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Ukraine puts Russian accused of war crime on trial

by OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKI and RICHARD LARDNER The Associated Press | May 14, 2022 at 4:23 a.m.
Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine on Friday. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

KYIV, Ukraine -- A 21-year-old Russian soldier went on trial Friday in Kyiv over the killing of an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, marking the first war-crime prosecution of a member of the Russian military after 11 weeks of war in Ukraine.

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

Many journalists and cameras were packed inside a small courtroom at the Solomyanskyy district court in Ukraine's capital, where the suspect, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, sat in a glassed-off area.

He faces up to life in prison under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war. Ukraine's top prosecutor, with help from foreign experts, is investigating allegations that Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing possibly thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Friday's hearing in Shyshimarin's case was brief. A judge asked him to provide his name, address, marital status and other identifying details. He also was asked whether he understood his rights, quietly replying "yes," and if wanted a jury trial, which he declined.

The judges and lawyers discussed procedural matters before the judges left the courtroom and 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 over what evidence to allow. Ovsyanikov said Thursday that he and his client had not yet decided how he will plead.

After Friday's hearing, Ovsyanikov said he was assigned to defend Shyshimarin as a lawyer for the Center for Free Legal Aid. His client "certainly knows all the details" of what he's accused of, Ovsyanikov said.

As the inaugural war-crimes case in Ukraine, Shyshimarin's prosecution is being watched closely. Investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

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.

Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, 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 during wartime.

"It is surprising that a suspect in war crimes has been found and the trial for him will take place. Charges of this kind are usually made in absentia," he said. "This is a rare case when in a short time we managed to find a soldier who violated international rules of warfare."

Russia is believed to be preparing similar trials for Ukrainian soldiers, Yavorskyy said. Asked Friday about Shyshimarin's case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "I don't have any information about this trial and this incident."

In the past week, prosecutor-general Venediktova, her office and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country's law enforcement agency, posted a few details on social media 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 that fled Ukrainian forces, according to Venediktova's Facebook account. The Russians allegedly fired at a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupakhivka, a village about 200 miles east of Kyiv.

On the way, the prosecutor-general alleged, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the sidewalk and talking on his phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so he wouldn't be able to report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Venediktova did not identify who gave the order.

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

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

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) posted a short video on May 4 of Shyshimarin 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," Shyshimarin said. "I shot one [round] at him. He falls. And we kept on going."

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."

Information for this article was contributed by Sabina Niksic of The Associated Press.

  photo  Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday, the first war crimes trial since Moscow's invasion of its neighbor. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
 
 
  photo  Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday, the first war crimes trial since Moscow's invasion of its neighbor. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
 
 
  photo  Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday, the first war crimes trial since Moscow's invasion of its neighbor. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
 
 

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