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U.N. urges investigation into videos of alleged POW abuse by Russia and Ukraine

A top U.N. human rights official said "any ill treatment" of prisoners of war must stop immediately.
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A top U.N. official has called on both Russia and Ukraine to investigate videos that appear to show their soldiers mistreating prisoners of war during the conflict in Ukraine.

The government in Kyiv has said it is looking into one video that purports to show Ukrainians shooting Russian prisoners in the legs.

The commander of Ukraine’s army has suggested that the graphic video is a staged act of propaganda. NBC News was unable to authenticate the video.

The Kremlin — whose own disinformation efforts have ranged from accusing the United States of running a network of nonexistent "biolabs" across Ukraine to denying it has launched a war at all — said it is also investigating the video.

Matilda Bogner, head of the U.N.’s human rights office in Ukraine, said at a news briefing Monday that her team was in the process of verifying a number of videos, but that "on the face of it, it does raise serious concerns."

She said her team had seen videos from Russia and Ukraine purporting to show prisoners taken by the opposing army, and called on Moscow and Kyiv to investigate "so that any perpetrators will be held to account."

She added, “It is important that these types of videos and that any ill treatment that may happen is stopped immediately."

Ukrainian forces detain pro-Russia separatists near the eastern Ukraine city of Luhansk on Feb. 24.Anatolii Stepanov / AFP via Getty Images

Of the video circulating online that appears to show Ukrainians shooting Russian prisoners in the legs, Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, told Sky News on Monday, "We need proof."

“If militaries from the Ukrainian side are guilty, we will investigate them and take them to court," she said.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that the government was investigating and that "if this turns out to be real, this is absolutely unacceptable behavior," the British newspaper The Times reported.

NBC News was not able to reach Arestovych for comment, but on Sunday he reminded Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers that "the abuse of prisoners is a war crime that has no amnesty under international law and has no statute of limitations."

"Let me remind you that we are a European army of a European country," he wrote on the messaging app Telegram. "We treat prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Conventions."

The Geneva Conventions are a set of four treaties that govern humanitarian rules during war. They say that prisoners of war should be protected against violence, intimidation or "public curiosity," and that they should have minimum standards of food, accommodation, hygiene and medical care.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin would also look into what he described as the “monstrous images.” But he has not commented on allegations of mistreatment by Russian troops.

Image: Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen near the besieged city of Mariupol
Pro-Russia separatists head toward the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday.Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

The use of amateur cellphone video has risen to unparalleled levels during the Ukraine invasion, making the information war a hotly contested battleground alongside the fighting on the ground.

On Sunday, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s army, Valery Zaluzhny, accused Russia on Telegram of filming and distributing “staged videos with the inhumane treatment by alleged ‘Ukrainian soldiers.’”

The original source of the video purporting to show Ukrainians shooting Russian soldiers in their legs is unclear. But one of its biggest promoters online was Maria Dubovikova, a political commentator at the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank co-founded by the Russian foreign ministry and whose trustee chairman is Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Dubovikova's tweet of the footage has been retweeted almost 9,000 times and shared 12,000 times as of 7 a.m. Tuesday morning ET.

In the past, Dubovikova has been responsible for spreading anti-Ukraine disinformation, according to the Politifact website. On March 13, she was among several Russian commentators to suggest that Zelenskyy's visit to a hospital was staged and recorded ahead of time because, they claimed, it featured a woman who had died.

Politifact said that this wasn't true, and that the deceased woman wasn't in the clip at all. It said this was all part of a trend of "viral internet rumors that baselessly claim the war is staged, scripted or exaggerated with crisis actors."