A 21-year-old Russian soldier was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed man in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial since Russia’s invasion.
The soldier, Vadim Shishimarin, had pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old civilian to death on the fourth day of the conflict in late February.
Before delivering the verdict on Monday, the court said that Shishimarin had “committed a criminal offense” according to international humanitarian law.
“[Shishimarin] saw a civilian on the pavement, Oleksandr Shelipov,” the court said. “Shishimarin knowing that Shelipov is a civilian and is unarmed and does not pose any threat to him – fired several shots at Shelipov from his AK-gun.”
“The cause of Shelipov’s death was a shot in the head that resulted in crushing of the skull,” the court added. The sentence may be appealed within 30 days.
Prosecutor Andriy Sunyuk raised the possibility of more war crimes trials against Russian troops, and said he hoped Shishimarin’s conviction could send a message.
“I think that all other law enforcement agencies will move along the path that we have traveled,” he said.
“This will be a good example for other occupiers who may not yet be on our territory but are planning to come,” added Sunyuk. “Or for those who are here now and plan to stay and fight. Or maybe they will think that it’s time to leave here for their own territory.”
Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin is “concerned” about Shishimarin and will seek ways of assisting him.
“Of course, we are concerned about the fate of our citizen,” Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.
“We do not have many opportunities to protect his interests on the ground, as foreign institutions actually have no activity [in Kyiv]. But this does not mean that we will not consider the possibility of making attempts through other channels,” Peskov added, without clarifying which channels he was speaking about.
Peskov previously said Russia considers the charges “unacceptable,” “outrageous” and “staged.”
Speaking Friday, Shishimarin acknowledged he was responsible for the killing but was “sorry and sincerely repents.”
“I was nervous the moment it happened. I didn’t want to kill. But it happened and I do not deny it,” he said.
Shishimarin’s lawyer, Viktor Ovsyannikov, argued that while his client was guilty of killing, it was not murder.
“Shishimarin was in a state of stress caused by the combat situation and the pressure from his commander. Analysis of those circumstances allows me to conclude that Shishimarin had no direct intent for the murder,” Ovsyannikov said.
Ovsyannikov attempted to paint his client and other Russian troops as unwitting pawns in the Kremlin’s Machiavellian scheme.
The soldiers, Ovsyannikov said, were not aware that their actions would “result in mass deaths not only of servicemen, but civilians too.”
Shishimarin, who appeared in court behind glass wearing a blue-gray top with a shaved head, only spoke on several occasions during the proceedings.
He said he was “fully guilty” when he entered a plea on Wednesday and, on Thursday he was forced to confront his victim’s widow.
Shishimarin told her: “I understand that you will not be able to forgive me, but I am sorry.”
The woman questioned the Russian soldier as to why he came to Ukraine, asking rhetorically: “Did you come to defend us? From whom? Did you defend me from my husband you killed?”
“We were ordered to come with the column, what will follow I did not know,” Shishimarin said.