A Russian soldier who pleaded guilty to killing a civilian was sentenced by a Ukrainian court on Monday to life in prison – the maximum sentence – amid signs the Kremlin may hold its own trials, particularly of captured fighters who resisted at the Mariupol steel plant.
Meanwhile, in a rare public expression of opposition to the war from the ranks of the Russian elite, a veteran Kremlin diplomat has resigned and sent a scathing letter to his foreign colleagues saying: “I have never felt so ashamed of myself.” country as on February 24 of this year.”
In addition, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia in a video address to world leaders and executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
And on the battlefield, heavy fighting has broken out in the Donbas in the east, where Moscow forces have intensified their bombardment. Cities not under Russian control were constantly shelled, and a Ukrainian military official said Russian forces attacked civilians trying to flee.
In the first of what could be a multitude of war crimes trials inside Ukraine, 21-year-old Russian Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin was convicted of the murder of a 62-year-old man who was shot in the head in a village of the northeastern region of Sumy in the first days of the war. Shishimarin, a captured member of a tank unit, apologized to the man’s widow in court.
His Ukrainian-appointed defense attorney, Victor Ovsyanikov, argued that his client was unprepared for the “violent military confrontation” and massive casualties that Russian troops encountered when they invaded. He said that he would appeal.
Ukrainian civil liberties advocate Volodymyr Yavorskyy said it was “an extremely harsh sentence for a single murder during the war.” However, Aarif Abraham, a British-based human rights lawyer, said the trial was carried out “with what appears to be a full and fair process”, including access to a lawyer.
Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating thousands of possible war crimes. Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol where civilians were sheltering and attacked a maternity hospital. Following the Russian withdrawal from the outskirts of kyiv weeks ago, mass graves were discovered and corpses littered streets in cities like Bucha.
Difficult cases may have to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Abraham said.
Before the sentence, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Moscow could not defend the soldier “on the ground”, but that it will study the possibility of doing so “by other means”.