POWs

Extremely Graphic and Disturbing Footage Reportedly Shows POWs in Ukraine

Graphic and disturbing footage of Russian POWs being tortured by Ukrainian soldiers emerged over the weekend; the video is a concerning indication of how brutal and bitter the war in Ukraine has already become. Soldiers can be seen methodically shooting the knees of Russian prisoners and then leaving them to bleed to death. The footage reportedly emerged from Ukrainian sources in the Kharkov region, and it appears to be authentic.

Shocking video appears to show POWs being shot

Ukrainian sources on Telegram have been posting increasingly worrying footage of Russian POWs and civilians accused of collaboration or other crimes being mistreated and humiliated.

Some of this is unfortunately to be expected in a war, but the men in the video from the Kharkov area filmed themselves using an especially barbaric method of execution which goes far beyond anything seen previously.

A large number of Russians, evidently captured artillerymen, are seen being shot or having already been shot in the knees at point blank range. Several of the men are clearly dying from loss of blood and none are being given medical care.

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a statement reminding Ukrainians to adhere to the Geneva Conventions and announcing that there would be an investigation into the footage.

The Ukrainian military then contradicted this statement and said that the video was staged by the Russians. A purported Russian document instructing that such videos be made then conveniently emerged on social media; it’s an obvious forgery, but it suits what some people would like to believe.

Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the video is real and should be taken at face value. Anything else is little more than an unconvincing conspiracy theory until proven otherwise.

Prisoners from invading army still entitled to legal protections

The video almost certainly shows an authentic war crime. What it means for the future of the war in Ukraine is less clear.

Mainstream media in the West has not widely covered the incident yet, but as this video and others like it spread online it will eventually be hard to ignore the issue.

Public sympathy abroad is strongly in favor of Ukraine, but if the country fails to adequately punish soldiers who torture or execute POWs that sympathy might start to waver.

There will undoubtedly be those who argue that the Ukrainians are being invaded and are thus justified in doing whatever they want to their enemies, but the civilized world has traditionally disagreed with that perspective.

Jus ad bellum and jus in bello are distinct for a reason; regardless of Russia’s justification for invading, both sides are legally obligated respect the rights of POWs, who become noncombatants when they lay down their weapons.

Ukrainian soldiers are free to ignore the laws of war, but in doing so they risk inviting the Russians to give their prisoners the same treatment. For this, and any number of other moral and legal reasons, Kiev will need to move swiftly to punish the soldiers involved and show that they will not tolerate this behavior.

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