Ukraine war: Russian soldier jailed for life over war crime

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A court in Ukraine has jailed a Russian tank commander for life for killing a civilian at the first war crimes trial since the invasion.

Captured soldier Sgt Vadim Shishimarin was convicted of killing Oleksandr Shelipov, 62, in the north-eastern village of Chupakhivka on 28 February.

He admitted shooting Mr Shelipov but said he had been acting on orders and asked forgiveness of the man’s widow.

Many other alleged war crimes are being investigated by Ukraine.

Moscow has denied its troops targeted civilians during the invasion, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, while Ukraine says more than 11,000 crimes may have occurred.

Moscow said earlier on Monday that it was concerned at the fate of the Russian soldier and would look at options to defend him.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov noted, however, that Russia did “not have the capacity to protect his interests in person”. Russia’s embassy in Kyiv is currently closed.

Imposing the life sentence, Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin had carried out a “criminal order” by a soldier of higher rank.

“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,” he said.

Shishimarin, wearing a blue and grey hooded sweatshirt, watched proceedings silently from a reinforced glass box in the courtroom and showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

His lawyer said an appeal would be lodged against the verdict.

Shishimarin, 21, served in Russia’s prestigious Kantemirovskaya tank division.

At the time of the killing, he and other soldiers were travelling in a car they had seized after their convoy came under attack and they became separated from their unit.

When they spotted Mr Shelipov he was speaking on his phone, Shishimarin told the court. He says he was told to shoot him with an assault rifle.

His defence lawyer told the court on Friday that Shishimarin had only fired after twice refusing to carry out the order to shoot and that only one out of three to four rounds had hit the target.

He said Shishimarin had fired the rounds out of fear for his own safety and he questioned whether the defendant had intended to kill.

In one dramatic moment during the trial, the victim’s widow Kateryna Shelipova confronted Shishimarin. “Tell me please, why did you [Russians] come here? To protect us?” she asked, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

“Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The soldier had no answer to that. Asking forgiveness of the widow earlier, he said: “But I understand you won’t be able to forgive me.”

Mrs Shelipova told the BBC: “I feel very sorry for him but for a crime like that – I can’t forgive him.”

Since President Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine on 24 February, at least 3,838 civilians have been killed and 4,351 injured, according to the UN.

Among the dead are numerous suspected victims of war crimes in occupied towns such as Bucha.

Earlier this month, the BBC obtained CCTV footage of the killing of two civilians in cold blood allegedly by Russian soldiers, a case now being investigated by prosecutors as a suspected war crime.