Wagner thugs laugh in horror beheading video of Ukrainian POW

President Zelensky addresses Ukrainian POW torture video

Russian mercenaries have dismissed the traumatic execution of a Ukrainian soldier by one of their comrades as just a “cost of war”, suggesting that to accuse them of “brutality” during a conflict is tantamount to “being fined for speeding in a car race”. While the Ukrainian population was left “sleepless” after the video was published, fearing evermore that their loved ones – their friends, their husbands, their sons fighting on the frontlines, could suffer the same fate, the Russian Wagner Group community joked they were “confident this would not be the last video” of its kind.

The polarised reaction highlights the “inhumane” nature of some of the Russians fighting in Ukraine and the reason why the video, roughly one-and-a-half minutes in length, has had such a profound impact on the population.

In the footage, the Ukrainian POW can be seen pinned to the ground as a Russian soldier withdraws a small knife. Behind the camera, two of his colleagues jeer him on. “Get working brothers. Break his spine,” one of them is heard saying.

Despite the screams of the Ukrainian man, the Russian soldier starts hacking at his neck. Roughly thirty seconds into the horrific torture, the man behind the camera jokes: “Have you never cut off a head?”

For another excruciating minute, the scene unfolds while the Ukrainian man is subjected to unspeakable levels of pain.

When it is done, the Russian lifts the severed head towards the camera. The perpetrator and his two comrades celebrate, laughing and joking, then the video cuts out.

“I think most Ukrianians have seen that video,” Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian opposition leader, told Express.co.uk. “And once you have seen it, it is something you cannot forget. It will stay with you for a very long time.”

She said she “did not sleep at all at night” after watching the footage, adding: “I think it is maybe not even the video itself but the sounds of what [the Russians] were saying, like ‘Don’t you know how to cut heads?’ or something.”

Hours after the video was published, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the perpetrators as “beastly”. Vasyl Malyuk, head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), called the suspect “inhuman” and opened up a pre-trial investigation.

Yara Chornohuz, a Ukrainian marine specialising in piloting drones, branded the Russian man a “coward” who was “unfit to be a soldier”.

But beyond the immediate shock of the atrocity, the footage has forced Ukrainians to deal with a more sinister trauma: that is, the prevailing concern that this could happen to anyone fighting on the front.

“Every Ukrainian family has loved ones that are fighting, or they have been to a funeral recently of someone they personally knew,” Ms Rudik said.

“We live in the knowledge that at any point one of them may be captured, and they may be beheaded or tortured. That is devastating for everyone with loved ones on the front.”

The latest footage is the second video in a week of Ukrainian soldiers decapitated by Russian troops.

The other video, published on April 8 and filmed around the besieged city of Bakhmut, showed multiple beheaded corpses surrounding an infantry fighting vehicle.

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It is also the third high-profile, viral video depicting individual instances of Russian war crimes in just over a month.

On March 6, footage emerged online of two of Putin’s soldiers shooting from point-blank range in the head of Ukrainian POW Oleksandr Matsievskyi, a sniper of the 163rd battalion, after he refused to dig his own grave.

None of these atrocities was committed this year – based on the background in all three videos, they appear to have been filmed in late autumn and winter – and international lawyers have suggested to Express.co.uk that the footage may have been withheld until now to frighten Ukrainians ahead of their upcoming counter-offensives.

Since their public release, however, the Kremlin reaction has been muted and obfuscatory, while the response among Russian soldiers and mercenaries on the ground in Ukraine has been one of indifference.

A Telegram channel called Grey Zone with close links to the Wagner Group, suspected to be responsible for the two latest atrocities, dismissed the brutality.

“There was another video and I am confident that it will not be the last video, somehow from one of the parties, who kills prisoners of war,” they said. “ If necessary, the fighters from our side cut off the head of the still living Ukrainian soldier.”

In reference to one of their posts from last November, which received more than 1.1 million likes, comments and views, they added that the trauma suffered by the Ukrainian POW was nothing more than the “cost of war”.

“In war, heads, ears and other organs are cut off to enemies,” they said. “They leave their own in the war. In war they shoot in the back. In war, civilians are killed. Some things happen by accident, some things happen on purpose, and some things are forced.

“And yes, with all this – all this is bad, but such are the costs of war. Show us another war where it doesn’t exist, and we will fight there.”

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Other Russian groups expressed similar sentiments. The Financial Times reported that several Russian far-right and neo-Nazi groups, including the extremist Rusich military group, had promoted the video across their networks.

One Rusich channel that shared the video said: “You will be surprised how many of these videos will gradually pop up.” It added a smiley face emoji to the post.

Perhaps the intention of the public release of these videos is, indeed, to frighten the Ukrianians in the run-up to a crucial part of their military efforts. The constant references to the imminent arrival of more videos certainly suggests as much.

But the intimidation tactic appears to be having an adverse effect, according to Ms Rudik, who admitted that while it was frightening, it reminded Ukrainians of what they were fighting against.

“It makes us want to fight even more because we know what we are defending against,” she concluded.

“We are trying to make sure that this pure evil stays away from the peaceful cities.”

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