Russian soldier to stand trial in first war crimes case

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KYIV, Ukraine – A Russian soldier is on trial Friday for the murder of an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, marking the first time since the invasion began that a member of the Russian army will be charged with a war crime.

Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin is accused of shooting the 62-year-old man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka. He faces a life sentence under the penalties set forth in the section of the Ukrainian Penal Code dealing with the laws and customs of war.

Shyshimarin’s lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, acknowledged that the case against him is strong, but said the Kiev court will make the final decision on what evidence to allow. Ovsyanikov said on Thursday that he and his client have not yet decided how he will plead.

Shyshimarin, a 21-year-old imprisoned tank unit member, is on trial as Ukraine’s top prosecutor conducts an ever-growing number of investigations into allegations that Russian forces have murdered, tortured and abused Ukrainian civilians.

Attorney General Iryna Venediktova’s office has said it is investigating more than 10,700 possible 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 capture Kiev and withdrew from the entire capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards littered with bodies in cities like Bucha.

As the inaugural case of war crimes in Ukraine, the prosecution of Shyshimarin is closely followed.

Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kiev, one of Ukraine’s largest human rights organizations, 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 court proceedings in wartime.

Adherence to the rules and standards of the process “will determine how similar cases will be handled in the future,” Yavorskyy said.

Vadim Karasev, an independent political analyst in Kiev, said it is important for Ukrainian authorities “to demonstrate that the war crimes will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice in accordance with international standards.”

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

On February 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Venediktova, Shyshimarin was among a group of Russian troops defeated by Ukrainian forces. When the Russians fled, they shot at a passenger car and seized the vehicle. Then they drove to Chupahivka, a village in the Sumy region, about 200 miles east of Kiev.

On the way, Venediktova said, Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk and talking on his phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so that he would not be able to report them to the Ukrainian military authorities. She doesn’t know who gave the order.

Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim on the head.

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

Ukraine’s security agency, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 in which Shyshimarin spoke to the camera and briefly described how he shot the man. The SBU described the video as “one of the enemy invaders’ first confessions.”

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

Lardner reported from Washington.

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