Ukrainian Nationalist Volunteers Committing 'ISIS-Style' War Crimes

Images of what appeared to be the severed heads of two hostages circulated on social media, after a report by Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes

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Ukrainian servicemen from the "Azov" battalion detain men at a site of battle with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol June 13, 2014.

Groups of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists are committing war crimes in the rebel-held territories of Eastern Ukraine, according to a report from Amnesty International, as evidence emerged in local media of the volunteer militias beheading their victims.

Armed volunteers who refer to themselves as the Aidar battalion “have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions”, Amnesty said.

The organisation has also published a report detailing similar alleged atrocities committed by pro-Russian militants, highlighting the brutality of the conflict which has claimed over 3,000 lives.

Amnesty’s statement came before images of what appeared to be the severed heads of two civilians’ started circulating on social media today, identified by Russian news channel NTV as the heads of rebel hostages.

Shortly after, Kiev-based news network Pravilnoe TV reported that it had spoken with one of the mothers of the victims who confirmed her son was a rebel, captured during fighting in Donetsk. 

She said she had received her son’s head in a wooden box in the post, blaming nationalist volunteers for her son’s death. Newsweek has not been able to verify the report independently.

There are over 30 pro-nationalist, volunteer battalions similar to Aidar, such as Ukraina, DND Metinvest and Kiev 1, all funded by private investors.

The Aidar battalion is publicly backed by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who also allegedly funds the Azov, Donbas, Dnepr 1, Dnepr 2 volunteer battalions, operating under orders from Kiev. Last spring Kolomoyskyi offered a bounty of $10,000 of his own money for each captured Russian “saboteur”.

A warrant for Kolomoyskyi’s arrest was issued in Russia in July for “organising the killing of civilians,” through his sponsorship of volunteer militants.

“According to the government these volunteers always operate under an overall command and control of one of their regular forces,” Denis Krivosheev of Amnesty International told Newsweek.

Amnesty’s report, however, indicates Kiev’s loose regulation on volunteer groups and its “members... act with virtually no oversight or control”.

Amnesty has asked for Kiev to clarify the legal status and affiliation of its volunteer battalions and fully integrate them into “clear chains of command”, making all of its servicemen aware of international law and implementing “effective investigations” into abuses of human rights.

Meanwhile Norwegian channel TV2 presented footage yesterday of the Azov battalion flying flags with the symbols of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi party - Patriot of Ukraine.

This is the first instance of government-backed volunteers displaying far-right tendencies. However, numerous powerful paramilitary groups are reportedly involved in the Ukrainian conflict such as Patriot of Ukraine, Right Sector and White Hammer.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced today that the majority of Russian troops had left the country, raising hopes of peace negotiations between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.

Correction: This article originally mistakenly stated Ihor Kolomoyskyi offered a bounty for each killed 'saboteur', when it was in fact for each captured 'saboteur'. This has been corrected and Newsweek apologises for the error.

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