by Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth
KYIV, May 19 (Reuters) – A 21-year-old Russian soldier on Thursday asked for forgiveness from the widow of a Ukrainian man he is accused of killing, on the second day of his war crimes trial, the first organized by Kyiv since the invasion of the country by the Russian army on February 24.
Vadim Chichimarine, who commanded a tank, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the murder of a 62-year-old unarmed civilian on February 28 in Chupakhivka, a village in northeastern Ukraine.
“I recognize my responsibility (..) I ask you to forgive me”, he declared Thursday to the widow of his victim, Katerina Chalipova, from the glass box in which he appeared, dressed in a tracksuit, skull shaved and head bowed.
The Kremlin has declared that it has no information on this trial, explaining that the absence of diplomatic representation in Ukraine limits its ability to provide legal assistance to the accused.
During her court hearing, Katerina Chalipova explained that she heard shots coming from her garden on the day of the incident. “I ran to my husband, he was already dead. From a bullet in the head. I screamed, I screamed so much,” she said.
She specified that her husband was unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes. The couple had a 27-year-old son and two grandchildren.
She said she would not oppose a possible transfer of Vadim Chichimarin to Russia in the framework of a prisoner exchange if it would allow the return of “our guys” taken during the siege of Mariupol, in reference to the hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered to Russian troops.
Ukraine says it has identified more than 10,000 possible cases of war crimes committed by Russia since the start of the invasion, while Moscow denies that its army has targeted civilians or participated in war crimes.
Vadim Chichimarine is accused of having, on orders, fired several shots at his victim with an assault rifle from a car. Asked if he had been forced to obey an order that constituted a war crime, he replied “no”.
“I fired a short burst, three or four bullets,” he told the court.
“I come from Irkutsk oblast (in Siberia-ed), I have two brothers and two sisters (..) I am the eldest,” he said.
The defendant faces life imprisonment if convicted.
(Reportage Max Hunder, French version Marc Angrand, edited by Kate Entringer)