Ukraine probes alleged beheading of captured soldier by Russian forces
Kyiv launched a fresh war crimes investigation against Russian forces and called for co-ordinated international action after videos shared on social media appeared to show the beheading of a Ukrainian prisoner of war.
“This video, the execution of a Ukrainian captive . . . The world must see it. This is a video of Russia as it is,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address dubbed into English.
“This is not an episode . . . this was the case in Bucha. Thousands of times,” Zelenskyy said on Wednesday, referring to alleged mass executions and atrocities against civilians in the Kyiv suburb Bucha and other areas since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
International leaders “must react” to help Ukraine complete “the defeat of terror”, Zelenskyy added. In a post on Twitter foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba described the video as “horrific” and said “it’s absurd that Russia . . . is presiding over the UN Security Council. Russian terrorists must be kicked out of Ukraine and the UN.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday suggested the beheading videos could be fakes.
“We live in the world of fakes, so it is necessary to confirm the authenticity of this horrific footage. And then it can become a reason to investigate where it took place and by whom,” Peskov said.
The video first appeared on the Telegram messaging app. In the minute-and-half long video, a Russian fighter in camouflage cuts a Ukrainian soldier’s neck with a knife. Another man speaking in Russian is heard off-camera encouraging his colleague. A flak jacket adorned with Ukrainian military patches lies nearby. The video ends with the Russian fighter lifting the Ukrainian’s head towards the camera. Foliage in the video suggests it might have been filmed last summer or early autumn. The exact time and location in Ukraine are unknown.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, shared a blurred version of the video on Twitter.
“I am certain that this is not the last video of one of the [conflict] parties killing a prisoner of war,” said a post on the Grey Zone Telegram channel which is closely linked to the Wagner paramilitary group fighting in Ukraine. Wagner is run by Putin’s close associate Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“In war the enemies’ heads, ears and other organs are cut off . . . This is bad, but this is the price of war,” it added.
Several Russian far-right and neo-Nazi groups with channels on Telegram, including the extremist Rusich military group, promoted the video across their networks.
“You will be surprised how many of these videos will gradually pop up,” said a Rusich channel which shared the video, adding a smiley face emoji.
Before Zelenskyy’s address, Vasyl Malyuk, head of Ukraine’s SBU state security service, said in a statement that a pre-trial investigation had been launched into the alleged beheading, while pledging to hold those guilty accountable.
Ukrainian and international authorities are investigating scores of war crimes allegedly committed by Russia against Ukrainian civilians and troops, including the execution of Oleksandr Matsievskyi, a prisoner of war, earlier this year for chanting “Glory to Ukraine”. Zelenskyy posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine to Matsievskyi, a sniper with a territorial defence brigade operating in Chernihiv north of Kyiv.
A video shared last November showed Russian fighters from Wagner killing a deserter with a sledgehammer.
The International Criminal Court last month issued an arrest warrant for Putin and another top Russian official for deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. The incidents occurred mostly in eastern and southern regions where Russian forces continue to occupy some 18 per cent of Ukrainian territory.
Zelenskyy in his address moved to mobilise Ukrainians as the country’s armed forces continue to receive fresh shipments of Nato-grade weaponry from western backers ahead of an expected spring counteroffensive.
“We in Ukraine must focus on the frontline as much as possible. Expel the occupier from our land,” Zelenskyy said, adding that the main goals were “defeat of the occupier, sentences to the murders; [a war crimes] tribunal for the evil state”.
Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova and Anastasia Stognei