‘I fired so they’d leave me alone’ The first Russian soldier charged with a war crime in Ukraine testifies in court, confessing to following orders
On Thursday, the second court hearing of 21-year-old Russian Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin took place in Kyiv. Shishimarin is the first Russian soldier to face formal charges for war crimes in Ukraine. He is accused of murdering a 62-year-old man in the Sumy region named Oleksandr Shelipov. According to prosecutors, on February 28, Shishimarin and four other Russian servicemen ended up in the village of Chupakhivka after their convoy was attacked and dispersed. The soldiers then fired on and commandeered a private vehicle. While driving away, they saw a civilian with a bicycle who was speaking on a cell phone. On orders from his commanding officer, Shishimarin shot the man using his assault rifle. Not long thereafter, Ukrainian troops captured the sergeant and later charged him with violating the laws and customs of warfare, as well as committing a premeditated murder. Under these statutes, Shishimarin faces between 10 years in prison and life imprisonment.
Shishimarin has fully confessed to killing an unarmed civilian. “I consider this both unacceptable and criminally liable, [up to and including] capital punishment. I do not deny my guilt,” he said in court on May 19. During questioning, Shishimarin said the order to shoot Mr. Shelipov came from Command Sergeant Major Makeyev (in another remark, he referred to him as Kafurov). Shishimarin says he resisted the order at first but then another officer in the car (a lieutenant whom he didn’t recognize) repeated the order “in a threatening tone,” arguing that the civilian would turn them over to the Ukrainian military. The sergeant says he then complied, firing a short burst from his rifle at Mr. Shelipov.
Shishimarin testified that he carried out the unidentified lieutenant’s orders because “it was a high-stress situation, and he was screaming.” After the killing, the sergeant says he decided to surrender because he feared for his life and “didn’t want to fight” anymore.
In court, Shishimarin asked for forgiveness from his victim’s widow, Kateryna Shelipova, telling her that he never wanted to kill her husband. “I fired so they would leave me alone,” he explained.
Kateryna Shelipova says she believes her husband’s murderer should be sentenced to life in prison. “But I won’t object to him being exchanged for our defenders at Azovstal,” she added, referring to the Ukrainian soldiers who recently surrendered in Mariupol.
In court, Mrs. Shelipova said she witnessed her husband’s murder, which occurred just a few yards from their home. She said she heard the gunfire and saw the shooter in a car. “When the shooting stopped, I came outside and saw my husband. He was already dead, shot in the head. I started screaming. At the top of my lungs. The neighbors came out and covered him with some cloth,” Shelipova recalled. “He was everything to me. He was my protector.”
The victim’s neighbor, Ihor Deykon, also testified as a witness to the killing, offering a similar description of the crime and how he helped Mrs. Shelipova afterwards. “I saw the body of her husband lying on the sidewalk near the road. I knew him well and recognized him right away. He was lying on his back, arms spread out, and there was a cell phone near his left hand. All signs of life had gone from him. Part of his skull was missing, and a white mass was visible. We decided that the bike needed to be taken away and the body needed to be covered and moved away from that spot as quickly as possible. Because we were afraid that the soldiers might come back. We put the bike in the courtyard, and Kateryna Shelipova covered her husband’s body. Then we decided that he needed to be moved away. Together with other neighbors, we carried him on a bedspread to the courtyard,” Deykon told the court.
The judge also questioned Ivan Maltisov, a private in the Russian Army who witnessed Oleksandr Shelipov’s killing and surrendered together with Shishimarin. He, too, was unable to identify the officer who ordered Shelipov’s death. “He ran up. He was one of the first who got into the car. I didn’t look at him carefully. He was somewhere between 25 and 30, probably a senior lieutenant,” Maltisov recalled. “Later, we realized that he was an officer. He had an assault rifle… They told us that he was killed.” Maltisov told the court that he didn’t try to stop Shelipov’s murder because he “wasn’t thinking about it then.”
Prosecutor Yaroslav Uschapivskyi has asked the judge to sentence Shishimarin to life in prison. “The Russian Armed Forces are not adhering to the norms of the Geneva Convention. The civilian population must not be targeted,” he argued, citing the defendant’s “confession of guilt and sincere repentance” as mitigating circumstances.
“This is just one of the stories of which there are many since February 24 [when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine]. A wife is left without her husband, and children and grandchildren are left without a father and grandfather. This case should be exemplary,” added Uschapivsky’s colleague, Andriy Sinyuk.
No Russian state officials or representatives of the Russian Defense Ministry have contacted the captured sergeant, Shishimarin’s defense attorney, Viktor Ovsyannikov, told BBC Russia.
On May 18, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that he had no information about Vadim Shishimarin’s case. “But, actually, the absence of our diplomatic mission there severely limits our capacity to assist, unfortunately,” he added.
When asked about allegations of war crimes against Russian soldiers, Peskov said, “We consider it intolerable and unacceptable to throw around such terms. Many of the cases getting attention in Ukraine are obvious fakes, and the most egregious are staged outright, which our experts have already explained and proved.”
Vadim Shishimarin served as a squad leader in Russia’s 4th Tank Kantemirovskaya Division, based outside Moscow. He was born in Irkutsk, 3,255 miles to the east. He was first drafted into the military in June 2019. He says he signed a contract, 10 months later, to remain in the army and earn money to help his parents.
Shishimarin’s mother Lyubov told Meduza that her son graduated from high school and a vocational training college before working at a tire-service shop in Moscow. She says she had heard nothing about the war in Ukraine until March 1, when news reached her that her son had been captured.