Shocking new evidence of “execution-style killings” by pro-Russian armed groups in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, illustrates the urgent need for action to tackle the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis in the area, said Amnesty International.
“The new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time. The question now is: what are the separatist leaders going to do about it?” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
“The torture, ill-treatment and killing of captured, surrendered or wounded soldiers are war crimes. These claims must be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted in fair trials by recognized authorities.”
Footage reviewed by Amnesty International shows 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.
A number of individuals claim to have seen Ihor Branovytsky being shot and killed point-blank by a separatist commander. His body was returned to his family earlier this month and he was buried in Kyiv on 3 April. The Ukrainian security services have opened an investigation into his killing.
Amnesty International 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 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.
The revelation follows a report by the Ukrainian newspaper Kyiv Post on 6 April 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.
“This chilling ‘confession’ from a separatist fighter, alongside video evidence and testimony from witnesses, and the mounting evidence of abuses of captives by both sides, highlights the urgent need for an independent investigation into this and all other allegations of abuses in this conflict which began a year ago,” said Denis Krivosheev.
“Summary killings are a war crime, plain and simple. The leaders of the self-styled ‘Donetsk People's Republic’ in eastern Ukraine must send their members a clear message: those who fight with them or on their behalf must respect the laws of war. They must urgently remove from their ranks anyone suspected of responsibility for ordering or committing serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, and fully cooperate with any independent investigation.”
As parties to the armed conflict, armed groups such as “Sparta Battalion” are legally bound by the rules of international humanitarian law – the laws of war – which prohibit, among other things, torture and other ill-treatment and the killing of detainees.
Ukraine: Fears of detainee abuse as armed groups close in on Debaltseve (News, 17 February 2015)
Eastern Ukraine conflict: Summary killings, misredcorded and misreported (News/Report, 20 October 2014).
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Amnesty International’s press office: +44 207 413 5566, firstname.lastname@example.org, out-of-office: +44 7778 472 126.