Four videos posted on social media last week appear to show the killing of 11 Russian soldiers as Ukrainian forces recaptured the village of Makiivka in the Luhansk region in mid-November, according to the New York Times. There are gaps missing in the videos, and it’s unclear why, though the New York Times used other videos to understand what occurred.
In one of the videos, a Ukrainian soldier is filming, and he quickly flashes the camera to himself and another soldier lying on his stomach pointing a rifle, while a third armed soldier can be seen walking backward with his rifle pointed at a destroyed outhouse where Russian soldiers appeared to be hiding. Gunfire can be heard, but it’s unclear who is firing at whom. The clip cuts, and in the same area where the soldier backtracked, six Russian soldiers are laying on their stomachs, while four more come out with their hands up.
An 11th Russian soldier emerged from the same area and opened fire on the Ukrainian soldiers. The soldier filming jerks the camera, and it then cuts out.
An aerial video the New York Times viewed showed the aftermath of the surprise attack. The gunman appeared to be dead near the spot he opened fire, while the soldiers who had been laying on their stomachs also appeared to be dead, shot in the head.
While killing soldiers who have laid down their weapons and are lying on their stomachs is a war crime, it’s also a war crime to feign surrendering only to attack.
“We are obviously tracking that quite closely. It’s really important to emphasize that the laws of war apply to all parties equally, both the aggressor state and the defender state, and this is in equal measure,” Beth Van Schaack, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, told reporters on Monday. “But when it comes to the war in Ukraine, that’s really where the equivalency ends. When we’re looking at the sheer scale of criminality exhibited by Russian forces, it’s enormous compared to the allegations that we have seen against Ukrainian forces.”
A spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office is looking into the possibility this was a war crime.
“We are aware of the videos, and we are looking into them,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office, told Reuters. “Allegations of summary executions of people hors de combat should be promptly, fully, and effectively investigated, and any perpetrators held to account.”
The French term hors de combat refers to people who are “outside of combat,” and in this case, it refers to the soldiers who appeared to surrender.
“This brutal murder of Russian servicemen is neither the first, nor the only war crime,” Russia’s Defense Ministry alleged. “This is common practice in the Armed Forces of Ukraine that is actively supported by the Kyiv regime and blatantly ignored by its Western patrons.” The ministry said the video showed “the deliberate and methodical murder of more than 10 immobilized Russian serviceman by degenerate Ukrainian soldiers.”
Ukraine’s commissioner for human rights, Dmytro Lubinets, called the clips “excerpts” and alleged it’s “using a staged capture,” according to Wion News.