Russian sergeant jailed for life after murdering civilian in first war crime trial

23 May 2022, 11:09 | Updated: 23 May 2022, 13:39

Shishimarin was handed a life sentence
Shishimarin was handed a life sentence. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

A Russian tank commander has been jailed for life after admitting gunning down an unarmed man early in the invasion of Ukraine.

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Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, killed 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelikov in the northeast village of Chupakhivka on February 28.

The case was the first war crimes trial held since Ukraine was invaded.

Prosecutors said Shishimarin and four other Russian soldiers shot at and then stole a privately owned car to escape after their column was hit by Ukrainian defenders.

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They then drove to Chupakhivka and came across Mr Shelikov riding his bicycle and talking on the phone.

Prosecutors said 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 at the scene.

During the trial, Shishimarin asked the man's widow to forgive him.

Kateryna Shelipova, the wife of Mr Shelikov, reacts during Shishimarin's trial
Kateryna Shelipova, the wife of Mr Shelikov, reacts during Shishimarin's trial. Picture: Getty

Shishimarin admitted killing Mr Shelikov on May 18, but said he was following orders after an officer told him the victim could pinpoint their location to Ukrainian forces.

On May 4, the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on of Shishimarin 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."

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Shishimarin's defence lawyer Victor Ovsyanikov argued that his client, a member of a Russian tank unit who was eventually captured, had been unprepared for the "violent military confrontation" and mass casualties that Russian troops encountered when they first invaded Ukraine.

Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the charge
Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the charge. Picture: Getty

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.

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

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

Moscow has denied its troops have targeted civilians, and is believed to be preparing war crime trials for Ukrainian soldiers.

Shishimarin is put into the back of a police van after being sentenced
Shishimarin is put into the back of a police van after being sentenced. Picture: Getty

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The sentencing came as the three-month-old war helped push the number of people displaced worldwide to a record high, according to the United Nations, with more 100 million people driven from their homes across the globe.

Recently Russian forces have stepped up shelling in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland as they press their offensive in the region that is now the focus of fighting.

Grinding battles in the Donbas, where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting town by town, have forced many civilians to flee their homes.

Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country's casualties, but Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.