Tank commander gets life sentence in first Russian war crimes trial

Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin listens to his translator during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 23, 2022. The court sentenced the 21-year-old soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing a Ukrainian civilian, in the first war crimes trial held since Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)


Ukraine held its first war crimes trial. Russian soldier Sgt Vadim Shishimarin has been found guilty of killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian Oleksandr Shelipov.

A number of other alleged war crimes are under investigation. And Ukraine is promising to prosecute other the Russian soldiers responsible for the largely unprovoked murders.

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Sgt Shishimarin, 21, a tank commander, admitted his guilt in the killing of Shelipov, 62. And he asked the victim’s widow to forgive him.

He has been sentenced to life in prison.

War crimes trial details

The hearing was held last Thursday in Kyiv.

The victim’s widow Kateryna Shelipova testified to what happened.

She lived in Chupakhivka, Ukraine. And recounted that on February 28th she was drawing water from the village well. Then a gunshot rang out.

She saw Shishimarin with a rifle sitting in a car. “I remember him well,” she claims.

Within minutes she saw her husband.  “He was dead, with a shot in his head. I started screaming very loudly,” she told the court.

Shishimarin did not deny that he shot the man. He said that the Russian army was retreating from the region, along with several others he had stolen a Volkswagen car. They planned on driving to catch up with their regiment.

While they drove, they spotted the man. The victim supposedly said he would “give them up.” At that point, another soldier told Shishimarin to shoot the elderly man. 

“He said I would be putting us in danger if I didn’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him,” he said.

According to the soldier on trial, the other soldier was not his commander. And he really was not obliged to follow the order. 

No forgiveness 

The widow Shelipova asked the court to  either release the soldier to  Russia as part of a prisoner exchange. Russia captured several hundred Ukrainian soldiers who had been under siege at the Azovstal steel mill. The defenders of  Mariupol  have all been registered as prisoners of war.

The Ukrainian widow told the BBC that she does feel sorry for Shishimarin. But she can not forgive him.

She asked the young tank commander if he  repented of his crime.

“I acknowledge my blame,” Shishimarin said, per Reuters. “I ask you to forgive me,” he added, according to the outlet.

“But I understand you won’t be able to forgive me,” he said.

“Tell me please, why did you Russians come here? To protect us?” Shelipova asked Shishimarin, per the BBC. “Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The Russian soldier hung his head and did not respond.