Ukraine has launched an investigation into a gruesome video that purportedly shows the beheading of a Ukrainian soldier, in the latest accusation of atrocities said to have been committed by Russia since it invaded in February 2022.
The video spread quickly online and drew outrage from officials in Kyiv including President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as international organisations.
The Kremlin called the footage “horrible” but said it needed to be verified.
The Associated Press was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the video or the circumstances of where and when it was shot.
A third man holds up a flak jacket apparently belonging to the man being beheaded. All three men speak in Russian.
Since Russia’s forces invaded on February 24 2022, they have committed widespread abuses and alleged war crimes, according to the United Nations, rights groups and reporting by the AP.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of targeting apartment buildings and other civilian structures and equipment in its strikes, and images of hundreds of dead civilians in the streets and in mass graves in Bucha after Russian forces withdrew from the city horrified the world.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.
The Kremlin denies it has committed war crimes or that it has targeted civilians.
Mr Zelenksy said the violence in the latest video would not be forgotten, and that Russian forces would be held responsible.
“Everyone must react, every leader. Do not expect that it will be forgotten, that time will pass,” he said in a video.
Later on Wednesday, at a roundtable of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, Mr Zelensky called in a video for a moment of silence for the Ukrainian soldier.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the video was “horrible” but must be verified.
“In the world of fakes we live in, the authenticity of the footage must be checked,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Ukraine’s state security service opened an investigation, according to a statement from Vasyl Maliuk, the head of the agency, known as the SBU.
Andrei Medvedev, a Russian state TV journalist and a member of the Moscow city legislature, speculated that the video’s release was “fairly opportune” for the Ukrainian army, saying it could help “fire up personnel ideologically” ahead of a planned major counter-offensive.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, also linked the video’s release to the expected offensive but said it was meant to “demoralise the public mood or at least change the psychological perception of the war right now”.
Ukraine’s human rights chief said he will request that the UN Human Rights Committee investigate.
Dmytro Lubinets said he has also written to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, the UN secretary-general and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
He wrote on Telegram that “a public execution of a captive is yet another indication of a breach of Geneva Convention norms, international humanitarian law, a breach of the fundamental right to life”.
The video provoked an outcry among Ukrainians.
“This is horrifying,” said Mykola Drobot, 44, of Kyiv. “Such things cannot happen without the consent – silent or not – of the military and political leadership.”
Yuliia Sievierina, 40, speculated the video was meant as “moral pressure on us to consider ourselves even more oppressed and emotionally torn”.
“It doesn’t work,” she told the AP. “It only creates more anger and thirst for resistance.”
The war’s front lines have been largely frozen for months, with much of the fighting focused around the city of Bakhmut.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said forces with the paramilitary Wagner Group had made progress there. Mr Zelensky has said before that his troops could pull out if they face a threat of encirclement.
Elsewhere, at least four civilians were wounded as Russian forces shelled a Ukrainian-held town near the shut-down Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, said regional governor Serhii Lysak.
He said in a Telegram post that “people are being pulled out from under the rubble” after Russian shelling destroyed 13 houses and cars in Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the plant.
Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko alleged Russian forces attacked a town in the eastern Donetsk province with cluster munitions — banned by an international treaty — wounding one person.