New Delhi: A Ukrainian court has started a preliminary hearing in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian.
The case is of huge symbolic importance for Ukraine. The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces.
The Kremlin told reporters on Friday that it had no information about a war crimes trial.
The defendant told the court he was Vadim Shishimarin, born in Russia’s Irkutsk region, and confirmed that he was a Russian serviceman in a short, preliminary hearing.
The court will reconvene on May 18, the judge said.
He will tell the court at a later date whether or not he denies the charge, his lawyer Viktor Ovsyannikov said.
Shaven headed and looking scared, Shishimarin wore a casual blue and grey hoodie and was led into the courtroom by police to a glass booth for defendants.
If convicted he faces up to life imprisonment over the killing in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka, east of the capital Kyiv, on Feb. 28.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said the defendant was a 21-year-old tank commander in the Kantemirovskaya tank division from the Moscow region.
The prosecutor general had published a photograph of him ahead of the hearing.
“(The) wheels of justice (have) started turning and this process will yield results,” Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova tweeted on Friday.
In a statement ahead of the hearing, the prosecutor general’s office said the soldier and four other Russian servicemen fired at and stole a privately-owned car to escape after their column was targeted by Ukrainian forces.
The statement said the Russian soldiers drove into the village of Chupakhivka where they saw an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on his phone.
It said the defendant was ordered by another serviceman to kill the civilian to prevent him reporting on the Russians’ presence and fired several shots through the open window of the car with an assault rifle at the civilian’s head, and he died on the spot.
It did not say what evidence led to the war crimes charges. The SBU Security Service of Ukraine conducted the investigation into the case, it said.
State prosecutor Andriy Synyuk told Reuters the soldier was captured when he “gave himself up”. He did not elaborate.