4 Questions About The IL-76 Airplane Catastrophe in Russia-Occupied Luhansk
16 June, 2018

On June 14, 2014, a Ukrainian Armed Forces transport plane was shot down as it came in to land at Luhansk airport. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, two rockets hit the plane at a height of 700 meters.

On board were 40 paratroopers from the 25th Separate Dnipropetrovsk Airborne Brigade and nine members of the Melitopol Transport Aviation Brigade. They all died in the attack.

The Ukrainian Security Service later stated that the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, was responsible for the Il-76 catastrophe. 

However, after four years of investigations, assessments and court hearings, no one has been brought to justice for tragedy that took place that day. Hromadske explores some of the unanswered questions that still surround the Il-76 case.   

Who Has Been Accused And Where Are They Now?

Over two years ago, the Dnipropetrovsk regional prosecutor declared criminal proceedings against the leaders of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic under Igor Plotnitsky and members of the illegal military formations under Andriy Patrushev and Oleksandr Guryeyev. Plotnitsky stands accused of committing a terrorist attack – the shooting down of Il-76 near Luhansk airport. They are being tried in absentia at the Dnipro District Court.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has declared Plotnitsky wanted. He has not been the head of the so-called LPR since November 2017, when he traveled to Russia following the so-called “coup.”

 In February 2018, one separatist YouTube channel stated that Plotnitsky was in the Russian Kresty-2 prison colony for misusing Russian humanitarian aid for the “republic.”

This information was also refuted by Roman Shyrshov, a member of the Civil Oversight Council, which inspects detention facilities. Shyrshov told Hromadske:

“We went to Kresty-2 yesterday. We asked the administration twice whether or not this person was there, they checked the surname and patronymic – his patronymic is quite rare (Venedyktovych – ed.). But they had no such person there.”

According to Hromadske’s information, Plotnitsky is currently in Voronezh, Russia.

A defendant in another case relating to the Il-76 catastrophe is Major General Viktor Nazarov. In 2017, he was found guilty of neglect of duty and sentenced to seven years in prison. According to the court, Nazarov was aware of the dangers the flight crew faced but gave the order to fly nonetheless. Nazarov was also the head of the Anti-terrorist Center in 2014. His case is currently under consideration at the Court of Appeals.

However, not much has changed for Major General Nazarov, as he continues to work in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Why Have There Not Been Any Final Sentences?

The judges overseeing Plotnitsky’s case and the cases of two other militants keep asking to be dismissed for various reasons, such as ill relatives and conflict of interest due to the fact they have relatives living in the occupied territories. Even one year after these cases were sent to court, there have been no hearings.

The lawyer representing the families of the deceased Vitaliy Pohosyan believes that the judges are afraid to take on the responsibility. He says that he intends to complain about the judges as refusing to accept the position and constantly postponing the hearings will affect justice.

Nazarov does not agree with his 7-year-sentence and has filed an appeal. The Court of Appeals now has to consider the case again. In January 2018,

They ordered that the circumstances of the catastrophe be re-examined. However, lawyer to the deceased’s families Pohosyan says that six months after this decision was made, the examination is yet to happen.

What Do The Families Of The Deceased Think About All Of This?

The relatives of the deceased serviceman and the Il-76 crew members have been demanding justice for three years now. During Nazarov’s court hearings, they held demonstrations, holding up photos of the victims and shouting “Shame!” at Nazarov’s statement.  

In 2017, at the time as the Major General’s sentencing, the court ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay around $19,000 in compensation to the 39 family members involved in the case. However, since Nazarov, his lawyer and the representative from the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are appealing the verdict, no one has been compensated. 

Could This Have Turned Out Differently?

The Il-76 case brought discussions concerning the need for military courts in Ukraine to the public forum. It could be argued that only a judge in this kind of court can rationally assess the situations in which servicemen take decisions and act upon them in war conditions, albeit undeclared.  

Even President Petro Poroshenko stated straight after Nazarov’s sentencing that it was important that military courts be reinstated in Ukraine. Nazarov himself agrees, as, according to him, the military court would be able to realistically assess the circumstances in the Luhansk region in 2014.

Hromadske spoke to Serhiy Dyachuk, who was a military judge in the Kyiv garrison court from 2002 to 2010, to find out his opinion on the Il-76 case:

“The greatest value for an assessment has nothing to do with what actually happened, but what led to those actions, what was the purpose. How can these special circumstances be considered by a civilian, who does not know the daily duties, how they sleep at night, how people feel, when to pick up your Kalashnikov. They do not know what it’s like to take responsibility of hundreds of people. I’m concerned that, in considering these cases, they may not be able to evaluate the other aspects that hold key significance,” he explained.  

Human rights activists believe that the in absentia court hearings for Plotnitsky and the other militants is more important than the image it portrays. This process, in fact, has no meaning. If Ukraine issues these sentences in absentia, then they are not enforced.  

“Nobody needs these trials, they are exclusively for PR reasons, socially, politically, for specific political forces. Neither the victims, Ukrainian society, nor the Ukrainian state need them, first and foremost because, according to the European Court’s decision, this sentence has not been enforced and it will not have any legal power, Ukrainian will pay for this out of its own budget,” lawyer to the Heavenly Hundred victims of the Euromaidan Revolution Vitaliy Titich told Hromadske.