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Russian Soldier Sentenced to Life in Prison

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Vadim Shishimarin | Image by Reuters

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The first Russian soldier charged with war crimes during the invasion of Ukraine was sentenced to life in prison on Monday.

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, a member of a Russian tank unit, was found guilty of killing Oleksandr Shelipov, 62, in the town of Chupakhivka on February 28, four days after the Russian invasion began.

Judge Serhiy Agafonov ruled that Shishimarin shot the victim in the head after receiving a “criminal order” from a higher-ranking soldier.

According to Ukrainian prosecutors, Shishimarin was with four other Russian soldiers that stole a car to flee as Ukrainian forces targeted their unit.

After arriving at Chupakhivka, the soldiers came upon Shelipov riding a bicycle not far from his home. Prosecutors allege that Shishimarin was ordered to kill Shelipov to prevent him from providing information about their location.

Shishimarin apologized to the victim’s widow in court last week for his part in the incident and asked for her forgiveness. The court handed down its sentence just five days after the first full hearing.

“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 said.

Shishimarin watched the proceedings from a glass box while wearing a blue and gray hooded sweatshirt. He listened intently through a translator with his head bent while expressing no emotion.

His lawyer, Viktor Ovsyannikov, said he would be filing a legal appeal, saying the sentence resulted from “certain pressure from society.” Shishimarin’s trial began last week and could be the first of many in Ukraine.

Reuters reports that Ukraine has identified more than 10,000 war crimes committed by Russia. For its part, Russia has denied targeting Ukraine’s civilian population and committing war crimes.

There has been no official statement from Russia since the verdict was announced. At an earlier press conference, Russian officials said they had no knowledge of the trial and that the lack of a diplomatic post in Ukraine precluded them from offering help.

According to the International Bar Association’s executive director of international law, Mark Ellis, the ruling was “not surprising.” Ellis said the verdict could represent the first part of “a big puzzle involving Ukrainian soldiers being imprisoned in Russia.”

“If this is the baseline trial … it sets the bar very high,” Ellis said. “For most other war crimes cases in Ukraine, I suspect we’ll see similar sentences because this is the baseline trial.”     

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