A Russian soldier pleaded guilty to shooting a civilian before a Kiev court on Wednesday in Ukraine’s first trial for an act that could be considered a war crime since Russia launched its large-scale invasion.
The soldier, 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 Kiev, four days after the large-scale invasion of Russia began on Feb. 24. 10 years to life in prison.
When asked by the presiding judge whether he accepted his guilt, Sergeant Shyshimarin, 21, replied, “Yes.”
“Fully?” the judge asked. “Yes,” replied the sergeant.
The sergeant had admitted to Ukrainian investigators that he had 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 had stolen a car at gunpoint and were fleeing Ukrainian troops when they saw 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 was ordered to fire, I fired an automatic salvo at him, he fell. We drove on,” Sergeant Shyshimarin told Ukrainian intelligence.
The sergeant had been charged under a Ukrainian statute with violating “the laws and customs of war, combined with first degree murder,” Ukrainian prosecutors said. He was not charged with a war crime under international law.
The trial had sparked widespread interest, and although Sergeant Shyshimarin pleaded guilty, prosecutors plan to present all evidence against him on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the courtroom and an overflow room were packed with members of the local and international news media and the proceedings were broadcast on YouTube. Kateryna Shelipova, the widow of the man who was fatally shot, was also in court on Wednesday.
The prosecutor, Andriy Sinyuk, described the hearing as an “unprecedented proceeding” in which “a soldier from another country is accused of murdering a citizen of Ukraine.”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov on Wednesday rejected the proceedings, telling reporters that the accusations against Russian soldiers by Ukraine were “just fake or faked.”
“We still have no information,” said Mr. Peskov. “And the ability to provide assistance due to the lack of our diplomatic mission there is also very limited.”
War between Russia and Ukraine: important 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 extensive efforts to document atrocities and identify the perpetrators. A number of international initiatives hold both sides responsible for war crimes.
Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the Hague-based International Criminal Court, said on Tuesday that he would send the court’s “largest team of experts ever” to Ukraine to investigate allegations of war crimes. And the United Nations Human Rights Council voted last week to deepen its investigation into human rights violations in the Kiev region and other areas.
Sergeant Shyshimarin’s admission of guilt came as Ukraine tried to free its soldiers who had surrendered the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in recent days. The Russian Defense Ministry said it had nearly 1,000 fighters, more than 50 of whom were “seriously injured”.
Ukraine hopes to exchange the soldiers for Russian prisoners of war. Neither Moscow nor Kiev have released details about a possible prisoner exchange, but any transfer of detainees could complicate efforts by Ukrainian prosecutors to hold Russians suspected of war crimes to account.
To complicate matters, Russian authorities have said in recent days that they will question some Ukrainian detainees from the Azovstal factory about alleged war crimes, raising the possibility that Moscow may also try soldiers.