Russian soldier pleads guilty in first war crimes trial of Ukraine conflict

A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the conflict has pleaded guilty to charges of killing a Ukrainian civilian.

Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin could get life in prison for shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern Sumy region on February 28, four days into the invasion.

Shishimarin, a captured member of a Russian tank unit, was prosecuted under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war.

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Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offences that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.

Sitting behind a glass, Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, talks with his translator, centre right, during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. The Russian soldier has gone on trial in Ukraine for the killing of an unarmed civilian. The case that opened in Kyiv marked the first time a member of the Russian military has been prosecuted for a war crime since Russia invaded Ukraine 11 weeks ago. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects were in Ukrainian hands and how many would be tried in absentia.

As the inaugural war crimes case in Ukraine, Shishimarin’s prosecution was being watched closely.

Investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ms Venediktova’s office has said it was looking into more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials.

With help from foreign experts, prosecutors are investigating allegations that Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing possibly thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Shishimarin’s trial opened on Friday, when he made a brief court appearance while lawyers and judges discussed procedural matters.

Ukrainian authorities posted a few details on social media last week from their investigation in his case.

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Shishimarin was said to be among a group of Russian troops that fled Ukrainian forces on February 28, according to Ms Venediktova’s Facebook account.

The Russians allegedly fired at a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupakhivka, a village about 200 miles east of Kyiv.

On the way, the prosecutor general alleged, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the pavement and talking on his phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so he would not be able to report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Ms Venediktova did not identify who gave the order.

Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim in the head, Ms Venediktova wrote.

“The man died on the spot just a few dozen metres from his house,” she said.

The Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 of Shyshimarin speaking in front of a camera and briefly describing how he shot the man. The SBU described the video as “one of the first confessions of the enemy invaders”.

“I was ordered to shoot,” Shyshimarin said. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”

Russia is believed to be preparing war crime trials for Ukrainian soldiers.