A baby-faced Russian tank commander has today been sentenced to life in prison for murdering an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Vadim Shishimarin, 21, had pleaded guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the opening days of the war after being ordered to shoot him.
Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin, carrying out a ‘criminal order’ by a soldier of higher rank, had fired several shots at the victim’s head from an automatic weapon.
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.
The Russian tank commander was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges of war crimes and murder for killing Oleksandr, who was shot in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka, Sumy region, on February 28 while pushing his bicycle along the road.
Vadim Shishimarin (pictured on Monday), a 21-year-old tank commander, had pleaded guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28 after being ordered to shoot him
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 on Monday
The Russian tank commander was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges of war crimes and murder for killing Oleksandr Shelypov (pictured), who was shot in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka, Sumy region, on February 28 while pushing his bicycle along the road.
The trial has huge symbolic significance for Ukraine, which has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the verdict. It has previously said that it has no information about the trial and that the absence of a diplomatic mission in Ukraine limits its ability to provide assistance.
During the trial, Shishimarin had told the court that he shot Oleksandr as he and several other Russian soldiers were retreating and trying to rejoin their units in Russia.
The soldiers found a civilian car, a Volkswagen, which they hijacked. ‘We wanted to get to where our army was and go back to Russia,’ Shishimarin said.
‘On our way as we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone. He said he would give us up.’
Shishimarin said another Russian soldier in the car, who he said was not his commander and who he called an ‘unknown’ soldier, ‘told me to shoot.’
‘He started to say in a forceful tone that I should shoot,’ he told the court.
‘He said that I make up a danger if I don’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him.’
Oleksandr’s wife Kateryna Shelypova had confronted Shishimarin in the Kyiv court and asked him what he felt when he killed her husband.
‘Tell me what did you feel when you killed my husband? Do you repent of this crime,’ Kateryna asked the former soldier on Thursday as he stood in the dock, looking straight ahead.
‘I admit my guilt. I understand you can’t forgive me. I ask forgiveness,’ he said.
Oleksandr’s wife Kateryna Shelypova (pictured in court on May 18) had confronted Shishimarin in the Kyiv court and asked him what he felt when he killed her husband
Police escort Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin after a Ukrainian court sentenced him to life in prison in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday
Kateryna added: ‘Tell me please, why did you come here? To protect us? From whom? From my husband who you killed?’
Kateryna told the court that her husband was a tractor driver who was not carrying a weapon and was dressed in civilian clothes, according to quotes from Ukrainian journalist Daria Sipigina.
Kateryna said she was in her garden when she heard shots being fired, and ran out calling for her husband before seeing Shishimarin with a Kalashnikov.
He drove away with the rest of his squad, leaving her to discover her husband’s dead body lying on the side of the road.
‘The loss of my husband is everything for me. He was my protector,’ she said.
The baby-faced Russian tank commander smirked in the dock on Thursday as it emerged he could be sent home in a prisoner swap.
Shishimarin hung his head and begged for ‘forgiveness’ when he was cross-examined by Kateryna.
But the dead-eyed killer grinned after prosecutors revealed that two of his comrades – who had been due to give evidence against him – had been sent back to Russia in a prisoner swap.
News of a possible deal with Moscow emerged when Mr Shelypov’s widow Kateryna told judges she would approve of swapping Shishimarin for Ukrainians captured in the Azovstal factory in Mariupol.
Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin attends a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday where he was sentenced to life in prison
But Russia has not confirmed that a swap will take place, amid suggestions that Putin may put the Ukrainians on trial.
Speaking before the trial, Kateryna revealed Oleksandr had once worked for the KGB and even guarded Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev when he visited Crimea.
She said he was proud to serve the Russian elite, but that she is now unable to forgive the Russian army for what it has done to her country.
Asked what she feels about Shishimarin, she told told ITV last week: ‘What can I say? Him being a child, he is young I feel sorry for him.’
Shishimarin admitted to killing Oleksandr with a Kalashnikov rifle as he fled with four other soldiers in a stolen car in a village in the Sumy region on February 28, just days after Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on February 24.
The man was pushing a bicycle by the side of the road when he was shot in the head and ‘died on the spot a few dozen metres from his home’, the Ukrainian prosecutor general said during the opening phase of the trial last week.
Prosecutors said Shishimarin was ordered by a superior ‘to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders.’
Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, said: ‘Shishimarin is actually physically in Ukraine. We are starting a trial not in absentia but rather directly with the person who killed a civilian, and this is a war crime.’
The Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 of Shishimarin speaking in front of camera and briefly describing how he shot the man.
The SBU described the video as ‘one of the first confessions of the enemy invaders.’
‘I was ordered to shoot,’ said Shyshimarin, wearing a blue and grey hooded sweatshirt. ‘I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.’
Ukrainian video blogger Volodymyr Zolkin also appeared to interview Shishimarin in a YouTube video posted on March 19.
In the clip, he said his unit was told they would be taking part in military exercises in southwestern Russia 200 miles from Ukraine in January.
He was later captured when his column was surrounded while they tried to return wounded soldiers to Russia. The footage then shows Shishimarin calling his father, saying: ‘They treat us well here.’
The father then tells Zolkin: ‘He is just a soldier. I don’t think he knew where he was going. You say he invaded, and we are told that they were defending the country. He didn’t know. He was told to. You hear one thing and we another.’
The clip ends with Shishimarin urging fellow Russians to not join the war effort and to protest instead.
Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian troops of committing atrocities since the invasion began on February 24. Russian shelling has targeted schools and hospitals, with thousands of civilians killed in the brutal campaign.
There are also allegations of mass rape, torture and execution being carried out by Putin’s forces while the occupied Ukrainian towns in the Kyiv region.
Prosecutor General Iryna 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.
Volodymyr Yavorskyy, coordinator at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s largest human rights groups, said activists will monitor the Russian soldier’s trial to ensure that his legal rights are protected. It can be difficult, he said, to maintain the neutrality of court proceedings during wartime.
The observance of the trial’s rules and norms ‘will determine how similar cases will be handled in the future,’ Yavorskyy said.
Vadim Karasev, an independent Kyiv-based political analyst, said it’s important for Ukrainian authorities ‘to demonstrate that the war crimes will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice in line with international standards.’
The town of Bucha in the outskirts of Kyiv revealed a scene of horrors after it was recaptured by Ukraine, with mutilated civilian corpses lining the streets.
Venediktova’s office has said it has received reports of more than 10,000 alleged war crimes, with 622 suspects identified.