Shaved head and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, Vadim Chichimarine, 21, was transferred in the early afternoon to the Solomiansky district court, where he appeared locked in a glass box.
After the prosecutor read the indictment, the judge asked him if he recognized the facts “in their entirety”.
Accused of violation of the law of war and assassination, the soldier, originally from Irkutsk in Siberia, faces life imprisonment.
After a short intervention by his lawyer, the hearing was suspended. It will resume Thursday with the hearing of the accused, the widow of his victim and two other witnesses.
This trial, which should soon be followed by several others, is a test for the Ukrainian judicial system, at a time when international institutions are carrying out their own investigations into the abuses committed since the start of the Russian invasion.
Many international journalists gathered on Wednesday in the tiny rooms of the court to follow this hearing broadcast live on the internet.
– “Order to shoot” –
According to the prosecution, Sergeant Vadim Chichimarine was commanding a small unit within a tank division when his convoy was attacked on February 28, just four days after the start of the invasion.
With four other soldiers, he then stole a car. Near the village of Choupakhivka, in the region of Sumy (north-east), they had met a 62-year-old man, who was pushing his bicycle while telephoning.
“One of the soldiers told the accused to kill the civilian so that he would not denounce them”, according to the services of the general prosecutor. Vadim Chichimarine then fired a Kalashnikov from the window of the vehicle and “the man died instantly, a few tens of meters from his home”, they added.
In early May, the Ukrainian authorities announced his arrest without giving details, while publishing a video in which Vadim Chichimarine said he had come to fight in Ukraine to “support his mother financially”.
Regarding the charges against him, he explained: “I received the order to shoot, I shot him once. He fell and we continued on our way”.
On leaving court, prosecutor Andriï Syniouk told the media that the Russian had “not received an order, but an instruction from someone who was not his superior and that he was not not obligated to listen”.
Asked about the admission of guilt of the young soldier, his lawyer, Victor Ovsiannikov, considered that it “reflected his personal attitude towards the crime”.
“For my part, I have some doubts about the characterization of the crime,” he said, hinting that he could challenge the charges against the young soldier.
– 11,000 surveys –
This trial sends a “clear message: no executioner, no person who ordered or helped to commit crimes in Ukraine will escape justice”, said on Twitter the Attorney General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova ahead of the hearing.
Its services have, according to it, already opened more than 11,000 war crimes investigations and identified 40 suspects.
Another trial is due to open Thursday in the northeast of the country: that of two Russian soldiers accused of having fired rockets at civilian infrastructure in the region of Kharkiv, the country’s second city.
“These procedures are much faster than usual”, when it sometimes takes five years between a crime and a verdict, according to Olexandre Pavlichenko, director of the Ukrainian branch of the human rights association Helsinki Group. “It’s probably because the motivations are both legal and political,” he told AFP.
For him, the question is therefore whether “we will have a real judicial process or just a theatrical performance for the public”. And the answer will depend, according to him, on the fate reserved for Sergeant Chichimarine after the verdict: will he serve his sentence in Ukraine or will he benefit from an exchange of prisoners?
Without waiting for the sentence, his relatives, interviewed by the Russian press, began to plead in this direction. “We are in an information war”, lamented his father Evguéni, quoted in the newspaper Nastoïachtchee Vremia, asking for his return.