Horrifying videos show Ukrainian civilians – including women and children – being tied up, stripped and beaten in apparent vigilante attacks.
WARNING: Distressing content
A series of horrifying videos published on social media show Ukrainian civilians – including women and children – being tied up, stripped and beaten in apparent vigilante attacks.
Since Russia’s invasion last month, reports have emerged of humiliating public punishments dished out by Ukrainians to alleged looters and saboteurs, with several photos showing people tied to poles with their pants pulled down going viral online.
Reporting on one such image, the Daily Mailsaid it showed “how proud Ukrainians are fighting back against lawless criminals wanting to take advantage of the ongoing chaos”.
But a series of video clips, which depict savage beatings being doled out to the immobilised victims by alleged paramilitary groups and members of the public, paint the practice in a grim new light.
The highly distressing videos, most of which were originally published to Telegram, have racked up millions of views on Twitter after being shared in a lengthy thread by user “Juan Sinmiedo” on Sunday.
“Hundreds of civilians have been punished for diverse reasons in Ukraine by paramilitary groups and national guard. Strong footage. Tortures, abuses, humiliation, even of kids and girls,” he wrote.
“There is no a clear motive for (these) illegal abuses. They are labelled as marauders. That can include men who don’t want to fight, who are suspected of Russian sympathy, looters or people searching for food.”
He added, “We don’t know the actual reasons or for how long they are punished. It is clearly against any human rights conventions. There is no excuse for this.”
In one video, a man and a young boy are seen taped together to a light pole, their pants around their ankles and their faces painted green.
Another shows a couple, also stripped from the waist down, tied to a tree outside a house as an older woman beats the tied-up woman with a stick.
A similar video shows a man and a woman tied to a pole, the woman with her mouth taped over, being brutally beaten by a man with a large stick as the man cries in pain.
In yet another, a woman with a ponytail is taped to a pole with her hands tied behind her back – still holding her handbag – as a large man whips her with what appears to be a belt.
Marko Pavlyshyn, Emeritus Professor in Ukrainian Studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, said the videos were “confronting” and described the practice as “deplorable”.
He said the word “maroder” (мародер), which means “looter” in both Ukrainian and Russian – the language spoken in most of the videos – occurs frequently.
A number of the victims have signs with “мародер” stuck to them.
But Prof Pavlyshyn said “nothing that I can see or hear in these videos supports the tweeter’s conjectures that the victims are being punished for Russian sympathies or for not wanting to fight or for speaking Russian”.
“In one of the videos, the person being beaten is accused of trying to set on fire some object that I can’t phonetically identify,” he said.
“Ukrainian news sites have picked up similar videos – without the worst violence – where the longer context suggests that it’s looting that people are being shamed and beaten for. Whether the clips are staged or not, the phenomenon exists, and is deplorable.”
Writing for The Spectator earlier this month, freelance journalist Alex Glover described locals’ ongoing battle against “saboteurs and looters” in the capital Kyiv.
“Photos shoot across messaging groups,” he wrote.
“One shows a huddle of supposedly Russian agents caught in a metro station, along with an eviscerated teddy bear in which they were hiding rifle cartridges.
“The Ukrainians believe that saboteurs have been in most cities since January, marking out key infrastructure and military targets. Another photo shows an agent bound and gagged with masking tape. Blood streams from his head.”
Glover said the alleged looters “don’t fare much better”.
“A paunchy man has his wrists cable-tied around a utility pole, his belt used to strap his knees against it,” he wrote. “His underpants are round his ankles, his expression suggests that he has seen better days. Other looters are beaten and forced to strip naked in the snow.”
Prof Pavlyshyn noted that the videos highlighted in the viral Twitter thread were what the user “chooses exclusively to focus on, rather than civilians dead or injured as a result of bombing, shelling or rocket attacks”.
Russia has been accused of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians during its invasion of Ukraine, which is nearing the end of its first month.
On Sunday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said at least 902 civilians had been killed and 1459 wounded so far, but that the actual number was likely “considerably higher”.
Most of the injuries and deaths were caused by “explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes”, the OHCHR said.
The 902 deaths were detailed as “179 men, 134 women, 11 girls, and 25 boys, as well as 39 children and 514 adults whose sex is yet unknown”.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians.