Russian state-owned media announced today that the Self-Declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has formed a new battalion, almost completely comprised of Ukrainian prisoners of war. The “Bohdan Khmelnitsky” battalion, as it is called, is named after a Ukrainian nationalist commander from the 17th century who fought to free Ukraine from the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. He succeeded, but then signed a treaty with Imperial Russia that effectively placed Ukraine under the Czar.
According to the report, Andrei Tishchenko, a former Ukrainian tank commander, and now senior battalion commander, made this comment:
“Now I am responsible for the newly created military unit named after Bogdan Khmelnitsky. This story began at a time when the Ukrainian government did not need its people, and against the backdrop of all this, when the Ukrainian government had to protect its people, it simply abandoned them. And looking at all this, I got the opportunity – both for me and for my comrades who will be with me in this unit – to pay tribute.”
The DPR has formed a new battalion, comprised of Ukrainian POWs, this video reportedly shows one of the units new commanders, Andrei Tishchenko, a former Ukrainian tank commander discussing the formation. pic.twitter.com/vwbWXNmSZM
— Tessaron News (@TessaronF) February 27, 2023
He reportedly also told the Russian publication that Ukrainian prisoners of war will be awarded Russian citizenship if and when their contract ends. According to him, 95% of the 70-man battalion are Ukrainian prisoners with combat experience and were pulled as volunteers from various detention centers throughout the DPR.
If this report is true, and not just a Russian propaganda piece to convince Ukrainians that their soldiers would betray their country, this action violates the Geneva Conventions. According to Article 23:
”No prisoner of war may at any time be sent to or detained in areas where he may be exposed to the fire of the combat zone, nor may his presence be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”
This article coincides with others that restrict the employment of prisoners of war to mundane duties of non-dangerous labor. The Russian Federation, who is a signor to the Geneva Conventions, should know that even if the prisoners volunteered for such duties, using them is a gross violation and would represent a war crime. However, it is also worth noting the behavior of POWs also determines their classification and protection under the articles.
Later in the report, the authors attempt to justify this action by citing an LPR official’s comments that more than 1,200 Ukrainian prisoners of war refused to sign the prisoner register in order to be considered for exchange.