A Ukrainian court held a preliminary hearing Friday in the first war crimes trial to emerge from Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian.
The case has great symbolic importance for Ukraine. The kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or engaging in war crimes and accused kyiv of organizing them to smear its forces. The Kremlin told reporters on Friday that it had no information about a war crimes trial.
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The defendant told the court that he was Vadim Shishimarin, born in the Russian region of Irkutsk, and confirmed that he was a Russian military officer at the brief preliminary hearing. The court will reconvene on May 18, the judge said.
The website of the Kyiv district court said Shishimarin was charged with “violations of the laws and regulations of war.”
He will tell the court at a later date whether or not to deny the charge, his lawyer Viktor Ovsyannikov said.
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Shaven-headed and looking frightened, Shishimarin wore a blue and gray casual sweatshirt and was ushered by police into the courtroom to a glass booth for the accused.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said the defendant was a 21-year-old tank commander in the Kantemirovskaya tank division of the Moscow region. The attorney general had published a photograph of him before the hearing.
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If convicted, he faces life in prison for the murder in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka, east of the capital kyiv, on February 28.
In a statement ahead of the hearing, the prosecutor general’s office said the soldier had stolen a private car to escape with four other Russian soldiers after his column was attacked by Ukrainian forces.
The statement says Russian soldiers entered the village of Chupakhivka where they saw an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on the phone.
He said another military officer ordered the defendant to kill the civilian to prevent him from reporting the presence of the Russians and fired several shots through the open car window with an assault rifle at the civilian’s head, killing him instantly. .
He did not say how the soldier was captured or elaborate on the evidence that led to the war crimes charges. He did not say what the evidence for him was based on.
The SBU Security Service of Ukraine conducted the investigation of the case, he said.
In court, Shishimarin was questioned by a judge who addressed him in Ukrainian and Russian. He had an interpreter with him. Reuters was unable to reach him or his legal representative for comment before the hearing.
State prosecutor Andriy Synyuk told reporters after the hearing that: “This is the first case today. But soon there will be many of these cases.”
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Thursday that there were many examples of possible war crimes since the Russian invasion and that 1,000 bodies had been recovered in the kyiv region so far.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on April 25 that it would participate in a joint team with Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian prosecutors investigating war crimes allegations against Russian forces.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm the country and protect it from fascists, denying that its forces have committed abuses. kyiv and its Western backers say the claim of fascism is a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.