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Ukrainian trial begins for first Russian soldier accused of war crimes

Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was seen during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 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.Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

Ukrainian judicial authorities Friday began a case against a Russian soldier accused of shooting a civilian, the first trial involving a suspected war crime by a Russian service member since the invasion began in February.

The soldier, Sargeant Vadim Shysimarin, is accused of shooting a 62-year-old man on a bicycle in the village of Chupakhivka in the Sumy region, about 200 miles east of Kyiv. The man was killed Feb. 28, four days after the full-scale invasion began, and his body left on the side of the road.

Shysimarin, part of a tank division from the Moscow region, was subsequently captured, although details of how that transpired remain unclear. The indictment will be read Wednesday. He faces 10-15 years in prison.

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He was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and seated before the judicial authorities Friday, locked in a glass box. Wearing a blue and gray hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants, Shysimarin kept his shaved head bowed for the duration of the proceedings and did not respond to journalist questions about how he was feeling.

According to an investigation by Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the SBU, and the General Prosecution, the sergeant and four other servicemen stole a car at gunpoint while fleeing Ukrainian forces and drove into the village, where they saw an unarmed 62-year-old resident biking on the roadside and talking on a phone.

Shysimarin was ordered to kill the civilian so he would not report the group of soldiers, prosecutors say. He fired a Kalashnikov rifle out of the car window at the man’s head and killed him on the spot — just a few dozen yards from his home, the investigation said. Prosecutors said they were able to identify the exact weapon that Shysimarin used.

Shysimarin is being defended by Viktor Ovsyannikov, a Ukrainian court-appointed lawyer.

“For me it is just work,” he said when asked how he felt about defending someone accused of being a war criminal. “It is very important to make sure my client’s human rights are protected, to show that we are a country different to the one he is from.”

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Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, and Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, assisted by international experts, have been meticulously compiling evidence of war crimes. What makes this case rare is that the suspect is in Ukrainian custody.

Trials for war crimes typically stem from violations of international laws related to conflict. The best-known trials, such as those in the German city of Nuremberg at the end of World War II, have largely taken place once a conflict has finished.

Russian forces in Ukraine are accused of atrocities in areas they seized, many of which likely fall under the category of war crimes. Publicity surrounding these atrocities has served to galvanize international opinion against Moscow. Russian authorities have denied all responsibility for civilian killings and abuse.

On Thursday, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said the bodies of more than 1,000 civilians had been recovered in areas north of Kyiv that Russian forces had occupied, including several hundred who were summarily executed and others who were shot by snipers. Bachelet said the figure would likely increase.

Amid ongoing efforts to document each killing, the Ukrainian government published the names and photos of 10 Russian soldiers who it said had committed war crimes in Bucha, a suburb north of Kyiv.

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