First Russian soldier appears in court accused of raping Ukrainian woman

Mikhail Romanov, 32, is accused of murdering man and then violating his wife in what could be a precursor to many more similar prosecutions

A Ukrainian woman who was raped by Russian soldiers in Boradyanka Credit: Paul Grover

The first trial of a Russian soldier accused of raping a Ukrainian woman during the war started on Thursday, heralding what could be many more similar prosecutions.

A preliminary hearing was held in the case of Mikhail Romanov, a 32-year-old Russian soldier who is accused of murdering a man and then repeatedly raping his wife in front of her child.

Romanov will be tried in absentia as his whereabouts are unknown – he could be still fighting in Ukraine, on leave back in Russia or even dead.

Ukrainian prosecutors accuse him of shooting dead a male civilian in the region around Kyiv on March 9, shortly after the Russian invasion began, and then raping the man’s widow, aged 33.

It is alleged that Romanov and another soldier shot dead the husband, named Oleksiy, at point blank range in the village of Bohdanivka, northeast of the capital.

They raped the man’s wife and then returned twice to rape her again, it is alleged.

Mikhail Romanov, a 32-year-old Russian soldier, is accused of murdering a man and then repeatedly raping his wife in front of her child

The alleged victim shouted to her four-year-old son to stay hidden in the boiler room while she was allegedly raped for several hours, The Times reported.

“[The younger soldier] told me to take my clothes off. Then they both raped me, one after the other,” she told the newspaper.

“They didn’t care that my son was in the boiler room crying.”

Romanov is believed to have been serving with the 239th regiment of the 90th Guards Tank Division at the time.

The alleged murder and rape occurred during the Russians’ ultimately botched attempt to take Kyiv and topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trial to be held behind closed doors

The trial will be held behind closed doors after a request from the victim, who wants to retain her anonymity.

A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters that up to 50 such crimes were being investigated, but that the number of cases of sexual violence by Russian soldiers since the invasion began on February 24 was likely to be substantially higher.

Ukraine says it is investigating thousands of potential war crimes, from sexual assault and murder to torture and looting, committed during Moscow’s invasion.

Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, told Reuters that many of the suspects are in Russia but that some have been captured as prisoners of war by Ukrainian forces.

She said that even if Romanov was not in Ukrainian custody, it was important that the trial went ahead.

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

Last month, in the first war crimes trial to be held in Ukraine since the invasion, a 21-year-old Russian soldier was sentenced to life in jail for killing an unarmed civilian.

Vadim Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the charge of shooting dead the 62-year-old man on the fourth day of the invasion.

Forced to confront his victim’s widow, the soldier said he was sorry for what he had done.