Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine's first war crimes case

Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine’s first war crimes case

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian soldier stood trial in Ukraine on Friday for the murder of an unarmed civilian, marking the first time a member of the Russian military has been prosecuted for a war crime in 11 weeks. of conflict.

A captured member of a tank unit, 21, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian in the head through an open car window in the northeast village of Chupakhivka , during the first days of the war..

Dozens of reporters and cameras crammed into a small courtroom at Solomyanskyy District Court in Kyiv, where the suspect, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, seated in a glassed-in area wearing a blue and gray hoodie, sweatpants and a shaved head.

He faces life imprisonment under an article of the Ukrainian criminal code which deals with the laws and customs of war. Ukraine’s Supreme Prosecutor, with the help of foreign experts, is investigating allegations that Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and ill-treating possibly thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Friday’s initial proceedings in the Shyshimarin case were brief. A judge asked him to provide his name, address, marital status and other identifying details. He was also asked if he understood his rights, quietly replying “yes”, and if he wanted a jury trial, which he declined.

The judges and lawyers discussed procedural matters before the judges left the courtroom, then returned to say the case would continue on May 18.

Defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov acknowledged the case against the soldier was strong, but said the court would make the final decision on what evidence to allow. Ovsyanikov said Thursday that he and his client have not yet decided how he will plead.

After Friday’s hearing, Ovsyannikov said he was assigned to defend Shishimarin as a lawyer for the Free Legal Aid Center. His client “certainly knows all the details” of what he is accused of, Ovsyannikov said. The lawyer did not want to detail his defense strategy.

As Ukraine’s first war crimes case, the prosecution of Shyshimarin is being watched closely. Investigators have gathered evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Attorney General’s Office Iryna Venediktova said it was investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials.

Numerous alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow forces ended their attempt to capture kyiv and withdrew from the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards littered with bodies in cities like Bucha..

Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator of 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 his legal rights are met. protected. It can be difficult, he said, to maintain the neutrality of judicial proceedings in times of war.

Adherence to trial rules and standards “will determine how similar cases are handled in the future,” Yavorskyy said.

“It is surprising that a war crimes suspect has been found and that his trial is taking place. Charges like this are usually made in absentia,” he said. “This is a rare case where, in a short time, we managed to find a soldier who violated the international rules of war.”

Russia is believed to be preparing similar trials for Ukrainian soldiers, Yavorskyy said.

Vadim Karasev, an independent political analyst based in Kyiv, said it was important for the Ukrainian authorities “to demonstrate that war crimes will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice in accordance with international standards”.

Over the past week, Venediktova, her office and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country’s law enforcement agency, have posted some details of the investigation into Shyshimarin’s alleged actions on their social media accounts. .

On February 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Shyshimarin was among a group of Russian soldiers who fled Ukrainian forces, according to Venediktova’s Facebook account. The Russians reportedly fired on a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupahivka, a village about 200 miles east of kyiv.

Along the way, according to the prosecutor general, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk and talking on the phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so he could not report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Venediktova did not identify who gave the order.

Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov through the open window and hit the victim in the head.

“The man died on the spot a few dozen meters from his house,” Venediktova wrote.

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

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

Asked about the trial on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I have no information about this trial and this incident.”

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Lardner reported from Washington.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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