On Tuesday Russian state news agency RIA Novosti claimed on its Telegram channel that dozens of Ukrainian POWs impressed into the Russian Armed Forces were being deployed to eastern Ukraine to fight their former comrades in an effort to attack the morale of the Ukrainian people and undermine its government.

This follows an earlier Telegram posting by RIA Novosti at the end of October claiming that Moscow was recruiting and training volunteer Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) for deployment to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine to fight against their own country.

According to these media reports around 70 former Ukrainian POWs would form part of the “Bogdan Khmelnitsky” battalion, named after the medieval nobleman who is considered a national hero in Russia where he is credited for bringing parts of present-day Ukraine under Moscow’s control in the fifteenth century.

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On Tuesday a second video was posted on the agency’s Telegram channel and news website which showed what it claims are the POW volunteers swearing the following oath of allegiance to Russia:

I solemnly swear allegiance to my Fatherland – the Russian Federation. I swear to sacredly observe the Constitution of the Russian Federation, strictly comply with the requirements of military regulations, orders of commanders and superiors. I swear to honorably fulfill military duty, courageously defend the freedom, independence and constitutional system of Russia, the people, and the Fatherland.”

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The group is said to be preparing for deployment as part of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) “Kaskad” formation. The claim seemed to be endorsed by Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in its bulletin also published on Tuesday.

ISW suggested that the group of POWs will be fighting on the front line along the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, where “Kaskad” has been active and where there has been heavy fighting around Avdiivka in recent weeks.

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According to the Russian battalion commander, Andrei Tishchenko, the former Ukrainian servicemen themselves “believe that they are going to fight for the liberation of their country from the power of Vladimir Zelensky… and the Russians are recognized as one with their people.”

One of the Ukrainian POWs, named in the Ria Novosti article as Vladislav Kovalenko, is quoted as saying: “We have already given an oath to the Ukrainian people, but we have not betrayed the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian people are now hostages of the criminal Kiev regime… the Ukrainian people and the Russian people are one whole.”

The details surrounding the coming deployment of these POWs are unclear, to say the least, but the wording used by Ria Novosti indicates that they were likely to be part of a Storm-Z detachment along with convict volunteers recruited from Russian prisons.

An individual identified as a group commander referred to them as a “volunteer” group who had signed contracts “concluded on general terms.” RIA Novosti said. This suggests that they will receive salaries and benefits for their service comparable to their Russian counterparts.

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It remains unclear whether these soldiers are truly volunteers or were coerced into joining.

Experts say such actions likely to violate the Geneva Conventions relating to the treatment of POWs, which says “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 shall they be employed on labor which is of an unhealthy or dangerous nature” – whether volunteers or not.

The US ABC news site quotes Yulia Gorbunova, senior researcher on Ukraine at Human Rights Watch who says, “Russian authorities might claim they are recruiting them on a voluntary basis but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a prisoner of war’s decision could be taken truly voluntarily, given the situation of coercive custody.”

In addition to volunteer groups of Russian soldiers, such as the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, Ukraine recently confirmed that it has a formation made up of Russian volunteers fighting for it, called the  “Siberian Battalion,” but says they are true volunteers who came to Ukraine with the sole purpose of joining the Ukrainian armed forces. This is something completely different from Russia’s use of convicts and now, apparently, POWs to fight for it.

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ISW’s Karolina Hird expressed the view that by mobilizing Ukrainian POWs, deploying Russian convicts, and conscripting residents of the occupied regions, Russia is increasing its combat force “without having to risk the social implications of conducting a general mobilization.”

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