Evidence builds that Moscow is violating the Geneva Conventions.

The Editorial Board

July 7, 2023

The Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian soldiers fought hard to defend the port city of Mariupol in 2022, but the city resembled Aleppo or Grozny when the Russians finished with it. Moscow is now violating its international agreements again as it takes revenge on the Ukrainian defenders it took captive there and elsewhere.

Russia has signed the Geneva Conventions, which state that captive soldiers can’t be tried merely for participating in combat. Yet in June Russia began a show trial of 22 Ukrainians captured in Mariupol. They are charged with several terror-related offenses. The maximum penalty is life in prison.

All 22 are members of the Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s national guard. Formed in 2014, the unit initially included some anti-Semites, whom Azov says it dishonorably discharged. Azov’s ranks now include Jewish members, and it has some of Ukraine’s most capable and courageous fighters. But Vladimir Putin claims he is “de-Nazifying” Ukraine, and the show trial serves the purpose of propagandists who want to justify the war to the Russian public.

The Geneva Conventions also say prisoners of war must be treated humanely, given access to medical treatment and spared from violence. Yet Ukrainians in Russian custody have suffered terrible treatment. A report published in March by the United Nations Human Rights Office finds maltreatment is commonplace.

Of 203 Ukrainians freed in prisoner exchanges who gave interviews, 55 reported enduring torture or other abuse, including beatings, stabbings, electric shocks and strangulations. The report describes how “some of them lost their teeth or fingers” or “had their ribs, fingers or noses broken.”

The Sunday Times of London reported in June that the Russians had castrated two prisoners. The Ukrainians, ages 25 and 28, were freed in a prisoner exchange but became suicidal. “The Russians told them, ‘We are doing this so you can’t have kids,’” their psychologist, Anzhelika Yatsenko, said.

Nearly all former prisoners described “poor quality food or a lack of food” in captivity, and many said they received “only limited amounts of drinking water or dirty water with insects,” the U.N. report found. More than a third “complained about the lack of medical attention.” Nearly all had lost “a significant amount of their body weight,” and “several lost one third.”

Yevheniiya Synelnyk, whose brother Artem Synelnyk remains in Russian custody, is haunted by images of emaciated Ukrainian soldiers like Mykhailo Dianov. They looked “like a photo from Auschwitz” after they’ve been freed in a prisoner swap, she says.

Ms. Synelnyk worries about the lack of medical treatment for her brother, who sustained a shrapnel wound before he was captured in Mariupol. So does Tamara Protsenko, whose fiance,

Oleksandr Kalashnyk, is another of the 1,900 or so Mariupol soldiers who remain in captivity. Freed Ukrainians told her that when they last saw him he “was 50-50 alive, meaning his conditions were pretty bad,” she says.

Russia’s treatment of prisoners shows how little Moscow respects its international agreements. Ukraine knows that only a Russian defeat will ensure the safety of its citizens.