Verified video appears to show Ukrainian troops killing Russian captives. Here’s what we know about it.
On April 6, the New York Times reported that its journalists had verified a video that appears to show Ukrainian soldiers killing captured Russian troops. This footage surfaced on April 4, amid the international outcry over the civilian killings revealed in Bucha following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region. Pro-Russian media outlets, which have been pushing false narratives about the atrocities in Buch being “staged” and/or a “false flag” (despite ample evidence of war crimes), already claim to have identified the Ukrainian troops seen in the video. The Ukrainian authorities have yet to confirm the authenticity of the video, but earlier promised to investigate alleged war crimes against Russian forces.
The contents of the video: The footage verified by the New York Times shows four Russian soldiers, lying on a highway in pools of blood. At the beginning of the video, at least one of them appears to be still alive (although badly wounded). A soldier then shoots him three times, apparently killing him. The faces of three Ukrainian soldiers are shown in the video: the person refers to one of them, a man with a beard, as Georgian. The video also shows a Russian combat vehicle loaded with supplies and marked with the letter “V.”
Where and when was the video filmed?
Both The New York Times and the Conflict Intelligence Team determined that the video was filmed on a road just north of the village of Dmytrivka, which is located along the Kyiv–Zhytomyr highway, several kilometers southwest of Bucha and Irpin (satellite towns of Kyiv). Russian troops were stationed in this area for several weeks, but began to leave in late March as part of the Russian military’s retreat from the Kyiv region.
Several official Ukrainian sources reported the defeat of Russian troops near Dmytrivka in early April. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry published videos that show the destruction in the area — including destroyed Russian military equipment — on April 1 and 2. In one of the videos, a Ukrainian soldier recounts how his unit destroyed an airborne combat vehicle and “took one as a trophy.” Captured soldiers, he says, were then “taken away.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, spoke about a battle near Dmytrivka in his daily briefing on April 2. Recounting how Ukrainian forces were driving enemy troops from their positions in the Kyiv region, Arestovych described a “heroic episode” in which two Ukrainian tanks ambushed a “reinforced enemy tank company,” destroyed ten tanks, and forced other Russian forces to retreat.
Later, on April 3, the press service of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (the HUR) revealed some details about the operation to liberate Dmytrivka and the neighboring village of Kapitanivka. According to a HUR Special Forces Group Commander known as “Titan,” the Ukrainian side forced enemy troops out of Dmytrivka to protect the civilian population, and only then entered into a battle with the Russian side. The Ukrainian side, Titan said, consisted of eight tanks, infantry, and the special forces group — together, they took on 21 units of Russian heavy equipment. “Their [the Russian side's] losses are nine units of heavy equipment, APCs and tanks, and up to 50 infantrymen […] They all retreated. But the majority were destroyed,” Titan is quoted as saying.
Freelance journalist Oz Katerji published photos from the location of the ambush on April 2. He said that the Ukrainian side destroyed 13 Russian armored vehicles. Most of them can be seen in the video below.
“The [Ukrainian] soldiers say there were eight bodies that were left behind that they removed yesterday,” Katerji says in the video.
When exactly this battle took place and when the video verified by the New York Times was filmed is difficult to establish (these two events may not even have happened on the same day). “The killings appear to have been the result of a Ukrainian ambush of a Russian column that occurred on or around March 30,” The New York Times writes. Ukrainian officials did not specify when the battle near Dmytrivka took place. Reporting on the damage on April 2, journalist Oz Katerji said that Ukrainian forces had destroyed the armored convoy “48 hours ago” — that is, on March 31 (the Ukrainian Defense Ministry published photos from the scene that same day).
However, on the morning of March 30, the Ukrainian news site UNIAN published a short video filmed at the same time and location, captioning it: “The Georgian legion continues to help the Ukrainians in cleansing the Kyiv region from ‘liberators’.” The UNIAN video appears to show the same bearded man who is appears, close-up, in the verified video. According to the HUR’s press release, the operation in Dmytrivka began at 17:00 (5:00 p.m.) and since UNIAN published the other video on the morning of March 30, one can surmise that the video of the apparent killing might have been filmed on the evening of March 29.
The response from pro-Russian media
The video later verified by The New York Times was posted on the evening of April 4, when the topic of war crimes was being widely discussed in international media after dozens of civilians were found dead in Bucha. The video quickly began circulating among pro-Russian Telegram channels (such as “Readovka” and “Provernutye na Z voine”), alongside posts about an alleged “false flag by the Ukrainian authorities” in Bucha. Readovka titled the video “Proof of atrocities of the UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces], who shot Russian prisoners.” The channel claimed that the Russian soldiers’ throats were slit; this was also reported by Alexander Kots, a correspondent for the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, who asserted that these killings looked “exactly” like the murders in Bucha, where the dead had their hands tied behind their backs and were also wearing white armbands.
By April 5, these Telegram channels began claiming to have identified three of the people in the video: the man with the beard, as well as two other men who are shown close-up.
The channels identified the man with the beard as Teimuraz Khizanishvili, alleging that he is a “fighter” from the Georgian Legion. Journalist Timur Olevsky later reported that the Ukrainian military also identified this person by the same name. However, Olevsky asserted that Khizanishvili is not a member of the Georgian Legion, but rather part of various Ukrainian units and, allegedly, even a member of the far-right organization Praviy Sektor (Right Sector).
Olevsky interviewed the head of the Georgian Legion, Mamuka Mamulashvili, who clarified that it was not his unit shown in the video. At the same time, Mamulashvili stressed that after the events in Bucha, he decided that “Russian soldiers would not be taken prisoner under any circumstances.” This clip from the interview was widely circulated on Russian Telegram channels.
Around the same time, New York Times journalist Evan Hill and Bellingcat’s Elliot Higgins were also trying to establish the bearded man’s identity. Though they were unable to confirm his name, they noticed that he resembled a man photographed alongside ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2017.
The Russian Telegram channels’ attempts to identify the two other men in the video did not produce results that can be confirmed independently.
The response from the Ukrainian authorities
Immediately after the video of the apparent killing appeared online, Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko denounced it as a “propaganda” fake: “They spilled cow’s blood, laid out actors, provided props in the form of an APC with the letter ‘V,’ but forgot to pick actors with knowledge of the Ukrainian language for the role of the ‘murderers’.”
In turn, President Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak told BBC News Russian that the Russian army’s “complete and obvious rejection of the rules of war” and massacres of Ukrainian civilians “create an understandable emotional backdrop in Ukrainian society and in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.” “Russia attacks our children, women, and elderly en masse and, of course, this can not but provoke a response from the Ukrainian military,” Podolyak said. “In any case, such incidents require a clear investigation pending clarification of the motives and circumstances.”
In response to earlier reports of war crimes against Russian troops (based on an unverified video that appears to show Ukrainian soldiers torturing Russian captives), Zelensky’s advisor Oleksiy Arestovych promised an “immediate investigation.” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova also said Kyiv would investigate war crimes against Russian soldiers, so long as there is evidence. “We need proof,” she said in an interview with Sky News (as quoted by RFE/RL). “If militaries from [the] Ukrainian side are guilty, we will investigate them and take them to court.”