Russia Says Ukraine Shelling Killed Dozens of Ukrainian POWs; Ukraine Denies the Attack

Russia Says Ukraine Shelling Killed Dozens of Ukrainian POWs; Ukraine Denies the Attack
Smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal in Mariupol during shelling, in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on May 7, 2022. (Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo)

KYIV, Ukraine—Russia and Ukraine accused each other Friday of shelling a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine, an attack that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war who were captured after the fall of a southern port city in May.

Russia said Ukraine’s military used U.S.–supplied multiple rocket launchers to strike 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 POWs and wounded 75.

The Ukrainian military denied making any rocket or artillery strikes in Olenivka, and said it only aims for Russian military targets. It accused the Russians of shelling the prison to cover up the alleged torture and execution of Ukrainians there.

Neither claim could be independently verified.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, said the prison held 193 inmates. He didn’t specify how many of them were Ukrainian POWs.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson, Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, described the strike as a “bloody provocation” aimed at discouraging Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering. He said Ukraine used the precision High Mobility Artillery Rocket System to hit the prison and eight guards were wounded.

Red Cross staff drive by in their vehicles to the besieged Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant to observe the evacuation of Ukrainian servicemen from Azovstal steel plant, in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on May 18, 2022. (AP Photo)

Ukrainian forces are fighting to hold on to the remaining territory under their control in Donetsk, which together with neighboring Luhansk Province makes up Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking Donbass region.

For several months of the war in Ukraine, Moscow has focused on trying to seize parts of the Donbass not already held by the separatists.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said one person was killed and five injured in Russian rocket strike on the city of Kramatorsk on Friday.

The POWS at the Donetsk prison included members from the Azov Regiment captured during the fall of Mariupol.

More than 2,400 members from the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian national guard and other military units gave up their fight and surrendered in May.

Scores of Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas such as the Donetsk region, a breakaway area in eastern Ukraine which is run by Russian-backed separatist authorities. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia.

By Susie Blann

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