UN human rights office accuses Russia and Ukraine of executing POWs

Report says both sides may have committed ‘war crimes’ as Russian forces kill seven civilians in shelling of towns

The United Nations human rights office said it had documented dozens of summary executions of prisoners of war (POWs) by Russian and Ukrainian forces, as Moscow’s military killed at least seven civilians in shelling of towns across Ukraine.

“We are deeply concerned about the summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons ‘hors de combat’ by Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” said Matilda Bogner, the head of the UN’s human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“We are also deeply concerned by the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war shortly after being captured by Russian armed forces,” she added. “The Wagner group – military and security contractors – perpetrated 11 of these executions.”

The report, compiled by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said both sides had committed acts, including torture, that amounted to serious violations of international law “and thus may constitute war crimes”.


“The government of Ukraine provided OHCHR with full and confidential access to POWs in official places of internment,” the report on POWs said. “OHCHR has not been granted access to POWs interned by the Russian Federation despite repeated requests.”

In a separate report on what it called the “dire” human rights situation for civilians and soldiers in Ukraine during Russia’s full-scale invasion, the OHCHR said it had “verified numerous allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and conflict-related sexual violence”.

“OHCHR is gravely concerned about the arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture or other ill-treatment of children,” the report added. “OHCHR documented transfers of civilians to areas in occupied territory or to the Russian Federation, some of which may amount to forced transfers or deportations. These transfers include children.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant last week for Russian president Vladimir Putin for his alleged role in the war crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. Moscow says it does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, has warned that any attempt to detain Mr Putin while abroad would be viewed by the Kremlin as a declaration of war.

Ukraine said on Friday it had handed over to Russia all the severely wounded and seriously ill POWs that it had in captivity and whose condition made transfer possible.

“At the same time, the aggressor state... is still holding thousands of Ukrainian citizens hostage, including the seriously ill and wounded, civilians, children and women, the elderly, as well as those who were captured by Russia even before the start of the large-scale invasion,” said Ukraine’s office for POW affairs.

Kyiv also said that the bodies of 83 Ukrainian soldiers were returned from Russian-occupied territory.

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling killed at least three people in the city of Kostyantynivka in the eastern Donetsk region, one in the nearby town of Chasiv Yar, two in the northern province of Sumy and one in the southeastern Kherson region. About 20 other civilians were reportedly injured in the strikes.

Kyiv has urged western allies to accelerate deliveries of tanks, rockets, artillery systems and other ammunition as it prepares to launch a counterattack against Russian forces, which are making only slow and costly gains in parts of eastern Ukraine.

“They are preparing for offensive operations, everyone knows that. Our [military] general staff is considering this and preparing its decisions,” Mr Medvedev said.

“Without help from Nato, without direct injections of money and direct deliveries of weapons, the Kyiv regime would not have lasted even a week,” he claimed, more than one year into a full-scale war that Russia’s leaders apparently expected to win in short order.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe