Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial


A Russian soldier was on trial in Ukraine on Friday for the killing of an unarmed civilian, marking the first time a member of the Russian military has been charged with a war crime during the 11-week conflict.

A 21-year-old captured member of a tank unit is accused of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka during the first week of the war.

Scores of journalists and cameras in a small courtroom of the Solomyansky District Court in Kyiv, where the suspect, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, appeared in a small glass cage and wore a blue and gray outfit.

He faces life imprisonment under the penalties laid down in the section of the Ukrainian Penal Code dealing with the laws and customs of war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor is investigating allegations that Russian forces have violated Ukrainian and international law by possibly killing, torturing and ill-treating thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

The judges and attorneys in Shyshimarin’s case briefly discussed procedural issues before the judges left the courtroom and then returned to say the trial would resume another day.

Defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov acknowledged that the case against the soldier is strong, but said that the final decision on what evidence to admit will be made by the Kyiv court. Ovsyanikov said Thursday that he and his client have not yet decided how he will plead.

As the first war crimes case in Ukraine, Shyshimarin’s indictment is being closely monitored.

The office of Attorney General Iryna Venediktova has said it is investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials.

Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow forces ended their attempt to seize Kyiv and withdrew from the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and courtyards littered with bodies in cities like Bucha.

Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator of the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s largest human rights groups, said activists will monitor the Russian soldier’s trial to ensure his legal rights are protected. It can be difficult, he said, to maintain the neutrality of judicial proceedings during wartime.

Compliance with the rules and norms of the process “will determine how similar cases will be treated in the future,” Yavorskyy said.

Vadim Karasev, an independent political scientist from Kyiv, said it was important for the Ukrainian authorities to “show that the war crimes are being solved and those responsible are being brought to justice in accordance with international standards”.

Over the past week, Venediktova, her office and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country’s law enforcement agency, posted some details from the investigation into Shyshimarin’s actions on their social media accounts.

On February 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Shyshimarin was among a group of Russian troops who had been defeated by Ukrainian forces, according to Venediktova’s account. As the Russians fled, they shot at a private car and confiscated the vehicle. They then drove to Chupahivka, a village in the Sumy region some 200 miles east of Kyiv.

On the way, Venediktova said, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk talking on his phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so he could not report her to the Ukrainian military authorities. She does not identify who gave the order.

Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window, hitting the victim in the head.

“The man died on the spot, just a few tens of meters from his home,” Venediktova wrote.

The Security Service of Ukraine, known as SBU, released a short video on May 4 in which Shyshimarin speaks on camera and briefly describes how he shot the man. The SBU called the video “one of the first confessions by the enemy invaders.”

“I was ordered to shoot,” said Shyshimarin, who was wearing a blue and gray hooded sweatshirt. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept going.”


Lardner reported from Washington. Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial

Bobby Allyn

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