As Putin’s War Rages On, Domestic Trials Begin

As Putin’s war rages on, Ukraine proceeds with first trials of Russian soldiers involved in atrocities. On February 24, 2022, Putin attacked Ukraine unleashing war in the European continent, without any provocation and without any credible justification. Shortly after, news of human rights violations and acts meeting the definition of war crimes started circulating international media, including allegations of attacking and killings of civilians, using rape and sexual violence against women, abducting children, attacking civilian objects including schools, hospitals and much more.

On May 13, 2022, Vadim Shysimarin, 21, a commander of the Kantemirovskaya tank division, has appeared in court accused of murdering an unarmed man on a bicycle on February 28, 2022, in the village of Chupakhivka, Ukraine. According to the prosecutor, Shysimarin, using AK-47 rifle, shot dead the unarmed man after being ordered “to kill a civilian so he would not report them to Ukrainian defenders.”

This is the first, but will not be the last trial of Russian crimes in the war against Ukraine. Indeed, Ukraine’s general prosecutor registered 11,200 alleged crimes. These include killings, abuse, rape and sexual violence and much more. Unicef reports that more than 100 children were killed in April alone. Russia stands accused of destroying 570 healthcare facilities, including 101 hospitals, in Ukraine.

Further hearings are expected within days, including of two soldiers who stand accused of using “a Soviet truck-mounted 122mm multiple rocket launcher to carry out artillery shelling of homes and civilian buildings in the village of Kozacha Lopan, in Kharkiv district.” Allegedly, they also hit an education institution in Dergachiv.

In another upcoming trial, Mikhail Romanov, a Russian soldier, is accused of breaking into a house in a village in the Brovarsky region, murdering a man and repeatedly raping his wife. Another soldier stands accused of raping a 33-year-old woman.

Furthermore, a few countries, including Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden, are conducting investigations with a view of domestic prosecutions based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement to jointly conduct the investigation. The United Kingdom announced deploying a team of war crimes experts to support Ukraine with investigations into Russian atrocities.

In addition, the crimes are also investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On March 16, 2022, the ICJ ordered to Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on February 24, 2022, in the territory of Ukraine; (…) ensure that any military or irregular armed units which may be directed or supported by it, as well as any organizations and persons which may be subject to its control or direction, take no steps in furtherance of the military operations referred to in point.” Putin ignored the order. Lastly, work is being done to establish an ad-hoc tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression. The crime of aggression is not covered in the investigations by the ICC, and as such, the ad-hoc tribunal is to complement the ongoing legal efforts.

All these legal steps are taken to ensure that justice and accountability define the response to Putin’s war.