Russian soldier admits killing civilian in first war crimes trial of Ukraine conflict

18 May 2022, 13:13 | Updated: 18 May 2022, 16:09

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin has pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed civilian.
Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin has pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed civilian. Picture: Alamy/Ukrainian Attorney General

By Sophie Barnett

A Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian has pleaded guilty in the first war crimes trial since the country's invasion of Ukraine.

Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is accused of gunning down an unarmed 62-year-old man on February 28, in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka.

The Russian tank commander, who is being held in Kyiv, pleaded guilty on Wednesday and faces life in prison.

The man who was killed is Oleksandr Shelikov, who was 62 years old, reports say.

Journalists reporting from the court on Wednesday said the victim’s widow wiped away tears as the Russian soldier was led in to the defendant box wearing handcuffs.

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The trial is the first case of its kind since Russia's invasion in February.

It took place with an interpreter translating the proceedings into Russian for the defendant.

Ukrainian state prosecutors said Shishimarin and four other Russian servicemen fired at and stole a privately owned car to escape after their column was targeted by Ukrainian forces.

The Russian soldiers drove into the village of Chupakhivka where they saw an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on his phone, they said.

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A number of Russian soldiers will face war crime trials for targeting civilians in Ukraine.
A number of Russian soldiers will face war crime trials for targeting civilians in Ukraine. Picture: Alamy

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Prosecutors say Shishimarin was ordered by another soldier to kill the civilian to prevent him reporting on the Russians' presence.

They say he fired several shots through the open window of the car with an assault rifle at the civilian's head.

The civilian died on the spot.

The Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 of Shyshimarin speaking in front of a 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."

Prosecutors say more trials could be forthcoming, after identifying thousands of potential crimes committed by Russian forces.

Moscow has denied its troops have targeted civilians.

Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova 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.

It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects were in Ukrainian hands and how many would be tried in absentia.

Investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

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Ms Venediktova's office has said it was looking into more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials.

With help from foreign experts, prosecutors are investigating allegations that Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing possibly thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

Russia is believed to be preparing war crime trials for Ukrainian soldiers.