(Kyiv) A new excruciating video showing the beheading of a suspected Ukrainian prisoner of war angered Ukraine on Wednesday, with President Volodymyr Zelensky denouncing further abuse by Russian “monsters”.
AFP was unable to immediately verify the authenticity of the video, or where and when it may have been filmed. Ukrainian authorities have said they are trying to identify the victim.
The UN mission in Kyiv said it was “horrified” by the footage demanding an investigation as the Kremlin called for verification of the “authenticity” of the video, which usually denies accusations of crimes against its soldiers.
The UN representation also refers to a second video showing the mutilated bodies of Ukrainian prisoners.
For its part, France denounced “a barbaric act” and an “unbearable attack on human dignity”. And the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said he was “mortified by the atrocious video”, in a message on Twitter.
“How easily these monsters kill.” This video of the execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war, the world must see. This is a video of Russia as it is,” President Zelensky quipped in a video message posted on Instagram.
“It was (already) like that in Boutcha. Thousands of times,” he continued, referring to the Kyiv suburb that has become a symbol of atrocities attributed to the Russian military.
The European Union will hold “all perpetrators and accomplices of war crimes to account” in Ukraine, a spokeswoman for the head of European diplomacy said on Wednesday.
The head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kouleba considered that Russia was “worse than the Islamic State”, a jihadist organization which filmed the executions of its hostages, in particular by beheading.
“Russian terrorists must be kicked out of Ukraine and the UN and held accountable for their crimes,” he said on Twitter.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has opened an investigation into this “war crime”. “We will find these monsters […] They will be punished,” SBU chief Vassyl Maliouk said in a statement.
Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar for her part indicated on Telegram that the authorities are doing “everything (their) possible to identify the deceased”.
On the Russian side, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov also called the images “horrible” but questioned their veracity. “In the world of ‘fakes’ (false information) in which we live, we must ensure the authenticity of this video,” he added.
Usually, Russian officials simply deny any involvement of Russian soldiers in war crimes and accuse Ukraine of orchestrating the scenes.
The UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine said it was “horrified” by the images, citing a second video showing “mutilated bodies of apparent Ukrainian prisoners of war”.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event,” the mission said in a statement demanding that the cases be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
The video of the beheading which lasts one minute and forty seconds has been circulating since Tuesday. In it, a man in camouflage, his face masked, slits the neck of another man in uniform struggling on the ground, yelling “it hurts”.
After a few seconds, the screaming stops and a man is heard behind the camera urging the executioner in Russian to “cut off the head” of the victim. The latter finishes his decapitation with a knife, and shows the severed head to the camera.
“Get it in the bag and send it to the commander,” said a voice in Russian. On camera, the victim’s waistcoat is also shown crossed out with the Ukrainian trident and a skull and crossbones.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of mistreatment of prisoners amounting to war crimes.
In early March, a video showing the alleged execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war by Russian soldiers caused shock in Ukraine.
In November, the Kremlin was indignant at two videos appearing to show the alleged execution of a dozen Russian soldiers by bullets after surrendering to Ukrainian forces.
In late March, the UN accused Ukrainian and Russian forces of committing summary executions of prisoners of war.
Russia also denies, despite corroborating evidence, the summary executions of civilians, in particular in Boutcha, near Kyiv, a year ago.