Russia and Ukraine Take Blame for Deadly Attack on POW Prison – NBCNEWS

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Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shooting a jail in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine that reportedly killed dozens Ukrainian POWs captured after the fall of Mariupol, the city where troops were famous for holding out for a month Russian siege.

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

Russia alleged that the Ukrainian military used US-supplied rocket launchers to attack the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic.

In this photo, taken from video, a view of a destroyed barracks in a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of the shooting at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May. (AP photo) (AP)

Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and injured another 75.

Moscow opened an investigation into the attack and sent a team to the site of the Russian Commission of Inquiry, the country’s main investigative agency.

The state agency RIA Novosti reported that fragments of US-supplied precision High Mobility Artillery Rocket System missiles have been found at the site.

The Ukrainian military denied any rocket or artillery attacks in Olenivka, accusing 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”.

Neither claim could be independently verified.

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Video made by The Associated Press showed charred, twisted bed frames in the destroyed barracks, as well as burnt bodies and metal sheets hanging from the destroyed roof.

The footage also includes bodies lined up on the ground next to a barbed wire fence and a series of what were said to be metal missile fragments on a wooden bench.

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

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

Ukraine “knew exactly where they were being held and where,” he said.

“After the Ukrainian POWs started talking about the crimes they had committed and the orders they received from Kiev, the political leadership of Ukraine made a decision: carry out a strike here.”

In this photo, taken from video, a view of the destroyed barracks in a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of the shooting at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May.  (AP photo)
In this photo, taken from video, a view of the destroyed barracks in a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of the shooting at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May. (AP photo) (AP)

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called for a “strict 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.

A soldier stands guard next to a wall of a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of shelling a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May.  (AP photo)
A soldier stands guard next to a wall of a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of shelling a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May. (AP photo) (AP)

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

Ukrainian security forces have released a statement citing evidence that Russia was responsible, including the transfer of prisoners, analysis of injuries and the blast wave, intercepted telephone conversations and the absence of shelling at the site.

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

In this photo, taken from video, a view of a destroyed barracks in a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of the attack. shooting at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May.  (AP photo)
In this photo, taken from video, a view of a destroyed barracks in a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of the shooting at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian military prisoners captured after the fall of a southern port city of Mariupol in May. (AP photo) (AP)

A spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry, Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, described the strike as a “bloody provocation” designed to discourage Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering.

He also claimed that US-supplied HIMARS missiles were used, and said eight guards were among the injured.

Ukrainian troops fight to hold remaining area in Donetsk. Together with the neighboring province of Luhansk, they form the largely Russian-speaking industrial Donbas region of Ukraine.

In this photo from the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, surrounded by ambassadors from various countries and UN officials, visits a port in Chornomork while loading grain onto a Turkish ship, background, close to Odessa, Ukraine , Friday, July 29, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via AP)
In this photo from the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, surrounded by ambassadors from various countries and UN officials, visits a port in Chornomork while loading grain onto a Turkish ship, background, close to Odessa, Ukraine , Friday, July 29, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via AP) (AP)

For several months, Moscow has been concentrating on capturing parts of the Donbas that are not yet in the possession of the separatists.

Keeping POWs in an area where there is active fighting seemed to violate the Geneva Convention, which requires prisoners to be evacuated to camps outside combat areas as soon as possible after capture.

The Ukrainian POWs in Donetsk Prison included troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months with civilians in a giant steel mill in the southern port city. Their resistance during a relentless Russian bombardment became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression.

More than 2400 soldiers of the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and other military units gave up their fight and surrendered in May on the orders of the Ukrainian army.

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

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