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Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in first war crimes case since Ukraine invasion

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A court in Kyiv has sentenced 21-year-old Russian Vadim Shishimarin to life imprisonment for the murder of an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial to arise from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With a packed courtroom looking on, judges at the Solomyanka district court in Kyiv on May 23 handed down the punishment to the Russian sergeant, who had earlier pleaded guilty in the death of a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian, Oleksandr Shelypov.

Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the three months since the invasion was launched in February and has said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Independent media and rights groups have also gathered mounting evidence that Moscow has targeted civilians in the fighting.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in war crimes.

Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin had carried out a “criminal order” given to him by a soldier of higher rank when he fired several shots at the victim’s head from an automatic weapon.

“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,” he said.

In his final statement to the court last week, Shishimarin, who comes from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, said that he didn’t want to kill Shelypov and was “sincerely” sorry for what had happened.

Shishmarin’s lawyer, Viktor Ovsyannikov, said the sentence was expected given “certain pressure from society.” He said his client would appeal the decision.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova last month identified 10 soldiers of the 64th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Russian armed forces, saying that they are suspected of “cruelty toward civilians and other war crimes,” adding that Ukrainian investigators are continuing to gather evidence and that those named were just the beginning of her findings.

She also said at the time that investigations were under way to find out if the 10 Russians took part in the killing of civilians in Bucha, a town just outside of Kyiv.

The retreat of Russian forces from Bucha and other towns near the capital revealed harrowing evidence of brutal killings, torture, mass graves, and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in the fighting.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Council overwhelmingly approved a resolution to set up an investigation into allegations of abuses by Russian troops in areas of Ukraine they temporarily controlled.

The council’s resolution cited apparent cases of torture, shootings, and sexual violence, along with other atrocities documented by a UN team on the ground.