Kharkiv, Ukraine: Human Rights Watch has called on Ukrainian authorities to launch an investigation into possible war crimes following the emergence of video footage that appears to show its soldiers shooting Russian war prisoners in the legs.
The video, which began circulating on March 27, shows three men in fatigues, hands bound behind their backs, thrown to the ground by armed men who then shoot them in the legs. While the authenticity of the footage could not be independently confirmed, AFP was able to geolocalise it to the village of Mala Rogan outside the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which Ukrainian forces had just recaptured after an offensive.
AFP journalists were able to visit Mala Rogan on March 28 and saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers, shopping bags covering their heads, lying on one of the streets of the village, which was to a large extent destroyed by fighting.
Two other bodies were partially visible under pieces of concrete in a well. “If confirmed, the beating and shooting of captured combatants in their legs would constitute a war crime,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement late on Thursday.
“Ukraine needs to demonstrate that it is able and willing to prevent and punish serious violations of international humanitarian law,” it added. In total, AFP journalists saw around a dozen bodies of fallen Russian soldiers at Mala Rogan, with many were strewn in fields near their positions. An unknown number of Russians were taken prisoner, including a young communications officer.
The Russians were targeting Kharkiv with artillery from Mala Rogan according to the Ukrainian forces who said their attack took them by surprise. A number of Russians found themselves trapped in homes and held out in caves, with Ukrainian soldiers saying that clearing operations took three days.
A Ukrainian military source said a unit of local volunteers took part in the operation the first day, which provoked criticism from army units. Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovich acknowledged on Telegram that abuse of prisoners constitutes a war crime and should be punished.
“We treat prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention despite your personal emotional motivations,” he said to Ukrainian soldiers. The head of Russia’s main criminal investigative force has also ordered a probe into the incident.
Russian soldiers have also been accused of committing abuses since launching their invasion on February 24. In Mala Rogan, residents accused Russian soldiers of raping women they held prisoner for several days in a school.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign minister on Friday praised India’s refusal to condemn the Ukraine invasion, saying Moscow and Delhi would find ways to circumvent “illegal” Western sanctions and continue to trade.
India has abstained from multiple United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow, calling only for an end to violence, and has increased its oil purchases from Russia, its biggest supplier of arms.
“These days our Western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine… (We) appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way,” Sergei Lavrov said in New Delhi.
“Friendship is the key word to describe the history of our relations, and our relations were very sustainable during many difficult times in the past,” Lavrov said, speaking in English. His counterpart S. Jaishankar reiterated “the importance of cessation of violence and ending hostilities” and said “disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy”.
Western financial sanctions have reportedly made it difficult for India to pay Russia for imports including arms, oil, rough diamonds and fertilisers.
Russia has written to India’s defence ministry requesting clearance of back payments worth $1.3 billion, according to the Economic Times newspaper. India and Russia are working on a rupee-ruble mechanism to facilitate trade and get around Western sanctions on Russian banks, according to media reports.
Lavrov told reporters he was confident the two countries would find a solution. “Many years ago we started moving in our relations with India, with China, with many other countries from using dollars and euros to more and more use of national currencies. Under these circumstances this trend I believe will be intensified,” he said.