‘I Do Not Even Know What Justice Is For Me’
Ignatius Ivlev-Yorke and Chris York meet the widow of a man killed in cold blood by a Russian soldier given a life sentence by a Ukrainian court
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The Ukrainian widow of a man gunned down in cold blood by a Russian soldier said last week that she would like to see his killer spend the rest of his life in prison. Today, a court in Kyiv granted her wish.
Twenty-one-year-old Vadim Shishimarin has been sentenced to life imprisonment, showing no emotion as the verdict was read.
Speaking to Byline Times after the verdict was handed down, Kateryna Shelipova said the court “gave him what he deserved” and “thank god it’s over”. Asked if she was happy with the outcome, she paused and sounding less than convinced, said: “Well, yes.”
Kateryna met Oleksandr Shelypov at a wedding in 1980. He was the best man and she was the maid of honour. They immediately hit it off but had to wait two years until he came out of the army before they married in 1982. They would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary later this year, with their son and two granddaughters, in their home village of Chupakhivka.
But the unimaginably horrific events of 28 February now mean that this will never happen.
Home to little more than 2,000 people, Chupakhivka sits on the bank of the Tashan river in Sumy province, 290km due east of Kyiv and just 70km from the border with Russia.
Four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, on 28 February, Russian soldiers entered the town. One of those soldiers was 21-year-old tank-unit sergeant Shishimarin.
The day had begun badly for his unit. A friendly fire incident the night before meant that a small convoy, of which Shishimarin was part, was tasked with evacuating the wounded men when it came under fire from Ukrainian forces. Shishimarin and four other soldiers stole a car and began to drive through Chupakhivka.
Meanwhile, already used to the sounds and routines of the war, Oleksandr and Kateryna took shelter in their home. Over a freshly prepared lunch of tomatoes, cucumber and sausage last week, Kateryna went over what happened the day her husband was killed.
“I don’t know what day of the week it was, but it was the 28 February,” she told Byline Times. “There were tanks on the street that night. We hid in the cellar and he sat on the stairs all night and read. In the morning, he told me ‘I’m very cold, I’ll go to bed for a bit’.
“While he slept, I made breakfast. When it was ready, I woke him up and told him to come eat. He said ‘let it cool down a bit, I’ll lie for a tad longer’. Later, he got up and ate breakfast and told me a tank had been blown up during the night – we didn’t know whose. ‘I’ll go and have look’ he said. I told him not to go but he said ‘it’s fine, everyone is looking so I’ll go’. He took his bicycle and left.
“And then… I was in the yard and I heard the burst of a machine gun. I went in the house and told the girls ‘girls, something is happening. Someone is shooting. Either our guys or the Russians, I heard a machine gun’. We stayed inside for a bit and then I went to get water from the well. As soon I came out the house, I heard more shooting, much closer this time. I opened the gate and looked out – and there it was, the barrel of a machine gun. I quickly shut the gate and leaned against the fence.”
At this point, Kateryna didn’t know who, if anyone, had been shot. But she did see who had fired. Pointing to a photo of Shishimarin, she said: “Yes. The little one. Him, yes. I’m sure it was him, I don’t know if he noticed me, but I saw him clear as day. They were driving past just as I peered out from the gate. They were driving slow, the car had flat tyres – they had taken a civilian car from someone.”
Kateryna said she stood there for five minutes before going back into the house.
“I told the girls I heard shots right next to the house, but I had no idea what had been shot at,” she said. “I went into the house and said ‘girls, my gramps has been gone for a long time. I’ll call him, I wonder where he is. There’s shooting going on here, and he’s not home’. I didn’t even stop to think that it could have been him who had been killed.
“Then I went outside. I came out the gate and saw… they’d shot him in the head. His brains were splattered all around. I started to scream, the neighbours ran up, but… well, he’d been shot in the head.”
During the trial, Shishimarin told the court that an officer sitting in the front of the car they were in had ordered him to shoot Oleksandr, but that he had hesitated. It was only after another soldier shouted at him, saying that he could give away their positions, that he released a volley of bullets from his rifle. Why did he do it? “So that [the soldiers] would leave me alone”, he would later tell the court. Oleksandr was killed instantly.
Kateryna asked Shishimarin during the trial what he had felt towards her husband when he shot him. “Fear,” he answered.
“He was just talking to a friend on the phone,” Kateryna told Byline Times of Oleksandr’s last movements. “A friend called him, he pulled out the phone, they started to speak, the friend told me at his funeral. Then shots were fired, and the line went dead. I guess they saw the phone in his hands and shot him. Perhaps they thought he was reporting their positions to someone.
“The soldier who killed him said the commanding officer had ordered him to shoot. Well, say you had to shoot, but why shoot a person – why couldn’t you have missed?”
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Kateryna is struggling with her feelings towards the man who killed her husband. On the one hand, she sees a young boy caught up in a tragic war. On the other, she sees a soldier in an army committing unspeakable atrocities on her country, her people and her family.
“I do not even know what justice is for me,” she said. “I would like him to get life imprisonment, but… even after he does the time, he’s not a person anymore. I hope he gets the punishment he deserves, and that’s it.
“I feel sorry for him, as a child. Very. He’s a young, green child. But then I saw what they did in Bucha, in Hostomel, in Mariupol… there is no excuse for them. No, I do not forgive them. It is important that he is found guilty. They committed a very great atrocity. You can’t forgive them for that. We have forgiven so much already.
“I believe that soldiers should fight with soldiers – not civilians, not children. And the children, so many children have died. Are they to blame for this? Of course not. I also have two granddaughters. God forbid that something… No, it’s unforgivable.”
Even before his life sentence was handed down, there was talk that Shishimarin could be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war – something Kateryna supports.
“It’s not for me to decide, but I would like to see him exchanged for our boys,” she told Byline Times. “If we can get even one of our boys back, then that’s a life we have saved.”
Regardless of Shishimarin’s fate, Kateryna Shelipova now has to rebuild her life without the person she has shared it with for more than four decades. All this in the shadow of the ongoing war, suffering and hardships inflicted upon Ukraine by Russia’s invasion.
Asked what she will do now the trial is over, she said: “I will live on slowly, day by day, waiting for victory.”