Charges fly after missile strike kills dozens of Ukrainian POWs


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ODESA — Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appear to have been killed when a prison building was destroyed in a missile strike, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of carrying out the attack on Friday.

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The deaths, some of which were confirmed by Reuters reporters at the jail where the men were being held, overshadowed UN-backed efforts to restart the shipment of grain from Ukraine and ease a global hunger crisis imminent.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 injured in the attack on the prison in the front town of Olenivka in a separatist-held part of Donetsk province.

A spokesman for the separatists put the death toll at 53 and accused Kyiv of targeting the prison with US-made HIMARS rockets. The ministry also said HIMARS rockets were to blame, Russian news agencies reported.

Ukraine’s armed forces denied carrying out the attack, saying Russian artillery targeted the prison to hide the mistreatment of those held there. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation.

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Reuters TV showed the remains of a burned-out cavernous building filled with metal beds, some with charred bodies lying on them while other bodies were lined up on military stretchers or on the ground outside.

Shell fragments had been laid out on a bench of blue metal. It was not possible to immediately detect any identifying marks and it was unclear where the fragments had been collected.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and eight prison staff were also injured. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin reportedly said there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.

Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities and brutalities against civilians since its February 24 invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians.

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Ukraine’s military intelligence service said Thursday’s prison strike was a « deliberate act of terrorism ». The Homeland Security Agency said it intercepted phone calls indicating Russia was responsible.

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The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said the attack on the prison was an attempt to shift responsibility.

« In this way, the Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals – accusing Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as hiding the torture of prisoners and executions, » he said.

Russia has denied any involvement in war crimes, accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces and said it was investigating Ukrainian war crimes.

A spokesman for the Moscow-backed separatists told reporters in Olenivka that Ukraine attacked after prisoners of war began talking about crimes committed by the Ukrainian military.

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« Ukraine’s political leadership has decided to use American producer HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems to carry out a strike here to cover up the crimes that Ukrainian captives have started to talk about, » the spokesperson said. Eduard Basturin.

There was no way to immediately verify either version of events.

Separately, Ukraine said at least five people were killed and seven injured in a Russian missile strike on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port just off the Black Sea, while that Russia was firing through the front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia did not immediately comment on the situation.


News of the missile strike came as Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukraine was ready to resume grain shipments from its southern ports.

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Russia and Ukraine agreed last week to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports, which have been threatened by Russian attacks since the invasion.

The deal was the first diplomatic breakthrough in the dispute and wheat prices on offer in Asia fell this week on expectations of increased supply.

But fierce fighting makes it extremely risky.

Kubrakov told reporters at the southern port of Odessa that the country was ready to ship grain from two ports under the UN-brokered deal, but no date had been set.

“A total of 17 ships were loaded before the war. Today we started loading another ship in Chornomorsk. We have, in principle, resolved almost all the technical issues,” he said.

He said he hoped the first ships could leave port before the end of the week, while Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said she hoped an agreement would be reached later Friday for pave the way for the first shipment.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country was ready and awaiting a signal from the United Nations and Turkey to begin shipments.

While a grain lockdown in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters, has fueled rising global food prices, shortages of Russian natural gas have pushed up energy prices in Europe and raised fears of shortages during Winter.

Moscow, which describes its invasion of Ukraine as a « special military operation » carried out in self-defense, blames Western sanctions for the low gas supply. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian assault was unprovoked and accused Moscow of energy blackmail.


A British intelligence update said Russia had ordered mercenaries to hold sections of the front line in Ukraine – a sign it is short of combat infantry as Kyiv steps up a counter-offensive in the south.

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A greater reliance on fighters from Russia’s private military company Wagner Group for frontline duties rather than their usual special operations work would be another sign that the Russian military is under pressure.

« This is a significant change from the group’s previous employment since 2015, when it typically undertook missions separate from regular large-scale Russian military activity, » the ministry said.

Wagner and the Kremlin were unavailable for comment.

Ukraine’s counterattacks in the south come as Russia fights for control of the entire industrialized Donbass region in the east. It has already taken hold of one of the two provinces, Luhansk, and is making progress in Donetsk, where the prison hit on Friday is located southwest of the provincial capital.

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