Amidst mounting evidence of Russian forces committing war crimes in Ukraine, two more Russian soldiers plead guilty in what is the second war crimes trial in the four months of fighting.

The Russian soldiers in question, Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, pled guilty at their trial at a Kotelevska district court in Ukraine, with both of the soldiers being sentenced to 11 and 1/2 years for committing war crimes, specifically for “violating the laws and customs of war.”

The two soldiers admitted that they were part of an artillery unit that fired at the Kharkiv region from the nearby Belgorod region in Russia. Bobikin was reportedly a driver for the artillery system, and Ivanov was a gunner. The pair were captured after they crossed into Ukraine and were apprehended. The shelling reportedly destroyed many buildings, including a school found in the Ukrainian city of Derhachi. Despite the shelling, no casualties were reported in the shelling of the school.

Alexander Bobikin and gunner Alexander Ivanov in a reinforced glass box during their trial (WithUkraine 24/7). Source: https://twitter.com/With__Ukraine/status/1529935023859716098
Alexander Bobikin and gunner Alexander Ivanov in a reinforced glass box during their trial (WithUkraine 24/7|Twitter)

“I am completely guilty of the crimes of which I am accused. We fired at Ukraine from Russia,” Bobikin said. Ivanov, on the other hand, said that he repented. Afterward, he asked for a reduction in his prison sentence.

During the trial, the two soldiers were confined to a reinforced glass box. Their defense lawyer asked the court for leniency as the two soldiers were allegedly just following the orders of their superiors and that they were extremely aware of the gravity of the things they had done.

This development comes after the first trial for war crimes concluded with 21-year-old Russian soldier Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin confessed to killing an unarmed civilian named Oleksandr Shelipov, a 62-year-old man. Shishimarin confessed to shooting the man as he was ordered to do so. Despite asking for forgiveness from Shelipov’s widow, he was not forgiven and was imposed a life sentence by Ukrainian Judge Serhiy Agafonov.

“Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity, and the international legal order… the court does not see the possibility of imposing a [shorter] sentence of imprisonment,” he said.

This also follows the first rape trial of the war, with Russian soldier Mikhail Romanov being charged with murder and rape as he allegedly killed a Ukrainian man and then raped the man’s wife. This case is also unique as Romanov is not in Ukrainian custody and will be tried in absentia.

Forced to Fight by the Russian Government, Left to Face the Consequences

If what Shishimarin says is the truth, then he possibly belongs to the many Russian soldiers (and conscripts) who were forced to fight in Ukraine, possibly not knowing why they were there in the first place.

Keep in mind that this is not an excuse to shoot civilians. This just shows how much training, discipline, and values the Russian forces instill in their troops, that it is okay to shoot civilians and that anything goes in a war – which is clearly wrong and violates international law.

The Russians have long been accused of shelling civilians in Ukraine, with the most gruesome being the Bucha massacre which saw civilians being tied up, tortured, shot in the head, and burned. More so, the Russians have also bombed evacuees trying to get out of hot zones, civilian shelters, and even hospitals, claiming that Ukrainian forces were inside these buildings.

Executed Russian-supporting civilians with wrists bound in plastic restraints, in basement in Bucha. 3 April 2022 (Військове телебачення України, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons). Sources: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Executed_people_in_basement_in_Bucha.jpg
Executed Russian-supporting civilians with wrists bound in plastic restraints in a basement in Bucha. 3 April 2022 (Військове телебачення УкраїниCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

SOFREP has closely followed this phenomenon in detail since the start of the war last February 24th. We have reported on several pieces of vital evidence that the Russians have used untrained conscripts to fight their war, mostly with flimsy military equipment and old Mosin-Nagant rifles, which are older than most of our readers.

More so, mounting evidence that Russian soldiers are threatened and coerced to fight in Ukraine by serving them with potential criminal charges if they decide not to fight.

SOFREP reported on a story wherein Russian contract soldiers were told that they would be stationed somewhere in Russia, then were sent to Ukraine without knowing they were already in Ukraine. This story also gave us an insight into the realities the Russian soldiers faced. They did not have food (not really surprising at this point) and had to forage for something to eat – with some Russians allegedly eating stray dogs to feed themselves.

“We have no idea who we’re fighting against or fighting for or how we’re doing it. I don’t want to criticize the army. I don’t know if they had a commanding officer with them; they aren’t allowed to disclose this over the phone. But I concluded they had been abandoned,” a mother of a Russian contract soldier said.

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What Does the Geneva Convention Say About Killing Civilians?

Plain and simple, you can’t attack civilians.

Apparently, the Russians do not know how to read as the Geneva convention clearly outlines what you can and can’t do in a war. Even wars have policies and rules to follow, so Russia possibly decided to call it a special military operation to keep them out of the bounds of the Geneva convention? If that was their plan, then it clearly didn’t work.

We have war rules for a purpose. Apparently, the Russians missed out on the part where it says you should not attack civilians, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention that outlines the protection of civilian persons in times of war.

“Non-combatants, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, with the following prohibitions:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

More so, the Geneva convention also bans forced transfers and deportations of civilians by the “occupying power” into their territory and cannot also move their citizens to the occupied territories. Forced deportations through “filtration camps” have also been reported to be done by the Russian forces, with over 1.55 million Ukrainians being forced into Russia.

Many fear that these war crimes will become tit-for-tat as the Ukrainians continue to charge Russian soldiers with war crimes, and the Russians also charge Ukrainian POWs with war crimes.

The difference, however, is that the Russian justice system is highly biased and politicized. We are not saying that the Ukrainians are not susceptible to bias. However, it has been reported that they are being assisted by former international criminal court judges, making their justice system more reliable than the Russians. To be fair, the Ukrainians are prosecuting the Russians very fast, which indicates that they are somewhat moved by their emotions by holding individual Russian soldiers for the broader conflict, questioning the adequacy of the defense.

These trials of Russian soldiers for war crimes also serve several other purposes.

First, they demonstrate that Ukraine has a functioning government with courts of law.

Second, the recent life sentence handed down rather than summary execution is a public demonstration of Ukraine’s restraint in meting out justice to its aggressors, especially conscript privates who tend to be very young.

Finally, both Russia and Ukraine are holding POWs, there have been several exchanges so far. Those tried for crimes and imprisoned have a higher relative value in exchange than ordinary POWs do.  Russia has recently said they will put two UK nationals captured fighting for Ukrain on trial as criminals.  These war crime trials of Russian soldiers will create bargaining chips of equal value in a future exchange of prisoners between the two countries.