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 geolocalize 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.