By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and RICARDO MAZALAN
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A captured Russian soldier who pleaded guilty to killing a civilian was sentenced by a Ukrainian court Monday to life in prison — the maximum — amid signs the Kremlin may in turn prosecute. to some of the fighters who surrendered at the Mariupol steelworks.
Meanwhile, in a rare public expression of opposition to the war from the ranks of the Russian elite, a veteran Kremlin diplomat has resigned and sent a scathing letter to his foreign colleagues saying of the invasion: “I have never felt so ashamed of my country as of February 24.”
In addition, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia in a video addressed to world leaders and executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
And on the battlefield, heavy fighting raged in the Donbas in the east, where Moscow forces intensified their bombardment. Cities not under Russian control were constantly shelled, and a Ukrainian official said Russian forces attacked civilians trying to flee.
In the first of what could be a host of war crimes trials in Ukraine, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was convicted of the murder of a 62-year-old man who was shot in the head in a village in the northeastern Sumy region in the early days of the war.
Shishimarin, a member of a tank unit, claimed he was following orders and apologized to the man’s widow in court.
His Ukrainian-appointed defense attorney, Victor Ovsyanikov, argued that his client was unprepared for the “violent military confrontation” and massive casualties Russian troops encountered when they invaded. He said that he would appeal.
Ukrainian civil liberties advocate Volodymyr Yavorskyy said it was “an extremely harsh sentence for a murder during the war.” But Aarif Abraham, a Britain-based human rights lawyer, said the trial was carried out “with what appears to be full and fair due process”, including access to a lawyer.
Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating thousands of possible war crimes. Russian forces in Mariupol shelled a theater where civilians were sheltering and attacked a maternity hospital. In the wake of Moscow’s withdrawal from the outskirts of kyiv weeks ago, mass graves were discovered and streets littered with corpses in cities like Bucha.
Before Shishimarin’s sentencing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was unable to defend the soldier but would consider trying to do so “through other channels.”
Mary Ellen O’Connell, an international law expert at the University of Notre Dame, said putting Shishimarin on trial could prove “extremely damaging to Ukrainian soldiers in the hands of Russia.” She said Russia may decide to hold “show trials” of Ukrainians to boost the morale of its own soldiers and spread disinformation.
“Maybe it would have happened without the Ukrainians starting the trials,” O’Connell said. “But the timing suggests that the Ukrainians should have held back and maybe still should, so that the Russians can’t say, ‘We’re just doing to your soldiers what they did to ours.'”
Russian authorities have threatened to hold trials of captured Ukrainians, that is, fighters who held out at the shattered steel plant in Mariupol, the last bastion of the resistance in the strategic southern port city. They surrendered and were taken prisoner last week, at which point Moscow claimed the capture of Mariupol was complete.
Russia’s top investigative body said it intends to question Mariupol defenders to “identify nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.
Russian authorities have taken advantage of the far-right origins of one of the regiments there, calling the Azov Regiment fighters “Nazis” and accusing their commander without evidence of “numerous atrocities”. Russia’s top prosecutor has asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate the Azov Regiment as a terrorist organization.
Relatives of the fighters have called for their eventual return to Ukraine as part of a prisoner swap.
Boris Bondarev, a veteran Russian diplomat at the UN office in Geneva, resigned and sent a letter denouncing the “aggressive war unleashed” by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bondarev told The Associated Press: “What my government is doing now is intolerable.”
In his letter, Bondarev said that those who conceived the war “want only one thing: to remain in power forever, to live in pompous and insipid palaces, to sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, to enjoy unlimited power and total impunity. ”
He also said that the Russian Foreign Ministry is all about “warmongering, lies and hate.”
At the Davos forum, Zelenskyy said that sanctions against the Kremlin must go further. He called for an embargo on Russian oil, a complete cut off of trade and the withdrawal of foreign companies from the country.
“This is what sanctions should be like: they should be maximum, so that Russia and any other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against their neighbor clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” Zelenskyy said, receiving a standing ovation. .
Separately, nearly 50 defense leaders from around the world met on Monday and agreed to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including missiles to protect its coastline, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.
On the battlefield, Russian forces increased their bombardment of Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland of coal mines and factories that Russia is hell-bent on capturing.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said three civilians were killed in Russian strikes there on Monday and heavy fighting continued near the Luhansk region. The Donbas consists of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
He said that the Russians were decimating cities in their attempt to take them over. Only about 320,000 people remain of the region’s prewar population of 1.6 million, and Russian forces are targeting evacuation efforts, he said.
“They are killing us. They are killing the locals during the evacuation,” Kyrylenko said.
On the eve of the three-month anniversary of the start of the war, Zelensky said four missiles had killed 87 people in the town of Desna, 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of kyiv.
The Russians have now concentrated their forces on the cities of Donbas and “are trying to destroy all life,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address to the nation.
In the Luhansk region, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, local authorities reported that a bridge leading to the administrative center of Sievierodonetsk was destroyed, leaving the partially fenced-off town accessible by a single road.
Some of those who fled the Donetsk region shared their suffering.
“We haven’t been able to see the sun for three months. We are almost blind because we were in the dark for three months,” said Rayisa Rybalko, who hid with her family first in her basement and then in a bomb shelter at a school before fleeing her village of Novomykhailivka. “The world should have seen that.”
His son-in-law, Dmytro Khaliapin, said heavy artillery hit the village. “Houses are falling apart,” he said. “It is a horror”.
Scholars reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine