Russia, Ukraine trade blame for deadly attack on POW prison: NPR

In this image taken from video, a view of a destroyed barracks at a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine on Friday.


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In this image taken from video, a view of a destroyed barracks at a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine on Friday.


KYIV, Ukraine – Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of shelling a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war captured after the fall of Mariupol, the city where troops famously held out against a months-long Russian siege.

Both sides said the attack was premeditated to cover up atrocities.

Russia claimed that Ukraine’s military used US-supplied rocket launchers to attack the prison in Olenivka, 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 another 75.

Moscow opened an investigation into the attack and sent a team to the scene from Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s main criminal investigation agency. The state-run RIA Novosti agency reported that fragments of US-supplied high-mobility artillery rocket system precision rockets were found at the site.

The Ukrainian military denied launching rocket or artillery strikes at Olenivka, and it accused the Russians of shelling the prison to cover up the alleged torture and execution of Ukrainians there. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the shelling as “a deliberate, cynical, calculated mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners.”

None of the claims could be independently verified.

Video taken by The Associated Press showed charred, twisted bed frames in the destroyed barracks, as well as burned corpses and sheet metal hanging from the destroyed roof. The footage also included bodies lined up on the ground next to a barbed wire fence and a row of what are claimed to be metal rocket fragments on a wooden bench.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the internationally unrecognized Donetsk Republic, said the prison held 193 prisoners. He did not specify how many were Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The deputy commander of separatist forces in Donetsk, Eduard Basurin, suggested that Ukraine decided to attack the prison to prevent the prisoners from revealing important military information.

Ukraine “knew exactly where they were being held and in what location,” he said. “After the Ukrainian prisoners of war started talking about the crimes they committed and orders they received from Kiev, a decision was made by the political leadership of Ukraine: carry out a strike here.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called for a “rigorous investigation” into the attack and urged the United Nations and other international organizations to condemn it. He said the Russians had transferred some Ukrainian prisoners to the barracks just days before the strike, suggesting it was planned.

“The goal – to discredit Ukraine in front of our partners and disrupt the arms supply,” he tweeted.

Ukrainian officials claimed that Russia’s Wagner Group, mercenaries Russia has used in other armed conflicts and allegedly elsewhere in Ukraine, carried out the attack.

Ukraine’s security agencies issued a statement citing evidence that Russia was responsible, including the transfer of prisoners, analysis of damage and the blast wave, intercepted phone calls and the absence of shelling at the scene.

“All this leaves no doubt: the explosion in Olenivka was an act of Russian terrorism and a gross violation of international agreements,” the statement said.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, described the strike as a “bloody provocation” aimed at dissuading Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering. He also claimed that US-supplied HIMARS missiles were used and said eight guards were among those injured.

Ukrainian forces are fighting to hold on to the remaining territory under their control in Donetsk. Together with neighboring Luhansk province, they make up Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking industrial Donbas region.

For months, Moscow has focused on trying to seize parts of Donbas not already held by the separatists.

Keeping POWs in an area of ​​active combat appeared to defy the Geneva Convention, which requires prisoners to be evacuated as soon as possible after capture to camps away from combat zones.

The Ukrainian prisoners of war in the Donetsk prison incl troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months with civilians at a huge steel mill in the southern port city. Their resistance under a relentless Russian bombardment became a symbol of Ukrainian defiance against Russia’s aggression.

More than 2,400 soldiers from the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and other military units gave up their fight and surrendered on orders from Ukraine’s military in May.

Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia, but the families of other POWs have no idea if their loved ones are still alive or if they will ever return home.

In other developments Friday:

– US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the highest known contact between the two sides since Russia invaded Ukraine. Blinken called on Russia to accept a deal to win the release of American prisoners Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

– Ukraine’s president visited one of the country’s most important Black Sea ports a week after an agreement was reached to create safe corridors for grain shipments who have been trapped in the country since the war began. Workers were seen preparing terminals for grain exports, which millions of poor people around the world rely on. Zelenskyy said the shipments would begin with the departure of several ships already loaded but unable to leave when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

– The Ukrainian presidential office said at least 13 civilians were killed and another 36 wounded in Russian shelling over the past 24 hours. In the southern city of Mykolaiv, at least four people were killed and seven others wounded when Russian shelling hit a bus stop. The Russian barrage also hit a facility distributing humanitarian aid, injuring three people, officials said. Ukrainian officials also said at least four civilians were killed and five wounded in the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

— An appeals court in Kiev on Friday reduced the life sentence for a Russian soldier sentenced to 15 years. first war crimes trial since Russia invaded Ukraine. Critics had said the sentencing of Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was unduly harsh as he confessed to the crime and expressed remorse. He pleaded guilty to killing a civilian and was sentenced in May. His defense lawyer argued that Shishimarin shot a Ukrainian man on the orders of his superiors.

Russia, Ukraine trade blame for deadly attack on POW prison: NPR

Source link Russia, Ukraine trade blame for deadly attack on POW prison: NPR

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