A Russian soldier pleaded guilty in a kyiv court on Wednesday to shooting and killing a civilian, in Ukraine’s first trial for an act that could be considered a war crime since Russia launched its large-scale invasion.
The soldier, the sergeant. Vadim Shyshimarin, pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old man on a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the Sumy region, about 200 miles east of kyiv, four days after the invasion began in large scale of Russia on February 24. He faces 10 years to life in prison.
Asked by the presiding judge if he accepted his guilt, Sergeant Shyshimarin, 21, replied: “Yes”.
“Fully?” asked the judge. “Yes,” replied the sergeant.
The sergeant admitted to Ukrainian investigators that he pulled the trigger on the Kalashnikov rifle that killed the man, Oleksandar Shelipov, prosecutors said. He told investigators in a videotaped statement that he and four other servicemen stole a car at gunpoint and were fleeing Ukrainian forces when they spotted Mr Shelipov on a bicycle, talking on the phone. He said he was ordered to kill the man so he wouldn’t report them.
“I received the order to shoot, I fired an automatic burst at him, he fell. We continued,” Sergeant Shyshimarin told Ukrainian intelligence.
The sergeant had been charged under Ukrainian law with violating “the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder”, Ukrainian prosecutors said. He had not been charged with a war crime under international law.
The trial had generated widespread interest, and although Sergeant Shyshimarin has pleaded guilty, prosecutors plan to present all the evidence against him on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the courtroom and an additional room were packed with members of the local and international media, and the proceedings were streamed on YouTube. Kateryna Shelipova, the widow of the man who was shot, was also in court on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Andriy Sinyuk described the hearing as an “unprecedented proceeding” in which “a serviceman from another country is charged with the murder of a Ukrainian civilian”.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov dismissed the proceedings on Wednesday, telling reporters that the accusations made against Russian soldiers by Ukraine were “simply false or staged”.
“We still have no information,” Mr Peskov said. “And the ability to provide assistance due to the absence of our diplomatic mission there is also very limited.”
Russo-Ukrainian War: Main Developments
Sergeant Shyshimarin’s lawyer said no one from the Russian government had contacted him about his client, although he said he had been in contact with the defendant’s mother.
The trial was part of Ukraine’s broad efforts to document atrocities and identify perpetrators. A number of international initiatives holding both sides accountable for war crimes are moving forward.
Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the Hague-based International Criminal Court, said on Tuesday he was sending the court’s “largest team of experts” to Ukraine to investigate war crimes allegations. And the United Nations Human Rights Council voted last week to deepen its investigation into rights abuses in the region around Kyiv and other areas.
Sergeant Shyshimarin’s guilty plea came as Ukraine sought to release its soldiers who had returned the Azovstal steel plant to Mariupol in recent days. The Russian Defense Ministry said it had nearly 1,000 fighters, of whom more than 50 were “seriously injured”, in custody.
Ukraine hopes to exchange the soldiers for Russian prisoners of war. Neither Moscow nor Kyiv has released details of a possible prisoner swap, but any prisoner transfers could complicate efforts by Ukrainian prosecutors to hold Russians suspected of war crimes accountable.
To complicate matters further, Russian authorities have said in recent days that they will question some of the Ukrainian prisoners at the Azovstal plant about alleged war crimes, raising the possibility that Moscow could also try soldiers.