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‘They won’t turn him over’ Vadim Shishimarin is the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine. Meduza interviewed his mother.
A Kyiv court began the first war crimes trial for a Russian soldier on May 13. On Wednesday, May 18, the accused, 21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin, pleaded guilty to fatally shooting a civilian in Ukraine’s Sumy region. Meduza interviewed Shishimarin’s mother Lyubov, who lives in the town of Ust-Ilimsk in Russia’s Irkutsk region (she asked that her surname, which isn’t the same as her son’s, not be disclosed).
The charges brought against Vadim Shishimarin
On May 11, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova announced that the indictment of Russian army sergeant Vadim Shishimarin had been brought to court. Shishimarin served in Military Unit No. 32010, a formation of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, which is based in the Moscow region. He was charged with killing a 62-year-old civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov, in the village of Chupakhivka in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region.
According to Shishimarin, the murder took place in the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The soldier’s column was advancing towards the city of Sumy “to intimidate the Ukrainian people,” he said. In a video clip from Shishimarin’s interrogation published by Ukraine’s Security Service (the SBU) on May 4, the Russian soldier said that after coming under fire on February 28, he and his comrades seized a civilian vehicle from local residents and set off to catch up with the retreating column.
Along the way, the Russian soldiers passed through Chupakhivka, where they encountered local resident Oleksandr Shelipov. Shishimarin claims that his commander (whose name remains unknown) ordered him to shoot the civilian. Shishimarin then fired several shots at Shelipov from an automatic rifle, killing him.
Vadim Shishimarin was taken prisoner the next day. He pleaded guilty before a Kyiv court on May 18.
Please note. The following interview with Vadim Shishimarin’s mother, Lyubov, has been edited and abridged for length and clarity. You can read the full interview in Russian here.
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Tell me about your son, who is now in custody in Ukraine. Where did he study and work?
Vadim finished high school and then vocational school. He worked in a tire repair shop in Moscow. There are more opportunities there for work and education. And he has a girlfriend there.
Why did he enlist in the military?
He passed his exams, received his diploma and that was it — he joined up at 20 years old. He’s fit [for military service]. The time had come to join the army. What of it? Everyone serves.
That’s compulsory service, but he became a professional soldier afterwards.
My husband was killed on January 4, . We were happily married for 11 years. My son signed his [army] contract in May [of that year].
[Vadim is my] eldest son. I have five children in total: three sons and two daughters. I stay at home with them. Vadim’s biological father didn’t raise him, although they talk sometimes. My husband was his stepfather. He worked on heavy machinery, on cranes. He made good money.
[My husband] was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accidentally shot and killed. We don’t know the full name of the person who did it.
And you were left with the children and without any reliable source of income?
Is this why your son decided to join the army?
No, he was in the army beforehand. I told him that I didn’t need help. I would have coped on my own. He doesn’t really help me. I don’t ask him for money, we have enough.
He [feels] responsible for me, but he decided that there was nothing for him to do here [in Ust-Ilimsk]. There really is nothing to do here.
Did he tell you anything before he was deployed to the “special military operation”?
Yes, he said: “Mom, my phone won’t work for a week. I’m handing it over. Someone will tell you that I left for Ukraine, don’t believe it.”
Do you think he deliberately denied it or simply didn’t know [where he was being sent]?
I don’t know. I was later told that when he called me, they were stationed on the border [with Ukraine]. They were told that they would go in and out, and that’s it. Then the war started, I guess.
When you found out that the war had begun, how did you feel?
On March 1, I learned that my son was a prisoner. I had no idea there was a war, that something was happening there in Ukraine…I don’t surf the Internet or watch the news. It doesn’t interest me, because they just show all kinds of nonsense, I don’t want to take this to heart. [Especially] after the death of my husband. I survived all that and I didn’t want to go through it again for someone else. So I had no idea that a war had started, until I received a video of my son in custody.
Who sent you the video?
My daughter-in-law. One of the boys who was in the army with him sent it to her.
Have you spoken to your son since he’s been in custody?
He video-called me on March 13. He said: “Mom, everything is fine. Don’t worry.” I later spoke to him again when he [was being interviewed by Ukrainian journalist Volodymyr Zolkin], and that’s it.
Why do you think the Ukrainians record these videos of Russian prisoners of war?
I don’t know. On the one hand, it’s good that they’re doing it and that they filmed the boys in custody in general…Otherwise I wouldn’t have any idea if my child was alive or not.
Have you reached out to any government bodies, to the Russian Defense Ministry?
Lord, I’ve been making appeals since March 1. I even wrote to Putin.
Did they reply to you?
“We’re doing everything [we can]. Just wait.” They’re still saying this.
