KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – A 21-year-old Russian soldier is on trial Friday in Kiev for killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, marking the first war crimes charges against a member of the Russian army after 11 weeks of bloodshed in Ukraine†
The soldier, an imprisoned member of a tank unit, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window during the early days of the war in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka†
Numerous journalists and cameras are packed in a small courtroom of the Solomyanskyy District Court in Ukraine’s capital, where the accused, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, sat in a locked room wearing a blue and gray hoodie, sweatpants and a shaved head.
He faces life in prison under a section of the Ukrainian Penal Code that deals with the laws and customs of war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor, with the help of foreign experts, is investigating allegations that Russian forces have violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing thousands of Ukrainian citizens.†
Friday’s hearing in Shyshimarin’s case was short. A judge asked him to provide his name, address, marital status and other identifying information. He was also asked if he understood his rights, and quietly answered “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 that the case against the soldier is strong, but said the court would make the final decision on what evidence will be allowed. Ovsyanikov said on Thursday that he and his client have not yet decided how he will plead.
After Friday’s hearing, Ovsyannikov said he had been appointed to defend Shishimarin as a lawyer for the Center for Free Legal Aid. His client “surely knows all the details” of what he’s being accused of, Ovsyannikov said. The attorney declined to detail his defense strategy.
As the inaugural case of war crimes in Ukraine, the prosecution of Shyshimarin is closely followed. Investigators have gathered evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Office of Attorney General Iryna Venediktova has said it is investigating more than 10,700 possible 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 troops ended their attempt to capture Kiev and withdrew from all over the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards littered with bodies in cities like Bucha.†
Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kiev, said activists will monitor the Russian soldier’s trial to ensure his legal rights are protected. It can be difficult, he said, to maintain the neutrality of court proceedings in wartime.
“It is surprising that a war crimes suspect has been found and the trial will take place for him. These kinds of charges are usually filed in absentia,” he said. “This is a rare case where we managed to find a soldier who violated the international rules of war in a short period of time.”
Russia would prepare similar trials for Ukrainian soldiers, Yavorskyy said. When asked on Friday about Shyshimarin’s case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I have no information about this trial and this incident.”
In the past week, Attorney General Venediktova, her office and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country’s law enforcement agency, posted on social media some details from the investigation into Shyshimarin’s alleged actions.
On Feb. 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Shyshimarin was among a group of Russian troops fleeing Ukrainian forces, according to Venediktova’s Facebook account. The Russians allegedly shot at a passenger car and seized the vehicle and then drove to Chupakhivka, a village about 200 miles east of Kiev.
On the way, the attorney general claimed, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk and talking on his phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so that he would not be able to report them to the Ukrainian military authorities. Venediktova did not identify who gave the order.
Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim on the head.
“The man died on the spot just a few tens of meters from his house,” wrote Venediktova.
Ukraine’s security agency, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 in which Shyshimarin spoke to the camera and briefly described how he shot the man. The SBU described the video as “one of the enemy invaders’ first confessions.”
“I was ordered to shoot,” Shyshimarin said. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept going.”
Vadim Karasev, an independent political analyst in Kiev, said it is important for Ukrainian authorities “to demonstrate that the war crimes will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice in accordance with international standards.”
While the speed with which Shyshimarin was brought to court is unusual for a nation at war, the case is not without precedent.
A Bosnian Serb soldier, Borislav Herak, was captured by Bosnian army soldiers in November 1992 after accidentally straying from Serb-occupied territory. During his interrogation and three-week trial in March 1993, he confessed to 35 murders and 14 rapes, and was eventually convicted of genocide and crimes against civilians.
Herak was sentenced to death. His initial death sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison after Bosnia abolished the death penalty.
Senad Kreho, who presided over a military district tribunal in Sarajevo in 1993, said Friday that trying war crimes suspects while the fighting is ongoing does not mean the justice system will not work properly.
“Numerous subsequent reviews of (Herak’s) case by international and national legal experts found that he received a fair trial,” Kreho said.
“The only change was that his sentence was reduced, but he has served it in full,” he added.
The 1992-95 war in Bosnia, in which the main ethnic communities – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – were pitted against each other, killed 100,000 people, most of them civilians, and more than 2 million, or more than half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. the land, were driven from their homes.
Lardner reported from Washington. Sabina Niksic in Sarayevo, Bosnia, contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine