Russian soldier asks for forgiveness from Ukrainian victim’s family during war trial
Europe Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On Monday, May 16th, Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin – the first Russian soldier put on trial for war crimes committed in Ukraine in front of the Kyiv Court of Appeal – asked forgiveness from the family of Oleksandr Shelipov, an unarmed 62 year old civilian man he shot and killed. In late February, the victim was pushing his bike going to Chupakhivka, a village in the Sumi region of Ukraine. The 21 year old soldier plead guilty to shooting him multiple times with his Kalashnikov. He now faces a sentence of 10 years to life – although the widow’s victim has stated she would not oppose his participating in a prisoner exchange for Ukrainian soldiers held in Russian custody.
Shishimarin told the Court that he was instructed to shoot him by other soldiers who suspected he was sharing their location after seeing him talking on the phone. He states having refused to do so but, following threatening and pressuring orders from the other soldiers, firing at the man. On Thursday, thevictim's family, including Shelipov’s widow who identified him at the scene, confronted him. He expressed regret and told the family: “Yes, I admit guilt. I understand that you will not be able to forgive me. I ask for forgiveness for what was done.” (Washington Post, 19.05.2022).
From a legal perspective, the Judge raised the question of the responsibility of the soldier asking if he was indeed obliged to carry out an order given to him by someone who was not his official superior. Even if the order came from a superior, the act being obviously criminal, the soldier would still carry responsibility for opening fire on a civilian target.
Ukrainian Prosecutor, Venediktova, took to twitter after the trial and expressed confidence regarding the future of prosecutions and justice for the victims of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine: “By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility” (@VenediktovaIV on Twitter, 16.05.2022). There are currently over 11.000 war crime cases open in Ukrainian Courts and additional ongoing investigations at the International Criminal Court and the United Nations.
Hendrix, S., & Parker, C. (2022, May 19). Russian soldier asks victim’s family for forgiveness in Ukraine court. Washington Post. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/19/vadim-shishimarin-war-crimes-trial-forgiveness-russia-ukraine/
Hopkins, V. (2022, May 19). Russian Soldier Who Pleaded Guilty at War Crimes Trial Apologizes. The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/world/russian-soldier-trial-vadim-shishimarin.html
Ott, H. (2022, May 23). Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sentenced to life in prison in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial since invasion. CBS News. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ukraine-news-russia-war-crimes-trial-vadim-shishimarin-sentenced-life-in-prison-today/
Reporter, G. S. (2022, May 19). Russian soldier asks Ukrainian widow to forgive him during first war crimes trial. The Guardian. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/19/vadim-shishimarin-russian-soldier-asks-ukrainian-widow-to-forgive-him-during-first-war-crimes-trial
Venediktova I., Twitter, 16.05.2022 at https://twitter.com/VenediktovaIV/status/1526073142514442240