Russian forces execute surrendering Ukrainian soldiers: Human Rights Watch report

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Russian forces execute surrendering Ukrainian soldiers: Human Rights Watch report

Human Rights Watch said Ukrainian soldiers were “gunned down in cold blood”.


Russian forces have allegedly executed at least 15 Ukrainian soldiers who were attempting to surrender since the beginning of December 2023, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report

The US-based organisation called for the alleged executions to be investigated as war crimes.

“Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, its forces have committed many heinous war crimes,” said Belkis Wille, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW. 

“The summary execution – or murder- of surrendering and injured Ukrainian soldiers, gunned down in cold blood, expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law, is also included in that shameful legacy.”

HRW analysed drone footage posted on social media on 2 December, 27 December and 25 February. 

In the videos, Ukrainian soldiers appeared to have surrendered but were shot by Russian troops. HRW said they could not verify some of the incidents’ locations.

Considering they were no longer part of combat, international humanitarian law says the men are not targets and so cannot be shot. 

The Geneva Conventions specifically say that combatants who are out of combat for reasons such as surrender, injury, or capture must be treated humanely and are no longer lawful targets for attack. 

On 25 February, the footage shows at least seven Ukrainian soldiers removing their body armour. One of them also took off his helmet. They all faced down as five Russian soldiers aimed their guns at them. Six of the Ukrainian men did not move after they were shot. One attempted to escape before he was shot dead. This incident took place in Ivanivske village near the Donetsk region.

HRW was able to differentiate between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers by identifying the tape on their arms: Ukrainian troops wear blue and Russians white or red.

The United Nations reported in March that Ukrainian prisoners of war in Russian captivity experienced torture, including repeated beatings, electric shocks and mock executions. 

Some were even subjected to sexual violence, the report said. 

The UN also recorded “credible allegations” of Russian troops conducting executions of at least 32 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

A UN report a year before of how Russian troops and the Wagner Group executed 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war during the first year of the full-scale invasion. 

The office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’ announced on 9 April that it was conducting 27 criminal investigations into the execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his government has committed war crimes against Ukrainians.

“While each of these cases is horrifying, perhaps what is most damning is the evidence indicating in at least one case that Russian forces explicitly gave orders to kill soldiers instead of letting them surrender, thereby endorsing war crimes,” Wille said.

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