First Ukraine war crimes trial begins with Russian sergeant, 21, accused of killing civilian

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports on the first war crime trial being carried out in Ukraine

A 21-year-old Russian soldier has become the first member of his country's military to go on trial for allegedly committing a war crime in Ukraine.

Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin, who appeared in court in Kyiv for the first time on Friday, is accused of killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian.

It's alleged the captured member of a Russian tank unit shot a 62-year-old man in the head through an open car window in the north-eastern village of Chupakhivka during the first days of the war.

He faces up to life in prison under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war.

Shyshimarin's trial, which marks the first war crimes trial since Moscow invaded its neighbour 11 weeks ago, was attended by scores of journalists at the Solomyanskyy district court in Kyiv and will be watched closely by the world.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, with help from foreign experts, is investigating allegations Russian troops violated Ukrainian and international law by killing, torturing and abusing possibly thousands of civilians.

Friday's initial proceedings in Shyshimarin's case were brief. He sat in a glassed-off area wearing a blue and grey hoodie, sweatpants and had a shaved head.

A judge asked him to provide identifying details and was also asked whether he understood his rights, to which he quietly replied “yes". He declined the option of a jury trial.

Defending, Victor Ovsyanikov, said on Thursday that he and his client had not yet decided how he will plead.

The judge confirmed the case will continue on Wednesday, May 18.

Over the past week, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, her office and the Security Service of Ukraine, the country's law enforcement agency, have posted some details from the investigation into Shyshimarin's alleged actions on their social media accounts.

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On February 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Shyshimarin was among a group of Russian troops that fled Ukrainian forces, alleges Ms Venediktova's Facebook account.

The Russians allegedly fired at a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupahivka, a village about 200 miles east of Kyiv.

On the way, the prosecutor-general alleged, the Russian soldiers saw a man walking on the pavement and talking on his phone.

Shyshimarin was allegedly ordered to kill the man so he wouldn't be able to report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Ms Venediktova did not identify who gave the order.

Shyshimarin fired his Kalashnikov rifle through the open window and hit the victim in the head, she said.

“The man died on the spot just a few dozen metres from his house,” Ms Venediktova wrote.

Shishimarin's lawyer said he has not yet decided how to plead. Credit: AP

The Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU, posted a short video on May 4 of Shyshimarin speaking in front of camera and briefly describing how he shot the man. The SBU alleged the video is “one of the first confessions of the enemy invaders."

“I was ordered to shoot,” Shyshimarin said. “I shot one (round) at him. He falls. And we kept on going.”

After Friday's hearing, Mr Ovsyannikov said he was assigned to defend Shishimarin as a lawyer for the Center for Free Legal Aid.

He acknowledged the case against the soldier is strong but said the court would make the final decision over what evidence to allow.

Mr Ovsyannikov said his client “certainly knows all the details” of what he’s accused of but the lawyer would not detail his defence strategy.

As the inaugural war crimes case in Ukraine, Shyshimarin’s prosecution is being watched closely as investigators continue to collect evidence of other possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Prosecutor General'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.

The trial will be watched closely by many across the world. Credit: AP

Many of the alleged atrocities came to light last month after Moscow’s forces ended their bid to capture Kyiv and withdrew from the areas around the capital, exposing mass graves and streets and yards strewn with bodies in towns such as Bucha.

Many civilians have shared the horrors on what they experienced under Russian occupation, with allegations of rape, torture and shootings at close range.

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 his legal rights are protected in the Ukrainian court.

But he said it can be difficult 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,” Mr Yavorskyy said.

“It is surprising that a suspect in war crimes has been found and the trial for him will take place. Charges of this kind are usually made in absentia," he said.

"This is a rare case when in a short time we managed to find a soldier who violated international rules of warfare.”

Russia is believed to be preparing similar trials for Ukrainian soldiers, Mr 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.”

Asked Friday about the trial, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I don’t have any information about this trial and this incident.”