KYIV, Ukraine >> A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the war in Ukraine testified today that he shot a civilian on orders from two officers and pleaded for his victim’s widow to forgive him.
Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin told the court that the officer insisted that the Ukrainian man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to the Ukrainian forces.
The 21-year-old sergeant could get life in prison if convicted of shooting the Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the Russian invasion.
Looking subdued, Shishimarin said he at first disobeyed his immediate commanding officer’s order to shoot the unarmed civilian but had no other choice but to follow the order when it was repeated forcefully by another officer.
Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the charges during Wednesday’s hearing.
He asked the victim’s widow, who also appeared in the trial, to forgive him today for what he did.
“I realize that you can’t forgive me, but I’m pleading you for forgiveness,” Shishimarin said.
The woman, Kateryna Shelipova, said her 62-year-old husband, Oleksandr Shelipov, got out to check what was going on when gunshots rang just outside their home. When the shooting ceased shortly after, she walked out and found her husband shot dead just outside their home.
“He was all to me. He was my defender,” she said.
Shelipova told the court that Shishimarin deserves a life sentence for killing her husband but added that she wouldn’t mind if he’s exchanged as part of a possible prisoner swap with Russia for the surrendered Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
The prosecutor asked for a life sentence for Shishimarin and the trial adjourned until Friday.
Shishimarin, a captured member of a Russian tank unit, is being prosecuted under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting. It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects are in Ukrainian hands and how many would be tried in absentia.
As the inaugural war-crimes case in Ukraine, Shishimarin’s prosecution was being watched closely. Investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.