A Russian soldier has pleaded guilty to killing a Ukrainian civilian on Wednesday before a court in kyiv, where the first trial for alleged war crimes since the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow’s troops is being held.

Dressed in a blue and khaki hooded sweater, Petty Officer Vadim Shishimarin stood alone in his glass box in the small courtroom of the Solomiansky district in kyiv.

After reading the indictment, he was questioned as to whether he recognized the accusations. “Yes”, he has answered him. “In its entirety?”, the magistrate has continued, to which the soldier has answered affirmatively.

Shishimarin, 21, accused of killing a 62-year-old civilian on February 28 in northeastern Ukraine, faces life in prison for war crimes and premeditated murder.

The trial, the first of several to be held in the short term, will be a test for the Ukrainian judicial system at a time when international institutions are launching their own investigations into alleged abuses committed by Russian troops in this country.

Many international journalists have crammed into the tiny courtrooms to follow this hearing broadcast online. According to the indictment, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin was leading a small unit within a tank division when his convoy was attacked on February 28, just four days after the Russian invasion began. With four other soldiers he then stole a car.

When they were driving near the town of Shupakhivka, in the Sumy region (northeast), they came across a man who was pushing his bicycle while talking on his mobile phone. “One of the soldiers ordered the defendant to kill the civilian so that he would not report them,” according to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office

Shishimarin then fired a Kalashnikov from the windows of the vehicle, and the man “died on the spot”, a few dozen meters from his home, adds this source.

In early May, the Ukrainian authorities announced his arrest without giving further details, although they did publish a video in which Vadim Shishimarin said he had come to fight in Ukraine to “help his mother financially”.

Regarding the accusations against him, the Russian non-commissioned officer explained: “I received the order to shoot, I fired once, he fell and we continued on our way.” In court, prosecutor Andrii Syniuk has specified that the defendant was arrested on March 1 with three other soldiers because the fifth was killed shortly before in combat. The hearing has subsequently been suspended, and will continue on Thursday with the testimonies.

The case is complicated, says the defendant’s lawyer, Victor Ovsiannikov. “We have never had this kind of accusation in Ukraine, we have no precedents, verdicts,” he said. “But we will succeed,” added Ovsiannikov, assuring that he had not found “any violation of the rights” of the accused by the authorities.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has underlined in a series of Twitter messages the importance of the case for her country. “We have opened more than 11,000 war crimes investigations and arrested 40 suspects,” she wrote.

Waiting for them to come to court, “with this first trial, we send a clear signal: no executioner, no person who has ordered or helped commit crimes in Ukraine is going to escape justice,” he said.

The Ukrainian authorities do not want to waste time and, this Thursday, two other Russian soldiers will begin to be tried for firing projectiles at civilian infrastructure in the northeastern region of Kharkov, the country’s second largest city.

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