A Russian soldier is now being charged with murdering a man and subsequently raping the man’s wife in what is the first rape case of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The Russian forces have been accused of many war crimes and crimes against humanity over the course of the now 4-month-old war. From the atrocities and summary executions discovered in Bucha to down south in Mariupol, where children and civilians have been bombed, the Russian forces seem to be lacking in military discipline and taking out their rage on civilians.

Mikhail Romanov, the Russian soldier in question, allegedly broke into a house last March in a village near the Brovary. There, the Russian soldier murdered a Ukrainian man. He would go on to allegedly rape the man’s wife, threatening the Ukrainian woman and her child with violence. The nature of the threat was not revealed. Another unidentified soldier also raped the woman.

“A drunk soldier, along with another occupier, immediately after the murder, raped his wife several times,” Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said.

“They threatened the woman with weapons and violence even regarding her child, who was with her at the time.”

Venediktova announced the landmark case on social media by identifying Mikhail Romanov, a serviceman from the 239th Regiment of the 90th Guards Tank Vitebsk-Novogorod Division. In a peculiar fashion, Romanov will be tried in absentia as he was never really captured by Ukrainian forces in the first place.

“Now we don’t know where he is – maybe he is fighting still, maybe he is on rotation in the Russian federation, maybe he is dead. We don’t know, but we want to prosecute him in absentia,” Venediktova said.

“We want to demonstrate to these criminals that we will find them. And we will prevent the deaths of other people in other territories.”

Romanov was reportedly identified through social media, where the victim identified the man. The soldier has a distinctive tattoo of a bear on his chest, which may have been the determining marker for the victim.

Venediktova traveled to Poland to speak with British attorney general Suella Braverman. There, she was provided with a former international criminal court judge as an adviser. It was also reported that 36 other war crime suspects were also to be prosecuted, with their individual cases being at various stages.

She added on her Facebook account that she wanted to help victims feel safe and that they could always turn to the Ukrainian government to prosecute Russian soldiers who have been accused of war crimes. However, with little evidence, photographs, and other needed materials to identify Russian soldiers, it would be difficult to catch them and bring them to justice. More so, some of these Russian soldiers may be already dead or have been returned to Russia. It is unlikely that the Russian government would cooperate with proceedings.

What does this entail? Since Romanov is not in Ukrainian custody, with his whereabouts unknown, Romanov can get away scot-free if he is determined to be guilty by Ukrainian courts. However, if he is somehow captured in the future, he will face the penalty the court will set.

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“Even though the accused is not currently in our hands, he will not escape a fair trial and accountability before the law,” she explained.

The Russians have been doing horribly in Ukraine in terms of military performance. Many analysts hypothesize that the Russians were trying to instill fear into the civilian population of Ukraine to try and get them to fold under their command. Another theory is that the Russians had been very frustrated with their lack of military success in Ukraine that they decided to take out their frustration on civilians, many of which were found in varying degrees of abuse.

SOFREP extensively followed the atrocities the Russian forces have been accused of in Bucha and Mariupol. In Bucha, SOFREP obtained exclusive images of the alleged Russian atrocities, which showed dead Ukrainians who were found shot in the back of the head with their hands tied to their backs. Some were found with cloth tied to their neck, which may indicate that they were suffocated prior to being shot. Others were found face-first on the streets across Yablonska St. Many of the bodies were buried in mass graves or burned.

Ukrainian civilians dead on the ground after allegedly being shot by Russian forces in Bucha (Ostap Yarysh). Source: https://twitter.com/OstapYarysh/status/1521180759855411202
Ukrainian civilians dead on the ground after allegedly being shot by Russian forces in Bucha (Ostap Yarysh/Twitter)

In Mariupol, which is now largely seen worldwide as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, was first seen as one of the cities that had suffered intensified bombings in the three months it was sieged. There, a drama theater where civilians had been taking shelter was bombed, with multiple hospitals shelled. Many fear that if the city is liberated, more evidence of war crimes will be found.

Last May 18th, a Russian soldier pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov. The case was the very first war crime trial in Ukraine since Russia invaded. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21 years old, admitted to killing a 62-year-old man in Sumy just four days into the invasion.

According to reports, Shishimarin was ordered to kill the civilian as the man had been on the phone. His unit feared that the man was reporting their position as they stole a car after their vehicle broke down. The soldier asked forgiveness from the widow of the man during the trial after pleading guilty.

“Yes, I admit guilt. I understand that you will not be able to forgive me. I ask for forgiveness for what was done,” Shishimarin answered when asked by the widow why the Russians came to Ukraine in the first place.

“I feel very sorry for him, but for a crime like that – I can’t forgive him,” the widow said.

Vadim Shishimarin, a Russian soldier who pleaded killing a Ukrainian civilian (Defence of Ukraine). Source: https://twitter.com/DefenceU/status/1528812336252956676
Vadim Shishimarin, a Russian soldier who pleaded killing a Ukrainian civilian (Defence of Ukraine/Twitter)

While war crime trials can be highly biased, there is evidence to suggest that Ukraine will be trying to be as objective as possible as they have international criminal court judges advising them. However, it is still completely possible that they are swayed by their emotions in these trials, as one may imagine.

Another piece of evidence that Ukraine will be fair is that Shishimarin’s court-appointed lawyer, Victor Ovsyanikov, was going to appeal the decision despite the Russian soldier’s admission to the crime.

Legal experts fear that if Ukraine continues to prosecute low-ranking soldiers in an attempt to make an example out of them, Russia might do the same to Ukrainian POWs. This is likely since the Ukrainian forces that surrendered to Russian forces were already accused of war crimes and were going to be prosecuted for them.