Who killed Rita Horbyk? A conflict crime in Ukraine, heartbreak and a flawed investigation – Nationwide | Globalnews.ca

Who killed Rita Horbyk? A war crime in Ukraine, heartbreak and a flawed investigation - National | Globalnews.ca

2022-07-04 15:30:51

KHARKIV, Ukraine — On March 27, Rita Horbyk obtained into the backseat of her household’s automotive, wedged between her mom and grandmother.

Her dad, Andrii, was on the wheel, mentioning the rear of a three-vehicle convoy evacuating households from the village of Stepanki.

Our bodies lay on the streets. Rockets exploded. Troopers opened fireplace. The following factor the Horbyks knew, 13-year-old Rita was slumped over with a deadly head wound.

Learn extra:

Unearthing the proof of Russia’s conflict crimes in east Ukraine

The incident is amongst 1000’s beneath investigation by Ukrainian authorities, who’re treating Russia’s invasion not solely as a conflict but additionally as a collection of conflict crimes.

But it surely reveals the challenges of that strategy, particularly throughout a large-scale armed battle just like the Ukraine conflict.

Rita horbyk’s mom Liudmyla, center, and Andrii, proper, in Sumy area, Ukraine, June 21, 2022.

Stewart Bell/International Information

An investigation by International Information has discovered that overwhelmed prosecutors didn’t conduct primary groundwork earlier than publicly asserting their findings and their suspect, a Russian commander.

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The household was not interviewed. Captured Russian troopers who have been prosecution witnesses have been allowed to go away the nation in prisoner swaps. A vital piece of proof, the automotive by which Rita was killed, was offered.

“The world ought to know what occurred,” mentioned Rita’s mom, Liudmyla Horbyk.

However that’s the downside: What occurred?

The Sufferer

Rita was a Grade 7 pupil on the Vilkhivka College, an solely little one who lived along with her dad and mom and grandfather on his property in Stepanki, a village east of Kharkiv.

Rita Horbyk, left, with mom Liudmyla.

Household Handout

She collected books, beloved animals and made positive the native cats and canines fed. She was a dancer and was all the time doing one thing along with her arms. She hoped to turn out to be a dentist and was studying Korean on-line, dreaming of travelling to Seoul. The neighbours adored her.

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“Rita was like certainly one of our personal youngsters,” mentioned Natalia Karikova, who lives down the highway from the Horbyks. “When she was strolling to highschool she would be a part of us and discuss to us,” she mentioned.

“She was an excellent woman.”

On Feb. 24, the Horbyks watched as a procession of Russian tanks and armed forces automobiles handed their entrance home windows. Helicopters and jets flew overhead. They hid from the shelling within the cellar.

On day three of the invasion, the facility went out they usually may solely cost their telephones within the automotive.

Throughout these harrowing preliminary days of the Russian occupation, Rita someway grew to become the reassuring voice, telling her dad and mom to not fear, that all the things could be okay.

The Horbyk’s house in Stepanki, Ukraine, seen by way of a bullet gap.

Stewart Bell/International Information

“She was by no means frightened of something,” her mom mentioned. “Even when the conflict began she was all the time so calm and mentioned to us please don’t be afraid. I used to be anxious greater than her.”

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The Crime

A month glided by earlier than the Ukrainian defence forces started to retake the world. Because the Russians fell again, they took over the Horbyk’s property, positioned a tank within the discipline behind the home and advised the household to go away in the event that they wished to reside.

After conferring with the neighbours, all of them determined to drive out in a convoy. They left Stepanki and entered the subsequent city, Vilkhivka. Liudmyla held Rita’s head down so {the teenager} wouldn’t see all of the our bodies.

They drove down Ukrainian St. but it surely was blocked so that they turned again. Two or three rockets landed and exploded. They tried Myru St. as a substitute and made it to Central St.

Though the Horbyks didn’t realize it, Central St. had turn out to be a frontline. The Russians managed the world north of the highway, whereas the Ukrainians held the south.

As they turned onto Central St. and proceeded in the direction of Kharkiv, Rita sat up and Russian troopers positioned round a BTR armoured car began taking pictures at them and an aged lady within the lead car of the convoy was killed.

