A video circulated on social media but not independently verified purports to show Russian forces shooting troops who appeared to be surrendering.
Destroyed houses in the city of Avdiivka, near the village where the soldiers were killed. Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times
Dec. 5, 2023, 2:04 p.m. ET
Prosecutors in Ukraine have started a war crimes investigation into whether Russian troops shot dead two Ukrainian soldiers who were in the act of surrendering, the latest episode in which the government in Kyiv has accused Moscow of violating the Geneva Conventions.
The prosecutor general’s office said that the incident took place at an observation post in Donetsk region outside the village of Stepove, a few miles northwest of the city of Avdiivka, which Russian forces have attempted to storm in recent weeks. It did not say when the incident took place.
“The killing of prisoners of war is a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions and amounts to a grave international crime,” the office said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
Reports of summary executions and the mistreatment of prisoners of war have fueled outrage in Ukraine, symbolizing what Ukrainians view as the cruel and lawless nature of the full-scale invasion that the Kremlin launched in February last year.
A video of the purported incident circulated online over the weekend. It shows a man in combat uniform and helmet emerging gingerly from a foxhole with his hands behind his head. He is watched by at least five soldiers poised a few yards away who point what appear to be machine guns at him. The man, who does not appear to be armed, lies face down in the dirt, facing away from the other men.
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After a second man in uniform emerges with his hands on his head, the soldiers open fire, puffs of smoke visible from their guns. The first man briefly attempts to get up. The video, which is in black and white and had been set to ominous music, appears to have been filmed from a drone flying above tree height. The New York Times was not able to verify the video’s authenticity given its resolution.
The United Nations’ Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which has analyzed the video, said that in its present form it provides insufficient information to determine exactly what happened, according to a spokesman, Krzysztof Janowski.
Ukrainian troops later retook the trench, killing the Russian soldiers seen in the video in battle, according to Vitalii Barabash, the head of the military administration in Avdiivka. It was not possible to verify that claim.
War crimes are central to Ukraine’s accusations against Russia, and the execution of surrendering prisoners, if confirmed, could qualify as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and a second Russian official on accusations of war crimes over the abduction and deportation of children from Ukraine.
In March, Ukraine began a war crimes investigation into a video that emerged of what it said was the execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war by Russian soldiers. Also that month, United Nations investigators said they had documented 15 cases in which Russian soldiers had summarily executed Ukrainian soldiers and 25 cases in which Ukrainian soldiers had summarily executed Russian troops.
Ukrainian officials contested the report’s findings. In another report, in October, United Nations investigators said they had verified six additional cases in which Russian security personnel had executed Ukrainian troops. Rights group say that both sides have abused detainees, but that Russia’s treatment of surrendering soldiers and detainees is far more severe. And while Kyiv has granted rights groups access to some detention sites, Moscow has not.
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