Ukraine is using the blizzard of emotional confession videos and pleas for forgiveness to drum up support in its online campaign against Russia. Law enforcement authorities say the footage is a record of Russia’s brutal military campaign in Ukraine and are using it to support their claims that Putin is committing war crimes.
But the videos raise questions about whether Ukraine could violate the Geneva Conventions, which set the legal standards for humanitarian treatment in wartime, including the rights of prisoners of war.
Article 13 of the treaties stipulates: “Prisoners of war must be protected at all times, in particular against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity”. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, this includes posting images on social media.
The issue was highlighted last Tuesday by AEDT when Ukrainian authorities paraded three beaten Russian prisoners in front of television cameras at a press conference organized by the Unian news agency in Kyiv. It is unclear when the men were captured, but footage of two of the soldiers being interrogated in front of a Ukrainian flag appeared online as early as February 28.
Sporting a bruised face, two missing teeth and an unkempt beard, a prisoner identified as Dmitry Astakhov told reporters he was ashamed of Russia’s actions and apologized to Ukrainians for bringing “pain on this earth”.
During the ten minute soliloquyAstakhov said the Russians had been “brainwashed” by authorities and the media and urged his military colleagues to lay down their arms.
“I’m begging you, stop before it’s too late,” he said.
Astakhov also pleaded with Ukrainian forces to spare the lives of those who surrendered, so that they could return to their homeland and publicize the atrocities committed in Ukraine.
It is unclear if Astakhov or any of the prisoners were under duress when they were filmed. Astakhov addressed the issue at one point in his speech, saying he was “outspoken” in his remarks.
“For those watching this video: you could think of me whatever you want. That I was forced, intimidated or that the text was prepared in advance,” he said.
“I’ll tell you straight: if someone came to my territory, I would do the same thing these people did, and I would be right. And they’re right, when I have to sit here and offer an apology.
The videos risk being perceived as a provocation and an attempt to humiliate the soldiers by Russia, whose online propaganda campaign is proving far less successful around the world than Ukraine’s.