Horrific video and photos have emerged that appear to show the head of a Ukrainian prisoner of war stuck on a pole outside a house in the eastern Ukrainian city of Popasna, captured in May by Russian forces and is close to the current frontline in the Donbas.
Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province, posted a gruesome photo on his Telegram channel. It's been widely shared on social media. Ukrainians have accused Russian troops of barbaric medieval behaviour and likened the image to Lord of the Rings.
They are orcs. In the twenty-first century, occupied Popasna, the human skull was on the fence, Haidai wrote. There is nothing human about the Russians. The Guardian hasn't confirmed the authenticity of the photo. Geolocation tools show it is genuine and took place in late July, not far from the centre of Popasna. A sign on a wall says 21 Nahirna Street The video shows the headless and handless body of a man dressed in military uniform. A head is stuck on a wooden pole. Two hands have been placed on metal spikes on a fence on either side of the head, in what looks like a front garden.
The Ukrainian army retreated from Popasna in early May. Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, claimed his troops had taken control of the town. In July Russian forces captured the whole of Luhansk province.
On Saturday they were trying to storm the city of Bakhmut, 18 miles 30 km west of Popasna, in neighbouring Donetsk oblast. Ukrainian officials confirmed that fighting was continuing, with Russians edging towards the city's western outskirts.
The photo is the latest evidence of atrocity committed by Moscow s soldiers since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February. A Chechen fighter allegedly shot a bound Ukrainian prisoner who was shot dead last week.
The footage was originally posted on pro-Russian Telegram channels. The website Bellingcat published an investigation into the incident on Saturday. The website said a Chechen military formation was present at the scene, citing visual clues and open source evidence.
It identified a Russian soldier with a distinctive black wide-brimmed hat seen in the footage. The soldier denied taking part in the mutilation and execution, but confirmed that Russia's security services had questioned him about it, Bellingcat reported.
The alleged location was an abandoned sanatorium in Pryvillia, near the city of Lysychansk. Russia took control of the area in early July, about 25 miles north of Popasna. Ukrainian forces had previously occupied the 1970s complex that overlooks the Siverskyi Donets River.
The head on the pole image has caused widespread revulsion. Olexander Scherba, Ukraine's former ambassador to Austria, described it as a Russian war crime and added: The occupied Popasna in Donbas. A head of a Ukrainian PoW was on a stick. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch jailed by Putin who is now in exile in London, said the picture was an example of Russky Mir or Russian world. The phrase describes the Kremlin's efforts to reunite Russian speakers in the cultural and political realm.
He tweeted: Will Russia be able to recover from this come back to the community of civilised nations? It brings the darkness of the middle ages to its neighbours around the globe. The Russian world arrived in Donbas in the wake of the occupied Popasna.