A 21-year-old Russian soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to the cold-blooded murder of a Ukrainian civilian, as kyiv launched a judicial reckoning for alleged atrocities after nearly three months of war.
Ukraine’s first war crimes trial since Russia invaded on February 24 came as President Vladimir Putin was also forced to consider the possibility of NATO vastly expanding its reach across its borders.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the requests would not have been expected a short time ago, “but Putin’s dire ambitions have transformed the geopolitical contours of our continent.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded “respect” from NATO for his government’s concerns.
On the ground, in the ruined Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, a unit of soldiers holding out at the Azovstal steel plant has already been bearing the brunt of Russia’s aggression for weeks.
– ‘Beyond normal’ –
A pro-Russian separatist leader put the number of Ukrainian fighters still inside at more than 1,000.
“The way I see it, there are normal people, and then there are those guys,” he told AFP.
The ministry, which released images showing soldiers on stretchers, said the wounded were taken to a hospital in the eastern Donetsk region controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.
But their fate was unclear, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether they would be treated as criminals or prisoners of war.
Russia’s alleged disregard for international law has manifested itself in Ukraine with accusations, including mass rapes and massacres, which are also being investigated by international bodies.
Vadim Shishimarin, a shaven-headed sergeant from Irkutsk in Siberia, is expected to be the first of many to be prosecuted by Ukraine itself. He faces life in prison after pleading guilty to him in a packed kyiv court.
The Russian government has no information about the soldier, Peskov said, adding that many of these cases reported by Ukraine are “simply false or staged.”
The International Criminal Court is deploying its largest field team yet in Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff sent to the field to collect evidence of suspected war crimes.
But Russia says it is hell-bent on eliminating a “Nazi” threat on its borders.
– ‘My war is not over’ –
Despite their last-minute resistance in places like Mariupol and their successful defense of kyiv, Ukrainian forces are withdrawing across swathes of the eastern front.
Army volunteer Yaroslava, 51, sat on a concrete slab jutting out of the remains of a school in Sydorove, where her husband’s unit had camped before it was hit by a Russian attack.
“We had settled in London before the war, but we felt we had no choice but to return,” Yaroslava said.
“My war is not over.”