Andrii stopped the automotive and advised everybody to get. Rita stayed inside along with her head down. Liudmyla went to her and noticed that a part of her cranium was gone.

Andrii yelled to the troopers, asking for assist.

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“Get away from right here,” certainly one of them responded.

The Horbyks obtained again within the automotive and raced in the direction of the town, barely slowing on the checkpoints, telling the troopers to do what they wished however he wasn’t stopping as a result of his woman was injured.

Destroyed Russian car blocks entrance to Vilkhivka, Ukraine, on Might 19, 2022, close to location the place Rita Horbyk suffered a deadly head wound.

Stewart Bell/International Information

They drove to the district hospital in Kharkiv’s jap Saltivka neighborhood. From there, an ambulance took Rita to the Kharkiv regional hospital, the place she underwent surgical procedure.

“It was so scary for us as a result of he mentioned to us you shouldn’t look forward to a miracle,” Liudmyla mentioned.

Three days later, her temperature normalized they usually have been hopeful, however the physician advised them to go away her room and half-hour later, they have been advised they need to go to the morgue.

The Investigation

The dying of Rita Horbyk ended up on the desk of Andrii Kravchenko, a prosecutor within the Kharkiv area who was assigned to the fast-growing workforce investigating Russian conflict crimes.

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This system was the results of a call to deal with the Russian invasion as a sequence of crimes that required investigation and prosecution.

Months into the invasion, Kravchenko’s workplace was engaged on at least 2,000 instances, every estimated to take six months to a 12 months, and requiring skilled evaluation of victims and proof.

Kharkiv conflict crimes prosecutors, seen right here on the scene of a Russian missile assault in Kharkiv metropolis, have been overwhelmed by the Russian onslought.

Stewart Bell/International Information

In line with Kravchenko, on March 26, a Russian commander gave the order to fireplace TOS-1 rockets at civilian areas. This was accomplished to create a way of panic among the many inhabitants, he mentioned.

The village council workplace in Vilkhivka was hit, together with the college in close by Mala Rohan. A lady was injured in her house, he mentioned. Her title was Margarita, she was 13 and she or he died on the hospital on March 30, he mentioned.

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The case was on the pre-trial investigation stage, he added, and whereas it wasn’t all the time potential to determine who was chargeable for conflict crimes, “on this case we recognized the individual.”

Six witnesses, all of them captured Russian troopers, pointed the finger at an artillery commander named Col. Sergey Viktorovich Maksimov.

They advised investigators that Maksimov had given the order to fireplace a TOS-1 positioned multi-launch rocket system positioned in a clearing on the fringe of Mala Rohan. The prosecutors have a map with the launch web site circled.

The colonel is suspected of conflict crimes and tried homicide. The Russian troopers weren’t charged. They claimed they have been solely given the goal coordinates and didn’t know they have been firing at civilians.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor Normal Iryna Venediktova, seen right here at scene of Russian missile assault on shopping center in Kremenchuk, June 28, 2022.

Stewart Bell/International Information

On Might 23, Ukraine’s Prosecutor Normal, Iryna Venediktova, launched a press release saying that Col. Maksimov had ordered his subordinates to fireplace a TOS-1 at residential areas of Mala Rogan and Vilkhivka.

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“He was nicely conscious that there have been no navy objects there,” it mentioned.

On account of the assault, it mentioned, a 13-year-old woman was killed.

Kravchenko mentioned prosecutors have been simply following proof and it made no distinction if it result in a senior Russian commander.

“For us, it doesn’t matter, huge individual or small,” he shrugged.

The Suspect

Col. Maksimov was born in Uzhhorod, a metropolis in western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains. Nudged in opposition to the Slovenia border, the world has largely escaped the horrors of the Russian invasion.

Ukraine’s prime prosecutor has blamed Russian Col. Sergey Viktorovich Maksimov for Rita’s dying.

Stewart Bell/International Information

In 1996, Maksimov graduated from the Russian airborne faculty in Ryazan. He took command of the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment in 2013, in line with a Russian information merchandise. In 2019, he was named in a information story as commander of the 83rd Air Assault Brigade.

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Throughout the invasion of Ukraine, he commanded the 138th Guards Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, Ukrainian authorities mentioned. The preventing group was amongst a number of that attempted to seize Kharkiv on Feb. 24.

