Ukraine will probe the shooting of a dozen Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, as Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of a war crime during the surrender of soldiers.
Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian soldiers of feigning surrender, during which one of them opened fire; while Russia claims Ukrainian troops killed unarmed prisoners of war (POWs) in circumstances which remain unclear.
Last Friday, Russian and Ukrainian military bloggers posted several brief bits of footage showing a group of servicemen in Russian uniforms with red straps on their lower legs — a distinctive Russian friend-foe marker — surrendering in the courtyard of a farmhouse in the village of Makiivka in the Luhansk region earlier this month.
Russian soldiers emerged from behind a wall or an outhouse with their hands in the air and lay on the ground at machine gun point, apparently operated by Ukrainian troops, based on the symbols they were wearing and the language they were speaking.
At some point in the footage, a Russian serviceman, who seemed to be the last one in the unit, appeared and apparently opened fire on Ukrainian soldiers. The video quality capturing that moment is low, so it is impossible to clearly understand what exactly happened. The video was cut almost immediately after.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said in an online interview at the weekend that “if you decide to surrender and then suddenly pull out your weapon, you are not a hero, but you are committing a war crime contrary to the Geneva Convention.”
He said that Ukrainian authorities will investigate the video footage.
Ukraine has been undertaking an unprecedented public and almost real-time effort to track, document and verify Russian war crimes since the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion began in February.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said that “taking advantage of the staged surrender,” Russian troops committed a war crime as they opened fire on Ukrainian soldiers.
“In this case, the Russian servicemen could not be considered prisoners of war, but were those who fight and commit an act of perfidy,” he said in a statement.
According to the Geneva Convention, which regulates the protection of victims and participants of armed conflicts, perfidy — a form of deception in which one side promises to act in good faith with the intention of breaking that promise once the unsuspecting enemy is exposed — is prohibited.
Russia’s defense ministry branded the incident as “a mass massacre of unarmed Russian POWs by Ukrainian servicemen.”