The civilian commander said Plyats and the dealership owner had been warned that the Russians were getting closer but chose to stay. Plyats’ daughter said he believed in fulfilling his duty so he went to work. Neither man seemed to have any idea how they would be treated as they approached the soldiers.
The volunteer fighter said what happened has generated hatred toward those Russian troops who killed for no reason and others like them.
“It’s a war crime for sure,” he said. “If there is any possibility to reach and catch them, I think they deserve a death penalty.”
Plyats’ daughter asked for his remains to be cremated, as a proper burial was impossible amid the fighting. His ashes still await her at the morgue and she hopes she will, one day, be able to bury them in her mother’s grave. All she can do now is remember her “very cheerful” father and hope for a measure of justice.
“They need to be judged,” she said of his killers. “I hope for an international court. I hope that not only Ukraine but the whole world will learn about their crimes.”
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