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A Russian soldier has pleaded guilty to charges of war crimes after he became the first to go on trial in Ukraine over Putin’s invasion.
Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, answered ‘yes’ when asked by a judge in Kyiv today whether he was guilty of shooting 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelypov in the head in the village of Chupakhivka during the first week of the war. He now faces life in prison.
Kateryna Shelypova, Oleksandr’s widow, sat over Shishimarin’s right shoulder as he confessed in the dock, her eyes only occasionally straying in his direction.
At one point during the proceedings, she was pictured pressing her palms together in front of her face – as if paying.
Vadim Shishimarin, 21, a Russian tank sergeant, has told pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old male civilian in the head in the village of Chupakhivka on February 28
Kateryna listened closely to the proceedings, at one point pressing her palms together in front of her face as if in prayer
Speaking before the trial, Kateryna revealed her husband once worked for the KGB and even guarded Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev when he visited Crimea.
She said he was shot because he pulled out his phone as Shishimarin and his comrades drove past in a stolen civilian car – fearing he was about to give away their location to the Ukrainian armed forces.
‘What can I say? Him being a child, he is young I feel sorry for him,’ she told ITV.
None-the-less, she branded the actions of Russian soldiers ‘unforgivable’ and said they have ‘brought too much grief to us’. ‘We didn’t ask them to come,’ she added.
Shishimarin admitted to killing Oleksandr with a Kalashnikov rifle as he fled with four other soldiers in a stolen car in a village in the Sumy region on February 28, just days after Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on February 24.
The man was pushing a bicycle by the side of the road when he was shot in the head and ‘died on the spot a few dozen metres from his home’, the Ukrainian prosecutor general said during the opening phase of the trial last week.
Prosecutors said Shishimarin was ordered by a superior ‘to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders.’
Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, said: ‘Shishimarin is actually physically in Ukraine. We are starting a trial not in absentia but rather directly with the person who killed a civilian, and this is a war crime.’
The Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 of Shishimarin speaking in front of 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,’ said Shyshimarin, wearing a blue and grey hooded sweatshirt. ‘I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.’
Ukrainian video blogger Volodymyr Zolkin also appeared to interview Shishimarin in a YouTube video posted on March 19.
In the clip, he said his unit was told they would be taking part in military exercises in southwestern Russia 200 miles from Ukraine in January.
He was later captured when his column was surrounded while they tried to return wounded soldiers to Russia. The footage then shows Shishimarin calling his father, saying: ‘They treat us well here.’
The father then tells Zolkin: ‘He is just a soldier. I don’t think he knew where he was going. You say he invaded, and we are told that they were defending the country. He didn’t know. He was told to. You hear one thing and we another.’
The clip ends with Shishimarin urging fellow Russians to not join the war effort and to protest instead.
Shishimarin (right) says he was ordered to shoot the man while he and his comrades were driving through Sumy province so he wouldn’t give away their position
Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian troops of committing atrocities since the invasion began on February 24. Russian shelling has targeted schools and hospitals, with thousands of civilians killed in the brutal campaign.
There are also allegations of mass rape, torture and execution being carried out by Putin’s forces while the occupied Ukrainian towns in the Kyiv region.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova’s office has said it is looking into more than 10,700 potential 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’s forces ended their bid to capture Kyiv and withdrew from around the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards strewn with bodies in towns such as Bucha.
Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s largest human rights groups, said activists will monitor the Russian soldier’s trial to ensure that his legal rights are protected. It can be difficult, he said, to maintain the neutrality of court proceedings during wartime.
The observance of the trial’s rules and norms ‘will determine how similar cases will be handled in the future,’ Yavorskyy said.
Vadim Karasev, an independent Kyiv-based political analyst, said it’s important for Ukrainian authorities ‘to demonstrate that the war crimes will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice in line with international standards.’
The town of Bucha in the outskirts of Kyiv revealed a scene of horrors after it was recaptured by Ukraine, with mutilated civilian corpses lining the streets.
Venediktova’s office has said it has received reports of more than 10,000 alleged war crimes, with 622 suspects identified.
The Russian invasion has sparked an exodus of nearly six million civilians, many of whom bear accounts of torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate destruction.
The UN Human Rights Council is due to hold a special session on Ukraine on Thursday.
Russia abandoned its assault on Sumy – where Shishimarin was captured – last month as it also withdrew forces from around Kyiv and Chernihiv after what was intended to be a lightning-fast offensive to seize them faltered and then stalled.
A tank of the DPR army moves on the road during several dozen Ukrainian civilians, who had been living in the bomb shelters of the Azovstal plant for more than a month, being evacuated in Mariupol, Ukraine on May 06, 2022
Putin has now ordered his generals to ‘liberate’ the eastern Donbas region instead, as commanders cynically claim this was their true goal all along.
The mission has met with some success after Russian forces seized control of the key port city of Mariupol this week, when the last Ukrainian defenders surrendered.
The garrison – currently thought to number up to 2,000 men – had held out for 82 days under a withering siege before being given the order to lay down arms.
Hundreds are now being taken to Russian-occupied soil where they will await transfer back to Ukraine in a prisoner swap.
However, their fate is far from assured as Russian politicians call for any exchange to be outlawed and for the troops to instead face trial for war crimes.
Seizing Mariupol means a so-called ‘land bridge’ from occupied Donbas to Russian naval bases in Crimea, widely thought to have been one of the key goals of the invasion when it started, is now complete.
It also frees up Russian troops who have been fighting in the city for almost three months to join the frontline in Donbas, where Putin’s men are vying with Ukraine for control of key cities.
Moscow’s main effort appears to be focused on surrounding Severodonetsk and Lysychansk – sister cities that straddle the Donets River – and forcing the surrender of Ukrainian troops defending it.
Heavy fighting is ongoing in the region with Russia making piecemeal gains, though suffering heavy losses in the process.
But the offensive is under threat by a Ukrainian counter-attack happening hundreds of miles to the north, which has forced Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv.
Ukrainian troops have now pushed the Russians all the way back across their own border in some areas, and rumours are starting to emerge that they have crossed the Donets River heading east towards the city of Vovchansk.
That city contains the main highway and railway line connecting Belgorod, which is a major supply hub in Russian feeding its troops with ammunition and fuel, to the frontlines near Izyum and Severodonetsk.
If Ukraine can capture the city, it will make resupplying and reinforcing the offensive much harder – potentially causing it to stall or even go into reverse.