Head of separatist Sparta Battalion says he shot prisoners following the battle for Donetsk airport, prompting war crimes investigation by Ukrainian government.
A Russian fighter has confessed on tape to killing 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war, which legal experts say could be considered evidence of war crimes if the authenticity of the recording is confirmed.
The statement was made by Arseniy Pavlov, better known as Motorola, in a telephone conversation with a journalist on 3 April.
Motorola, the head of the pro-Russian militant group the Sparta Battalion, was asked about allegations that he had murdered Ukrainian prisoner of war Ihor Branovytsky in January.
He replied: “I don’t give a fuck about what I am accused of, believe it or not. I shot 15 prisoners dead. No comment. I kill if I want to. I don’t if I don’t.”
The recording will form part of an investigation into the torture and murder of Branovytsky by Kremlin backed-insurgents, said Vasil Vovk, the head of the Ukrainian security service’s main investigative department, at the soldier’s funeral.
A case has been opened under the country’s crimes against humanity legislation and may be sent to the Hague-based International Criminal Court, he said.
Vovk confirmed that Motorola was a suspect in the Branovytsky case and might be tried in absentia.
Amnesty International said this week it had evidence the separatist forces had carried out extrajudicial killings, and added that Motorola’s comments needed to be investigated thoroughly.
Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at the organisation, said: “The new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time. The question now is: what are the separatist leaders going to do about it?
“The torture, ill-treatment and killing of captured, surrendered or wounded soldiers are war crimes. These claims must be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted.”
Motorola, 32, a Russian citizen, previously fought against Islamist insurgents in Chechnya and worked as a blue-collar worker and a lifeguard. He become known in July last year after staging a “separatist wedding” in Donetsk.
The Sparta Battalion played a significant role in the takeover of Donetsk airportby Kremlin-backed militants in January, where Branovytsky is reported to have fought. He was later taken prisoner and killed.
That the soldier was captured alive has been allegedly verified by two YouTube videos filmed after the fall of the airport. One is thought to show him standing in the ruins of the airport terminal, and another reportedly shows him in a line-up of prisoners asked to say their names to the camera.
At the soldier’s memorial service, Anatoly Svyryd, a sergeant from the same force, said that both he and Branovytsky had been taken prisoner by the Russian-backed Sparta Battalion. Svyryd claims he was taken to a hospital in Donetsk, while about 12 prisoners, including Branovytsky, were transferred to the barracks of the Sparta Battalion in the city.
Another charge against Motorola and his battalion is of the torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war, banned under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Yury Sova, a fighter of the 80th paratrooper brigade, said he and other prisoners had been attacked by Motorola’s men for extended periods.
“We were beaten for six to seven hours,” he said. He claims to have been transported to the battalion’s barracks alongside Branovytsky, and says he witnessed the killing. “He was beaten brutally, and a lot of his bones were broken.”
The original recording of the conversation with Motorola could potentially be used as evidence in court, said Valentyna Telychenko, a prominent human rightslawyer. “Subsequently there must be an analysis of his voice and the authenticity of the digital media,” she said.
However, there are obstacles to transferring the cases against Motorola and others to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. So far, Ukraine has not ratified the Rome Statute, which recognises the court’s jurisdiction in specific countries.
Ukraine’s supreme court did pass a resolution on 4 February recognising the court’s jurisdiction, however the president has not yet formally sent the resolution to the Hague.
Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Abroskin, head of Donetsk Oblast’s police department,published the names of 40 Sparta Battalion fighters on 5 April on Facebook.
“The country must know its ‘heroes’ by name,” he said. “They have the blood of our compatriots on their hands.”