The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is seeking access to the site of the fatal attack on a facility with Ukrainian prisoners of war and has offered assistance in evacuating the wounded.
“The ICRC has offered to assist in the evacuation of the wounded and in the donation of medicines, protective equipment and forensic materials. Our priority now is to ensure that the wounded receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of the dead are treated with dignity,” the statement said.
“We requested access to determine the health and condition of all people who were at the scene at the time of the attack. We also keep in touch with families by taking their inquiries and requests.”
Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were apparently killed when the prison building was destroyed in a rocket attack or explosion, with Moscow and Kyiv blaming each other for responsibility.
The prison is located in the front-line town of Olenovka, which is held by pro-Russian separatists.
Russia says the death toll includes 40 prisoners and eight prison staff, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says more than 50 people were killed in what he called a “deliberate Russian war crime.”
Pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin said there were no foreigners among the 193 detained.
Diplomatic efforts aimed at maintaining the grain export deal
The deaths, some of which were confirmed by Reuters at a prison where men were held in eastern Donetsk region, overshadowed a UN-brokered deal to resume grain shipments from Ukraine and ease the global food crisis.
The deal was discussed by senior US and Russian diplomats on Friday during their first phone call since Russia’s invasion of the neighboring country began on Feb. 24.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that Washington is not keeping promises to exempt food from sanctions.
For his part, Mr. Blinken said he told Mr. Lavrov that the world expects Russia to live up to its obligations under the Ukraine-Russia grain deal.
The security services of Ukraine demanded that the United Nations and the Red Cross respond immediately to the deaths of prisoners of war in a Russian prison. According to them, both organizations have given guarantees that the detainees will be treated well and should send investigators to the prison.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is requesting access to the scene and has offered assistance in evacuating the wounded, the ICRC said in a statement released on Friday.
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians since its invasion and said it had identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies that it has targeted civilians.
Ukraine’s internal security service said it had intercepted phone calls from pro-Russian separatists who suggested Russian troops had blown up the prison.
Ukrainian military intelligence reported an explosion in a new building intended for prisoners from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
It says that the building was blown up by mercenaries from the Russian private military company Wagner Group and was not agreed with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Hundreds of civilians and seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded and trapped in the Azovstal steel plant for weeks before laying down their arms.
The SBU said video footage online showed windows in some rooms still intact, suggesting that the explosion occurred inside rather than the shelling outside.
A representative of the pro-Moscow separatists told reporters that Ukraine attacked the prison after prisoners of war spoke about crimes committed by the Ukrainian military.
“The political leadership of Ukraine has decided to use American-made HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems to strike here in order to cover up the crimes that the Ukrainian captives have spoken about,” spokesman Eduard Basturin said.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States does not yet have exact information about what happened to the prison, but urged caution about Russia’s claims, given that past claims have proven false.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the different versions of events.
A Russian Foreign Ministry report on the U.S.-Russia phone call mentions that Mr. Lavrov told Mr. Blinken that Russia would achieve all the goals of its “special military operation” and said that Western arms supplies to Ukraine would only prolong the conflict. and increase the number of victims.
Mr. Blinken warned Mr. Lavrov of any Russian territorial claims during its war in Ukraine.
“The world does not recognize annexations. We will impose significant additional costs on Russia if it advances its plans,” he said.
Last week, Russia and Ukraine agreed to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports that have been threatened by Russian attacks since the invasion.
The deal was the first diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict, but the fierce fighting makes it extremely risky.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov told reporters in the southern port of Odessa that the country is ready to ship grain from the two ports in accordance with the agreement, but no timeframe has been set.
He said he hoped the first ships would be able to leave the port by the end of the week.