Did they at least acknowledge that he’s a prisoner of war?
Yes, he has the status of a prisoner.
You joined forces with the mothers of other prisoners. Can you tell us more about how you found each other?
They found me. I don’t even know how. Through social media and mutual friends. All of their children are already home. Only Vadim is still there, and there’s another boy with him — Vanka. I keep in touch with his mother. And the other mothers, too. They call and ask whether or not Vadim has been released.
It’s easier together. It’s very good support. Many people have called me, even strangers and those whose children aren’t prisoners, just ordinary moms. From Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Oryol, and Mordovia.
There are fathers [in the group] — those who don’t have wives. I know one such father whose two sons went missing and he also went off to war in order to find out at least something about [what happened to] his children. I know [another] father who was pounding the pavement in Moscow for a month. There’s money, big money, and nothing else. But yes, there are a lot of mothers. When someone is released or exchanged I call to find out if he has seen my son or not. Those who [are released] from Kyiv, where he is now. After all, prisoners [are being held] not just in Kyiv, but also in Zaporizhzhia and in other places.
The relatives of those who were captured along with Vadim contacted me especially quickly. There were four of them. They all have mothers. Only one of them has a wife, who I still talk to regularly.
How do you feel about your son’s situation?
On the one hand, I understand that he’s a contract soldier, he signed himself up for this. But on the other hand this is my child. I don’t know. They probably should have let young boys like him go first, then the officers, they’re adults after all. I don’t know what happened there, who fired, who didn’t. He’s just been burdened with it and that’s it. I understand that Vadim saying “No, I didn’t do it” isn’t a way out. I’m happy for his comrades who were exchanged. Their mothers called and told me.
Of course [I’m happy for them]. They’re children too, for goodness sake. You’re happy that things are easier for the other mothers. I also hope that soon I’ll hear from the Defense Ministry that my child is on Russian soil. All of the boys are already home, they’re all okay. Well, relatively okay — some of them are wounded, but the main thing is that they’re alive.
If you could do it all over again, what would you say to your son when he decided to sign a contract with the military?
I was against it at the time. I wanted him to go to university. I said: “Go study, I’ll pay for you for a year, and you pay after that. You’ll have time to save up for the next year.”
Can you describe how Vadim grew up?
He’s a kind but fair kid. I didn’t have any problems with him. He studied hard and always helped me. Vadim wasn’t one for reckless acts. He didn’t even tell me that he was going to Ukraine. He was very worried about me, he knew I had a hard time [after] the death of my husband. He warned the boys: “If mom calls, don’t even think about saying that I’m here. Even if I’m killed, don’t tell her.” He’s the kind of kid who calls and says “Mom, I love you.” He didn’t care who was around, he’d come and hug me, kiss me. For some it’s ridiculous for a grown boy to say he loves his mom. He’s like that, very good. He would never risk his life on purpose, because the first thing he would think of was me.
Do you think he could have done what he confessed to?
Not intentionally, of course not. I don’t think so at all. Killing a person who’s just standing there? No, of course not, what are you saying? No. He wouldn’t even raise a hand. It’s not as easy as he says, to shoot [someone] dead…Well, how crazy do you have to be? Under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That’s what happened with my husband. The man was drunk and deranged. Who can kill a man sober? No one, I think. No, Vadim wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Why did he admit to it then?
Perhaps he’s being forced. I understand talking about how you accomplished some feat or saved a person…But it’s not so easy to just sit there and say into the camera that yes, I received an order and I shot [someone]. That’s insane. Truly, completely insane. Who gave the order?
Your son moved to Moscow, but will your other children stay in your town or will they also move somewhere else?
My daughter will stay. Stasik [my second oldest son] will be 14 years old in June…Before we thought that he’d join the army and go to Moscow too. Vadim said [he wanted] him to be closer to him, that he’d look after him. Before going there [to Ukraine] he was also thinking about taking out a mortgage, because they [Vadim and his girlfriend] want to get married.
Do your children have any opportunities in their hometown? How do you feel about Ust-Ilimsk?
It’s a small town. Are there opportunities? I don’t know. We’re used to living here. It’s nice and quiet, everyone knows each other. I don’t like big cities.
How do you feel about this war?
Negatively. I’m sorry for our guys and for the Ukrainians. Children just like mine are dying there. Someone’s husband, someone’s son…I know what it’s like to lose a husband. I know what it’s like when your children are left without a father, especially if it’s a loving father. I don’t know why anyone needs so many people to die.
When Vadim called I asked how I could get my child back. I’m only interested in one thing: how can I get my child back. I would gladly go [to Ukraine], but they won’t turn him over to me. They just said: No way. That’s it. No way.
Abridged translation by Eilish Hart
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