The first Russian soldier to be put on trial for war crimes since the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine apologized in court on Thursday to the widow of the 62-year-old man he shot and killed.
“I understand that you will not be able to forgive me, but I apologize,” the soldier, Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, told Katerina Shelipova, the widow of Oleksandr Shelipov, whom he killed in a village in the Sumy region in Ukraine’s northeast on Feb. 28, four days after the invasion started. He faces a minimum 10-year sentence, up to life in prison.
Sergeant Shishimarin pleaded guilty Wednesday to the killing of Mr. Shelipov, which came as he and five fellow soldiers were retreating in a seized car after coming under fire. The sergeant said he was ordered to shoot at Mr. Shelipov by a soldier of a higher rank, who was not his commanding officer, because he and his fellow soldiers believed that the man was informing the Ukrainian military about their location.
Judge Sergey Agafonov asked Sergeant Shishimarin why he followed an order to shoot from someone who was not his direct superior.
“Are you obliged to carry out an obviously criminal order?” Judge Sergey Agafonov asked him.
“No,” he responded.
The trial has garnered tremendous local and international attention. Ukrainian authorities adjourned Wednesday’s hearing shortly after Sergeant Shishimarin pleaded guilty because there was not enough space to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend the proceedings. The judges convened in a larger courtroom at the Kyiv Court of Appeal.
Evidence must continue to be heard despite Sergeant Shishimarin’s guilty plea to ensure that the defendant was not pleading guilty to defend someone else, to establish a record of the facts and because of the severity of the potential punishment, Ukrainian legal experts say.
Sergeant Shishimarin, 21, from the city of Ust-Ilimsk, in Siberia’s Irkutsk region, had finished his mandatory military service in May 2020, but signed a contract to continue serving in the army, according to an interview his mother gave to the independent Russian outlet Meduza. She was cited by only her first name, Lyubov.
Ms. Shelipova testified Thursday that her husband had gone to examine damage to his neighborhood. When she went to her yard to get some water from the well, she heard shooting.
“A car was passing by: This man was sitting behind the driver,” she said, pointing to Sergeant Shishimarin, “I saw him, and he probably saw me.”
When she found her husband, he was already dead.
“When I approached, I saw his brain,” she said. “The skull was pierced and the brain was visible. There was a lot of blood.”
Ukraine hopes to trade soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners of war, though neither Moscow nor Kyiv has released details about a potential prisoner exchange. A transfer of prisoners would complicate Ukraine’s ability to hold Russian soldiers legally accountable for suspected war crimes.
Ms. Shelipova, asked by the prosecutor what she believed an appropriate punishment for Sergeant Shishimarin would be, started to cry.
“He was everything to me,” she said of her husband. “He was my defender. I lived behind him like behind a stone wall.”
She told the court that she believed a life sentence would be an appropriate punishment for the crime, “but if he is traded for our defenders of Azovstal, I would not mind,” she said.
Maria Varenikova and Natalia Novosolova contributed reporting.