A court in Kyiv has sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian in the early days of the Ukraine invasion. The verdict marks the first conviction of a soldier for war crimes since the conflict began at the end of February.
Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, pleaded guilty to having killed a 62-year-old man in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on February 28, four days into the war. He testified that he had shot the man from an open car window on the orders of two senior officers.
Shishimarin also told the court that one of his superiors had insisted the Ukrainian man be shot because he was speaking on his mobile phone at the time, and could have given their location away to Ukrainian forces.
During the trial, Shishimarin asked the widow of the victim to forgive him.
His Ukrainian appointed defence lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, had argued last Friday that the 21-year-old was unprepared for the "violent military confrontation" and mass casualties that Russian troops had encountered during the invasion.
“Let’s try to put ourselves in the place of at least one of those people in that car, and in general,” Ovsyanikov said. "Did they understand that they had killed a person at the time, or did they just shoot from a machine gun and go on?”
Prosecutors held that the direction to fire had not come from Shishimarin's main commander and so had not constituted an order.
“The arguments of the defence are, so to speak, relevant to the line of defence, but I believe that this in no way refutes the evidence we have provided," prosecutor Andriy Synyuk said. "And I believe that they do not deny the guilt of Shishimarin himself in this criminal offence.”
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova had 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. Investigators are also collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.