The man believed to be pictured in a battlefield video torturing a Ukrainian POW was captured in several other videos released by Russian media. Analysts have noted that the same soldier appears to be wearing the same distinctive wide-brimmed, tassled hat in both the torture video and those officially released.
A pair of videos published on pro-Russian Telegram channels this week appear to show Russian soldiers castrating and executing a defenseless Ukrainian prisoner of war.
The torture videos circulated on the same day that reports emerged that dozens of Ukrainian POWs died in an explosion at a Russian-run prison in Olenivka in eastern Ukraine. Reporters on the ground said the explosion appeared to be a missile or artillery strike. Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed each other for the explosion.
In the videos of the man being tortured and then killed, which were published Thursday, a man identified as a Russian soldier, who is wearing a distinctive black Stetson hat and blue gloves, uses a box cutter to rip the clothes of a bound and gagged man wearing a Ukrainian army uniform. The Russian captor then kicks his defenseless victim in the head and cuts off his testicles. The torturer spouts insults in Russian while the victim, identified on pro-Russian Telegram posts as a Ukrainian soldier, writhes in agony. His screams are muffled against the gag. At least two other Russian soldiers are seen standing nearby.
A frame from video circulated online that appears to show a Russian soldier castrating a Ukrainian POW.
A separate video posted to a Russian Telegram channel on Friday afternoon appears to show the same prisoner being executed with a single pistol shot to the head. Using ropes tied around the victim’s ankles, assailants then drag the body into an adjacent hole. At the end of the video, the same Russian soldier in the distinctive black Stetson hat is seen hoisting his victim's body over the lip of the depression. A vehicle with the letter “Z”— a Russian military identifier — is visible in the background.
The videos sparked furious reactions among many Ukrainians who pointed to the brutal footage as further evidence of Russia’s prolific war crimes in Ukraine. The individual malice and sadism displayed by the Russian torturer is hard to fathom. Even so, the horrifying castration footage underscores the habitual reversion to war crimes among frustrated Russian soldiers, some experts say. That pattern manifested in the mass slaughter and rape of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces in outlying areas of Kyiv, such as Bucha, in March, said James Rushton, a UK-based foreign policy and defense analyst.
“Initially the Russians behaved relatively well towards the locals — or at least they weren't beating, murdering and raping people — but then when they had military setbacks and reverses, they started taking it out on the population,” Rushton, who publishes analysis about the Ukraine war under the Twitter handle @JimmySecUK, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
“But it's also important to point out that this is how the Russian military has behaved in every conflict they've ever been a part of,” he added.
While Coffee or Die cannot independently authenticate the castration and execution footage, multiple open-source intelligence experts claim the two videos are authentic and undoctored.
Aric Toler, the director of research and training at the investigative journalism site Bellingcat, posted a series of tweets positively linking the Russian soldier in the castration video with a soldier seen in a June 27 news report produced by the Russian state-sponsored media site, RT.
In the RT video, the correlated Russian soldier is seen patrolling the captured Azot chemical factory in the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk. He carries a Dragunov sniper rifle and wears the same distinctive black Stetson hat with braided styling seen in the castration video. He also wears a bracelet that matches one seen on the torturer’s wrist.
“Bracelet on the left hand seems to be the strongest single detail, making this a pretty open and shut match,” Toler tweeted.
Russian state media said the hatted soldier belongs to the Russian army’s Chechen Akhmat battalion.
The site wartranslated.com posted a selection of reactions by Russian Telegram users to the castration footage. According to the article, Russians' comments both celebrated the horrific video and questioned its authenticity. Some particularly chilling responses chastised the Russian soldiers — not for their cruelty, but for wasting time in the murder of one Ukrainian.
A user named Prizrak Novorossii wrote: “Bullet (blade) in the medulla oblongata. And on to more important things. Or to the next item. You just need to systematically destroy all the Ukronazis – totally. And their accomplices. Cold, calm, indifferent way.”
Ukrainian officials say that Russia is behind another atrocity involving Ukrainian POWs, which occurred on Friday, July 29.
Some 2,500 Ukrainian troops surrendered at the Azovstal factory in May. Dozens of those prisoners were killed Friday in an explosion at a prisoner-of-war detention camp in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine. Detainees at the site in Olenivka, Ukraine, included soldiers from the Azov Regiment, as well as Ukrainian Marines.
Russian news reports claimed Ukrainian forces hit the detention facility with US-provided HIMARS rocket systems. For its part, Ukraine’s general staff announced in a Friday statement that Ukrainian forces had not fired any rockets or artillery near Olenivka overnight and accused Russian forces of organizing the attack to cover up war crimes and evidence of prisoner abuse.
The US Marine Corps 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted its first High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launch in Europe, further integrating the Marines in a joint environment and capitalizing on its strategic lift capabilities. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara.
“With the barbaric overnight shelling in Olenivka the Russian occupiers tried to destroy evidence and cover up the torture and execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense stated Friday on Twitter.
In the same tweet, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense called the detention camp explosion the “Ukrainian Katyn” — referring to the Soviet Union’s execution of some 22,000 Polish prisoners of war during World War II.
A Russian video of the explosion’s aftermath shows an apocalyptic scene. Multiple burned bodies are seen enmeshed in the oxidized metal skeletons of bunk beds scattered within an open bay room that is totally destroyed. Outside, emaciated Ukrainian bodies are strewn within a yard.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense originally said 40 Ukrainians were killed and 75 wounded. Officials in charge of the Russian detention camp later said that 53 out of 193 total Ukrainian prisoners were killed in the attack. A spokeswoman for Russia’s collaborationist forces in eastern Ukraine told a Russian news outlet on Friday that, miraculously, no Russian guards or military personnel were killed or wounded in the Olenivka explosion.
Andriy Biletskyi, a Ukrainian political figure and founder of the Azov Regiment, blamed Russia for the massacre and called for a manhunt to find those responsible.
“It is already obvious that this was a pre-planned act by a country for which the concept of officer's honor is unknown, much the less compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the rules, laws and customs of war,” Biletskyi wrote Friday on Telegram, adding: “Every rank-and-file actor and every organizer, regardless of their position and location, will bear responsibility. Wherever you hide, you will be found and exterminated."
US and British defense officials have recently said that Russia’s invasion force is suffering high rates of attrition, both in terms of lost troops and military hardware. With Russian forces nearing exhaustion and a Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russian-occupied city of Kherson expected in the near future, some experts warn that frustrated Russian soldiers will likely commit more atrocities.
“It'll be just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately,” Rushton said, referring to this week’s castration and execution videos.
The US Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Wednesday pressing the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. A bipartisan group of US representatives announced on Thursday that they will introduce legislation to the same effect.
“All 100 members of the United States Senate are urging the Biden Administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism…I didn’t think there was an issue under the sun that could get 100 Senate votes, but we found it: Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism,” US Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said in a Thursday statement.
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Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.