As global outrage grew over a bombing that killed at least 50 Ukrainian prisoners held in a Russian detention camp, Ukrainian authorities on Saturday called for an international investigation, gathering evidence they say will prove Russia orchestrated what they called a “terrorist attack.” “.
After a bombing late Thursday at Correctional Colony 120, a POW camp in the Russian-occupied eastern region of Donetsk, opposing sides presented diametrically opposed versions of what happened, further embittering the six-month-old war.
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Russian officials claimed that Ukrainians, using precision-guided weapons supplied by the United States, attacked the prison themselves to deter defectors. The Ukrainian authorities dismissed the story as absurd and said the deaths were a deliberate atrocity committed by Russian troops from a prison where survivors said they were given just enough food to survive and were subjected to ritual beatings, including chains and metal pipes. .
The explosion is particularly painful for the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky because many of the dead fought to defend Mariupol, a port on the Black Sea, and then retreated to the city’s Azovstal steel plant. They held out against the Russians for several weeks before finally surrendering in May.
For many Ukrainians, the siege of Azovstal became a symbol of the country’s suffering and defiance, and the soldiers who fought there, about 2,500 of whom were taken prisoner, were considered heroes.
“This was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate massacre of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Mr. Zelensky said in a speech late Friday night.
Mr. Zelenskiy said the Red Cross, along with the United Nations, had acted as “guarantors of the life and health of our soldiers” and that now they must take action. “They must protect the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” he said.
A series of Russian missile strikes against civilian targets, including shopping malls and apartment buildings, prompted the Ukrainian government to call on Washington to declare Moscow a state sponsor of terrorism, which Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken opposed.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, Senior Foreign Policy Representative of the European Union, said in a statement that every day Russia’s incessant “illegal and unjustified war of aggression” led to “terrible atrocities”, adding that “inhuman, barbaric acts” violated the Geneva Conventions and constituted war crimes.
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Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, the Baltic country that was one of Moscow’s toughest opponents during the war, said Russia was responsible for the “mass murder” of prisoners in the camp. chapters of history.
“There must be no impunity for war crimes, just as there can be no return to relations with war criminals,” the statement said.
For Mr. Zelenskiy, the prison explosion fits in with a pattern in which an unwarranted invasion of his country ordered by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin was accompanied by atrocities committed by Russian troops, for example, in the suburbs north of the capital, Kyiv. , as well as rocket attacks on civilian targets, including one this month on a shopping center in the center of the country, far from the front lines.
Russia controls about 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory, but after deploying its superior artillery power earlier this month to take over much of the Luhansk region in eastern Donbas, Kyiv is now pursuing a counteroffensive in the Kherson region in an attempt to reclaim the land.
Moscow denies it committed atrocities or targeted civilians, and on Saturday the Defense Department said Ukrainians killed their soldiers using US-made precision-guided missiles known as HIMARS to target a prisoner-of-war camp in Russian-controlled territory. east of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told The New York Times that an expert analysis of photographs and videos published by Russia showed that the center of the explosion was inside the building, and the exterior of the building was practically not damaged.
In addition, he said that the speed of Russian propaganda after the attack suggests planning. According to him, the prisoners were transferred to the barracks, where there had been an explosion just a few days earlier, and it is suspicious that none of the Russian soldiers or workers in the prison were injured. In addition, he said that prior to the explosion, Russia moved debris from previous strikes at other sites where HIMARS weapons were used to the camp.
Tatyana Kravchenko, a Ukrainian human rights activist whose organization had contacts with prisoners at the camp, said that a prisoner called his wife on Thursday evening and said that around 11 p.m. he heard an explosion, not gunfire. She said that she had a recording of a call in which a prisoner said that two of his friends were transferred to another prison building on the day of the explosion and that one of them was already dead and the other was injured.
Soldiers held in other parts of the camp also passed on similar stories to their families, she said.
Competing claims could not be immediately verified independently of each other. Ms Kravchenko said she could not reveal more information without risking the safety of the prisoners still in the camp.
In fact, the invasion claimed the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and caused suffering to many others. It also had far-reaching external repercussions, resurrecting NATO, isolating Russia, driving up energy prices, and stifling global growth. Given Ukraine’s importance to world grain markets and Russia’s effective blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports, it also threatens some countries in the Middle East and Africa with food shortages and starvation.
The first shipments of grain since the beginning of the conflict have been loaded onto cargo ships in Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. The deliveries will be the result of a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations about a week ago. Mr. Zelensky and representatives of the Group of Seven Industrialized Countries visited Chornomorsk, one of the three ports in the Odessa region, on Friday.
Odessa has been a frequent target of Russian missile strikes, most recently a week ago when an attack on the port called into question a grain deal. Indeed, Mr. Podolyak said the prison explosion was another sign that Russian assurances that it would ensure the safe passage of grain ships through the Black Sea could not be trusted.
Elsewhere, the battle largely became a series of successive offensive and defensive maneuvers, with only limited areas changing hands each week.
The region of Donbass, where the Ukrainian military said on Saturday that they had repelled the latest Russian offensive attempts, is the clearest example of this slowdown. But in the Kherson region, Ukraine is hoping that HIMARS and other Western-supplied weapons will help it move forward.
Ukraine said it shelled important Russian logistical hubs overnight Saturday and made small but steady gains as it advanced towards the city of Kherson, a shipbuilding hub and port, where Ukrainian missile strikes on a bridge across the Dnieper River left Russian defenders largely isolated. .
It will be weeks, perhaps more, before the outcome of the Kherson counter-offensive is decided, not least because the war testifies to the military principle that an offensive is more difficult than a defense. But a senior U.S. Department of Defense official said briefing on friday that there was increasing evidence that the heavy Russian losses made some units ill-prepared for combat. The official described Russia’s recent efforts as a failure both on the battlefield and at home.
Michael Schwirtz made a report.