Ukraine opens first war crimes trial against imprisoned Russian

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Journalists have packed a small courtroom in Kiev for the trial of a captured Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian in the early days of the war — the first of dozens of war crimes cases that Ukraine’s top prosecutor said her office is prosecuting.

Such as the trial of 21-year-old Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin took off in the capital, Russian troops suffered heavy casualties in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they used to cross a river to the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of the battle of Moscow to save a war gone wrong

Ukraine’s airborne command has released photos and video of what it claims is a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River in Bilohorivka and at least 73 destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” from at least one tactical battalion group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

“Crossing rivers in a contentious environment is a very risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure on Russian commanders to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.

Other developments have called into question a move by Finland and possibly Sweden to join NATO when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not positive” about the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.

Erdogan did not say outright that he would block the two nations from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus, meaning each of its 30 member states has a veto over who can join.

An expansion of NATO would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who started the war in what he said was an attempt to thwart the alliance’s advance eastward. But in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion, other nations along Russia’s flank fear they could be next.

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As the Russian offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, appears to be turning into a war of attrition and Ukraine begging for more weapons to fend off the better-equipped Russians, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief announced plans to Kiev an additional 500 million euros ($520 million) to buy heavy weapons.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov welcomed the heavy weapons making their way to the front but admitted that there is no quick end to the war in sight.

“We are entering a new, protracted phase of the war,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “We have extremely difficult weeks ahead of us. How many will there be? No one can say for sure.”

The battle for the Donbas has turned into village by village, plodding back and forth with no major breakthroughs on either side and little territorial gain. In his late-night address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said no one can predict how long the war will last, but his country’s armed forces have made progress, including retaking six Ukrainian cities or towns in the past day.

Fierce fighting is taking place on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. The Ukrainian army has launched counter-attacks but failed to stop Russia’s advance, he said.

“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.

Ukraine’s army chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas said on Friday that troops are in almost complete control of Rubizhne, a city with a pre-war population of about 55,000.

In the ruined southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel mill faced ongoing Russian attacks on the last resistance stronghold in the city. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, said his troops will hold out “as long as they can” despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.

And in Kiev, Ukrainian soldiers dressed in white protective suits loaded the bodies of Russian soldiers into refrigerated rail cars on Friday. The bodies were wrapped in white body bags and stacked several layers deep.

Colonel Volodymyr Lyamzin, who oversaw the operation, said hundreds of bodies were being stored on the trains in the capital and there were several other storage trains elsewhere in the country. He said Ukraine was ready to hand over the bodies to Russia, but so far there is no agreement to do so.

In the first war crimes case to go to trial, Shyshimarin could face life in prison if he was convicted of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28. days into the invasion.

The defendant, dressed in a blue-grey hoodie and gray sweatpants, was kept in a small glass cage during the trial, which lasted about 15 minutes and resumes Wednesday. The trial will be closely monitored by international observers to ensure a fair trial.

Shyshimarin was asked a series of questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He declined the latter.

His Ukraine-assigned lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, has acknowledged that the case against Shyshimarin is strong and has not specified what the soldier’s defense will be.

Shyshimarin, a member of a tank unit captured by Ukrainian forces, admitted to shooting the civilian in a video posted by Ukraine’s security service, saying he was ordered to do so.

Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said she is preparing war crimes against 41 Russian soldiers for crimes including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting. She said two accused of bombing civilian infrastructure and residential buildings are in Ukrainian hands. It was not clear how many of the suspects would be tried in absentia.

Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP employees around the world contributed to this report.

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