KYIV, Ukraine—A 21-year-old Russian tank-unit officer pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed civilian in Ukraine’s first war-crimes trial since Russia’s invasion of the country.
Vadim Shishimarin admitted to firing several shots from a Kalashnikov rifle at an unarmed 62-year-old man, who died on the spot a short distance from his home in the town of Chupakhivka in Ukraine’s Sumy region in the early days of the war.
Ukrainian investigators have raced to collect evidence of purported atrocities committed by Russian troops against civilians during the war. Moscow has denied committing war crimes or targeting civilians.
As prosecutors laid out the allegations against him Wednesday, Mr. Shishimarin was seated in a fiberglass witness box wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with blue sleeves, his head shaved.
The prosecutor, Andrii Syniuk, said that in late February, Mr. Shishimarin and other members of his regiment were in the Sumy region and their tanks had been destroyed. As they were looking for other transportation, five of them stopped the car of several locals, forced them out and drove off.
As they drove, a 62-year-old civilian approached. One of the other troops in the car told Mr. Shishimarin to shoot the man, the prosecutor said. Mr. Shishimarin shot him three or four times in the head from the back seat of the car, killing him.
The judge asked Mr. Shishimarin if he admitted to the charges against him, violations of the laws of war.
Mr. Shishimarin said yes. Asked if he was sure, he said he was.
The prosecutor said Mr. Shishimarin and his comrades were later surrounded by Ukrainian soldiers. One was killed. The four others fled to a nearby village but were captured the following day.
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Prosecutors also laid out the evidence they planned to present, including the cellphone the victim had been speaking on when he was killed and five rifles confiscated from the Russian soldiers in the car. The victim’s wife is scheduled to testify, as is one of the other troops who was in the car with Mr. Shishimarin.
Mr. Shishimarin’s attorney, Victor Ovsyannikov, didn’t contradict the prosecution’s narrative of what took place but said the case was unique and it would be vital to uphold Ukrainian law.
“This case impacts our system of law,” he said. “I want to ask you to lean only on the law, not on your emotions.”
The judge asked if Mr. Shishimarin wanted to say anything else, but he declined.
Ukrainian authorities filed criminal charges last month against 10 Russian soldiers accused of taking civilians hostage and mistreating them in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. That was the first such move by prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Moscow’s forces. Ukraine plans to adjudicate those cases in its own courts before issuing international criminal-arrest warrants.
Write to Ian Lovett at [email protected]
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