December 2, 2023

Two Russian soldiers have been detained in connection with the murder of nine members of a Ukrainian family in the Russian-held town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region.

The Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement on Monday that two Russian military personnel from Russia’s Far East, serving under contract, were taken in for questioning.

Russian soldiers patrol a street in Donetsk
Russian soldiers patrol a street on April 11, 2022, in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region.Two Russian soldiers have been detained in connection with the murder of nine members of a Ukrainian family in Volnovakha.

The admission is significant given that Russia rarely admits to its forces committing crimes in Ukraine. Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment via email.

The committee’s statement comes after Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said on his Telegram channel on Sunday that nine civilians, including two young children, were killed in their home in Volnovakha by Russian troops. Lubinets suggested the troops may have killed the family because they refused to “hand their house over” to Chechen forces.

The Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk prosecutor’s office said two children, born in 2014 and 2018, were among the victims.

Russia’s investigative committee said the family were found in a private residential building with gunshot wounds.

“According to preliminary information, the motive for the crime was a domestic conflict,” the committee said in a statement.

The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in its latest analysis of the conflict in Ukraine on Monday that several Ukrainian sources and a prominent Russian insider source reported that forensic evidence indicates that well-prepared and well-equipped military personnel likely perpetrated the attack.

“Attacks on civilians hors de combat (in rear areas far removed from active combat zones) by representatives of an occupying power constitute a clear violation of multiple international legal norms and very likely rise to the level of a war crime or crime against humanity,” the ISW said.

The think tank noted that several Russian commentators have exploited the circumstances of the tragedy in Volnovakha to accuse Ukraine of trying to stoke interethnic tensions within the Russian information space.

“One Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian sources first reported that ‘Kadyrov’s men’ (in reference to Chechen troops) committed the murders and linked the issue to the October 29 riots in Dagestan,” the think tank said, referring to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whose fighters have been actively participating in the war in Ukraine.

Another Russian milblogger claimed that Chechen forces are not deployed anywhere near Volnovakha and accused the Ukrainian information space of trying to use Chechens as a “trigger” to further destabilize Russia, the think tank said.

“The fixation on the Ukrainian accusation rather than on the atrocity itself, the need to hold the perpetrators accountable, or the unprofessionalism and indiscipline of soldiers committing such crimes suggests that these Russian commentators are very concerned about inter-ethnic tensions in Russia and the Russian armed forces,” the ISW added.

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