Live: First war crimes trial since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine set to begin in Kyiv

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Ukrainian servicemen sit in a bus after they were evacuated from the besieged Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

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The first war crimes trial since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, against a Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian, is set to get underway in Kyiv later today. The trial could be the first of many.

At the same time, the fall of Mariupol finally appears to be at hand, with Ukraine moving to abandon the sprawling steel plant where its soldiers have held out under relentless bombardment for the past few months.

Read our live coverage below for more of the key events as they developed throughout Wednesday.

08:35

NATO Secretary General welcomes Finnish and Swedish requests to join NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Finland and Sweden have applied to join the world’s biggest military alliance, a move driven by security concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday after a receiving their application letters from the two Nordic countries’ ambassadors.

The application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries’ heads.

(AP)

08:31

Russia making significant use of auxiliary forces, says UK

In its latest Defence Intelligence update, the British Ministry of Defence has highlighted the role that auxiliary forces are playing in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In attempting to overcome Ukrainian resistance, Russia has made significant use of auxiliary personnel. This includes a deployment of Chechen forces, likely consisting of several thousand fighters primarily concentrated in the Mariupol and Luhansk sectors,” it writes.

“These forces likely consist of both individual volunteers and National Guard units, which are routinely dedicated to securing the rule of Chechen Republic Head, Ramazan Kadyrov. Kadyrov likely maintains close personal oversight of the deployment, while his cousin Adam Delimkhanov has likely acted as the Chechen field commander in Mariupol.

The combat deployment of such disparate personnel demonstrates Russia’s significant resourcing problems in Ukraine and is likely contributing to a disunited command which continues to hamper Russia’s operations,” it added.

07:31

UN chief expected to disclose talks on Ukraine grain exports

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres is expected to publicly disclose on Wednesday that he is in talks with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States and the European Union aimed at restoring Ukraine grain shipments and reviving fertiliser exports from Russia and Belarus, Reuters reports.

The war in Ukraine has fuelled soaring global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser, and Guterres has warned that it will worsen food, energy and economic crises in poor countries.

07:23

US launches program to research, document and publicise potential war crimes in Ukraine

The US State Department on Tuesday announced the launch of a new program to capture and analyse evidence of war crimes and other atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine, as Washington seeks to ensure Moscow is held accountable for its actions.

The State Department in a statement said the so-called Conflict Observatory will encompass documentation, verification and dissemination of open-source evidence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Russia denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged.

The State Department said the new program, which is being established with an initial $6 million investment, will analyse and preserve information, including satellite imagery and information shared on social media, so it can be used in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms.

(Reuters)

07:13

Ukraine hopes to swap Mariupol fighters for Russian POWs

Ukrainian fighters extracted from the last bastion of resistance in Mariupol have been taken to a former penal colony in Russian-controlled territory, reports AP, with a top Ukrainian military official saying he hoped that they could be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war.

However, one Moscow lawmaker said they should be brought to “justice.”

Russian news agencies are reporting that the Russian parliament plans to take up a resolution Wednesday to prevent the exchange of Azov Regiment fighters, who held out for months inside the Azovstal steelworks plant while Mariupol was under siege.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, said negotiations for the fighters’ release were ongoing, as were plans to rescue those who were still inside the sprawling steel mill.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “the most influential international mediators are involved” in the plans. Officials have not said how many remain inside.

06:54

Ukrainian guerrillas kill Russian officers in Melitopol

Ukrainian guerrilla fighters reportedly have killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the southern city of Melitopol, the regional administration said on Telegram on Tuesday evening.

Russian forces have occupied the city since early in the war.

According to the regional administration, the occupiers are trying to conceal the situation but Russian troops were more actively checking private cars in the city Tuesday, most likely looking for the guerrillas.

No details of the killings were given and the report could not immediately be confirmed.

Throughout the war, the Ukrainians have claimed to have killed many Russian generals and other officers. A few of the deaths have been confirmed by the Russians.

(AP)

06:37

First war crimes trial since invasion of Ukraine begins today

The first war crimes trial since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, against a Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian, gets underway in Kyiv on Wednesday.

The trial, expected to be followed by several others, will test the Ukrainian justice system at a time when international institutions are also conducting their own investigations into abuses committed by Russian forces.

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, will appear at Kyiv’s Solomyansky district court from 2:00pm (1200 CET) over the death of a 62-year-old man in northeastern Ukraine on 28th February.

Charged with war crimes and premeditated murder, the soldier from Irkutsk in Siberia faces a possible life sentence.

“He understands what he is being accused of,” his lawyer Viktor Ovsiannikov told AFP, without revealing the case for the defence.

Ukrainian authorities say Shishimarin is cooperating with investigators and admitting the facts of the incident which came just four days after the Russian invasion began.

Prosecutors said Shishimarin was commanding a unit in a tank division when his convoy came under attack. He and four other soldiers stole a car, and as they were travelling near the village of Shupakhivka in the Sumy region, they encountered a 62-year-old man on a bicycle.

“One of the soldiers ordered the accused to kill the civilian so that he would not denounce them,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Shishimarin then fired a Kalashnikov assault rifle from the window of the vehicle and “the man died instantly, a few dozen metres from his home”, they added in a statement.

In early May, Ukrainian authorities announced his arrest without giving details, while publishing a video in which Shishimarin said he had come to fight in Ukraine to “support his mother financially”.

He explained his actions saying: “I was ordered to shoot, I shot him once. He fell and we continued our journey.”

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor Iryna Venediktova underlined the importance of the case for her country in a series of tweets.

“We have over 11,000 ongoing cases of war crimes and already 40 suspects,” she said.

“By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility.”

Two Russian servicemen are due to go on trial from Thursday for firing rockets at civilian infrastructure in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

(AFP)

06:23

Russia holding 3,000 civilians in former penal colony, says human rights ombudsman

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman said the Russian military was holding more than 3,000 civilians from Mariupol at a former penal colony near Olenivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Seven buses carrying an unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant were seen arriving Tuesday at former penal colony No. 120 near Olenivka.

Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said on Telegram earlier Tuesday that the civilians were being held at former penal colony No. 52, also near Olenivka.

She said most civilians are held for a month, but those considered “particularly unreliable,” including former soldiers and police, are held for two months.

Denisova said those held include about 30 volunteers who delivered humanitarian supplies to Mariupol while it was under Russian siege.

(AP)

06:19

Fall of Mariupol at hand

The fall of Mariupol appears to be at hand as Ukraine is moving to abandon the sprawling steel plant where its soldiers have held out under relentless bombardment for the last few months.

This would make it the biggest Ukrainian city to fall into Russian hands since the start of the war, reports the Associated Press.

Much of the steel plant has now been reduced to rubble.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine is working to get its remaining troops safely out of the Azovstal steel plant.

In his nightly video address to the nation, Zelenskyy said the evacuation mission was being supervised by Ukraine’s military and intelligence officers and “the most influential international mediators are involved.”

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have left the Azovstal steel plant and turned themselves over to Russian hands.

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