The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it is seeking access to the site of a deadly attack on a facility holding Ukrainian prisoners of war and has offered to help evacuate the wounded.
Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners were killed Friday when a prison building was destroyed in what appeared to be a rocket attack or explosion, with Moscow and Kiev accusing each other of responsibility.
“The ICRC has offered its support in the evacuation of the injured and has donated medical supplies, protective equipment and forensic materials. Our priority right now is to ensure that the injured receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of those who have lost their lives are treated with dignity,” the statement said.
“We have requested access to determine the health and condition of all those on the ground at the time of the attack. We are also in contact with families and are addressing their requests and questions.”
Our thoughts are with all those injured or killed in the recent attack in Olenivka.
We know that families are frantically trying to find out if their loved ones are alive, injured or killed.
Statement ⬇️ https://t.co/WSDQmXDJ6Q
— ICRC (@ICRC) July 29, 2022
The Russian defense ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 injured in Thursday’s attack on the prison, in the frontline city of Olenivka, in a part of Donetsk province held by Russian-backed separatists.
The Ukrainian army denied carrying out the attack, saying its troops “have not carried out missile and artillery attacks in the area of the Olenivka settlement”.
The army blamed the Russian armed forces for “a targeted artillery fire” on the detention facility and said it was used to “accuse Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as conceal the torture of prisoners and executions”.
A spokesman for the separatists estimated the death toll at 53 and accused Kiev of firing US-made HIMARS missiles at the prison.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the prison housed Ukrainian POWs and eight prison workers were also injured. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin said there were no foreigners among the 193 detained.
Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and atrocities against civilians since the February 24 invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia has denied targeting civilians.
In a statement, the Ukrainian army said the attack was “not coordinated with the leadership” of the Russian Defense Ministry and was used to conceal the “misappropriation of funds” allocated to Ukrainian prisoners of war.
“Russia has committed yet another horrific war crime by targeting an occupied judicial institution” Olenivka, where it was holding Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Russia has committed another horrific war crime by shelling a prison in occupied Olenivka, where it was holding Ukrainian prisoners of war. I call on all partners to firmly condemn this brutal violation of international humanitarian law and to recognize Russia as a terrorist state.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) July 29, 2022
Ukrainian forces ended a weeks-long siege of Azovstal in May, in which about 2,500 fighters surrendered after halting their initial resistance.
A spokesman for the Moscow-backed separatists told reporters that Ukraine had attacked the prison after the POWs started talking about crimes committed by the Ukrainian army.
“Ukraine’s political leadership has decided to use HIMARS, the US’s multiple-launch missile systems, to launch an attack here to cover up the crimes that the Ukrainian prisoners started talking about,” said spokesman Eduard Basturin.
Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the claims of several accounts.
Fighting in Southern Ukraine
Russian attacks elsewhere in Ukraine left five people dead and seven injured in the heavily bombed city of Mykolaiv near the country’s southern frontline on Friday, the regional governor said.
“They shot in a different area near a public transportation stop,” Governor Vitaliy Kim said in a statement posted on social media.
Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, has seen about half of its estimated pre-war population of nearly 500,000 leave, and the city has been under daily shelling for weeks.
It is the largest Ukrainian-controlled urban hub near the front lines in the Kherson region, where the Kiev military has launched a counter-offensive to regain control of the economically and strategically important coastal area.
The Ukrainian presidency said on Friday that Russian attacks on the city the day before had hit a humanitarian aid distribution point and injured three people.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko also said on Friday that Moscow troops had killed eight people and injured 19 others in attacks the previous day.
The attack on the prison comes as Ukraine plans to continue restarting crucial grain exports as part of a plan brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to lift Russia’s naval blockade in the Black Sea.
The Ukrainian presidency has released images of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy standing in front of the Turkish vessel Polarnet in Chornomorsk port during a visit to inspect the loaded grain.
“The first ship, the first ship to be loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelenskyy said in a statement.
Zelenskyy said Kiev was “waiting for a signal” from Ankara and the UN to start exporting, which it hopes will help alleviate a global food crisis that has pushed prices up.