The video aired by RIA Novosti shows captured Ukrainian soldiers being “voluntarily” inducted into the Russian army.
The soldiers are depicted armed with rifles, swearing allegiance to Russia, and dressed in military fatigues.
Human Rights Watch has since weighed in on the situation expressing that the move may violate the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs.
The convention states that captured soldiers should not be exposed to combat or unhealthy and dangerous conditions and neither should they be coerced.
Yulia Gorbunova, a senior researcher on Ukraine at Human Rights Watch, challenged the idea that these POWs agreed to the idea willingly.
She said, “Russian authorities might claim they are recruiting them on a voluntary basis but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a prisoner of war’s decision could be taken truly voluntarily, given the situation of coercive custody,” per Associated Press.
The soldiers have reportedly been integrated into a battalion named “Bogdan Khmelnitsky” (after a medieval nobleman and Russian fighter who brought parts of Ukraine under Moscow's control) which is said to be a new fixture in the Russian military.
According to The Independent, Russian officials have completed the training of the battalion, and the POWs are expected to be deployed soon.
The battalion is said to consist of around 70 previously imprisoned Ukrainian fighters from various penal colonies.
They are expected to operate under the larger “Kaskad” formation of the Donetsk People's Republic, the Russia-backed breakaway region in eastern Ukraine.
Another expert, Nick Reynolds who is a research fellow on land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute in London, also weighed in on the potential for coercion in this scenario.
He stated that a POW does not have “a huge amount of agency” and called the issue a “very difficult situation.”
Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggests that this is not the first time Ukrainian POWs have been asked to “volunteer” for the battalion.
A report by the Washington-based think tank wrote as early as August 2022 that “Russian authorities have likely coerced Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) into joining a ‘volunteer’ formation that will fight in Ukraine, which would constitute an apparent violation of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War.”
A month before the ISW released this report, it was reported that Ukrainian POWs were being housed in the Olenivka prison, which was subsequently destroyed.
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Russia attributed the explosion to a rocket fired by Ukraine, but Kyiv accused Moscow of the deed in its attempts to cover up alleged abuse and killings of detained Ukrainian soldiers, per The Independent.
Russia is also conducting a conscription campaign in occupied Ukraine in an attempt to bolster its deteriorating forces.
The authenticity of the video published by RIA Novosti has not been independently verified.
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