The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes committed after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, has pleaded guilty. The soldier now faces a possible life imprisonment in Kyiv.

Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian tank commander, has been charged with killing a 62-year-old civilian in the northeast Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28 this year. Shishimarin submitted his plea at the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv on Wednesday. When the court asked if he was guilty, he responded "yes."

Ukrainian state prosecutors have accused him of killing the old man when the latter was cycling through the village. The defendant, however, has said that he was asked to shoot the civilian by another Russian soldier.

He added that they were fearful that the civilian will inform the Ukrainian authorities of their presence in the village as he was on a phone. According to prosecution, the victim "died instantly, a few dozen metres from his home."

Ukraine puts Russian soldier accused of war crime on trial

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The two Russian soldiers along with their colleagues had stolen a private car shortly before killing the man after their column came under attack from Ukrainian troops.

Russia, however, has maintained that its troops have not committed war crimes. However, the United Nations estimates have shown that at least 3,541 civilians were killed between 24 February and 12 May.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also claimed that Russian soldiers not only targeted civilians but also tortured them during their offensive in parts of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, according to a report in The Independent.

Ukraine's prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova has said that the country is currently investigating 40 suspects and over 11,000 alleged war crimes cases. Ukraine will try two more Russian soldiers on Thursday, the two have been charged with firing missiles at civilian buildings in Kharkiv.

"By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility," said Venediktova.

Russia's invasion, and the subsequent accusations of violence directed at civilians, have stoked international condemnation as well as unprecedented economic sanctions.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Emergency management specialists and volunteers remove the debris of a theatre building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 25, 2022. Photo: Reuters / ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO