The families of Ukrainian prisoners of war held in a Russian-occupied Donetsk prison that was bombed said they were desperate for news.
The prisoners include members of the Azov Battalion who were trapped in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, according to earlier statements from the Russian Defense Ministry. The prison is located in the town of Olenivka, just 10 kilometers from the Ukrainian front lines.
“At the moment my husband is not on the lists and I believe he is alive,” said Alina Nesterenko, whose husband was taken to the Russian-occupied Donetsk prison after surrendering to Azovstal. “But a lot of guys are dead, a lot of guys are injured in Olenivka [prison].”
Russia has released lists of 75 injured and 50 dead – although these have not been confirmed by Ukrainian authorities or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which were monitoring conditions at the prison.
“We don’t know what happened, but you can’t bring people back to life,” Nesterenko said.
The prison holding Ukrainian prisoners of war (PoWs) was bombed on Thursday evening, killing at least 50 people, according to Ukrainian and Russian authorities.
Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the attack.
Ukraine said Russia did it to cover up the mistreatment of POWs. The prisoners should have been protected by guarantees obtained by the United Nations and the Red Cross, said Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He joined his foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in urging these organizations to step in and investigate.
Meanwhile, Russian occupation authorities blamed the attack on Ukraine, saying it used a U.S.-supplied Himar to strike the facility to deter Ukrainian forces that might be considering attacking. to return. The Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the UK called for the Azov fighters to be executed by hanging rather than firing squad because “they are not real soldiers”. The statement was criticized by commentators in the UK.
It is impossible for the Guardian to verify advanced versions on either side.
Ukraine’s western partners seem to be on its side. European Union High Representative Josep Borrell blamed Russia for the attack in a statement on Friday. Borrell also condemned videos circulating on pro-Kremlin media networks of a Russian soldier castrating a Ukrainian soldier.
Aric Toler of investigative group Bellingcat said the footage showed no signs of editing or manipulation and it was possible to identify the perpetrator.
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday requested access to the prison site and the evacuation of the wounded.
On Saturday, Russia invited UN and Red Cross experts to investigate the deaths. In a statement, his Department of Defense said it was acting “in the interest of conducting an objective investigation” into what it called an attack on the prison earlier in the week.
Nesterenko couldn’t be sure her husband was safe as she hadn’t heard from him since he left Azovstal, with matters complicated by Russia’s refusal to confirm his status in the prison .
She said he was one of the first to come out of Azovstal but the ICRC was not there yet. Since then, she said, she has completed the necessary ICRC forms and the Ukrainian side has confirmed that he is a prisoner at Olenivka, but Russia has not.
“I know he’s a prisoner in Olenivka because I’ve seen him periodically in different photos and videos in the cafeteria and in the queues,” Nesterenko said. “All [our] the guys are almost unrecognizable, they look exhausted, thin, pale and their skin has taken on a kind of yellow color.
Although some families believed their loved ones had survived, others were nervously awaiting news from the responsible Ukrainian authorities, she said.
“Three of us haven’t heard anything (from the Ukrainian authorities) so we’re assuming they’re fine, another girl’s husband was injured and then there’s another whose husband was in the barracks who was hit but she didn’t hear anything,” Nesterenko said. .
“Under the Geneva convention they are entitled to a phone call every two weeks, that didn’t happen,” Nesterenko said.
She said work towards a prisoner exchange appeared to have stalled since 144 seriously injured fighters were exchanged in June.
Relatives of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Azovstal have called on the world to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism “that violates the rules of war and does not respect the Geneva conventions”.
The statement further called on the ICRC and the UN, as guarantors of Azovstal’s surrender, to come to the prison to investigate what happened, check on the injured and facilitate the transfer of the bodies.