Gruesome video footage reveals horror and ambiguity in brutal conflict

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Since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, countless videos have leaked from the front lines. Often documented by the combatants themselves, they depict scenes of trench warfare, violent drone attacks, and horrific atrocities allegedly committed by both sides.

The sensational footage has been posted on social media sites and released frequently by media outlets, and has become a staple of the ongoing conflict.

A recent example shows two Ukrainian soldiers desperately defending a bombed trench from a determined attack by Russian infantry. Originally posted by him on TikTok, this action-packed video was shared widely on social media and has amassed millions of views.

Azokhstan Steel Works
In this still image from a recent drone video posted on social media, smoke rises above the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol, Ukraine. (via Mariupol City Council/Reuters)

The video is typically captured using a GoPro camera (or “action cam”) attached to the soldier’s helmet or barrel.

This technology allows viewers to see the action from a combatant’s point of view, often resulting in a heart-wrenching viewing experience.

Other battlefield videos filmed by drones offer a bird’s-eye view of the battle and its bloody aftermath.

lust for revenge

Footage taken by frontline soldiers is nothing new. In recent years, countless “point of view” videos depicting gory battle scenes have appeared on popular video-sharing sites.

Many feature US military personnel in various hotspots, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

One YouTube channel, FUNKER530, has been posting such footage for over a decade. The most popular video, which shows a US soldier equipped with a helmet camera enduring multiple attacks from Taliban fighters, has been viewed 46 million times.

But as action cams and drones became cheaper and more widely available, the trend became more widespread and scarier. This is especially true of Russian and Ukrainian theater, where front-line footage has exploded in recent months, with new footage appearing almost daily.

Many Russian and Ukrainian telegram channels are devoted solely to showcasing and celebrating drone attacks and other scenes of death and destruction.

epoch photo
A pro-Russian armed man runs past a burning house set on fire by a mortar shell outside the city of Lysychansk, Ukraine, May 22, 2014. (Evgeny Maroretka/AP Photo)

In some cases, footage is set to rock music and sprinkled with Hollywood memes. A successful drone attack may also be accompanied by off-screen narrator laughter and cheers.

While the general audience may find this offensive, military experts say the act is an unavoidable feature of war.

“War creates a traumatic and stressful environment that is typically characterized by anger and revenge,” said prominent Turkish military commentator and former Turkish Special Forces officer Abdullah Agar. told to

“When soldiers see their comrades killed—literally blown away—in front of them, they are driven by a desire for revenge.

“Under such circumstances, people are able to do terrible things to their enemies and even to their captives. This may be difficult for someone who has not experienced it firsthand to understand.” I can’t.”

“Reality of War”

In several cases during the conflict, footage has surfaced online that appears to show war crimes being committed by either side.

In November 2022, a series of videos were released showing captured Russian soldiers being executed by Ukrainian forces. The incident, believed to have been filmed in the Ukrainian town of Makyivka, was widely reported by Western media.

Even the New York Times published an article about the disturbing footage and claimed to have verified its authenticity.

Russian officials say the video clearly shows Ukrainian soldiers killing unarmed Russian soldiers who have already surrendered. A Kiev official said the soldiers were acting in self-defense after being shot.

“Irrespective of the reality of the situation, the violence depicted in videos like this is to be expected in wartime,” said Agar. “Civilian witnesses to such scenes may be horrified, but that is and always will be the reality of war.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during his visit to Warsaw, Poland, April 5, 2023. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo)

Allegations of war crimes have been a central feature of the Ukrainian conflict since its inception.

In March 2022, peace talks in Istanbul were reportedly proceeding with both sides willing to make concessions. But negotiations were abruptly halted after widespread allegations that Russian forces had killed civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

The United States, its allies, and the Western mainstream media unanimously supported Kiev’s claims. But the Russian government still insists the allegations of atrocities are a hoax.

New allegations emerged last month after a video appeared on social media that appeared to show Russian soldiers beheading a Ukrainian prisoner of war. The incident, allegedly filmed by Russian soldiers, is said to have taken place near the Ukrainian flashpoint town of Bakhmut.

“There is one thing no one in the world can ignore: how easily this beast kills people,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the video was released.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleva likened Russian soldiers to ISIS, a terrorist organization that gained notoriety in Syria and Iraq for allegedly beheading its opponents.

“Russian terrorists must be expelled from Ukraine and the United Nations and held accountable for their crimes,” Kleba said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters) in Moscow December 23, 2021

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the scene depicted in the video “terrifying”. But he also cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“In the fake world we live in, we need to verify the authenticity of this footage,” he told reporters.

Peskov also called for an investigation to find out “whether this happened, and if so, where and by whom.”

Russian officials have previously accused Ukraine of cutting off the heads and hands of foreign mercenaries it killed so they could not be identified, but Kiev has denied the allegations.

Agar echoed Peskov’s skepticism, saying gruesome “brutal” footage is often the hallmark of so-called “false flag operations.”

“Such operations are aimed at discrediting the enemy by making him look like a ruthless war criminal,” he said. “It can also be used to build support among your own citizens.”

According to Ager, “deception, propaganda, and psychological operations” have always been central features of war.

He said images of grizzly bears could be effectively used to “manipulate public opinion, create false perceptions and justify conflicts that are unacceptable by the international community.”

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