KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — The Ukrainian military has paraded captured Russian soldiers before the media and made them recite repentances for their invasion, prompting the Red Cross to warn that prisoners must not be mistreated.
Eyes red, faces gaunt and in some cases scratched, 10 young Russians in green fatigues were lined up before the press and cameras at an event attended by AFP on March 4.
Some of them stared at their boots and avoided looking at the cameras, while others appeared more at ease.
It was the second such act in a week organized by Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service.
Despite being widely recognized as the victim as Russia bombards its cities, Kyiv risks ceding moral ground over the February 24 Russian invasion to Moscow, which has accused it of torturing detainees.
“Prisoners of war and detained civilians must be treated with dignity,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.
Prisoners “are absolutely protected against ill-treatment and exposure to public curiosity including images circulating publicly on social media,” it said.
The Ukrainian defense ministry and the SBU did not respond to questions from AFP about their methods.
Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich called in an online video for “humane treatment of prisoners.” He reminded viewers that Ukraine’s Western partners were watchful on the subject.
Speak to the camera
Blindfolded with tape, the soldiers were pushed along on single file, holding one another by the shoulders to keep from falling.
They were then groomed and taken into a room where they were shown videos of Russian bombardments, while a Ukrainian officer named the cities being bombed.
“Look what your army is doing,” the officer said. “They would tell your parents that you died on maneuvers, not that you were here.”
Each soldier then faced the cameras and stated his name, his unit and how he had entered Ukraine.
Each said that he was voluntarily stepping up to condemn Russia’s invasion — using the same phrases as the other soldiers.
Each soldier said he was being well treated and ended by calling on Russians not to believe their President Vladimir Putin’s “lies.”
Incredible video released by officials in Ukraine as a captured Russian soldier tells a press conference that he started to question what he'd been told after seeing his favourite boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko signing up to fight against him… pic.twitter.com/0unQTLSrCU
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) March 6, 2022
Russia has not reacted specifically to these appearances, but more generally its defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov on February 27 said Russian prisoners of war were facing “torture.” He compared them to victims of “the German Nazis and their henchmen.”
Calling prisoners’ mothers
The Ukrainian military has set up a website to arrange for the mothers of captured Russian soldiers to come to pick them up in Ukraine, via the Polish border.
“Unlike Putin’s fascists, we Ukrainians do not make war against mothers and their captured children,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement.
Ukraine’s military command said 200 Russian prisoners of war have been captured since February 24.
Russia’s defense ministry in turn says it has captured 572 Ukrainians.
The figures cannot be verified. The ICRC told AFP it could not exercise its right under the Geneva Convention to visit the prisoners because of the current fighting.