Does this video show Ukrainian soldiers shooting at Russian prisoners of war?

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A video shared widely online as early as March 27 purports to show, according to its caption on YouTube, Ukrainian soldiers shooting Russian prisoners of war (POW) in their legs. The FRANCE 24 Observers team analysed the video and was able to pinpoint its location. Despite some suggestions that the scene was staged, we have found no evidence to question the authenticity of the events shown in the video. 

In its entirety, the video is 3 minutes and 38 seconds long. It shows men in military uniforms wearing white armbands lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs, they’re visibly seriously injured. One of the men has a white bag over his head. 

The person filming reveals the man’s face, which shows him in agony. At the end of the video, three more prisoners get out of a civilian vehicle. One of the men, wearing a blue armband, fires a gun at these prisoners’ legs at close range. These men fall to the ground and the video ends. 

The head of the Ukrainian armed forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi claimed on March 27 that Russia was “filming and distributing staged videos” of inhumane treatment of Russian POWs with the aim of discrediting the Ukrainian armed forces.

However, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, announced in an interview posted on Telegram that the Ukrainian government would investigate the events shown in this video. In a post on his Instagram account, he added: “I would like to remind our soldiers, civilians and defence forces that mistreating prisoners of war is a war crime.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for an investigation into these “monstrous” images on March 28.

If the video is authentic, the soldiers’ actions could violate the Geneva Convention related to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, adopted in 1949, which prohibits soldiers from mistreating captured POWs during international armed conflict. 

A video filmed near Kharkiv, Ukraine

The potential geolocation of this video was proposed by an online investigator. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to independently verify this localisation, to confirm that the video was indeed filmed at a dairy plant in Malaya Rohan‘, a village less than 10 km east of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Kharkiv has been under siege by Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24. 

Ukrainian forces recaptured the town of Malaya Rohan’ on March 28, according to AFP.

A building, a chimney and a tree allowed us to independently verify where the scene took place. On the left, a screenshot of the amateur video. On the right, a Google Maps photo of the scene. © Youtube / Google Maps

Although we can determine the video’s location, it’s more difficult to ascertain exactly when the video was taken. We do know that the first time the video appeared online was on March 27.

Plus, there are no traces of snow on the ground or on nearby objects in the video. Weather records from Kharkiv indicate that the region was covered in snow between February 24 and March 11. Therefore, it’s likely that the video was filmed at some point between March 11 and 27. 

Blue and white armbands

Men wearing white and blue armbands in the video suggest that the video was taken during the current conflict, during which Russian forces have often identified themselves with white armbands, while Ukrainians have worn blue or yellow armbands. 

Almost all the men who are bound on the floor in this video are wearing white armbands, while the soldiers who are mistreating and shooting at them wear blue armbands.

Two screenshots of the video, showing the white armbands (outlined in white) and the blue armbands (outlined in blue).
Two screenshots of the video, showing the white armbands (outlined in white) and the blue armbands (outlined in blue). © Youtube / Observers

Still, none of these elements constitutes proof that Ukrainian soldiers took part in this incident. Indeed, the armbands could have been worn to stage the scene.

The prisoners are being questioned in Russian. According to the BBC, which asked a language expert to analyse the video, the accents of the people with blue armbands “are in line with what you’d expect from Ukrainians speaking Russian”. The British channel also explains that a man on the ground is accused of “bombing Kharkiv”.

The video’s authenticity called into question

On March 28, a pro-Ukrainian Twitter account posted a 10-second excerpt of the video, in higher quality. The post’s caption said in Russian: “These men deserve an Oscar! Remember the video with the shots in the legs? Here’s a repeat performance.”

Two days later, the same account posted a montage of edited clips of the video with the caption, “Ready for the details? Part 2”. It claims to show evidence of blank bullets, fake wounds and actors to prove that the incident was staged by Russians to discredit Ukrainian forces. 

Screenshot of the video montage that claims to show that this is Russian disinformation. Here the text explains that the man is injured in his left leg, but he is holding his right.
Screenshot of the video montage that claims to show that this is Russian disinformation. Here the text explains that the man is injured in his left leg, but he is holding his right. © Dirty_Snob

There’s no blood in the video and the men don’t moan or scream after being shot. But according to experts interviewed by the BBC, this can happen: lack of blood is sometimes a feature of a gunshot wound, especially on someone with a tourniquet, and the men may not have cried out due to shock.

Ukrainian soldiers taking prisoners in the Kharkiv area

Our colleagues at Checknews, the fact-checking unit of Libération, also analysed these videos. They found a video posted by soldiers in the Kraken unit, the armed wing of an extremist Ukrainian party that’s linked to the Azov Regiment. 

In a video posted on March 26 on a Telegram channel linked to Azov, we can see fighting between Russians and Ukrainians in the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainian soldiers are seen taking prisoners. Libération was able to locate at least one place where this fighting took place around 5 km from the dairy plant in Malaya Rohan’. 

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