(CNN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the beheadings of Ukrainian soldiers shown in two videos posted on social media last week “beasts”.
The videos seem to correspond to different events: one of them may have been filmed more recently, while the other, from the foliage visible on the ground, looks like it was filmed during the boreal summer.
The first video, posted on a pro-Russian social network on April 8, was allegedly recorded by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group and appeared to show the headless corpses of two Ukrainian soldiers lying on the ground next to a destroyed military vehicle.
A voice is heard behind the camera in the video, with the sound distorted to prevent identification of the speaker.
“[El vehículo blindado] Destroyed by a mine,” the voice speaks in Russian.
Apparently referring to the bodies on the ground, the voice, laughing, continues: “They were killed. Someone attacked them. They caught them and cut off their heads.”
The hands of the dead soldiers were also apparently chopped off.
On Russian social networks, the video is said to have been recorded near Pakmut in eastern Ukraine, the scene of months of heavy fighting in which Wagner’s mercenaries have been heavily involved. CNN cannot independently confirm the location of the video.
The second video, which was posted on Twitter and looks much blurry, was shot during the summer due to the amount of greenery on the ground. It shows a Russian fighter using a knife to decapitate a Ukrainian soldier. A voiceover at the beginning of the video suggests that the victim may have been alive when the attack began.
Zelensky promised that those responsible for the alleged atrocities would be held accountable. “There is one thing in the world that no one can ignore: how easily these beasts kill!” He said in a video message.
“We are not going to forget anything. We are not going to forgive the murderers either. There will be legal responsibilities for all. It is necessary to defeat terrorism,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the video was “terrifying” but that “first, we need to verify the authenticity of the footage”.
In his usual call with journalists, Peskov said: “Of course, these are terrible scenes. So this may be a reason to check whether it is true or not, if it happened, and if so, where and from which side.”
This Monday, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said apparently the Wagner group “beheaded Ukrainian soldiers in Pakmut and continued war crimes,” referring to the pro-Russian photo. A severed head posted on social media claimed it belonged to a Ukrainian soldier and was mounted on a bike.
ISW reported similar incidents in Popazna, Luhansk region, where Wagner’s troops were also active early in the war.
Some pro-Russian social media accounts have suggested that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the beheading in an attempt to conceal identity. It echoes a similar claim made by Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in January.
Daria Zarivna, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Wednesday that the videos were part of a psychological operation “aimed at intimidation”.
“It is completely inhumane and demonstrates the essence of a terrorist state,” he said of the videos.
“But it is important to understand the purpose. This is a psychological operation aimed at intimidation. The target audience is not only Ukraine, but also Western societies,” he reasoned.
“However, this will not work with us. The Russians are afraid of it, but we are not,” he added.
— CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed to this report.