Red Cross seeks access to site of deadly attack on Ukrainian POWs

Russia and Ukraine trade accusations after dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in Russian-occupied Donetsk.

This handout picture released by the Russian Investigative Committee on July 29, 2022 shows what is said is the destroyed detention centre in the settlement of Olenivka in the separatist-held region of Donetsk.
A handout from the Russian Investigative Committee shows what it says is the destroyed detention centre in Olenivka in the Russian-backed separatist-held region of Donetsk [Russian Investigative Committee via AFP]

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is seeking access to the site of a deadly attack on a facility holding Ukrainian prisoners of war and has offered to help evacuate the wounded.

Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners were killed on Friday when a prison building was destroyed in what appeared to be a missile attack or explosion, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of responsibility.

“The ICRC has offered its support in the evacuation of the wounded and to donate medical supplies, protective equipment and forensic material. Our priority right now is making sure that the wounded receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are dealt with in a dignified manner,” it said in a statement.

“We have requested access to determine the health and condition of all the people present on-site at the time of the attack. We are also in contact with families, taking their requests and inquiries.”

Russia’s defence ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in Thursday’s attack on the prison, in the frontline town of Olenivka, in a part of Donetsk province held by Russian-backed separatists.

Ukraine’s military denied carrying out the attack saying its forces “did not launch missile and artillery strikes in the area of Olenivka settlement”.

The military blamed Russian forces for “a targeted artillery shelling” on the detention facility, saying it was being used to “accuse Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as to hide the torture of prisoners and executions”.

A spokesman for the separatists put the death toll at 53 and accused Kyiv of targeting the prison with US-made HIMARS rockets.

The Russian defence ministry said that the prison housed Ukrainian POWs and that eight prison staff were also wounded. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.

Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians since its February 24 invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia has denied targeting civilians.

‘War crime’

In a statement, the Ukrainian army said the attack was “not coordinated with the leadership” of Russia’s defence ministry and was used to conceal the “embezzlement of funds” allocated for Ukrainian POWs.

“Russia has committed another petrifying war crime by shelling a correctional facility in occupied” Olenivka where it held Ukrainian POWs”, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.


Ukraine’s forces in May ended a weeks-long siege of Azovstal, with around 2,500 combatants surrendering after calling a halt to their first resistance.

A spokesman for the Moscow-backed separatists told journalists that Ukraine had attacked the prison after the POWs had begun talking about crimes conducted by the Ukrainian military.

“The political leadership of Ukraine decided to use US-producer multiple-launch rocket systems HIMARS to carry out a strike here to veil the crimes that the Ukrainian captives started talking about,” spokesman Eduard Basturin said.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims from varying accounts.

Fighting in southern Ukraine

Russian attacks elsewhere in Ukraine killed five people and wounded seven more on Friday in the heavily bombed city of Mykolaiv near the country’s southern front line, the regional governor said.

“They shot at another area near a public transport stop,” Governor Vitaliy Kim said in a statement on social media.

Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, has seen roughly half of its estimated pre-war population of nearly 500,000 people leave and the city has been shelled daily for weeks.

It is the largest Ukrainian-controlled urban hub near the frontlines in the Kherson region, where Kyiv’s army has launched a counter-offensive to regain control of the economically and strategically important coastal territory.

The Ukrainian presidency said on Friday that Russian attacks on the city a day earlier had struck a humanitarian aid distribution point and injured three people.

In the eastern Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko also said Friday that Moscow’s forces had killed eight people and wounded 19 more in attacks over the previous day.

Grain exports

The prison attack comes as Ukraine looks to push ahead with restarting crucial grain exports under a plan brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to lift Russia’s Black Sea naval blockade.

Ukraine’s presidency released footage of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy standing in front of the Turkish ship Polarnet in the port of Chornomorsk on a visit to inspect grain being loaded.

“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelenskyy said in a statement.

Zelenskyy said Kyiv was “waiting for a signal” from Ankara and the UN to start exports that it is hoped will help mitigate a global food crisis that has seen prices soar.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies