The UN and the Red Cross on Saturday demanded access to the prison where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were killedbut Russia has so far responded to their demands silently.
The UN wants to investigate the attack in the town of Olenivka in Eastern Ukraine occupied by Russiawho, according to Moscow, killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and wounded 75 others.
Ukraine says Thursday night’s deadly shelling was a “war crime”, while Russia says Ukraine launched the missiles that destroyed the building. Both sides claim the attack was premeditated and aimed to silence the prisoners inside and destroy evidence of potential atrocities.
“We are ready to send a team of experts capable of carrying out an investigation with the authorization of the parties,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general, told Russian media. He said the investigation would require the consent of all parties and added that the UN supported Red Cross efforts to gain access to the site.
The prison housed nearly 200 soldiers captured in Mariupol, the scene of many of the war’s worst atrocitiesmany of whom held out in the Azovstal steelworks outside the city for weeks of brutal fighting.
Late Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a list naming 48 Ukrainian fighters who died in the attack, aged between 20 and 62. It was not immediately clear whether the list was meant to be complete, suggesting fewer people had died than originally thought, or whether some names were missing.
Russia has not yet specified when and how the bodies of dead soldiers could be recovered, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said.
“I asked for this information. As of today, we haven’t received the lists yet. I know the Russian side has them, but we don’t have any at the moment,” Lubinets said. can only get the overall numbers – i.e. how many [prisoners] were detained there, how many were killed, how many were injured.
Family members of POWs are also desperate for information.
“At the moment my husband is not on the lists and I believe he is alive,” Alina Nesterenko, whose husband was taken to prison after going to Azovstal, told the Guardian. “But a lot of guys are dead, a lot of guys are injured in Olenivka.”
“Three of us haven’t heard anything (from the Ukrainian authorities) so we’re assuming they’re fine, another girl’s husband was injured and then there’s another whose husband was in the barracks who was hit, but she didn’t hear anything,” Nesterenko said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it requested access “to determine the health and condition of all those present at the scene at the time of the attack”.
“Our priority right now is to ensure that the injured receive life-saving care and that the bodies of those who have lost their lives are treated with dignity,” the Red Cross said in a statement.
Ukraine and Russia, meanwhile, continued to trade accusations about who was rresponsible for the attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the death a “deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”. in a video address posted on Facebook on Friday evening. “There should be clear legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Ukraine appealed to the International Criminal Court over the attack.
“At this stage of the war, terror for Russia is the main weapon,” Zelensky said in another Facebook video posted on Saturday afternoon. “And therefore, the main task of every Ukrainian, every defender of freedom and humanity in the world is to do everything to isolate the terrorist state and protect as many people as possible from Russian strikes.”
Moscow opened its own investigation into the explosion, sending a team from Russia’s main criminal investigation agency to the site.
State news agency RIA Novosti claimed that fragments of precision rockets from the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System had been found at the site, which would indicate the attack came from Ukraine. These conclusions could not be independently verified.
The think tank The Institute for the Study of War tweeted that “the available visual evidence seems to support the Ukrainian claims more than the Russians”.
Separately, the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that it had killed dozens of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition depots during fighting in the Kherson region, at the center of the Kyiv counter-offensive in the south and a key link in the lines supplies from Moscow. It has used long-range missile systems supplied by the West to severely damage three bridges over the Dnipro in recent weeks, cutting off the city of Kherson, the first city captured by Russia after the February 24 invasion.
The first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yuri Sobolevsky, told residents to stay away from Russian munitions dumps. “The Ukrainian army is unleashed against the Russians and this is just the beginning,” Sobolevsky wrote on the Telegram app.
The strikes potentially further isolate Russian forces west of the river from supplies in occupied Crimea and to the east. The UK Ministry of Defense said Russia had used pontoon bridges and a ferry system to compensate for destroyed bridges.
The offensive is part of a broader Ukrainian effort to reclaim territory lost to Russia in the country’s eastern and southern regions.
In other developments of the war in Ukraine
- The Ukrainian government announced on Saturday that all civilians in the eastern region of Donestk, partially occupied by Russia and the scene of heavy fighting in progress, must evacuate before winter. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the order applied to around 200,000 civilians who remain there, as there will be no fuel oil or electricity available once the weather turns cold.
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed efforts to advance the first ships carrying Ukrainian grain soon, during a call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Blinken also offered his condolences for the POW killings and “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities committed by its forces against the Ukrainian people,” the State Department said.
- Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom halted shipments to NATO member Latvia on Saturday, saying Latvia was negotiating “gas extraction terms”, likely referring to the country’s refusal to pay the gas in rubles rather than other currencies. Gazprom has suspended shipments and played politics with gas supplies from other countries of the European Unionincluding the suspension of payments to the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria, as they would not pay in rubles.
- Russian rockets hit a school building in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, the country’s second-largest city, overnight, and another attack came about an hour later, the mayor Ihor Terekhov. No injuries were reported immediately. The bus station in the city of Sloviansk was also hit, according to Mayor Vadim Lyakh. Sloviansk is close to the front line of fighting in the Donetsk region. In southern Ukraine, one person was killed and six others injured in a bombardment that hit a residential area in Mykolaiv, a major port city, the region’s administration said on Saturday.
With post wires