These drone operators used to make ‘nice’ YouTube videos. Now they record alleged Russian war crimes

A man then opens the door. A second later, he is on the ground.

“He raised his hands above his head – and at this moment, he was shot,” Oleksandr Radzikhovskiy of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces told CNN.

Radzikhovskiy is a member of the Bugatti company, a special intelligence gathering unit operating on the outskirts of Kyiv.

The unit filmed the March 7 incident on the E-40 – a key highway connecting the western city of Lviv to Kyiv – with a drone, as Russian forces held the area.

In the footage, Russian tanks are seen facing east towards Kyiv – the direction Russian forces were pushing towards in early March – as civilians tried to flee a nearby town.

“A group of cars was fleeing from a small town, just outside Irpin, where they’d been sitting for about 10 days, without food, water or warm clothes,” Radzikhovskiy said. “They did not know what’s happening, they did not know that Russian forces had advanced and taken this position.”

“There was an ambush by a Russian tank and Russian personnel,” Radzikhovskiy said. “They opened fire.”

A man holds his hands up in the air just moments before he was fatally shot on the E-40 highway on March 7.

In the video, after the man falls to the ground, Russian troops approach the vehicle.

Two people – who CNN later confirmed with their families were six-year-old Gordey Iovenko and a female family friend – emerge from the car.

The woman wraps her arm around Iovenko, trying to shield him from the death that surrounds them.

Iovenko had just lost his parents, 32-year-old Maksim, who was motionless on the ground, and his mother, Ksenia, 37, who was killed by Russian gunfire inside the car.

Drones, phones and satellite technology are exposing the truth about Russia & # 39; s war in Ukraine in near real-time

Iovenko and the woman are then led into a forested area by Russian forces. Meanwhile, other troops search the car and inspect Maksim Iovenko’s body before dragging him to the side of the road.

The BBC first reported the Iovenko’s deaths.

Radzikhovskiy’s drone unit, who were just 500 meters (0.3 miles) away, filmed the entire scene.

“… We captured everything, every single moment and detail of that killing,” he said. “Since then we have had to live with that picture in our heads,” he added.

Drone operator Oleksandr Radzikhovskiy left his job in England to help fight the Russian invasion.

Nearly a month after the incident, CNN visited the scene on the E-40 highway near Myla, where the destruction Russian forces left behind in their retreat was on full display.

Decomposing corpses were scattered along the road, charred bodies were still leaning against the vehicles they had been driving and the same car seen in the drone footage –which was burned out entirely – was in the same spot where it stopped on March 7.

Drone footage from March 7 (L) shows the car Maksim Iovenko had been inside prior to being shot.  An image from nearly a month later (R) shows that car and charred corpses had not moved.

“You can see this is like a shooting zone … The cars are in line,” said Radzikhovskiy, who showed CNN around the site of the incident.

“There are no cars (beyond a certain point) because they did not let them come. They just shot as soon as they approached,” he added.

The Kremlin has rejected accusations that it has targeted civilians or civilian infrastructure in what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. It has also played down allegations of killings in towns like Bucha, Irpin or Borodianka as fake news, and announced its own investigation into them.

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense forces inspects a destroyed Russian armored vehicle on the E-40 highway.

However, CNN saw the remnants of an encampment used by the Russian army in the forested area where Iovenko and the woman were taken. It was littered with Russian military rations, currency and abandoned equipment – some with “V” symbols painted on them – proof that their soldiers held that position for around three weeks.

Iovenko and the family friend were later released by the Russians, his family members told CNN.

Radzikhovskiy’s team sent footage of the incident to the Ukrainian Prosecutor for investigation and has also submitted it to the UK Metropolitan Police’s war crimes unit, which has been compiling evidence of war crimes in Ukraine for a potential future trial.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told CNN, “When we see such cases when our cars are burnt and people inside the cars were shot at and burnt, and we see it’s systemic, it’s not only war crimes, it is crimes against humanity and we will do everything to prove it. “

The grim episode has further fueled Radzikhovskiy’s unit to continue helping the Ukrainian military with their drones.

A decomposing body lies in the middle of the E-40 highway, which connects Lviv to Kyiv, a day after it was retaken by Ukrainian forces.

Radzikhovskiy, a Ukrainian senior software engineer who was living in St. Albans, England, before the war, said he could not sit idle as his country was attacked. He moved back to Ukraine to try and help fight the Russian invasion the best way he could.

“In normal life, before the war, we were civilians who liked to fly drones casually and just make nice YouTube videos,” he said. “But when the war began, we actually became a vital part of the of the resistance.”

His unit flies their drones regularly, documenting Russian positions and communicating them to the Ukrainian military.

“They call us the eyes, because we are eyes, we can see. And if you can see and you can report, you can conduct artillery strikes,” he said, adding, “In good times it’s a matter of minutes between spotting and striking. “

Radzikhovskiy’s unit has shared hours of drone footage showing Russian tanks operating through the woods around Kyiv. In one video, moments after the tanks are seen, they are struck by Ukrainian artillery.

The unit is a grassroots operation, using store bought civilian drones, but their method is how Radzikhovskiy feels most comfortable. And he is compelled to continue the work.

“There’s no other way, we can not retreat – because if we do, Ukraine would not exist.”

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