Kyiv court convicts Russian of war crimes as Zelensky woos Davos

By: AFP
Published: 10:45 PM, 23 May, 2022
Kyiv court convicts Russian of war crimes as Zelensky woos Davos
Caption: Russian sergeant Vadim Shishimarin (L) listens court sentence in the defendant's box on the last day of his trial on charges of war crimes for having killed a civilian, at a courthouse in Kyiv.
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A Ukrainian court found a young Russian soldier guilty of war crimes Monday for killing a civilian and handed him a life sentence, in the first verdict of its kind since Russia's invasion three months ago.

The judgement came as President Volodymyr Zelensky urged political and business elites at the World Economic Forum to end all trade with Russia and keep supplying his country with weapons.

Russian attacks are pummelling eastern Ukraine as they have for weeks, but all eyes Monday were on the capital Kyiv, in the landmark trial against 21-year-old Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin.

The sergeant from Siberia had admitted in court to killing a 62-year-old civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov, in the village of Chupakhivka in northeast Ukraine.

He claimed he shot Shelipov under pressure from another soldier as they tried to retreat and escape back into Russia in a stolen car on February 28, the fourth day of Moscow's invasion.

Shishimarin apologised and asked Shelipov's widow for forgiveness, adding: "I was nervous about what was going on. I didn't want to kill."

But prosecutors claimed he shot between three and four bullets with the intention of killing the civilian.

"The court has found that Shishimarin is guilty (of war crimes) and sentences him to life imprisonment," Judge Sergiy Agafonov announced, as the Russian looked on from the glass defence box.

Davos appeal 

He was also found guilty of premeditated murder, which Agafonov said was "committed with direct intent."

"Shishimarin violated the laws and customs of war," the judge said.

Shishimarin's lawyer Viktor Ovsyannikov said he will appeal the "most severe" verdict, adding that "you can feel societal pressure" on the decision.

The landmark ruling is expected to be followed by others, with Ukraine opening thousands of war crimes cases since Moscow's invasion.

International institutions are also probing abuses allegedly committed by Russian forces in cities like Bucha and Mariupol, which have become emblematic of the destruction and suffering of the war.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, from which Russians have been barred this year, Zelensky made the latest in a string of appeals to Western gatherings and parliaments in a bid to maintain support for his country.

He revealed that 87 people were killed in a Russian attack earlier this month on a military base in northern Ukraine, in what would be one of the largest single recorded strikes of the war.

Ukraine, he said via videolink, "is paying dearly for freedom and independence and for this struggle". 

Destroying territory 

Western countries have sent huge amounts of weapons and cash to Ukraine to help it repel Russia's assault, and punished Moscow with unprecedented economic sanctions.

But Zelensky said tens of thousands of lives would have been saved if Kyiv had received "100 percent of our needs at once back in February", when Russia invaded.

"This is why Ukraine needs all the weapons that we ask (for), not just the ones that have been provided," said Zelensky, flanked by Ukrainian flags and wearing an olive-green T-shirt.

He also called for an oil embargo on Russia, punitive measures against all its banks and the shunning of its IT sector, adding that all foreign companies should leave the country.

Numerous firms have already abandoned Russia, and US coffee giant Starbucks on Monday said it would close all its 130 cafes there, following a similar move by McDonald's last week.

Western support has helped Ukraine in many areas hold off Russia forces which, after initially circling Kyiv, are now focused on securing and expanding their gains in the eastern Donbas region and on Ukraine's southern coast.

Ukraine's defence ministry on Monday reported "active hostilities" as Russia advanced towards the eastern city of Severodonetsk, and said there was also heavy fighting towards nearby Bakhmut.

"Popasna (near Severodonetsk), Bakhmut, Mariupol: Russia is simply destroying territory with artillery and aircraft, and then (Russian) troops enter," spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters.

In some areas taken by the Russians, Moscow is seeking to enforcing its authority. In Kherson, the first major city to fall, the local administration announced the introduction of the ruble as the official currency, alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia.

Morning prayer 

More than six million people have fled Ukraine and eight million have been internally displaced since the war broke out, according to the United Nations.

For the civilians left behind near the front, prayer is often the only comfort left.

In Bakhmut, Maria Mayashlapak scanned the devastation of her home, where a missile imploded her kitchen and cratered her vegetable garden.

"I was reciting my morning prayer for God to keep me from getting hurt," the 82-year-old recalled, as the family's kitten mewed from somewhere in the rubble.

Zelensky's wife, Olena Zelenska, warned at the World Health Organization's annual assembly that the mental health effects of Russia's war could last for decades.

"Following what Ukrainians have experienced during the occupation, at the front, in bomb shelters, under shelling... they need rehabilitation in the same way as those who are physically wounded," she said.

The impact of the war is also being felt far beyond Ukraine, particularly the impact of a Russian blockade that has left one of the world's breadbaskets unable to export its grain.

"It's savagery for one country to have food spoiling like this and for other people to be left poor and hungry," said Dmitriy Matulyak, a farmer near the Black Sea port of Odessa.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the war "threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity".

On Monday, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said it had approved a $1.5 billion emergency programme to alleviate the impact of worsening food insecurity, as the continent faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tonnes of food.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.