Cars, washing machines, jewelry, and sausages: How the occupants robbed the Kharkiv Region

On the Russian military looting in the Kharkiv Region.
Mykola Komarovskyi25 August 2023UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

[Ілюстрація Сергій Приткін]

Most of the Kharkiv Region was under occupation from the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion until September 2022. During this time, the Russian military managed to steal a lot: household items, cars, agricultural equipment, and even microchips from the computers of a scientific institution.

The stolen cars: Russian military rode in them, then smashed them and abandoned

The most widespread looting in the Kharkiv Region was the theft of personal vehicles. Olha Myroshnychenko, a resident of Izium, told us: “Our car was taken away. They were taking away everyone’s cars. They drew ‘Z’ or ‘V’ on these cars, rode in them, and abandoned them broken.” A village resident of Tsyrkuny told KHPG that four Russian soldiers drove up to her house and took her car. Unfortunately, there are also known cases when settlements residents were killed to steal their property. This happened, for example, on April 21, 2022, in the village of Ruski Tyshky, when the Russian military shot and killed a 58-year-old man in his garage.

A lot of vehicles were “nationalized” by the Russians near the Pechenez Dam. The Ukrainians fled from Russian-occupied territory to the Ukrainian-controlled area via this dam. But refugees were permitted to cross the dam only on foot. Therefore, people often abandoned their cars right near the water basin. Residents of villages close to the Pechenezh water basin testify that these cars immediately became the prey of Russian military looters.

Cars account for 43% of documented robberies. Theft of at least 71 vehicles was documented, but the actual number was higher: in some cases, “mass carjacking” was reported.

Sometimes, local residents assisted the occupants in the looting. In Ruska Lozova, for example, the workshop manager of a local enterprise voluntarily handed over vehicles for cargo and passenger transportation to the Russian military.

Burglary of houses: looters have been taking out personal belongings by trucks

The theft of belongings from private premises is the second most common category of looting.

During the occupation, houses in the Udachino cottage settlement in Ruski Tyshky village were looted. Reportedly, the Russians appropriated all household appliances and took the property to Bielhorod.

[мародерство, війна, пограбування, мародерство російських військових]

According to the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office, the military of the 25th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces broke into one of the private houses and stole gold and silver jewelry, a laptop, and a collection of ancient coins. Law enforcement authorities managed to identify the specific perpetrators, who were informed of suspicion in absentia.

“They removed everything: refrigerators, washing machines, all personal things, bathroom, beds, everything from the garage... Neighbors say that two Kamaz trucks came and the military took out everything they could... — said a Ruski Tyshky resident, Serhii Serdiuk. — They sorted the stolen washing machines here and took them out by Kamaz trucks, too”. The sorting of stolen washing machines before shipping to Russia occurred directly in his yard.

An Izium resident, Olena, described the actions of the Russians as follows: “They seized my husband’s cell phone and removed the laptop and plasma TV from the house. They put everything they wanted into a suitcase. They even took forks and spoons. It’s ridiculous... My husband was left alive, they didn’t touch him”. Unfortunately, the occupants killed Olena Hrebeniuk’s husband later; his body was found with a bullet in his head.

In two recorded cases, the Russians used stolen gadgets without logging out of their owners’ accounts, thus permitting the latter to track the actions of the criminals.

The first such case occurred in Tsyrkuny. The police were contacted by a woman who started seeing “photos and videos of unknown men in military uniforms who were boozing and having fun on the grounds of her house” in her Google Photo account.

The video shows the occupants driving around the village in a stolen car, “feeling themselves hosts” in residents’ private homes, and drinking stolen alcohol.

A law university student reported that his wireless headphones, which he left at his home in occupied Izium, were geolocated in the Russian city of Sievierodvinsk due to the FindMy utility. At the time of the surveillance, the thief or someone close to him was in a local cafe.

In general, it is a common practice when the Russian military, after seizing a settlement, takes all the phones from the residents, ostensibly to check them but never return them.

This, in particular, was testified by residents of the village of Kamianka near Izium.

There was also a case of Russian troops’ theft of ceramic tiles, which raises more questions than answers. Last year, soldiers of the AFU 93rd brigade opened a captured ammunition box after eliminating enemy units and saw tiles in it, which the occupants evidently were trying to export to Russia.

СтратКом ЗСУ / AFU StratCom СтратКом ВСУ / AFU StratCom

AFU StratCom

Looting of enterprises and farms

In Ruski Tyshky, the Russian military stole a disk plow from local farmer Viktor Simiachko. “On April 24, Easter, they brought a tractor, hooked the disks and drove away. I have mostly old equipment; they looked at it and saw nothing to take. But the new plow they took away,” the man recalled.

In Ruska Lozova village, the occupants stole everything from a sausage workshop. According to one of the locals, the stolen sausages were further distributed to residents under the guise of Russian humanitarian aid. At the same time, the Russians were removing equipment from the enterprises.

Russians also distributed the grain stolen from farmers as humanitarian aid. Such a case was described in a message from the Borivska settlement council dated June 16, 2022: "The occupants, who brought destruction, wandering, and death to our land, are now trying to win the population’s loyalty at the expense of other people’s goods and property. For example, they have confiscated wheat left in some farms’ warehouses and are distributing it to people under the guise of humanitarian aid."

A Vovchansk resident became an occupant’s accomplice and helped the Russian military to rob the warehouses of the Vovchansk meat processing plant and the premises of a sugar production facility in the village of Bilyi Kolodiaz, Chuhuiv district.

In one case, the robbery of locals was carried out in a rather specific way. In the occupied city of Izium, a tax service employee voluntarily defected to the Russian side and conducted illegal administration and collection of compulsory tax payments from the residents of the temporarily occupied territories of the Kharkiv Region in favor of the Russian troops. Moreover, this woman organized the patenting of business activities of economic entities.

High technology looting

Russian troops occupied the territory of the unique radio astronomical observatory named after S. Ya. Braude on April 2, 2022. They stayed here for several months. “They stole a lot: machines, machine tools, transformers, tractors. Computers, of course. A lot of equipment was smashed because they didn’t understand anything about it. System blocks were lying around. I don’t understand what they were looking for in them?” — said in surprise Hanna Belenets, one of the employees of the observatory, after its liberation.

“90% of the infrastructure has been destroyed and stolen, said Oleksandr Konovalenko, Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and Deputy Director of the Radio Astronomy Institute. — The damage has already been calculated, and we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Number of episodes and geographical distribution of crimes committed

The T4P database records 100 episodes involving robbery and theft at the time of publication. It should be realized, however, that the number of stolen objects is much larger. One episode, for example, may involve the burglary of many houses in a single cottage settlement. Or it could be the testimony of a resident of a locality who reported a mass theft of cars.

Regarding the geographical distribution of crimes committed, the overwhelming number of robbery cases of settlements was recorded in the Izium district (67 episodes), accounting for two-thirds of their total quantity. At the second place — the looting of settlements in the Kharkiv district (19 episodes).

Regarding the recording time, most episodes entered the database either during the occupation or a short time after the de-occupation of the Kharkiv Region. However, the KHPG continues to look for information and receive testimonies from residents about crimes committed during the Ukrainian territories’ occupation by the Russian Federation’s armed forces.

Legal qualification

Article 8 on war crimes of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides liability for the looting of a city or settlement, even if captured by storm. It should be noted that this refers specifically to ordinary theft or looting of property when military personnel take property for their personal use. In cases when any property was taken purely for military needs, liability under this article is excluded.

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