Ukraine has held a preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman during Moscow’s invasion, the first of what could be dozens of such cases.
The suspect, Mikhail Romanov, 32, who will be tried in absentia, is accused of breaking into a house in March in a village in the Brovarsky region outside Kyiv, murdering a man and then repeatedly raping his wife while threatening her and her child.
After a preliminary hearing in Kyiv on Thursday, prosecutor Oksana Kalyus told reporters that the woman requested for the trial to be held behind closed doors because of concerns for her privacy. The prosecutor said that officials believed Romanov was alive and currently residing in Russia.
While it is highly unlikely Moscow would extradite Romanov if the soldier was sentenced, Kalyus said Ukraine would ask for his arrest if he was to leave Russia for a third country.
“If he crosses the border, he will be arrested and delivered to Ukraine,” she said.
The Guardian was unable to reach Romanov for comment and his apparent partner declined to answer questions.
Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of potential war crimes committed during the Russian invasion, which will mark its fourth month on Friday.
Russian crimes against Ukrainian civilians documented by reporters and prosecutors working Ukraine have included sexual assault, murder and looting. A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters earlier that up to 50 crimes involving sexual assault and rape were being investigated.
After a visit to the Ukrainian capital earlier this month, Pramila Patten, a senior UN official, said the rape cases under investigation “only represent the tip of the iceberg”, describing sexual violence as “the most hidden crime” committed against Ukrainians in the war and urging survivors to come forward.
Not much information is known about Romanov, who has a large bear tattoo on his chest in pictures on social media. During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he served in 239th regiment of the 90th Guards Tank and was involved in the failed offensive on Kyiv.
When Ukraine announced it was launching an investigation into Romanov, the chief prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, said: “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.”
Last month, a court in Kyiv sentenced Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier who was captured by Ukraine, to life in prison for the killing of a Ukrainian civilian.
Commenting on the Shishimarin trial, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia had “no possibilities to defend his interests there”, because of a lack of diplomatic representation in Ukraine.