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Russia Accused of Executing Ukrainian Soldiers During or After Attempts to Surrender

Russia Accused of Executing Ukrainian Soldiers During or After Attempts to Surrender
A funeral of a fallen Ukrainian soldier. (Source: Kostiantyn Liberov, Vlada Liberova)

Russian forces have been confirmed to have executed at least 15 Ukrainian soldiers during their attempt to surrender, and possibly 6 more who were surrendering or who had surrendered, since early December 2023, Human Rights Watch said on May 2. Human rights activists emphasize that these cases must be investigated as war crimes.

“Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, its forces have committed many heinous war crimes,” said Belkis Wille, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “The summary execution, or murder, of surrendering and injured Ukrainian soldiers, gunned down in cold blood, expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law, is also included in that shameful legacy.”

Human Rights Watch investigated three instances of summary execution by verifying and analyzing drone footage posted on social media on December 2, December 27, and February 25, 2024. In these cases, the soldiers demonstrated a clear intent to surrender. Since they were no longer taking part in hostilities, they were considered hors de combat and not targetable under international humanitarian law.

“While each of these cases is horrifying, perhaps what is most damning is the evidence indicating in at least one case that Russian forces explicitly gave orders to kill soldiers instead of letting them surrender, thereby endorsing war crimes,” Wille said.

These executions are not isolated instances of Russia breaking the laws of war. The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine documented Russian armed forces and Wagner Group executions of 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war during the first year of the full-scale invasion only.

The Human Rights Watch organization asked for details regarding the execution incidents by writing a letter to the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on April 22 but received no response.

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