However the Russians bumped into fierce Ukrainian defences and, after occupying villages across the metropolis for a month and taking what the Ukrainian navy described as “vital losses,” they retreated in the direction of Russia.

Neither Maksimov nor the Russian authorities has publicly responded to Ukraine’s allegation he was chargeable for Rita’s dying.

The Interview

The Horbyks’ house in Stepanki is simply because the Russian troopers left it once they fled: makeshift beds on the ground, socks drying on a line, bullet holes within the fence.

The household hasn’t returned since Rita’s dying. They now reside in Maiorivka, a village six hours away within the Sumy area.

Liudmyla and Andrii Horbyk in Sumy area, Ukraine, June 21, 2022.

Stewart Bell/International Information

Liudmyla sat in the lounge along with her cellphone, scrolling by way of pictures of Rita: In entrance of the Christmas tree; arm in arm along with her father; giving the peace register entrance of a waterfall; in school on Peace Day.

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“We lived solely due to her,” Liudmyla mentioned.

The household has seen the prosecutor normal’s assertion about Rita’s dying and insisted it was inaccurate.

She was killed on March 27, not the 26. And she or he didn’t die at house, she was within the automotive. However essentially the most vital mistake is that she was not killed by a rocket. Moderately, she was shot with a machine gun, the dad and mom mentioned.

“I don’t know why they wrote like this,” mentioned Liudmyla.

Whereas they’d pushed by way of shelling, they weren’t hit, she mentioned. As an alternative, Russian troopers shot up their automotive; it had bullet holes in it, they mentioned. They discovered a bullet contained in the automotive. Liudmyla mentioned she later discovered a gap in her personal jacket, the place it was grazed by a bullet.

The Horbyks took no pictures or video that might help prosecutors. They might not deliver themselves to. They offered the automotive, not eager to be reminded of that day. Rita was cremated.

Margarita Horbyk.

Household Handout

The household has solely spoken to the prosecutors over the cellphone and is aware of little in regards to the case. They have been unaware of any witnesses or skilled experiences.

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They assist bringing these accountable to justice. They simply don’t know who guilty. Proven a photograph of Col. Maksimov, they didn’t acknowledge him or recall seeing him on the scene.

“The commander who gave the order, of course, he’s chargeable for it, and likewise the troopers who did it,” Liudmyla mentioned. “Putin, he’s accountable.”

Requested in regards to the discrepancies between his account of occasions and that of the Horbyks, Kravchenko mentioned an skilled discovered that fragments of a rocket had struck Rita’s head, inflicting her dying. However he mentioned the investigation remained incomplete.

He didn’t interview her father or mom, he mentioned, reasoning they have been too distraught and in shock.

“For the time being we are able to’t inform you for positive the way it occurred,” he mentioned.

A volunteer who helped the household when Rita was hospitalized mentioned the physician additionally advised him her head wound was brought on by an explosion.

“From machine weapons, it’s not potential to have some of these accidents,” mentioned Anatolii Cherniavskyi, a member of the civil defence forces who offered fertilizer earlier than the conflict.

“That is the knowledge I obtained from the medical doctors.”

Battle and Heartbreak

Andrii walked by way of the cemetery gates and adopted the path previous a crucifix overgrown with ivy to a small clearing boxed in by timber.

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Andrii Horbyk visits his daughter’s grave on June 21, 2022.

Stewart Bell/International Information

He squatted and positioned his left hand on a mound sprouting synthetic flowers. Round him, the grass had grown excessive across the tombstones.

Who put Rita there and whether or not he’ll ever face justice have been questions too huge for the Horbyks at that second. The ache of loss was sufficient.

The conflict has left Stepanki, they usually know they need to return to restore their house and resume their lives. They simply aren’t positive how they are going to cope with out their Rita.

It has occurred to them that she is the explanation they’re nonetheless alive, that the Russians solely stopped taking pictures at their convoy as a result of a toddler was harm.

She involves them of their desires, nonetheless their guardian angel, their voice of reassurance on this terrible conflict, soothing them along with her fearlessness.

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“She tells us ‘all the things is sweet with me,’” Liudmyla mentioned, on her entrance step in Maiorivka, heartbroken however making an attempt to consider it.

“‘Don’t fear mother, all the things is sweet.’”


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