A Russian soldier was found guilty of war crimes in the first trial of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A 21-year-old tank commander, Vadim Shishimarin, pleaded guilty to claiming the life of Oleksandr Shelipov in Chupakhivka on February 28.
This crime took place only four days after the Russian invasion began when it seemed like Vladimir Putin’s military forces would swiftly roll over Ukraine’s defenders.
In the months since the beginning of the invasion, Ukraine has stood defiant against the illegal and unprovoked attack on its sovereign borders. The Russian military has lost considerable resources in the ill-advised attack on its neighbor.
Now, Ukraine is conducting war crimes trials, and Vadim Shishimarin is only the first of many Russian soldiers who will stand trial for his actions during the invasion.
Shishimarin has been sentenced to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to discharging a weapon at an unarmed civilian on the orders of a higher-ranking officer. Judge Serhiy Agafonov characterized the order as “criminal,” and told Shishimarin he should have dismissed it on moral grounds.
“Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity, and the international legal order … the court does not see the possibility of imposing a (shorter) sentence,” Judge Agafonov explained.
The trial was of significant cultural importance for Ukraine. Kyiv has accused Russian soldiers of numerous war crimes during the invasion, and an attempt to hold individual soldiers accountable could help the Ukrainian people reassert some semblance of control over their country.
Russia has publicly denied engaging in any war crimes in Ukraine, saying the invasion is a “special military operation,” not a declaration of war. The Kremlin says it has very little information about Shishimarin’s trial and has not yet offered any comment on the legal proceedings.
The international community has looked to this trial for a signal. It wants to know how Ukraine might handle further accusations of war crimes against Russian prisoners.
The executive director of the International Bar Association, Mark Ellis, told reporters he found the trial’s outcome unsurprising. He went on, adding it will be “a large puzzle also involving Ukrainian soldiers being held in Russia.”
“If this is the baseline trial … it sets the bar very high,” Ellis observed. Now, he believes most soldiers being held in Ukraine could face similar sentences if they’re found guilty. “For most other war crimes cases in Ukraine, I suspect we’ll see similar sentences because this is the baseline trial.”