“How easily these beasts kill. We are not going to forget anything. Neither are we going to forgive the murderers,” Mr Zelensky said of the video, which has not been verified by The Independent, but is circulating online. “There will be legal responsibility for everything. The defeat of terror is necessary.”
It is unclear when or where the video was shot, but the captive is wearing the yellow arm band used by Ukrainian soldiers. A second video appears to show the beheaded corpses of two Ukrainian soldiers next to a destroyed military vehicle.
Since Russia’s forces invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, they have been accused of committing widespread abuses and alleged war crimes. The International Criminal Court has also issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin for war crimes. Reporting from The Independent has highlighted mass graves, and locals in towns like Bucha, outside Kyiv, have spoken of execution sites during periods of Russian occupation. Mr Zelensky said the apparent execution was part of this pattern.
“There are no people for them. A son, a brother, a husband, someone’s child. This is a video of Russia just trying to make that the new norm. Such a habit of destroying life,” he said. “This is not an accident. This is not an episode. This was the case earlier. This was the case in Bucha. Thousands of times. Everyone must react. Every leader.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied it has committed war crimes or that it has targeted civilians. The Kremlin described the latest video as “awful” but claimed its authenticity needed to be checked.
Mr Zelensky promised there would be legal recourse for those who carried out the apparent beheading shown in the video, and for multiple other Russian crimes. “The main goal is to win … Defeat of the occupier, sentences to murderers. Tribunal for the evil state,” he said.
The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Twitter: “A horrific video of Russian troops decapitating a Ukrainian prisoner of war is circulating online.
“It’s absurd that Russia, which is worse than Isis, is presiding over the UNSC,” he said, referring to the UN Security Council, where Russia took up the rotating presidency this month. The terror group Isis released a number of videos showing beheadings when it controlled swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in the years around 2014.
“Russian terrorists must be kicked out of Ukraine and the UN and be held accountable for their crimes,” Mr Kuleba said. Ukraine’s foreign ministry also called on the International Criminal Court to “immediately investigate yet another atrocity of the Russian military”.
Ukraine’s domestic security agency, the SBU, said it had started an investigation into a suspected war crime over the video.
“Yesterday, a video appeared on the internet showing how the Russian occupiers are showing their beastly nature – cruelly torturing a Ukrainian prisoner and cutting off his head,” the agency wrote on Telegram.
Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, told people not to share any name for the soldier publicly until his identity has been officially established by law enforcement. She urged people to stop sharing the video online.
“Remember, the enemy wants to frighten us. Wants to make us weaker,” she said.
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said it was appalled by what it called “particularly gruesome” videos posted on social media.
As well as the purported execution, another video shows mutilated bodies of apparent Ukrainian prisoners of war, it said.
“Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident,” it said in a statement. “The latest incidents must also be properly investigated and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”
The video comes as Ukraine asks for more weapons to help defend itself against Russia's invasion. The front lines of the war have been largely frozen for months, with much fighting focused around the city of Bakhmut – although Moscow has claimed some gains around the city in recent days.
It also follows the leak of dozens of US classified documents detailing elements of Ukraine’s war. The US Justice Department is investigating the leak, which has seen the documents appear online. One of the documents is said to have included a warning from US intelligence in February that Ukraine might not be able to muster sufficient troops and weaponry for an expected spring counter-offensive. The latest document to come to light, dated early March, suggests that Serbia, one of the only countries in Europe that has refused to impose sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, apparently agreed to supply arms to Kyiv or had potentially sent them already.
Ukraine's defence minister said on Wednesday that the Pentagon document leaks contain a mixture of true and false information about his country’s military, but he downplayed its negative impact.
“There is a lot of information there which does not correspond with reality,” Oleksii Reznikov said during a briefing in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart. “The information which does correspond with reality has lost its relevance. So it’s a mix of truth and falsehoods.”
Mr Reznikov also said he believed the leaks were a deliberate attempt to sow discord among Kyiv’s allies. “The goal of this work is to lower the level of trust among (our) partners, especially the United States and other countries, and to me this is completely obvious and clear.”
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said that the documents might be fake and a deliberate attempt to mislead Moscow. The Kremlin said it did not know “like everyone else” how authentic the documents were.
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