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The Guardian - UK

Russian soldier says he will accept punishment for Ukraine war crime

Vadim Shysimarin in court in Kyiv on Friday
Vadim Shysimarin in court in Kyiv on Friday. He is accused of firing three or four shots at the 62-year-old civilian. Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

A Russian tank commander who pleaded guilty earlier this week to shooting dead an unarmed Ukrainian civilian has said he will accept any punishment from the court, on the third day of the first war crimes trial resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Vadim Shysimarin, 21, told courtroom No 201 of the Kyiv tribunal that he “was nervous about what was going on” on the day 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov died and that he “didn’t want to kill”.

Standing in the glass defence box, wearing a grey and blue hoodie, his shaved head lowered, Shysimarin added: “I’m truly and sincerely sorry. I didn’t want that to happen, I didn’t want to be there, but it happened. I would like to apologise once again. And I will accept all the measures of punishment that I will be offered.”

On Thursday, during the second hearing, Shysimarin asked Shelipov’s widow to forgive him for the murder of her husband. Prosecutors have asked the judge to sentence Shysimarin to life in prison.

In closing arguments, Shysimarin’s lawyer, Viktor Ovsyannikov, said his client was not guilty of premeditated murder and war crimes, and asked the judges to acquit him.

In an interview with the Guardian at the end of the hearing, Ovsyannikov said his client killed a civilian by order and therefore he did not consider it to be a breach of the rules of war.

“There is an absence of intent here,” he said. “It was an execution of an order … he didn’t want to kill him, and this has certain legal meaning.

“I would single out those bastards that shot at the back of civilians’ heads in Bucha during the occupation,” Ovsyannikov added. “It’s quite different from the circumstances my client was in.”

According to the Ukrainian prosecutor Andriy Syniuk, the instruction to open fire cannot be considered a military order and therefore does not protect Shysimarin from responsibility.

“The person who gave an ‘order’ wasn’t his commander. He was aware of that. The person who gave the instruction was aware of that. Before they got into the vehicle they didn’t know each other,” Syniuk said.

Shysimarin comes from Ust Illyinsk in the south-east Irkutsk region of Russia and was a commander in the Kantemirovskaya tank division on the day of the killing. Earlier in the day he had been with a group of Russian soldiers who shot at a civilian vehicle after their convoy came under attack from Ukrainian forces. The Russian soldiers then stole the car and drove it away.

They later came across the unarmed victim, who was talking on his phone a few dozen metres from his own home. One of the men in the car told Shysimarin “to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders”, according to prosecutors. Shysimarin opened fire out of the car window.

“He fired three to four shots from his automatic weapons,” Syniuk told the court. “Could he have stepped out of the car and expropriated the phone of the victim. Yes he could. Could he just make one shot? Yes he could. But instead, he killed a civilian citizen of Ukraine.”

More than 1,000 bodies of civilians were found under the rubble or in mass graves when the Russians withdrew from the Kyiv region in early April, leaving in their path a huge crime scene that international and Ukrainian prosecutors have been working on.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, has said she is preparing more than 40 cases for war crimes trials, and authorities say they have registered more than 10,000 war crimes, including attacks on hospitals.

Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported on Thursday that two more Russian soldiers on trial in the centre of the country had admitted to accusations of firing artillery on civilians.

Authorities in Ukraine are moving fast and trying to carry out justice while the conflict is ongoing. Oleh Tkalenko, a senior prosecutor in the Kyiv region, said they had identified more than 5,000 Russian soldiers who operated north of Kyiv.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “After they have been identified we are trying to understand which crimes they committed. We are keeping records of all prisoners of war, and we know which ones did and which ones didn’t commit war crimes. The prosecutor general’s office is in charge of that, as well as of the exchange of prisoners. So only the prisoners who didn’t commit any war crimes could be exchanged.”

Asked if Shysimarin could be exchanged with Ukrainian prisoners, his lawyer replied: “Theoretically an exchange is possible. But it’s a separate process. Any prisoner of war could be exchanged.”

The Kremlin has said it has no information about the trial and that the absence of a diplomatic mission in Ukraine limits its ability to provide legal assistance, but has denied its soldiers committed war crimes.

The trial is being seen as a public test of the independence of Ukraine’s judicial system. A verdict is expected on Monday.

  • Artem Mazhulin, AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.