Deliberations start in Russian soldier's war crimes trial

·3 min read

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The lawyer for a Russian soldier who was the first to go on trial for an alleged war crime in Ukraine asked a Kyiv court Friday to acquit his client, who had admitted killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian during the first days of the war.

Defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov argued that his client, Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, had been unprepared for the “violent military confrontation” and mass casualties that Russian troops encountered when they first invaded Ukraine.

“It is essential, your honor, in my opinion, to assess Shishimarin’s intentions as to what happened and the reasons he was guided by when he fired," Ovsyanikov said. "Could any of the people present here understand these circumstances in that situation?”

Shishimarin, a member of a Russian tank unit who was eventually captured, testified Thursday that he shot the civilian from an open car window on orders from two officers. He said one of the officers insisted the man, 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov, could report their location in the northeastern Sumy region to Ukrainian forces.

“Let’s try to put ourselves in the place of at least one of those people in that car, and in general,” Ovsyanikov, a Ukrainian lawyer who was appointed to defend the Russian sargeant, said Friday. “Did they understand that they killed a person at the time, or did they just shoot from a machine gun and go on?”

Prosecutors have contended the directions to fire did not come from Shishimarin's direct commander and so did not constitute an order.

“The arguments of the defense are, so to speak, relevant to the line of defense, but I believe that this in no way refutes the evidence we have provided," prosecutor Andriy Synyuk said Friday. "And I believe that they do not deny the guilt of Shishimarin himself in this criminal offense.”

Shishimarin could get life in prison if convicted of shooting the Ukrainian man in the head on Feb. 28, four days into the Russian invasion. Prosecutors continued to present evidence after he pleaded guilty Wednesday.

The judges who heard the case started their deliberations Friday. A verdict is expected Monday, Ovsyanikov said.

“And I would like to note that any verdict is subject to appeal,” the lawyer said.

Shishimarin was prosecuted under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war. As the inaugural war-crimes case in Ukraine, his case was watched closely.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.

Investigators also are collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

On Thursday, Shishimarin asked the victim’s widow, who also appeared in the trial, to forgive him for what he did.

“I realize that you can’t forgive me, but I’m pleading you for forgiveness,” he told her.

The woman, Kateryna Shelipova, said she found her husband dead just outside their home after the couple heard gunshots and he went to investigate. “He was all to me. He was my defender,” she said.

Shelipova told the court that Shishimarin deserves a life sentence for killing her husband but added that she wouldn’t mind if he was exchanged as part of a possible prisoner swap with Russia for the surrendered Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Asked about that possibility, defense lawyer Ovsyanikov replied Friday: “There will be interest from the country of which he is a citizen, and our country will confirm this interest, so why not?”

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