9 Apr 2015

Pro-Russian rebels accused of Ukraine ‘war crimes’

Long suspected but short on the vital evidence, Amnesty International today accused pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine of war crimes: namely the execution of captured Ukrainian soldiers.

Amnesty talks of: “Shocking new evidence of execution-style killings by pro-Russian armed groups in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, illustrates the urgent need for an investigation into the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis in the area.”

Amnesty says it has viewed footage which it says “shows a Ukrainian soldier, Ihor Branovytsky – one of the defenders of Donetsk airport – taken captive and interrogated. The video, posted on YouTube, shows signs that he was hit in the face. He remained in captivity until he was killed.”

According to Amnesty: “A number of individuals claim to have seen Branovytsky being shot and killed at  point-blank range by a separatist commander. His body was returned to his family earlier this month and he was buried in Kiev on 3 April. The Ukrainian security services have opened an investigation into his killing.”

The hand of a dead Ukrainian soldier is pictured through the rubble of the destroyed Donetsk airport

“Amnesty has also seen videos documenting the captivity, and pictures of the dead bodies, of at least three other members of the Ukrainian armed forces, reportedly being held in a morgue in Donetsk. There are signs of bullet wounds to their heads and the upper parts of their bodies, apparently the result of execution-style killings. The soldiers had been captured by pro-Russian forces in Debaltseve between 12 and 18 February 2015 when the defending Ukrainian forces were encircled there.”

Hands bound

This comes after a curious episode in which Channel 4 News was invited to the ruins of Donetsk Airport in February by a pro-Russian local commander.

The curiosity being that these fighters were keen for us to film at least six bodies of soldiers lying frozen in the snow. At least two had their hands bound at the wrists but I saw no signs of gunshot wounds to their head nor anywhere else.

Instantly, assorted Twitter propagandists seized on this as proof of execution when it proved nothing of the sort. Though it looked bad – suspicious even.

However, it is commonplace for soldiers to tie the wrists of bodies to make them easier to move and I have seen plenty of video of this happening and seen it happening with my own eyes.

But it did show a callous approach at the very least, by rebels, to the bodies of men they said were Ukrainians. At the very least a completely unprofessional approach to dealing with those killed in battle. It was also just plain stupid since their enemies were bound to seize upon the bound wrists as “proof” of executions – so why parade these bodies in this fashion?

‘Sparta Battalion’

But Amnesty’s report adds further evidence and comes after a recent interview in the Ukrainian newspaper Kiev Post on Monday this week featuring a phone interview, allegedly made by Arseniy Pavlov, better known by his nom-de-guerre “Motorola”.

Pavlov, reportedly a Russian national and the leader of the pro-Russian armed group known as “Sparta Battalion” operating in eastern Ukraine, claimed he had shot dead 15 soldiers captured from the Ukrainian armed forces. He is alleged to have killed Ihor Branovytsky.

Amnesty has called for a further investigation into the so-called “Sparta Battalion” and what Pavlov may or may not have done.

That concept is likely to dissipate into the summer heat haze on the steppes of Donbass. The business of bringing men to justice for alleged war crimes is of course the business of losers’ justice only. Granted – better that than no justice at all, but Mr Pavlov will likely lose no sleep over today’s news and that explains in part why he may feel so emboldened as to make the “confession” he has.

Follow @alextomo on Twitter.

Tweets by @alextomo