The First of Many: Russian Soldier On Trial in Ukraine for War Crimes

The First of Many: Russian Soldier On Trial in Ukraine for War Crimes
Photo by Max Kukurudziak / Unsplash

For the first time since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine a Russian soldier is facing life in prison for war crimes after being accused of shooting an unarmed civilian. The man in question is a 21-year-old Sergeant part of a Russian tank crew who allegedly shot a 61-year-old in the head.  The victim had been walking on a road, and after Russian soldiers who were attempting to flee Ukrainian soldiers had seen the man, the prosecution alleges they had been ordered to shoot the victim to prevent identification of the soldiers. Though the first Russian to be prosecuted during this war, the Ukrainian government believes that serious war crimes have been committed on a large scale have said that this is only the beginning of seeking justice against those who may have been involved.

The Russian soldier on trial has been identified as Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, who during his first hearing was seen behind a glass casing. During the camera packed courthouse session, the man was asked the very preliminary questions, such as his basic identifications, as well as his understanding of his rights.  This will be the first part into the investigation as well as the prosecution of the man who with his court appointed lawyer have not decided on how they will plea in the case or how the trial will proceed.  Shyshimarin’s lawyer commented that the prosecution seems to have a strong case and that the trial will be tough but also seems to believe in the fairness of the justice system.

This court case has serious international implications as this is the first in what is presumed to become a series of trials, and not just on the Ukrainian side. In total the office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has made statements that they are intending to have nearly 11,000 cases with over 600 suspects that will be investigated. In the coming months many of these cases may instead be placed at the foot of the Hague and left up to the judgement of the International Criminal Court that has been set up for this very reason.  The Russians as well have decided to prepare prosecutions against Ukrainian soldiers who they believe and claim have committed the same crimes in the Russian occupied regions as well as against Russian soldiers. These will be the first steps into putting the entire conflict into the hands of the UN to deal out justice as it sees fit.

The official story that has been put out by the Ukrainian government is that while attempting to flee Ukrainian soldiers the group that the suspect Shyshimarin was a part of felt that they needed to cover their tracks. To escape they attacked a vehicle (although this is unclear whether a second focus on attacking another unarmed civilian is included), commandeered the vehicle and tried to flee pursuit of Ukrainian forces. During their escape attempt they had seen the victim on the side of the road using a cellphone, and someone in the vehicle had order Shyshimarin to fire. Who had given this order has not been released yet, but the suspect claims he was ordered to carry out the attack which he did with his standard Kalashnikov hitting the victim in the head killing him. While this is usually the standard defense that war criminals use that they were ordered to do so, the international courts have decided for many years that this is no longer a viable excuse to commit atrocious acts against civilians. While if found guilty the suspect will receive a life sentence, the Russian reaction could be extreme and the future is uncertain about the depth or length the international community will go to bring war criminals to justice.