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Russian POWs Ukraine

Russian prisoners of war appear during a media briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 14, 2022. (Photo: Pavlo Bagmut/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Rights Group Says Ukraine Torture or Killing of Russian POWs Would Be Clear 'War Crime'

"All the information in the videos that suggests abuse, and maybe worse, of POWs needs to be subject to an effective investigation."

Brett Wilkins

A leading international human rights group said Thursday that if genuine, unverified videos showing Ukrainian troops shooting Russian prisoners of war would depict war crimes, while calling on Ukraine to "ensure an effective investigation" into the alleged abuse.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that "if confirmed, the beating and shooting of captured combatants in their legs would constitute a war crime, and Ukraine needs to demonstrate that it is able and willing to prevent and punish serious violations of international humanitarian law."

HRW senior legal adviser Aisling Reidy said that "all the information in the videos that suggests abuse, and maybe worse, of POWs needs to be subject to an effective investigation. It should be possible to verify if abuse took place, and from there to hold those responsible to account."

The incident appears to have occurred at a dairy farm in a village near Kharkiv two days after Ukrainian forces retook the area. The videos were posted on social media late last month. On March 28, Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov published video recorded at the same dairy farm showing the charred remains of what appeared to be people in Russian military uniforms. It is not known if they are the same soldiers who appeared in the previous videos.

Ukrainian officials said the videos would be investigated. Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) published a statement suggesting the videos could be "directly managed by Russian special services," and that prisoners of war taken by Ukrainian forces "are treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention."

Russian "occupiers spread fakes to divert attention from their atrocities," SSU said. "Russian fakes are similar to Russian TV series: cheap, vulgar, predictable, and with poor acting."

However, experts consulted by HRW said the videos showing the men being shot were consistent with wounds caused by gunshots.

Olexiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said March 27 on Telegram that he "would like to remind all our military, civilian, and defense forces once again that the abuse of prisoners is a war crime that has no amnesty under military law and has no statute of limitations."

Since invading Ukraine in late February, Russian forces have been accused of war crimes including bombing residential areas with cluster munitions; attacking humanitarian corridors and civilian infrastructure including homes, medical facilities, schools, and shelters; shooting unarmed civilians; torture; sex crimes; and kidnapping and forcibly deporting civilians.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan announced four days into the invasion that he was launching a probe of "alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed in Ukraine.

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