First Russian soldier to go on trial for war crimes

The tank division commander was then allegedly shot in his head and 'died on the spot a few dozen metres from his home'

Vadim Shyshimarin Credit: Facebook

Ukraine will hold its first war crimes trial of the war on Friday, with a Russian soldier in the dock for allegedly shooting an unarmed 62-year-old civilian in the head as he rode his bicycle home.

The case is hugely significant and will be closely watched. Kyiv has accused Russia of numerous atrocities since it invaded on Feb. 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.

Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, was reportedly driving in a stolen car with several Russian soldiers in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka, near Kharkiv, on Feb 28 when the incident happened.

The soldiers passed a man who was riding his bicycle along the side of the road and, apparently at the orders of his superior, Shyshimarin said he fired a single round out of his window. 

The bullet hit the man in the head. “He died on the spot, a few dozen metres from his home,” the Ukrainian prosecutor general said.

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 is “in violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder”. 

“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,” said Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general. 

He faces up to life in prison under Ukrainian criminal law. It was unclear whether he would appear in court.

Mr Shyshimarin's attorney, Victor Ovsyanikov, said he does not know how his client will plead, but that the evidence due to be presented in the case is strong. The soldier could not be reached for comment.

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.

As the inaugural war-crimes case in Ukraine, Shyshimarin's prosecution is being watched closely.