Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of bombing a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war captured after the fall of Mariupol, the city famous for its detention. Outside the months-long Russian blockade.
Both sides said the attack was premeditated with the aim of covering up the atrocities.
Russia has alleged that the Ukrainian military used US-supplied missile launchers to strike Olenivka Prison, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic. Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and wounded 75.
Moscow opened an investigation into the attack, sending a team to the site from the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s main criminal investigation agency. The state agency RIA Novosti reported that fragments of missiles of the High Mobility High Mobility Missile System supplied by the United States were found at the site.
The Ukrainian military denied carrying out any missile or artillery shelling of Olinevka, and accused the Russians of bombing the prison to cover up allegations of torture and executions of Ukrainians there. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the bombing as “a premeditated, cynical and calculated mass killing of Ukrainian prisoners.”
None of the claims could be independently verified.
A video captured by the Associated Press showed charred and twisted bed frames in the wrecked barracks, as well as charred bodies and metal panels hanging from the destroyed ceiling. The footage also included bodies lined up on the ground next to a barbed wire fence and a group of what were allegedly metal rocket shrapnel on a wooden bench.
Denis Pushlin, the leader of the internationally unrecognized Donetsk Republic, said that the prison has 193 inmates. He did not specify the number of Ukrainian prisoners of war.
The deputy commander of the separatist forces in Donetsk, Eduard Basurin, suggested that Ukraine decided to strike the prison to prevent the prisoners from revealing key military information.
He said Ukraine “knew exactly where and where they were being held.” “After the Ukrainian prisoners of war began to talk about the crimes they committed, the orders they received from Kyiv, the political leadership of Ukraine made a decision: go on strike here.”
Adviser to Ukrainian President Mykhailo Podolyak called for a “strict investigation” into the attack, urging the United Nations and other international organizations to condemn it. He said that the Russians moved some Ukrainian prisoners to the barracks a few days before the strike, indicating that it was planned.
“The goal – to discredit Ukraine in front of our partners and disrupt arms supplies,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine’s Security Agency (SBU) said it had intercepted phone calls “in which the occupiers assert that Russian forces are responsible for this tragedy.”
The agency said in a statement that the intercepted conversations indicated that the Russians may have placed explosives in the prison. “In particular, none of the eyewitnesses heard any missile flying towards the correctional facility. There was no characteristic whistling, and the explosions occurred spontaneously.”
Additionally, online video footage showed windows remained full in some rooms of the facility, according to the business. This “indicates that the epicenter of the explosion was inside the destroyed building, and its walls received the blow from the blast waves, protecting some adjacent rooms.”
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov, called the strike a “bloody provocation” aimed at dissuading Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering. He also claimed that US-supplied HIMARS missiles were used, and said that among the wounded were eight guards.
Ukrainian forces are fighting to hold the remaining territories under their control in Donetsk. Together with the neighboring Luhansk Province, they make up the Russian-speaking Ukrainian industrial region of Donbass.
For several months, Moscow focused on trying to capture parts of Donbass that the separatists had not already controlled.
Holding prisoners of war in an area of active combat appears to defy the Geneva Convention, which requires that prisoners be evacuated as soon as possible after their capture to camps far from combat zones.
Ukrainian prisoners of war in Donetsk prison included troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months trapped with civilians in a giant steel mill in the southern port city. Their resistance during the constant Russian bombardment became a symbol of Ukraine’s defiance of Russian aggression.
More than 2,400 soldiers of the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and other military units abandoned the fight and surrendered on orders of the Ukrainian army in May.
Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers have been transferred to prisons in Russian-controlled areas. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia, but the families of other prisoners of war have no idea if their loved ones are still alive, or if they will ever return home.
In other developments Friday:
The Ukrainian president visited one of the country’s main Black Sea ports a week after striking a deal to create safe corridors for grain shipments. that has been trapped in the country since the start of the war. Workers were seen setting up export terminals for the grain on which millions of poor people around the world depend. Zelensky said shipments would start leaving several ships that were already loaded but were unable to leave when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least 13 civilians were killed and 36 wounded in Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. In the southern city of Mykolaiv, at least four people were killed and seven wounded when a Russian bombardment hit a bus station. Officials said the Russian bombing also hit a facility distributing humanitarian aid, in which three people were injured. Ukrainian officials also said at least four civilians were killed and five wounded in the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region.
A Kyiv appeals court on Friday reduced the life sentence of a Russian soldier convicted in the first war crimes trial to 15 years. Since Russia invaded Ukraine. Critics had said the sentencing of Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was unduly harsh given his confession of the crime and expressed remorse. He pleaded guilty to the murder of a civilian and was convicted in May. His defense lawyer said Shishimarin shot a Ukrainian man on the orders of his superiors.
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