Russia is allegedly using Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) to fight on Moscow's side in the ongoing war, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The report claims that these soldiers have sworn allegiance to Russia upon joining a battalion that was formed last month.
The authenticity of the report and accompanying videos could not be immediately verified by The Associated Press, and it's unclear whether the POWs were coerced into these actions.
Responses from both Ukrainian military and human rights officials, as well as the Russian Defense Ministry, were not immediately available.
This development, if true, may constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit exposing POWs to combat or coercing them into dangerous conditions.
Yulia Gorbunova, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, expressed skepticism about the voluntary nature of the POWs' recruitment, citing the coercive environment of captivity.
Nick Reynolds, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, also highlighted the potential for coercion, given the lack of agency POWs typically have in such situations.
The battalion, named after the medieval nobleman Bogdan Khmelnitsky who is celebrated in Russia for bringing parts of Ukraine under Moscow’s control, was shown in a RIA Novosti video with the POWs dressed in military fatigues and holding rifles.
The Institute for the Study of War in Washington noted previous reports of Ukrainian POWs being coerced to join this battalion, which is said to be housing them in the Olenivka prison, a site of controversy due to an explosion in July 2022.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over this incident, with accusations of abuse and killing of POWs.
In addition to mobilizing Ukrainian POWs, Russia has also reportedly enlisted its own prison inmates to fight in Ukraine, offering commuted sentences for survival.
Furthermore, Russia is conducting a conscription campaign in occupied Ukrainian territories, according to Karolina Hird of the ISW, to bolster its forces while avoiding the social implications of a general mobilization.
Earlier reports indicated that about 70 Ukrainian POWs had joined the battalion, which operates as part of another unit in eastern Ukraine and claims to have around 7,000 fighters.
Hird anticipates these POWs will be deployed to front lines in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. Reynolds remarked that these formations are irregular and do not adhere to normal military structures.