A Russian soldier was sentenced to life in prison in Ukraine's first war crimes trial

In Kyiv, Ukraine, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin awaits the start of a court hearing on Monday. In the first war crimes trial since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, judges sentenced him to life in prison.
In Kyiv, Ukraine, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin awaits the start of a court hearing on Monday. In the first war crimes trial since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, judges sentenced him to life in prison. Image: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

The first Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine for war crimes was sentenced to life in prison for killing a civilian.

Last week, Russian army sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, pleaded guilty to fatally shooting an unarmed Ukrainian man during the war's early days. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova wrote on Facebook on Monday that a panel of judges in Kyiv found him guilty of "violation of the laws and customs of war, connected with premeditated murder" and sentenced him to life in prison.

According to Reuters, Judge Serhiy Agafonov stated, "Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity, and the international legal order... the court does not see the possibility of imposing a (shorter) sentence of imprisonment on Shishimarin for a specific period."

On February 28, the incident occurred in Chupakhivka, a village in the Sumy region of Ukraine, about 180 miles east of Kyiv.

Shishimarin and several other soldiers stole a car to try to flee the village after their armored vehicle broke down, according to a preliminary investigation. That's when they noticed the man riding his bike on the sidewalk while on the phone, and they worried he'd reveal their identities. Shishimarin fired his Kalashnikov several times through the open window of the car after his colleagues urged him to shoot the man.

"The victim was 62 years old and died on the spot after a 21-year-old foreign army soldier shot him in the head," Venediktova said.

The prosecution had presented strong evidence against Shishimarin, including ballistics matching from the crime scene to his gun. They also had witness testimony from a friend of the victim and one of the Russian soldiers who had been captured since the shooting.

On Wednesday, Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the charge leveled against him. Kateryna Shelipova, the man's widow, asked him directly how he felt when he shot her husband during a dramatic moment during the trial. Shishimarin apologized for his actions and asked for forgiveness, but he knew he was unlikely to receive it.

Shelipova later told the BBC, "I feel very sorry for him, but for a crime like that, I can't forgive him."

According to Reuters, Shishimarin was emotionless as the verdict was read out on Monday. According to The Washington Post, Shishimarin's Ukrainian court-appointed lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, told journalists that he plans to appeal the ruling. Ovsyanikov had argued that Shishimarin opened fire only because he was ordered to and that his shots were aimless.

Although Shishimarin's case is the first of its kind since Russia's full-fledged invasion in late February, it is unlikely to be the last. According to Ukrainian officials, more than 11,000 possible Russian war crimes have been documented so far.

They also want to act quickly, collecting evidence and locating witnesses while the war is still going on, rather than trying to piece together the cases later.

While the International Criminal Court has already dispatched a large team of investigators to Ukraine, Russia is not a member of that body and is not expected to cooperate with the investigation. Ukraine may be the only country capable of prosecuting these alleged war crimes.

Shishimarin's case, as well as other similar claims of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians, has been dismissed by Russia.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said before the verdict that Russia was "concerned" about Shishimarin.

According to The Washington Post, he stated, "Unfortunately, we are unable to defend his interests on the ground." "This is due to our institutions' de facto lack of operations [in Ukraine]. However, this does not rule out the possibility of continuing our efforts through other channels."

Meanwhile, it's possible that Russia will begin holding its own war crimes trials.

Ukrainian soldiers surrendered at the besieged steel plant in Mariupol last week as Shishmarin was taking the stand. Russians have dubbed them Nazis, and some politicians have called for their trial, despite the Geneva Conventions restricting combatants from being tried solely for participating in battle.

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