UN human rights monitors have documented dozens of summary killings of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war (POWs) as well as torture, the use of human shields and other abuses since Russia invaded its neighbour, according to a report that says such actions could amount to war crimes.
The UN Human Rights Office’s mission in Ukraine on Friday released the first full look at the treatment of POWs during the Ukraine war along with an update of human rights violations overall from a six-month period that ran through January.
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The report was based on interviews with about 400 POWs, half of them Ukrainians who were released and the other half Russians held captive in Ukraine.
The team said it had no access to POWs held in Russia or Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, where it identified 48 internment sites. The mission said it nonetheless documented about 40 summary executions over the course of the 13-month war.
The UN rights office, which has had a monitoring team in Ukraine since fighting broke out in areas of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists in 2014, has said its findings are based on confirmed cases and typically understate actual tolls.
“We are deeply concerned about the summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons ordered to combat by Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Matilda Bogner, the head of the UN monitoring mission, said at a Kyiv news conference.
Bogner laid out abuses allegedly committed by both sides but noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at the root of the violence against civilians and POWs. She said Ukrainian prosecutors were investigating some cases, but none had been taken yet to court.
“In relation to the treatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war, we are also deeply concerned by the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war shortly after being captured by Russian armed forces,” Bogner said.
“The Wagner Group military and security contractors perpetrated 11 of these executions,” she said.
The UN rights office also documented five cases in which Ukrainian POWs had died after being tortured or otherwise ill-treated and four cases of death due to a lack of medical attention during internment.
The report found that while abuse of POWs took place on both sides, it was far more common against Ukrainians – more than nine in 10 of interviewees reported abuse – than against Russians, about half of whom testified to abuse.
In an update on rights abuses affecting other groups, the rights office said children from the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine were sent to “summer camps” in Russia with their parents’ consent but were not returned home as expected after the vacation period. Several parts of Kharkiv province were occupied by Russia last year before Ukraine’s military reclaimed them in a late summer counteroffensive.
About 200 children sent to a camp in the Russian city of Krasnodarskyi Krai remained after the summer and were enrolled in a local school, according to this second report. The update noted that Russian authorities said in October that as many as 2,500 children from Ukraine were living in temporary accommodation centres in Russia and some had remained there.
But the rights office cautioned that it remained unclear how many unaccompanied children were placed in camps, temporary lodging or institutionalised care in Russia and how many children were transferred there with their parents.
The UN reported earlier this week that it had recorded the deaths of 8,317 civilians in Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022. It had also documented 13,809 people wounded in connection with the conflict. It cautioned that those figures understate the actual casualties.