Ukraine court opens first war crimes trial against Russian soldier

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MUKACHEVO, Ukraine — A court in the Ukrainian capital kyiv began hearings Friday in the case against Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier to stand trial for alleged war crimes. He is accused of shooting a 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region in late February.

Shishimarin, 21, a member of Russia’s 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, is in Ukrainian custody. He is accused of violating “the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder,” for which he could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said in a statement on Facebook on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said on Friday that the hearing in The kyiv Solomianskyi district court was a “preparatory meeting”. Images shared by the Ukrainian media He showed the handcuffed Russian soldier walking into the courtroom in a blue and gray hoodie, eyes downcast.

The process took about 15 minutes, according to the Associated Press. Shishimarin was told of his rights and refused a jury trial. The indictment in her case will be read on May 18.

Shishimarin is accused of killing an unarmed civilian who was pushing a bicycle on the side of a road in the town of Chupakhivka by firing multiple rounds from his Kalashnikov rifle on February 28, according to Venediktova’s statement. Venediktova saying on Twitter on Friday that Shishimarin, along with four other soldiers, had been fleeing the fighting in the Sumy region in a stolen car.

The man was on the phone and “one of the soldiers ordered the sergeant to kill the civilian so that he would not report him to the Ukrainian defenders,” the statement said. “The man died at the scene just a few dozen meters from his house.”

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The statement shed no light on how the Russian soldier ended up in Ukrainian custody. In a video posted on YouTube on March 19 that appears to show Shishimarin being interviewed by Ukrainian video blogger Volodymyr Zolkin, Shishimarin says he was captured in Ukraine when his column was surrounded as they tried to move their wounded back to Russia.

Shishimarin said in a video released by the Ukrainian security service that he had been ordered to shoot the man in Sumy. Even if it’s true, that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility.

“The fact that he received what he knew to be an illegal order is not a legal defense under international law,” said Dermot Groome, a law professor at Penn State and a former war crimes prosecutor who has been advising Venediktova’s office. .

However, the fact that Shishimarin appears to be cooperative, and that he is young, could give him a lighter sentence, Groome said.

Shishimarin is being represented by Ukrainian court-appointed lawyer Victor Ovsyanikov, who told AP the case against his client is strong but the court had yet to decide what evidence to allow.

“For me it’s just work,” Ovsyanikov told the New York Times. “It is very important to make sure that my client’s human rights are protected, to show that we are a different country than he is.”

With the eyes of the world on Ukraine, and leading international law experts advising Ukrainian prosecutors, Ukraine is likely to play the trial and others to follow according to the book, Robert Goldman, a war crimes and human rights expert at the American University Washington School of Law. , he told The Post this week.

Prisoners of war have the right to be tried by an independent and impartial court. Ukraine is also a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides strong due process guarantees, Goldman said.

Ukraine has pushed ahead with war crimes investigations even as it remains unlikely that top Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, will ever face trial. The US State Department announced in March that US intelligence agencies had seen concrete evidence of war crimes by Russian troops, and the Biden administration is supporting Ukraine’s efforts to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes.

Groome called the Ukrainian prosecutors an “experienced and competent group” that has continued to operate effectively, despite the ongoing fighting.

Venediktova said her office has opened more than 11,000 war crimes-related cases since the war began. Prosecutors filed their first charges, in absentia, in Ukrainian courts against 10 Russian servicemen they accused of war crimes in Bucha, a kyiv suburb where investigators uncovered evidence of torture and mutilation after Russian forces withdrew. Moscow has dismissed the accusations.

Ukraine’s decision to put captured soldiers on trial for war crimes in the midst of conflict is unusual, legal and human rights experts say. But it has the advantage of giving prosecutors access to new evidence, including eyewitness testimony.

“The evidence is very recent in Ukraine and is being collected very professionally, from what I have seen,” Goldman said.

Prisoners of war cannot be prosecuted simply for participating in an armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions, which set out the rules governing war, require that prisoners of war be repatriated to their home countries as soon as possible after hostilities end. But it is legal for Ukrainian prosecutors to try Shishimarin and other captured Russian soldiers for war crimes, which include the deliberate killing of civilians, Goldman said.

“This is just the beginning of the long and complex process of bringing the perpetrators to justice and restoring justice for the victims,” Venediktova wrote on Twitter on Friday. “We will leave no stone unturned to document and investigate every crime committed against the people of Ukraine.”

The case will be an important test of a rarely used Ukrainian law that prohibits violations of the rules of war, Groome said.

Some legal experts have raised concerns about videos of Ukrainians interrogating captured Russian soldiers, such as the one in which Zolkin interviews Shishimarin. Such videos could violate the Third Geneva Convention, which says prisoners must be protected against “acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

Now that Shishimarin has been charged with a war crime “before a duly constituted court,” he is a criminal defendant and may be photographed as part of court proceedings, Groome said.

UN Human Rights Council votes to deepen Ukraine war crimes investigation

In addition to the Ukraine investigations, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations are also examining alleged abuses during the war. European courts offer another avenue of prosecution.

Shishimarin’s trial could deter Russian forces from committing war crimes, Groome said.

“It sends a clear message to other soldiers at different levels that they really need to think twice if they commit crimes,” he said, “including Putin himself.”

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