- Russia and Ukraine take responsibility for death of prisoners
- Death toll rises to 53, says separatist spokesman
- Lavrov says Russia will achieve all its goals in Ukraine
- Western arms supplies to Ukraine only prolong conflict, he says
ODESA, Ukraine/KYIV, July 29 (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appear to have been killed when a prison building was destroyed in a missile strike or explosion, Moscow and Kyiv s mutually accusing Friday.
The deaths, some of which were confirmed by Reuters reporters at the jail where the men were being held, overshadowed UN-backed efforts to restart the shipment of grain from Ukraine and ease a global hunger crisis imminent.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 injured in Thursday’s attack on the prison in the frontline town of Olenivka in a separatist-held part of Donetsk province.
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A spokesman for the separatists put the death toll at 53 and accused Kyiv of targeting the prison with US-made HIMARS rockets.
Ukraine’s armed forces have denied responsibility, saying Russian artillery targeted the prison to hide the mistreatment of those held there. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation.
Reuters TV showed the remains of a burned-out cavernous building filled with metal beds, some with charred bodies lying on them while other bodies were lined up on military stretchers or on the ground outside.
Shell fragments had been laid out on a bench of blue metal. It was not possible to immediately detect any identifying marks and it was unclear where the fragments had been collected.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and eight prison staff were also injured. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin reportedly said there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutalities against civilians since its February 24 invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians.
EXPLOSION OR SHELL?
Ukraine’s internal security agency SBU said it intercepted phone calls from Russian-backed separatists suggesting Russian troops had caused an explosion in the prison. Ukrainian military intelligence said there had been an explosion at a new building intended to house prisoners from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
He said the building was blown up by mercenaries from the Russian private military company Wagner Group and was not coordinated with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Hundreds of seriously injured Ukrainian civilians and soldiers were surrounded and trapped for weeks in Azovstal steelworks before laying down their arms.
The SBU said online video footage showed windows in some rooms survived intact, suggesting there had been an explosion inside rather than shelling from outside.
A spokesman for the Moscow-backed separatists told reporters that Ukraine attacked the prison after prisoners of war began talking about crimes committed by the Ukrainian military.
“The political leaders of Ukraine have decided to use the multiple launch rocket systems of the American producer HIMARS to carry out a strike here in order to cover up the crimes that the Ukrainian captives have started to talk about,” the spokesperson said. Eduard Basturin.
Reuters could not immediately verify the various versions of events. Ukrainian public news channel Suspilne quoted an ICRC spokesperson in Ukraine as saying the agency had requested urgent access.
LAVROV DESCRIBES US SANCTIONS
News of the deaths in prison came as Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukraine was ready to resume grain shipments from its southern ports.
The global food crisis is complicated by US sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Antony in a phone call. Read more
A reading of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s appeal also quoted Lavrov as telling Blinken that Russia would achieve all of its “special military operation” goals and said Western arms deliveries to Ukraine would only only to prolong the conflict and multiply the victims.
Russia and Ukraine agreed last week to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports, which have been threatened by Russian attacks since the invasion.
The deal was the conflict’s first diplomatic breakthrough, but fierce fighting makes it extremely risky.
Kubrakov told reporters at the southern port of Odessa that the country was ready to ship grain from two ports under the UN-brokered deal, but no date had been set.
He said he hoped the first ships could leave port before the end of the week, while Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said she hoped an agreement would be reached later Friday for pave the way for the first shipment. Read more
While a grain lockdown in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters, has fueled rising global food prices, shortages of Russian natural gas have pushed up energy prices in Europe and raised fears of shortages during Winter.
Moscow, which says its special operation is being carried out in self-defense, blames Western sanctions for low gas supplies. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian assault was unprovoked and accused Moscow of energy blackmail.
A British intelligence update said Russia had ordered mercenaries to hold sections of the front line in Ukraine – a sign it is short of combat infantry as Kyiv steps up a counter-offensive in the south.
Greater reliance on Wagner Group fighters for frontline duties rather than their usual special operations work would be another sign that the Russian military is under pressure.
“This is a significant change from the group’s previous employment since 2015, when it typically undertook missions separate from regular large-scale Russian military activity,” the ministry said.
Wagner and the Kremlin were unavailable for comment.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Stephen Coates, Philippa Fletcher and Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson
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