A 21-year-old Russian soldier was convicted on Monday of killing an unarmed civilian in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial since the Russian invasion. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Shishimarin confessed to fatally shooting 62-year-old Alexander Shelipov, who was pushing his bicycle near the village of Chupakhivka, near the Russian border, in early February, early in the attack.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova said Shelipov “died on the spot just a few meters from his home.”
Shishimarin was convicted of “violating the rules and customs of war,” and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Shelipov’s widow said last week that she wanted Shishimarin to be sentenced to life in prison but that she would be open to exchanging him for Ukrainian fighters who had been taken from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol to Russian-controlled territory.
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Prosecutors argued that Shishimarin Shelipov, a member of Russia’s 4th Guards Kantemirvskaya tank division, had committed war crimes by firing multiple rounds from his rifle. Shishimarin said he was instructed by his fellow soldiers to shoot Shelipov because he was talking on a cellphone and they feared he would report their whereabouts after they fled a nearby battle in a stolen car.
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Shishimarin was represented by a Ukrainian court-appointed lawyer who said the case against his client was strong. Even so, defending Shishimarin’s human rights was important to show that Ukraine is “a different country,” his attorney, Viktor Ovsyanikov, told the New York Times.
Shishimarin said he did not want to kill Shelipov and that he fired because he had been instructed to do so. Ovsanikov said Shishimarin feared for his own safety if he did not comply and that the shots he fired were aimless, Reuters reported.
“I personally think that this young man should not be put on the fence, but the senior leadership of another country whom I think is to blame for this war,” Ovsyanikov said, according to Reuters.
Throughout the invasion, Moscow struggled to manage young, inexperienced soldiers who suffered low morale and were sometimes not accountable for the cause.
A separate trial is under way for two Russian soldiers accused of war crimes in connection with the alleged shooting of a civilian target in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine. Legal experts have told the Washington Post that Ukraine, which is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, appears to be complying with international guidelines for war crimes trials, including the right to a fair trial by an independent court.
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Shelipov’s family confronted Shishimarin last week while he was sitting in a glass defendant’s room. Shelipov’s widow asked the soldier, “Tell me, how do you feel about my husband?” Shishimarin replied: “Yes, I plead guilty. I understand you can’t forgive me. I apologize for what I did.”
The widow, Katrina Shelipova, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unfounded justification for war – that Moscow is only rescuing Ukrainians from the “Nazis” – to ask the soldier: “Why have you come to us? You have come to save us? From whom?” You ‘saved’ me from my husband, whom you killed. “
Steve Hendrix, David L. Stern, and Claire Parker contributed to this report.