Ukraine investigates video purporting to show Russian prisoners being shot

Battle for narrative and potential evidence as Europe's crime agency sets up team to investigate any allegations of war crimes

Ukrainian servicemen at the frontline near the village of Byshiv east of Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 27 March 2022. EPA / ATEF SAFADI
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Ukraine is investigating a video purportedly showing its soldiers shooting Russian prisoners in the legs amid a mixed reaction to the validity of the footage and fears over fake propaganda images influencing the ongoing conflict.

Imagery is a key part of the war with Europe's crime agency Europol announcing on Monday it was setting up a war crimes unit to harvest footage and investigate any alleged atrocities emerging during the crisis.

Europol has sent up the joint investigation team to work alongside the International Criminal Court to "enable the exchange of information and facilitate investigations into war crimes, crimes against humanity and other core crimes."

Ukraine's senior presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said if its soldiers had engaged in such conduct it would be "absolutely unacceptable".

"The government is taking this very seriously, and there will be an immediate investigation," he said.

"We are a European army, and we do not mock our prisoners. If this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behaviour."

He later released a video emphasising that prisoner abuse is a war crime.

"I would like to remind all our military, civilian and defence forces once again that the abuse of prisoners is a war crime that has no amnesty under military law and has no statute of limitations," he said.

However, in a separate statement, the head of Ukraine's armed forces accused Russia of falsifying the video.

"In order to discredit the Ukrainian defence forces, the enemy is filming and distributing staging videos [of] inhumane [behaviour by] Ukrainian military to Russian prisoners," General Valerii Zaluzhnyi said.

"I urge you to take into account the realities of the information and psychological war and trust only official sources.

"The enemy produces and shares the inhuman treatment of alleged Russian prisoners by Ukrainian soldiers in order to discredit Ukrainian Defence Forces."

The footage had shown what appeared to be Ukrainian troops unloading captured Russian soldiers from a van and then one soldier appears to shoot the captured men one by one in the legs.

The UK has also appointed a war crimes lawyer to advise on any incidents. Attorney General, Suella Braverman, said Sir Howard Morrison would act as an independent adviser to Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.

Researchers at British charity Full Fact have been inundated with footage and images from the conflict - some of which it has been confirmed as fake.

Incidents have included an edited image falsely claiming to show a Ukrainian tractor pulling a Russian rocket. In reality it was an image from 2018 of a space rocket on board a train which had been edited to show it being pulled by a tractor.

One video purportedly showed Russian and Ukrainian soldiers dancing together after the invasion but the clip had been uploaded at least six days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine even began.

In another, footage showed Russian soldiers unsuccessfully discharging a rocket propelled grenade launcher, because the equipment is so old.

But the charity discovered it had been taken from a longer version which was posted before the invasion began and concluded it likely features members of the Kenya Defence Forces.

Updated: March 28, 2022, 3:48 PM
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