A Brutal Act: The execution of unarmed Ukrainian soldier and the outrage over it


War is brutal — the Russia-Ukraine war has been enduring on for more than a year now, causing thousands of deaths and untold devastation. The brutality of this war has been laid bare in a video that has now gone viral, which shows the alleged execution of a Ukrainian prisoner of war.

The execution on camera prompted Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to react, with him vowing to “find the murderers” involved in the video and officials in Kyiv condemning the incident as a war crime. Kyiv has demanded the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate the grisly video.

What exactly was on this said video? Does it constitute a war crime? We take a closer look.

The alleged execution

On Monday, a 12-second-long video was released on Telegram and was later widely circulated on Twitter and other social media platforms. The grainy video showed a weary man in combat fatigues standing in a shallow trench smoking a cigarette.

An off-screen voice in Russian says, “Well, start taking the video now.” At this point, the soldier, in uniform with a Ukrainian flag insignia on his arm responds, “Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)” in Ukrainian. A split-second later: gunshots. The smoker drops to the ground, dead. Two off-camera voices curse him in Russian, saying: “Die, b***h” in Russian.

No media outlet has been able to independently verify the authenticity of the video; neither has any of them been able to confirm who the executed soldier is, where he was shot, and who shot him.

However, the Ukrainian military identified the slain combatant as Tymofiy Mykolayovych Shadura. The military said that the 41-year-old Shadura was from the 30th Mechanised Brigade, and had been missing in fighting around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine since 3 March.

A woman identified as Shadura’s sister told the BBC that her brother appeared to be the man in the video. “My brother would certainly be capable of standing up to the Russians like that,” the woman said, as reported by the BBC.

However, as per a report published in The Guardian there are some Ukrainian media outlets and bloggers who have cast doubt if the man killed was Shadura. They claim that the executed man was Oleksandr Igorevich Matsievskyi — a member of the fire support company of the 163rd battalion of the territorial defence in the city of Nizhyn — who was deployed to Bakhmut last November. He went missing in January, allegedly captured by the Russians.

The Ukrainian military in a statement said: “Currently, the body of our serviceman is in the temporarily occupied territory. The final confirmation of the identity can be established after the return of the body and the relevant examinations.”


In his nightly address to his nation, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the combatant’s bravery and slammed Russia for the brutal act. “I want all of us to respond to these words together, in unity: ‘Glory to the Hero! Glory to the Heroes! Glory to Ukraine!’ And we will find the murderers,” the Ukrainian president said.

“Ukraine will not forget the feat of each and every one whose lives gave freedom to Ukraine forever.”

Shortly after the video emerged on social media, #GloryToUkraine became one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter. In fact, some Ukrainians posted sketches of Shadura, looking back at his captors with a cigarette in his mouth, with the “Glory to Ukraine!” slogan.

Other officials in Kyiv also condemned the incident, with many of them calling out Russian troops to be “worthless murderers”.

The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces was quoted as telling BBC: “The shooting of an unarmed prisoner is a cynical and brazen disregard for the norms of international humanitarian law and the customs of war. This is what worthless murderers do, not warriors.

“The Russian occupiers have once again shown that their main goal in Ukraine is the brutal extermination of Ukrainians.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on social media: “Horrific video of an unarmed Ukrainian POW executed by Russian forces merely for saying ‘Glory to Ukraine’. Another [piece of] proof this war is genocidal.” He also called for an “immediate investigation” by the International Criminal Court into the war crime.

Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, wrote on Telegram that Ukraine’s security service would also be investigating the killing as a criminal case under domestic laws. “Even the war has its own laws,” he said, adding that prosecutors from his office would lead the case. “There are rules of international law systematically ignored by the Russian criminal regime. But sooner or later, there will be punishment.”

The Russian side has denied of any war crime being perpetrated. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss of the Wagner Group — the mercenary group that has been at the front lines of the fighting — denied his group’s involvement in the execution. “Is there any proof that this video was filmed outside Bakhmut, any proof that this video wasn’t staged or any proof that Wagner was involved?” he said in a statement late on Tuesday. “If so, we would definitely look into it.”

Ukraine has stated that the latest incident is an example of the many war crimes that Vladimir Putin has perpetrated during the Russia-Ukraine war. File image/AP

War crimes abound

This is not the first instance of an alleged war crime being perpetrated during the Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine has been accusing Russia of several war crimes — of torturing and killing prisoners since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin earlier in February had stated that regional authorities had registered more than 65,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow’s conflict began nearly a year ago.

Kyiv has said that it seeks to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russian officials responsible for the war. “Today, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a memorandum between the Ukraine government and the International Criminal Court, which will allow the opening of the office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in Ukraine in the near future,” Kostin said last week.

Also read: What are environmental crimes and can Ukraine punish Russia for them?

Earlier in February, US vice president Kamala Harris had also stated during the Munich Security Conference that Russia had committed “crimes against humanity” in its war against Ukraine, adding that “justice must be served.”

Even the United Nations Human Rights Council’s independent inquiry has found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. The report documented unlawful killings — including summary executions of civilians — in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, by Russian armed forces while they controlled these areas in late February and March last year.

The report, however, added that human rights violations were being committed by both warring sides, with Commissioner Pablo de Greiff saying, “We have found two instances of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers, and we mentioned this in our statement. We have found obviously significantly larger numbers of instances that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

With inputs from agencies

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A Brutal Act: The execution of unarmed Ukrainian soldier and the outrage over it
A Brutal Act: The execution of unarmed Ukrainian soldier and the outrage over it
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