Ukraine jails Russian soldier for life at war crimes trial

A Kyiv court on Monday found a 21-year-old Russian soldier who killed a civilian guilty of war crimes and handed him a life sentence, in the first verdict against Moscow's forces since their invasion.

"The court has found that (Vadim) Shishimarin is guilty and sentences him to life imprisonment," judge Sergiy Agafonov said.

The Russian sergeant admitted in court to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov during the first days of the Kremlin's offensive in north-east Ukraine.

He was also found guilty of premeditated murder. "The murder was committed with direct intent," judge Agafonov said.

"Shishimarin violated the laws and customs of war."

The soldier told the court last week that he shot Shelipov under pressure from another soldier as they tried to retreat back to Russia in a stolen car on 28 February, the fourth day of Moscow's invasion.

Shishimarin apologised and asked Shelipov's widow for forgiveness.

The landmark ruling is expected to be followed by others, with Ukraine opening thousands of war crimes cases since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent in his troops.

The youthful serviceman looked on from the glass defence box as the verdict was read out in Ukrainian. An interpreter translated for him into Russian.

Shishimarin's lawyer Viktor Ovsyannikov said he will appeal the verdict.

"This is the most severe sentence and any level-headed person would challenge it," Ovsyannikov, said, adding: "I will ask for the cancellation of the court's verdict".

He said that "you can feel societal pressure" on the court's decision. But prosecutor Andriy Syniuk said the ruling was fair.

"I consider the verdict to be lawful and justified," he told reporters, saying he was "completely satisfied" with the outcome.

Rights organisations have expressed hope that Ukraine's trials against Russian soldiers will be impartial and transparent.

The Kremlin said before the sentencing Monday that while it was "concerned" over Shishimarin's fate, it was unable provide on-the-ground assistance because there is no Russian diplomatic presence in Ukraine.

"That doesn't mean we won't try through other channels. The fate of every Russian citizen is of paramount importance to us," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.