Ukrainians Killing Russian POWs Risks Spiral of 'Depravity'—Expert

After verified footage of what appeared to be Ukrainian forces shooting dead Russian soldiers they had taken prisoner appeared last week, a combat expert has warned that such behavior risks the war spiraling down to "unspeakable acts of depravity."

The footage surfaced on April 7. Ukraine's foreign ministry has not yet responded to Newsweek's request for comment on the video.

Peter Caddick-Adams, director of the Defence & Global Security Institute, called the imagery from the video "disturbing," but it is hard to determine fully "what is happening" so he cannot comment on whether it would constitute a war crime.

Bucha war
Members of the Ukrainian military take a photograph in front of destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 06, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine. An expert has warned that Ukrainian troops may want to exact revenge on Russian prisoners-of-war for the alleged massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian city. Chris McGrath/Getty

"Context is everything. Had the dying man been attempting to throw a live grenade or other device before this footage started? Is this an execution, or an aspect of combat?" Caddick-Adams asked Newsweek.

He also cited other, unverified, footage that appears to show Ukrainians shooting Russian troops in their knees.

"If this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behavior," Caddick-Adams said, adding that he was surprised that such recorded instances had not surfaced before on the Ukrainian side.

He said that while professional troops should understand the differences in the laws of war, lower-grade conscripts or militias are less likely to differentiate between them.

"I suspect in Ukraine, we are seeing a reawakening of the old wars and suppressed emotions between mass armies, of conscript versus conscript, militia versus militia. It is hugely depressing, as many had assumed modern war had moved on from such behavior," he said.

"Having served in Bosnia and other combat zones and witnessed the white-hot fury of soldiers confronted with massacres and abuse, cool leadership must prevail. Or both sides can spiral down into unspeakable acts of depravity."

He added that although Ukrainian troops may feel the need to exact revenge for alleged massacres in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, blamed on Russian forces, it "doesn't make illegal military behavior correct."

"History shows us from the Napoleonic and U.S. Civil wars to Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge that the moment one side transgresses the norms of civilized behavior, their opponents will inevitably follow."

"This is not to condone such behavior, but there is a fine legal line to be drawn between shooting a soldier firing a machine-gun at you, and executing him seconds later, though he has surrendered, and the machine-gun barrel is still hot."

When a previous video purporting to show Ukrainian soldiers torturing Russian prisoners-of-war surfaced in March, Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned it. He said the Ukrainian armed forces will check the authenticity of the footage and investigate the circumstances around the video.

"We are a European army, and we do not mock our prisoners. If this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behavior," he said. "I would like to remind all our military, civilian and defense forces once again that the abuse of prisoners is a war crime that has no amnesty under military law and has no statute of limitations."

Speaking on Arestovych condemning the video, Caddick-Adams said: "The Ukrainian spokesman is correct in implying that such behavior, whether war crime or not, is unacceptable, and that any international legal processes will need to apply equally to both sides."