Ukraine opened its first war crimes trial of the war yesterday, putting a Russian soldier in the dock for allegedly shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in the head as he rode his bicycle home.
Sgt Vadim Shyshimarin (21) appeared at court in Kyiv to a media scrum. He stood in the dock with his head bent down as the judge read out his personal details.
Neither he nor his lawyer made any statements. The judge adjourned the trial until Wednesday.
The case is hugely significant and will be closely watched. Kyiv has accused Russia of numerous atrocities since it invaded on February 24 and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces.
Mr Shyshimarin was reportedly driving in a stolen car with several Russian soldiers in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka in the Sumy region on February 28 when the alleged murder took place.
The soldiers, who were fleeing Ukrainian troops, passed a man who was riding his bicycle along the side of the road and talking on his phone.
“One of the military men ordered the sergeant to kill the civilian so that he would not tell Ukrainian defenders about them,” said Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
“The man fired several Kalashnikov rounds from the car’s open window right at the head of the 62-year-old victim. The man died just a few dozen metres away from his home.”
Mr Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit, was later captured by Ukrainian forces after attempting to take Russian soldiers back over the border.
“I was ordered to shoot,” said Mr Shyshimarin in a video posted online by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on May 4. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”
The SBU described the video as “one of the first confessions of the enemy invaders”.
Investigators have collected evidence that they say shows his actions constituted a “violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder”.
He faces up to life in prison under Ukrainian criminal law.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor is conducting an ever-growing number of investigations into allegations that Russian troops killed, tortured and abused Ukrainian civilians.
Ms Venediktova’s office has said it is looking into more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian soldiers and government officials.
Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow’s forces ended their bid to capture Kyiv and withdrew from around the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards strewn with bodies in towns such as Bucha.
New footage from inside the besieged steelworks in Mariupol shows utter devastation as Ukrainian fighters launch grenades to force back a Russian attack, in the first direct evidence that Moscow is trying to storm the plant.
The Azovstal steelworks have been the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since Russian forces bombed the Azov Sea port city into submission and captured it last month.
While all civilians have been evacuated from Azovstal’s network of underground bunkers earlier this month, several hundred troops from the Azov Battalion are still holding what has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance against the Russian invasion. Moscow’s defence ministry previously said it had no intention of storming Azovstal, one of Europe’s largest steel works with dozens of kilometres of underground bunkers.
Filmed by a soldier’s body camera, the video released this week showed scenes of destruction as Ukrainian troops moved around crumbling buildings on the plant’s grounds, littered with mangled pipes.
Streaks of light from incoming fire were visible in the video filmed by an Azov soldier who was responding to the firing with a hand-held rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Two soldiers were seen shooting rifles at targets in the distance before retreating to one of the plant’s crumbling buildings. Filmed at what appeared to be either dawn or dusk, the footage showed heavy gunfire among bombed-out concrete buildings, with electricity pylons looming in the distance.
Drone footage from the end of the clip showed buildings, once several storeys high, reduced to rubble and surrounded by broken concrete.
The defenders of the plant could be seen from above running from building to building.
Azov said in a statement on Thursday that the plant’s defenders were “doing the impossible” to stave off Russian attacks even though they were running low on ammunition and supplies.
“In conditions of complete encirclement, despite the extremely difficult situation... fighters of the Azov regiment continue to knock out the enemy from previously captured positions at the Azovstal plant,” it said.
“The struggle of our soldiers for Ukraine and for the preservation of the lives of personnel continues in spite of everything.”
Wives of two Azov soldiers trapped inside the plant earlier this week pleaded for their husbands’ release at a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome.
In Ukraine, Iryna Vereshchuk, the deputy prime minister, said this week that her team was negotiating for the evacuation of the soldiers from Azovstal, starting with those gravely injured.
She said representatives of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross were meeting with Russian officials later this week.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol yesterday released screenshots from a video showing a group of men near what appears to be the fence of the steelworks.
“Occupying forces, propped by an air cover, are trying to force their way into the plant,” Petro Andryushchenko said.
Meanwhile, the UK has enforced sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s reputed girlfriend as well as his ex-wife and several close friends who are believed to be holding assets on his behalf.
Alina Kabaeva, a 39-year-old former Olympic gymnast, will face a visa ban and an asset freeze along with a dozen friends and relatives of the Russian president, the UK’s foreign secretary announced.
Liz Truss said: “We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle.
“We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin’s aggression until Ukraine prevails.”
Ms Kabaeva, who is rarely seen in public, has not addressed rumours that she may be secretly married to Mr Putin or have children by him.
In March the Swiss government issued an official statement debunking rumours that the gymnast was living in a remote chalet with her children after coming under pressure to expel her. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
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