Other war crimes

MIHR’s statement on Tihran Ohannisian and Mykyta Khanhanov’s murder

The Media Initiative for Human Rights, together with the whole of Ukraine and the international community, is deeply shocked by the murder of teenagers Tihran Ohannisian and Mykyta Khanhanov, which took place on June 24, 2023, in Russian-occupied Berdiansk.

For several days now, we have been analyzing the situation and thinking about what we, as a human rights organization, the state of Ukraine, and the international community, could have done to prevent this tragedy. So far, we have no answer to this question.

Furthermore, we still do not know all the circumstances that led to the boys’ deaths. The occupation authorities of Berdiansk claim that their murder allegedly occurred due to an attack on “police officers” by Tihran and Mykyta. The information from open sources and MIHR’s sources confirm that there was indeed a shootout in Berdiansk on the evening of June 24. However, as yet, we have not found any evidence of civilian casualties, as the occupiers claim. This incident requires further investigation and clarification of all the circumstances.

At the same time, we would like to emphasize the importance of the context and events that preceded the murder of the teenagers. Since September 2022, the Russian occupation authorities have persecuted Tihran, Mykyta, and their families. Tihran was abducted from his home, tortured, and abused for five days. He was only released after his parents publicized the child’s disappearance. The family also tried to take Tihran out of the occupation, but the occupiers arrested the boy and his parents and returned them to occupied Berdiansk.

For six months, the children were under severe pressure from the occupiers. They were interrogated, forced to participate in “investigative experiments,” and were required to report to the occupation police daily.

The pressure has increased in the last few weeks. Investigators charged the teenagers with preparing sabotage and planned to bring the case to court. A few days before the murder, an investigator came to Tihran’s house with an armed escort, but Tihran and Mykyta ran away from home and hid from the occupation police. At that time, Tihran called his mother, currently staying in Germany with their younger children, asking for help. The boys needed help but could not find it in the occupied city.

On the morning of the tragedy, Mykyta and Tihran returned home. They were immediately visited by an investigator, with whom, according to our information, they had a long conversation. However, we do not know what they talked about. That evening, the two boys went for a walk in the city. Half an hour before the reports of the shooting appeared, Tihran`s mother spoke to him on the phone. According to her, Tihran was calm and planned to be home at 9 p.m. The conversation made it clear that he was expecting to meet his family, had plans for the future, and obviously would not have committed life-threatening acts on his initiative.

We are still determining how further events unfolded. However, we can confidently assume that Tihran and Mykyta were driven to despair by the pressure and abuse of the occupation authorities and the desperate situation they found themselves in. 

We do not rule out that the occupation investigation could have intimidated the boys to provoke their escape and armed detention. Currently, the MIHR believes that the boys could have been killed intentionally. The occupation authorities could have tried to save the teenagers’ lives, but they did not. For example, during the “investigative actions,” the Investigative Committee in the case of Ohannisian and Khanhanov involved dozens of security forces. Instead, according to our information, Tihran and Mykyta were killed by sniper shots.

The Media Initiative for Human Rights considers the occupation authorities of Berdiansk, specifically the senior investigator of the second department for the investigation of particularly important cases of the Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, I. R. Khusainov (Хусаинов И. Р.) responsible for the murder of Tihran Ohannisian and Mykyta Khanhanov, as well as the leadership of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, which, in our opinion, facilitates the crimes of its employees against children, and the top military and political leadership of the Russian Federation, for whom terror and abuse of civilians are the basis of state policy. We also do not absolve the international organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, which the European Parliament called on in its resolution the day before to intervene in the situation around the teenagers and facilitate their departure to the territory controlled by the Government of Ukraine. No response to this call has been forthcoming.

Currently, the MIHR expects increased pressure and persecution of Tihran and Mykyta’s relatives by the occupation authorities. Therefore, the intervention of the international community, in particular the ICRC, remains relevant.

The Media Initiative for Human Rights calls on Ukraine and the world not to let the perpetrators go unpunished and to make every effort to bring them to justice. For its part, the MIHR will do everything possible to establish the circumstances and identify all those involved in Tihran and Mykyta’s murder.

Our most sincere condolences to the boys’ families and friends. There is and can be no justification for the abuse and murder of children.

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