Ukraine to begin trial of Russian soldier accused of rape

A preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman during Russia’s invasion is scheduled for Thursday.

Mikhail Romanov, 32, is accused of murdering, by firing a bullet at point blank, a civilian in the village of Bohdanivka in the northeastern parts of the Kyiv capital region on March 9 and then repeatedly raping the man's 33-year-old wife, according to court files. Romanov was accompanied by another Russian soldier whose identity was not established.

Romanov is not in Ukrainian custody and will be tried in absentia. The trial will be held behind closed doors and it remains unknown what kind of legal representation Romanov would have, if any. A spokesperson for the Prosecutor General's office said that a prosecutor might comment about the trial publicly after Thursday's hearing.

Up to 50 crimes of sexual violence are being investigated, a prosecutor told Reuters, adding that the number of instances of sexual violence by Russian soldiers since February 24 was likely to be substantially higher.

Investigations have been made more difficult due to victims’ fear of reprisals from Russia and stigma from their Ukrainian neighbours, according to officials, activists and doctors.

Thousands of potential war crimes committed during the Russian invasion are being investigated, according to Ukrainian authorities. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters that many of the suspects were in Russia but that some had been taken captive by Ukraine as prisoners of war.

Moscow has denied allegations of war crimes.