There is no doubt about the guilt of the Russian soldier, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Kyiv for war crimes. The evidence was heavy. Vadim Shishimarin has also confessed to having shot a Ukrainian. You don’t have to feel sorry for him. Or is it?
Anyone who saw the 21-year-old milk beard standing in front of the court, tormented by fear and weak on the knees, is at least touched. Struck by a child’s face, whose gaze wanders unsteadily through the room. It is quite possible that he was one of the recruits whom Russian President Vladimir Putin threw to the front on the pretext that they had to go on manoeuvres, and who only later realized that they had fallen into the butchery of the war.
Nothing justifies their actions, especially since the suffering they are leaving behind in Ukraine is not about individual soldiers, but about hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians.
Soldiers like the now convicted Schischimarin are “completely normal men”, as the historian Christopher Browning described them in his book of the same name, explaining how members of a harmless Hamburg police reserve brutalized themselves into a notorious killing squad in Poland in the summer of 1942. So pity is out of place.
Still, one can be sad. The photo of the frightened Schischimarin and the bad news from the Ukraine show what everyone should know: the war is not a “storm of steel” (Ernst Jiinger) that clears the political air, nor is it a “continuation of politics by other means” ( Carl von Clausewitz), he is certainly not a “locomotive of history” (Karl Marx). And anyone who says that food is not eaten as hot as it is cooked is either blind or foolish or has forgotten the 20th century.
The war is a catastrophe. He kills. He destroys. He lays cities in ruins and turns children, women and men into human ruins. No more and no less.
Even so, war is sometimes necessary, for there is only one thing in the world worse than the use of force, and that is surrender to force. Nevertheless, every effort to achieve a ceasefire is worthwhile. Will Russians and Ukrainians ever be able to look each other in the eyes again? The 20th century knows the answer: one can reconcile without forgiving, and one can forgive without forgetting.