'Shot in the back': Russia accused of war crimes in Ukraine

Graves of civilians killed in the Ukraine-Russia conflict are seen in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 19, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

STEPANKI, Ukraine (AFP) - Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating a series of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces, including the fatal shooting of two unarmed civilians outside Kyiv, officials said on Thursday (May 12).

CNN released on Thursday what it said was security camera footage showing two Ukrainian civilians shot in the back by Russian soldiers near a car dealership outside of Kyiv on March 16.

One man died on the spot, the other died shortly after.

Prosecutors are investigating the attack as a war crime, CNN reported.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general's office did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

CNN said it had identified the victims. One was the owner of the vehicle dealership that was looted, whose family does not want to be named. The other was Leonid Oleksiyovych Plyats, a 68-year-old who worked as a guard there.

The video was verified by CNN, the broadcaster said, adding that it was compiled from a number of cameras around the property.

According to CNN, five Russian soldiers arrived at the car dealership and tried to break into the businesses - firing at locks and smashing glass.

As the owner approached with hands raised, they stopped him and appeared to search him for weapons. Plyats then arrived and was also frisked.

There seemed to be some conversation before the soldiers turned away and the two civilians began to walk back to their guard post, according to the CNN report. Then at least two of the soldiers came up behind the men and opened fire before the two men dropped to the ground.

In a separate incident, investigators and witnesses interviewed by AFP on Thursday accused Russian forces of shelling a residential home in an east Ukrainian village from a tank, killing several civilians.

The incident took place on March 27 in the village of Stepanki outside the regional capital Kharkiv, when occupying Russian forces opened fire on a house from a tank, killing two men and a woman, Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said on Telegram.

Kharkiv police and witnesses said four people were killed and two wounded. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.

A police expert investigating the site of shelling in a house in the recently recaptured Stepanki village in the Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on May 11, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

An investigation into a war crime and premeditated murder has been opened, according to prosecutors.

Witnesses interviewed by AFP said the six people who lived in the house were drinking tea in the courtyard when a Russian tank approached.

"They started going into the house to hide," said Olga Karpenko, 52, whose daughter was among those killed. The tank took aim and fired at them as they entered the house.

"Four people died, two were injured. My daughter died from a shrapnel wound in the back of her head," Karpenko said.

Local resident Denys, 40, said he saw the barrel of the tank turn towards him.

"Someone said: let's go hide inside the house," Denys remembered. "I entered last and as soon as I entered, the tank fired. Everything collapsed, I couldn't see anything. I got out as soon as I could and ran behind the house."

The neighbours buried the dead in the back garden of the house, and with the village back under Kyiv's control, their bodies were exhumed on Wednesday.

Prosecutors published photos of a peach-coloured two-storey building, its windows blown out and the front partially destroyed. Nearby, three crosses made of sticks stood over a grave site.

Since Moscow launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, Kyiv has accused Russian troops of multiple war crimes in the cities and towns they occupied, including murder, torture and rape.

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