A Russian soldier was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed civilian, in the first war crimes trial since Moscow’s invasion three months ago. The verdict caps days of proceedings in a Kyiv courtroom and could set the stage for a string of other prosecutions for alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces during the conflict. Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, pleaded guilty to violating the laws and customs of war under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code after he admitted to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old man in the head in a village in northeastern Ukraine in the early days of the war.
The verdict takes effect in 30 days and can be appealed during that period. The soldier, a member of a tank unit who was eventually captured, will remain in custody until the verdict becomes final. The case drew international attention amid mounting allegations of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, some of which have been documented by international human rights organizations.
Ukraine has launched a massive effort to prosecute the alleged war crimes on its territory, while both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations have also set out separate inquiries. The attention on the case also highlights its unusual nature, involving a captured soldier being tried in the country that his armed forces invaded in the middle of the war.
Wearing a blue-and-gray prison tracksuit and with his head shaved, Shyshimarin looked subdued throughout the trial as he sat in a glass booth separating him from the rest of the courtroom. The youthful-looking soldier had a translator help him interpret the proceedings, conducted in Ukrainian, through a narrow opening in his booth. During witness testimony, he stood with his head bowed down to hear the translator and his hands behind his back.
He spoke in court last Thursday to say that he took the deadly shot under pressure from officers. He initially disobeyed his commanding officer’s order to shoot the unarmed civilian, he said, but ultimately did so when another repeated the command. He said what he did was “unacceptable” and pleaded for forgiveness from the victim’s wife. His defense argued that the officers he said pressured him to carry out the order and their higher-ups should be in the dock, not Shyshimarin. In announcing the verdict on Monday, the presiding judge said Shyshimarin was well aware that the victim was a civilian and did not have to carry out what he called “a criminal order” to shoot him.