Russia is sending Ukrainian prisoners of war to the frontlines of their own country to fight for Moscow, it has been claimed.
Ukraine nationals could be seen in a video shared by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti while swearing allegiance to Russia “before being sent to the frontline”.
In the unverified clip released on November 7, the authenticity of which could not immediately be confirmed, the Ukrainians were holding rifles and wearing combat uniforms.
Ria alleged the soldiers were part of a battalion named after medieval nobleman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, considered a national hero in Russia for bringing parts of Ukraine under the control of Moscow.
This group had entered service in October, the news agency also claimed. Sharing a news alert on the Telegram messaging app, Ria wrote: “The first battalion of former Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers – the volunteer battalion named after Bohdan Khmelnytsky – entered service in the Russian operational combat tactical formation ‘Cascade’, battalion commander Andrey Tishchenko told RIA Novosti.”
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It is not clear whether these prisoners of war were coerced into joining the battalion.
Ria had previously mentioned the creation of a “volunteer battalion” named after Russia’s 15th-century hero in February, when it claimed: “A volunteer battalion named after Bogdan Khmelnitsky was created in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). It was formed from prisoners of war of the Ukrainian troops, one of the unit commanders, Andrei Tishchenko, told RIA Novosti.”
The DPR is an internationally unrecognised republic of Russia created within the occupied region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
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This unrecognised republic was created by pro-Russian armed separatists in 2014.
The Donetsk region is one of the main areas where Ukrainian and Russian troops are fighting.
Experts fear Russia may be in breach of the Geneva Conventions which forbid prisoners of war from being exposed to combat or from working in unhealthy and dangerous conditions, whether they are coerced or not.
Yulia Gorbunova, senior researcher on Ukraine at Human Rights Watch, said: “Russian authorities might claim they are recruiting them on a voluntary basis but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a prisoner of war’s decision could be taken truly voluntarily, given the situation of coercive custody.”
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Nick Reynolds, research fellow for Land Warfare at the Royal United Services Institute in London, noted prisoners of war don’t have “a huge amount of agency” and are in a “very difficult position”.
He added: “The entire scenario is laced with the potential for coercion.”
RIA Novosti claimed the Ukrainians will operate as part of another unit in eastern Ukraine, believed to count about 7,000 fighters.
Russia, which is known to be recruiting Russian convicts as well as conscripting Ukrainians who live in occupied regions, is trying to beef up its troops without souring the mood of Russians by calling for a general mobilisation.
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