Kyiv calls for international response to apparent beheading of Ukrainian soldiers by Russians

Moscow tightens conscription rules to make it harder for Russians to avoid military draft

Kyiv has called for an international response to the appearance of a “horrific” video that seems to show Russian troops beheading a Ukrainian soldier, as parliament in Moscow tightened conscription rules to make it harder for Russians to avoid being drafted into the military.

United Nations human rights monitors, top European Union officials and US diplomats joined Kyiv in condemning the apparent execution of the Ukrainian captive, while the Kremlin said the veracity of the “horrible” footage should be established before conclusions are drawn.

Video posted on pro-Moscow social media channels shows Russian-speaking soldiers using a knife to decapitate a man wearing uniform and the yellow armband used by Kyiv’s troops. A second video shows two beheaded bodies beside a Ukrainian tank.

“There is something that no one in the world can ignore: how easily these beasts kill ... The world must see it,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday.


“This is a video of Russia as it is ... This is not an accident. This is not an episode. This kind of thing happened before,” he added, referring to war crimes and other atrocities allegedly committed by Russian troops during an all-out invasion of Ukraine that began last February.

“Everyone must react. Every leader ... We are not going to forget anything. Nor are we going to forgive the murderers. There will be legal responsibility for everything. Terror must be defeated. No one will understand if leaders don’t react. Action is required now.”

The International Criminal Court last month issued a war crimes arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin over his alleged role in the deportation of Ukrainian children to his country, and Kyiv’s foreign ministry urged the tribunal to “immediately investigate” the contents of what it called a “horrific video”.

The UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine said that “regrettably this is not an isolated incident ... These latest violations must also be properly investigated and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”

European Council president Charles Michel said on Twitter that he was “mortified by atrocious video showing murder of Ukrainian prisoner of war by Russian soldier. Accountability and justice must prevail over terror and impunity. The EU will do all possible to ensure that.”

Russia denies committing atrocities in Ukraine, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “these are horrible pictures, and first we need to check their authenticity.”

“And then, of course, it could be grounds to establish ... whether this took place. And if it happened, then where and which side [did it]. But again ... in the world of fakes in which we live, it is necessary to verify the authenticity of this video.”

Some reports claimed that at least one of the videos was filmed near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has been the epicentre of fighting for several months. However, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that is leading the fight there for Russia, said he saw no evidence of that or of his troops’ involvement.

Russia said on Wednesday that Wagner fighters had seized more of central Bakhmut, but Ukraine denies that its forces now hold only a small part of the ruined city.

Parliament in Moscow rubber-stamped a Bill to create a register of Russians who are liable for military service and to draft them by posting electronic call-up papers on a state portal that millions of people use to access services and pay bills. The Kremlin denies however, that this is a prelude to a second round of military mobilisation.

As Ukraine presses western allies to accelerate weapons deliveries before a planned spring offensive, Serbia – which seeks good ties with the West and Russia – denied reports that it had secretly sent or was planning to send arms to Kyiv.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

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