Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.
CNN could not independently verify the claims from either side.
“The occupiers’ attack on Olenivka is a deliberate war crime committed by the Russians, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian POWs,” Zelensky said in a statement.
“There should be clear legal recognition of Russia as a terrorist state. Russia has proven with numerous terrorist attacks that it is the biggest source of terrorism in the world today,” added Ukrainian President.
A video broadcast on Russian networks and shared on social networks in Donetsk shows the massive destruction of a building and several bodies. CNN was able to geotag footage of the strike in an industrial area about three kilometers from the frontline town of Olenivka.
The Ukrainian army said that the explosion occurred on the territory of the industrial zone, in a newly built building specially equipped to accommodate prisoners released from Azovstal.
The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the strike in Olenivka. In a statement, he said that preliminary data before the trial show that “the occupying state struck the territory of penal colony No. 120 in the temporarily occupied village of Olenivka of the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region” .
The Ukrainian General Staff said in a statement that “the Ukrainian armed forces did not launch missile and artillery fire in the area of the Olenivka settlement” and accused the Russian forces of having carried out “targeted artillery shelling of a correctional facility in the settlement of Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast, where Ukrainian prisoners were also held.”
The General Staff statement said the Armed Forces “have never and do not conduct bombardments of civilian infrastructure, especially places where fellow combatants are likely to be held as prisoners of war.” war”.
“The Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals – accusing Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as hiding the torture of prisoners and executions,” the General Staff said.
“The alleged shelling of civilian infrastructure and the population by the Ukrainian armed forces is pure lies and provocation, the responsibility for which lies with Russia.”
In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said “the Kyiv regime deliberately carried out a bloody provocation” and claimed that “40 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded”. In addition, eight employees of the isolation ward were injured of varying severity. .”
“The remand center in the settlement area of Yelenovka (Olenivka), which contains Ukrainian military prisoners of war, including militants of the Azov formation, was hit by a missile attack from the launch rocket system American multiple HIMARS.”
The Russian Defense Ministry reiterated claims made earlier by authorities of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine. The ministry claimed that “this blatant provocation was intended to intimidate the Ukrainian servicemen and prevent their being taken prisoner”.
The senior duty surgeon at Donetsk City Central Clinical Hospital No. 16, Mikhail Yurenko, said the seven strike survivors brought to his facility for treatment were in critical condition.
“Seven Ukrainian army POWs with lesions of different location were delivered by ambulance. All patients received combined surgical care,” Yurenko said at a press conference broadcast on social media.
“The patients are currently in the intensive care unit.”
Ukraine accuses a group of mercenaries
Ukrainian intelligence said the explosion was carried out by the Russian mercenary group Wagner and was not coordinated with the Russian Defense Ministry. CNN cannot independently verify the accusations.
“According to available information, (the explosions) were carried out by mercenaries of the PMC (League) Wagner under the personal command of the nominal owner of the specified PMC – Evgeniy Prigozhin,” said the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. . The defense said in a statement Friday. “The organization and execution of the terrorist attack was not coordinated with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.”
Ukrainian intelligence services say the attack was carried out to hide the embezzlement of funds allocated for keeping prisoners of war and to inflame social tensions in Ukraine.
“Given the great public interest in the fate of the heroes of Azovstal, according to the authors of the scenario of the terrorist attack, the death of the defenders should lead to an increase in social tensions in Ukraine,” the statement said.
Ukraine’s defense intelligence chief called on the international community to put pressure on Russia.
“To find out the real circumstances of the terrorist attack and to prevent it from happening again in the future, I call on all international institutions to express a firm position regarding the events in Olenivka,” said the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budano.
A group working on behalf of Ukrainian soldiers held as prisoners of war said on Friday “it is with deep sadness that we are forced to confirm the information about the attack on the penal colony of Olenivka, where the soldiers of the regiment ‘Azov’ are being held as Prisoners of War.”
The group, known as the Angels of Azov, said on Telegram: “We are finding out the names of the dead and injured through our own channels. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also visited the site.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose representatives had earlier visited the prisoners, made no comment.
CNN’s Kara Fox, Kostan Nechyporenko and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.