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Russian pleads guilty as Ukraine holds first war crimes trial


Despite their last-ditch resistance in places such as Mariupol, and their successful defence of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces are retreating across swathes of the eastern front

A 21-year-old Russian soldier on Wednesday pleaded guilty to the cold-blooded murder of a Ukrainian civilian, as Kyiv began a judicial reckoning for alleged atrocities after nearly three months of war.

Ukraine’s first trial for war crimes since Russia invaded on February 24 came as President Vladimir Putin was forced also to reckon with the prospect of NATO vastly expanding its reach on his borders.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the applications would not have been expected a short time ago, “but Putin’s appalling ambitions have transformed the geopolitical contours of our continent”.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded “respect” from NATO over his government’s concerns.

On the ground, in Ukraine’s ruined port city of Mariupol, a unit of soldiers holding out in the Azovstal steelworks have 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.

“As I see it, there are normal people, and then there’s those guys,” he told AFP.

The ministry, which published images showing soldiers on stretchers, said the injured were transported to a hospital in the eastern Donetsk region controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.

But their fate was unclear, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refusing to say whether they would be treated as criminals or prisoners of war.

Russia’s alleged disregard for international law has played out in Ukraine with accusations — including mass rape and massacres — that are under investigation also by international bodies.

Vadim Shishimarin, a shaven-headed sergeant from Irkutsk in Siberia, is expected to be the first of many prosecuted by Ukraine itself. He faces a life sentence after his guilty plea in a cramped Kyiv courtroom.

Russia’s government has no information on the soldier, Peskov said, adding that many such cases reported by Ukraine are “simply fake or staged”.

The International Criminal Court is deploying its largest-ever field team to Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff being sent into the field to gather evidence of alleged war crimes.

But Russia says it is bent on eliminating a “Nazi” threat on its borders.

– ‘My war is not over’ –

Despite their last-ditch resistance in places such as Mariupol, and their successful defence of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces are retreating across swathes of the eastern front.

Army volunteer Yaroslava, 51, sat on a slab of concrete jutting out from the remains of a school in Sydorove where her husband’s unit set up camp before it was hit by a Russian strike.

“We had settled in London before the war but felt like we had no choice but to come back,” Yaroslava said.

“My war is not over.”

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