A Russian soldier has admitted to a Kyiv court that he shot dead an elderly civilian, in the first war crimes trial relating to Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine.
The trial began as Moscow said nearly 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers were now in captivity after they abandoned the steelworks that was their last stronghold in Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that is now under Russian control.
Heavy fighting continued on Wednesday along a frontline that stretches through the Donbas region north of Mariupol, where Russia’s troops are focusing their attacks after being driven back from Kyiv in April and from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, this month.
Russian tank commander Vadim Shishimarin (21) is accused of violating the laws and customs of war when he allegedly shot dead an unarmed pensioner in the village of Chupakhivka in northern Ukraine on February 28th.
When asked whether he admitted his guilt, Shishimarin said: “Yes . . . Fully.”
Prosecutors say a group of Russian soldiers tried to flee after coming under fire in Ukraine’s Sumy region, stole a car and then encountered the man whom Shishimarin says a senior officer told him to shoot, to prevent him reporting their whereabouts to Ukrainian troops.
Shishimarin faces life imprisonment if found guilty by a panel of three judges, who will rule on the case after the accused rejected the option of a jury trial.
Ukrainian prosecutors say they have identified 45 Russians war crimes suspects, at least three of whom are in custody – Shishimarin and two other soldiers who are accused of shelling civilian buildings in Kharkiv.
Some 11,600 possible war crimes cases have been registered and will be investigated, Kyiv says.
“As before, there is no information [about the trial] and the ability [of Russia] to provide assistance is also limited due to the absence of our diplomatic mission [in Ukraine],” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of Shishimarin’s trial.
“We consider it impossible and unacceptable to throw such terms around,” he said of war crimes allegations against Russia. “Many of the cases that Ukraine is talking about are obvious fakes, and the most egregious ones are staged, as has been convincingly proved by our experts.”
Russia said 694 more Ukrainian soldiers had left the Azovstal metal works in Mariupol and were now in captivity, bringing the total to 959 since they started emerging from their last redoubt in the devastated city earlier this week.
Ukrainian officials said the troops would return home in a prisoner exchange, but senior Russian deputies have called the fighters “war criminals” and even suggested they should face the death penalty, while the supreme court in Moscow is expected to consider whether to designate the Azov regiment, to which most belong, as a terrorist group.
“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our servicemen. Let’s wait. Currently, the most important thing is to save the lives of our heroes . . . Any information to the public could endanger that process,” said Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik.
Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for an impasse in talks to end the war, which has killed thousands of people and displaced about 12 million.
The United States officially reopened its embassy in Kyiv on Wednesday after a three-month closure, and Moscow expelled a total of 85 staff from the embassies of France, Spain and Italy in tit-for-tat moves.