Russia and Ukraine on Friday accused each other of shelling a prison in a separatist eastern region, which reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs captured after the fall of Mariupol in May.
Russia said Ukraine used US-supplied HIMARS missile launchers in the attack on the prison in Olenivka, in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region. Officials from Russia and separatist authorities in Donetsk said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and injured 75.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov described the strike as a “bloody provocation” designed to discourage Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering. He said eight prison guards were also injured in the shelling.
The Ukrainian army denied any rocket or artillery attack on Olenivka, claiming it did not shell civilian areas and only attacked Russian military targets.
Ukraine claims cover
It accused the Russian armed forces of deliberately shelling the prison in Olenivka to accuse Ukraine of war crimes and also to cover up torture and executions there.
The statement denounced the Russian claims as part of an “information war to accuse the Ukrainian armed forces of shelling civilian infrastructure and the population to cover up their own insidious action”.
Neither claim could be independently verified.
Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed separatist leader, said the prison has 193 inmates. He did not specify how many of them were Ukrainian prisoners of war.
Ukrainian authorities in the Donetsk region said Russia continues to fire on civilian targets in Ukrainian-occupied areas.
“The fighting in the region has intensified by the day and civilians must evacuate while it is still possible,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. “The Russian army is not concerned about civilian casualties. They are crushing towns and villages in the region.”
Ukrainian troops in Mariupol were captured after heavy fighting off the Ukrainian seaport of Azov, where they had entrenched themselves at the giant Azovstal steel plant. Their resistance has become a symbol of Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion that began on February 24.
The Azov regiment and other Ukrainian units defended the steel plant for nearly three months, clinging to the underground maze of tunnels. More than 2,400 surrendered in May under relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air.
Countless Ukrainian soldiers were taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas, such as the Donetsk region, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine run by Russian-backed separatist authorities. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of the prisoner exchange with Russia, but families of others have no idea if their loved ones are still alive, or if they will ever come home.
More shelling in Kharkiv
In other developments, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces shelled the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Mayor Ihor Terekhov said a central area of the northeastern city was affected, including a two-storey building and a higher education institution. Terekhov said the strike took place just after 4 a.m. Friday.
“The state emergency service is already at work – they are sorting the rubble and searching for people under them,” Terekhov said in a Telegram update.
The Ukrainian presidential office said at least 13 civilians have been killed and another 36 injured in Russian shelling in the past 24 hours.
At least four people were killed and seven others injured when Russian shelling hit a bus stop in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
“The Russians have changed their tactics because of the successes of the Ukrainian armed forces in the south… they are firing near a bus stop,” said Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim.
The Russian barrage also hit a humanitarian aid distribution facility, injuring three people, officials said.
Ukrainian officials also said at least four civilians were killed and another five injured in the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, where the Russian offensive in the Donbas is focused. More than 30 residential buildings and a kindergarten were damaged.