An alleged beheading in Ukraine: What we know so far

Ukraine deplores the attack being blamed on Russia, while the Kremlin says the video must be studied for authenticity.

Graves of unidentified people killed by Russian soldiers during occupation of the Bucha town, are seen at the town's cemetery, before the first anniversary of its liberation, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine March 30, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Graves of unidentified people killed by Russian soldiers during the occupation of Bucha in the town's cemetery, before the first anniversary of its liberation, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine [File: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

Gruesome footage that purports to show a Ukrainian soldier being killed alive was shared online by a pro-Kremlin blogger and began circulating on social media on Tuesday.

The video appears to show a Ukrainian soldier being beheaded by Russian soldiers.

The footage emerged days after a separate video posted on pro-Russian social media channels seemed to show the bodies of two decapitated Ukrainian soldiers.

Here is what you need to know about the latest video, which Al Jazeera has not been able to independently verify.

What happens in the video?

A man in a green military uniform and a yellow armband, which is worn by Ukrainian troops, is approached by another man in camouflage and a white band around his leg, usually worn by Russian troops, who beheads him with a large knife.

A third man then picks up a flak jacket belonging to the decapitated soldier. There are three voices audible in the clip, which suggests the Ukrainian soldier was alive when the attack took place.

When and where were they filmed?

It is unclear exactly where the footage was filmed as the video contains no identifiable landmarks. The soldiers appear to be in a forested area.

The timing of the attack is also unclear. The foliage condition does not reflect current weather conditions in Ukraine. The appearance of green leaves could suggest the attack took place last summer, but that remains speculation at this point.

The video appears to have first been shared on the messaging app Telegram by a pro-Kremlin blogger.

What has Ukraine said about the video?

The video has drawn outrage among high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

“There is something that no one in the world can ignore: how easily these beasts kill,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He said that Ukraine would neither “forget” nor “forgive” the incident, adding: “There will be legal responsibility for everything”.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the “horrific” act, describing Russia as “worse than ISIS [ISIL]” on Twitter. He also called for Russia to be “held accountable for their crimes” and kicked out of the United Nations.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, stated on Twitter that the latest video proved the “bloodthirstiness once again” of Russia.

Ukraine’s state security service has launched an investigation into the video and Ukraine’s ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets has requested that the United Nations Human Rights Committee also investigate.

What has the international reaction been?

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said it was “appalled”.

European Union spokesperson Nabila Massrali said that if the video was confirmed, it would be “another brutal reminder about the inhumane nature of the Russian aggression”.

“The EU reiterates its firm commitment to holding to account all perpetrators and accomplices of war crimes committed in connection with Russia’s war,” she said.

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said it was horrified, adding: “Those responsible for all the crimes committed in Ukraine must be held accountable.”

The Kremlin described the video as “awful” and said its authenticity must be checked. Moscow has denied in the past that its troops have carried out atrocities during the conflict.

Russia’s General Prosecutor’s office announced it has launched an investigation into the video.

“In order to assess the credibility of these materials and make an appropriate decision, they have been forwarded to the investigative authorities for verification,” it said.

What happens next?

A number of disturbing videos have been released during the war, which began on February 24, 2022.

In March, a video showed Oleksandr Matsiyevskiy, an unarmed Ukrainian prisoner of war smoking in a trench, being shot dead by automatic weapons.

Ukraine opened an investigation at the time, and Kuleba, the foreign minister, called for the International Criminal Court to launch an “immediate investigation”.

Last July, a video appeared to show a Ukrainian prisoner of war being castrated in the Russian-occupied Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have since identified the man.

Kyiv has also been accused of executing prisoners of war. In November, a video appeared to show Russian soldiers being shot after trying to surrender.

Several investigations are usually launched after each incident but little can be done to bring any perpetrators to justice in the current state of play.

Source: Al Jazeera