A Russian tank commander who became the first Vladimir Putin’s soldier to be jailed for war crimes in Ukraine has seen his life sentence reduced to 15 years on appeal.
During the opening days of the war, Vadim Shishimarin, 21, shot dead 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in cold blood in Ukraine’s northern Sumy region.
He was later captured and brought to Kyiv for trial, where he pleaded guilty to war crimes charges back in May.
But his lawyers were able to appeal, saying the sentence was unduly harsh given he had admitted wrongdoing and was acting on the orders of a superior.
Today, an appeals court in the Ukrainian capital agreed and cut the penalty to 15 years. Viktor Ovsyannikov, Shishimarin’s lawyer, had been asking for 10 years.
Ovsyannikov said it is highly likely that Shishimarin will at some point be traded back to Russia in a prisoner swap.
Mr. Shelipov had been pushing his bike along a road in the Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka when he encountered Shishimarin and men from his unit, who were riding in a stolen civilian car.
Fearing that Mr. Shelipov, a veteran of the Soviet military – was going to report their location to Ukrainian forces, Shishimarin’s superiors ordered him to kill the man.
He fired several shots at Mr. Shelipov’s head from an automatic rifle, killing him.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.
During the trial, Shishimarin told the court that he shot Oleksandr as he and several other Russian soldiers were retreating and trying to rejoin their units in Russia.
The soldiers found a civilian car, a Volkswagen, which they hijacked. ‘We wanted to get to where our army was and go back to Russia,’ Shishimarin said.
‘On our way as we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone. He said he would give us up.’
Shishimarin said another Russian soldier in the car, who he said was not his commander and who he called an ‘unknown’ soldier, ‘told me to shoot.’
‘He started to say in a forceful tone that I should shoot,’ he told the court. He said that I make up a danger if I don’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him.’
Oleksandr’s wife Kateryna Shelypova had confronted Shishimarin in the Kyiv court and asked him what he felt when he killed her husband.
‘Tell me what did you feel when you killed my husband? Do you repent of this crime,’ Kateryna asked the former soldier on Thursday as he stood in the dock, looking straight ahead.
‘I admit my guilt. I understand you can’t forgive me. I ask forgiveness,’ he said.
Kateryna added: ‘Tell me please, why did you come here? To protect us? From whom? From my husband who you killed?’
Kateryna told the court that her husband was a tractor driver who was not carrying a weapon and was dressed in civilian clothes, according to quotes from Ukrainian journalist Daria Sipigina.
Kateryna said she was in her garden when she heard shots being fired, and ran out calling for her husband before seeing Shishimarin with a Kalashnikov.
He drove away with the rest of his squad, leaving her to discover her husband’s dead body lying on the side of the road.
‘The loss of my husband is everything for me. He was my protector,’ she said.