Support Us

Russian Red Cross has pro-Kremlin bias, conducts military fundraising and abuses Ukrainian POWs

Tuesday, 27 February 2024, 11:46
Russian Red Cross has pro-Kremlin bias, conducts military fundraising and abuses Ukrainian POWs
Russian Committee of the Red Cross. Illustrative photo: Meduza

Employees of the Russian Red Cross travel to the occupied territories, although they do not have the right to do so, and support aggression against Ukraine. There is evidence that they have mistreated Ukrainian prisoners and refused to provide real assistance to refugees.

Source: Meduza, the Russian Latvia-based media outlet, as part of the Kremlin Leaks international journalistic project 

Details: The Russian Red Cross (RRC), a part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, receives funds from both the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Russian budget. However, it openly supports aggression against Ukraine.


Meduza, Russian opposition publication Verstka, and sources from the Ukrainian side report that representatives of the RRC travel to the occupied territories and raise funds for Russian military personnel and their families. They may accommodate Ukrainian refugees in the same facilities as "participants of the special military operations" or give them cups with the letter Z [the special military operation is what the war against Ukraine is euphemistically termed in Russia – ed.].

In 2023, the RRC received 5 million Swiss francs from the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is expected to receive approximately 2 billion rubles of funding from the Russian budget in the next three years. The money allocated by Russia to the RRC, as per leaked internal documents from the administration of President Vladimir Putin, includes provisions for operations in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Unlike the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross societies are not allowed to work in armed conflict zones. A source close to the ICRC mentioned that in the first two months of the full-scale invasion, the RRC adhered to this principle. However, by 2023, RRC employees began to appear in the occupied territories.

Representatives of the RRC travelled to the destroyed and occupied city of Mariupol under the guise of a so-called "humanitarian mission," says a Russian human rights activist familiar with the organisation's activities.

Meduza’s source is not sure how extensive the Russian Red Cross’ operations are in the occupied territories, but admitted that after a private conversation with several RRC employees, he was "impressed by how involved they are": "They constantly talked about supporting people from the so-called new territories and working with the families of participants in the special military operation."

The head of the Russian Red Cross is Pavel Savchuk. He does not publicly express his views on the war. Still, towards the end of the first year of the invasion, he commended the management of the Avangard defence plant for winning the "Competition for Best Practices in Blood Donation Development." In mid-February 2024, he signed a cooperation agreement with the Defenders of the Fatherland state fund, which is subject to sanctions by the EU.

Ukrainian serviceman Orest Hrytsiuk, after returning from captivity, revealed in an interview the mockery he experienced from the "human rights defenders" of the Russian Red Cross when they visited the prison in the spring of 2023.

He recounted an episode in the dining hall where they had to eat very hot food quickly. Two individuals claiming to be from the Red Cross allegedly walked between the tables, remarking, "Oh, how well these Ukrainian pigs eat, like pigs. Well, eat, eat, Russia loves and takes care of you. When you go home, remember not to complain." After the meal, the prisoners were taken to the courtyard and, as usual, forced to sing Soviet military songs together. The "human rights defender" would order songs and record the Ukrainian prisoners on his phone as they marched. He would approach them, shout something in their ears, and shake his fist above their heads, patting them on the back and shoulders, causing them to stagger.

"He pointed the camera at himself and demonstrated the victory gesture, thoroughly enjoying it; for him, it was a performance," recalled Hrytsiuk.

A representative of the Coordinated Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Yurii Taraniuk, reported that after Hrytsiuk's interview, the ICRC mission in Ukraine sent an official note stating that the individuals in the Horlivka prison were "not their employees." They most likely were representatives of the Russian Red Cross, as ICRC employees "would not speak Russian because they cannot be either Russians or Ukrainians."

The representative of the ICRC in Moscow, Galina Balzamova, stated that "they discussed this situation with the Russian Red Cross, and they have no doubts that the Russian Red Cross had no relation to it." Ariane Bauer, the Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia for the ICRC, also assured that there were "no employees of the Russian Red Cross on Ukrainian territories."

Taraniuk asserts that other cases of mockery by RRC representatives towards prisoners of war, including those in occupied territories, are known to the official authorities in Kyiv. He said that relevant Ukrainian authorities are investigating these incidents.

The Russian Red Cross prefers to remain silent about its activities in the occupied territories. Sometimes, it covers up its operations there using other organisations, such as the "Donetsk Red Cross" or the "Red Cross Society in the Luhansk People's Republic."

The RRC works with Ukrainians who ended up in Russia during the war. According to a Russian human rights activist familiar with the organisation's activities, RRC employees often accommodated Ukrainian refugees in the same facilities as "participants in the special military operation" ("veterans" of what is officially not a war receive psychological assistance from the organisation, among other services).

Verstka reported that humanitarian aid brought to refugees includes "mugs depicting Putin and the letter Z." Moreover, RRC employees often behave rudely towards Ukrainians who fled the war and refuse to help them.

The RRC openly takes a pro-government position. On its website, it raises funds for the "support of families of mobilised individuals and families of military personnel." Pavel Savchuk also calls for donations. Some RRC employees collect funds for the Russian military or even join organisations recruiting Russians for the front.

Taraniuk expresses surprise that the ICRC has not taken any measures against the RRC. The Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War continues to cooperate with the ICRC, although the organisation's capabilities are very limited. After the attack on the POW camp containing Ukrainian prisoners in Olenivka, the Russians still didn’t allow representatives of the organisation to enter.

Sanctions against the RRC have been in effect in Ukraine for a year, prohibiting the organisation from operating on the nation’s territory until at least 2033. Sanctions have also been imposed on Savchuk for "spreading Kremlin propaganda narratives to justify Russia's actions undermining the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine."

Support UP or become our patron!