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Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial

A 21-year-old Russian soldier was sentenced in Kyiv Monday to life in prison for killing a Ukrainian civilian in cold blood, marking the first conviction for war crimes since the Ukraine invasion.

Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty to shooting 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the head in the village of Chupakhivka in the northeastern Sumy region just four days into the war.

Shishimarin testified last week that he shot the unarmed man after being ordered to do so. He told the court that an officer insisted that Shelipov, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to the Ukrainian forces.

Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin, carrying out a “criminal order” by a soldier of higher rank, had fired several shots at the victim’s head from an automatic weapon.

“The court has decided: Shishimarin Vadim Evgenyevich … is found guilty … and sentenced him to life imprisonment,” he announced.

Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty to shooting 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the head in the village of Chupakhivka.
Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA
Vadim Shishimarin.
Vadim Shishimarin was silent for much of his trial, remaining stone-faced as the verdict was read out.
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

“Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity and the international legal order … the court does not see the possibility of imposing a (shorter) sentence of imprisonment on Shishimarin for a certain period.”

Shishimarin, wearing a blue and grey hooded sweatshirt, watched proceedings silently from a reinforced glass box in the courtroom and remained stone-faced as the verdict was read out.

For much of the time, he stood with head bowed as he listened to a translator.

Kateryna Shelipova gestures as she testifies about the death of her husband Oleksandr.
Kateryna Shelipova gestures as she testifies about the death of her husband Oleksandr.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

The former Russian tank commander admitted his guilt last week, when confronted by the victim’s widow, Kateryna Shelipova, who grilled him about his motivations.

“Tell me, what did you feel when you killed my husband? Do you repent of this crime?” Shelipova demanded as she looked straight at Shishimarin in a Kyiv district court Thursday.

Kateryna Shelikhova.
Kateryna Shelipova said that she wouldn’t mind if Vadim Shishimarin is exchanged as part of a possible prisoner swap.
Vladyslav Musiienko/REUTERS

“Yes. I admit guilt,” Shishimarin told Shelipova. “I understand that you will not be able to forgive me. I ask for forgiveness.”

The woman continued asking the Russian tank commander tough questions about the war and his role in it.

“Tell me, please, why did you [Russians] come here? To protect us?” she asked. “Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The young soldier then remained silent.

The war crimes trial — the first of its kind since the outbreak of the war — has huge symbolic significance for Ukraine, which has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians, and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.

The Kremlin did not immediately comment on Shishimarin’s verdict. It has previously said that it has no information about the trial and that the absence of a diplomatic mission in Ukraine limits its ability to provide assistance.

Ukrainian state prosecutors said Shishimarin and four other Russian servicemen stole a privately owned car on Feb. 28 to escape after their column was targeted by Ukrainian forces. The soldiers then drove into the village of Chupakhivka where they saw Shelipov riding a bicycle and talking on his phone, they said.

Vadim Shishimarin and his translator.
Vadim Shishimarin stood as he listened to a translator.
Sergei Supinksy/AFP via Getty Images
Vadim Shishimarin escorted by police.
21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced to life in prison.
Natacha Pisarenko/AP

The prosecutors said Shishimarin fired several shots through the open window of the car with an assault rifle at Shelipov’s head. Shelipov died on the spot.

The victim’s wife told the court last week 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 steelworks in Mariupol.

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