Videos of Dead Russian Soldiers: Executions or Feigned Surrender?

fact finder

Status: 11/22/2022 3:09 p.m

Russia has accused Ukrainian soldiers of executing prisoners of war. However, a video shows that apparently one of the Russian prisoners suddenly opened fire.

By Carla Reveland and Pascal Siggelkow, editors ARD fact finder

Videos appeared on social media last week that caused a stir and triggered a debate: Did Ukrainian forces commit war crimes against Russian soldiers or did they act in self-defense?

A drone video shows several Russian soldiers lying dead on their stomachs – face down. The Russian Ministry of Defense spoke of the “deliberate and methodical murder” of more than ten Russian soldiers.

Video shows scenes of capture

Ukraine then rejected the accusation – and in turn accused Russia of war crimes. Because in another video the supposed scenes before the death of the Russian soldiers can be seen. It was apparently filmed from the perspective of a Ukrainian soldier. It shows how Ukrainian forces surrounded a house where Russian soldiers had apparently been staying before. Some of the Russian soldiers already seem to have surrendered and are lying side by side on the ground.

From a corner that the camera cannot see, more Russian soldiers gradually come out with their arms raised and lie down with the others. The capture initially seems to be orderly, the Ukrainian soldiers appear relaxed and point their guns at the ground – but suddenly everything changes.

Suddenly an armed man comes out of an adjoining building, shots are heard, the camera falls to the ground, the video breaks off. According to the human rights commissioner of the Ukrainian parliament, Dmytro Lubinets, it was a Russian soldier who opened fire – and thus only a feigned surrender. This is a “war crime”.

Is it the same place?

There are indications in both videos that they were actually recorded at the same place. For example, both videos feature a red toy car and a wheelbarrow. The facade of the house also has the same pattern.

The pictures are said to have been taken in mid-November when the Ukrainian army recaptured the village of Makiivka in the Luhansk region in the east of the country. Research by the “New York Times” confirm that the videos were taken in a farmhouse in the village.

The drone video showing the dead soldiers lying on the ground was first disseminated on November 12 by a pro-Ukrainian Telegram channel reporting on the recapture of Makiivka. The second video, on the other hand, was not posted online until a few days later – also from Ukrainian accounts.

Feigned Surrender a “Forbidden Method of Combat”

What exactly happened after the fire was opened at the end of one of the videos and whether the Russian soldiers were killed immediately afterwards or later cannot be clarified from the video material. However, if one of the Russian soldiers actually faked a surrender, it would be a violation of international law.

“According to international humanitarian law, such an approach falls under ‘prohibited methods of combat’, more precisely underhandedness – feigning the intention to surrender – and would therefore constitute a war crime,” says Ulf Steindl from the Austria Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES). . To what extent the soldiers already lying on the ground were in the know, however, cannot be determined.

perfidy a war crime

Alexander Wentker, research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, also points out that a fake capitulation violates international law. “If members of opposing forces are killed or seriously injured through perfidy, for example through feigned surrender, that also constitutes a war crime.”

Perfidy refers to actions that intentionally take advantage of another person’s trust to gain an advantage. This also includes the fake capitulation. A surrendering soldier, unlike a fighting soldier, should not actually be attacked under international humanitarian law, says Wentker. “Therefore, to the extent that a feigned surrender kills, injures, or captures enemy soldiers, it is forbidden.”

International investigations announced

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) said at the request of the ARD fact finder, they are aware of the video and will start international investigations into the case. “Any such allegations by the relevant authorities should be duly and promptly investigated.”

When asked by the dpa news agency, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva said that allegations of the execution of people who no longer took part in combat operations should be “effectively investigated and the perpetrators held accountable”.

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