Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a mass evacuation from the Donetsk region as heavy fighting continues to devastate the area.
In a late-night address, the president said the hundreds of thousands of people still in combat zones must leave.
“The more people leave the Donetsk region now, the less the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said, adding that residents would receive compensation.
“Many refuse to leave, but it still has to be done,” he added. “If you have the chance, please talk to those who are still in the Donbass combat zones. Please convince them that it is necessary to leave.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk also reportedly said the evacuation had to take place before the onset of winter because the region’s natural gas reserves had been destroyed.
It follows an attack on prisoners of war in the separatist-controlled area on Thursday evening.
Ukrainian and Russian officials point fingers at each other for the attack on the prison complex.
“It was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday evening. “There should be clear legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.” Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian POWs and injured 75 others.
The Russian Defense Ministry published a list naming 48 Ukrainian fighters, aged 20 to 62, who died in the attack; it was unclear whether the ministry had revised its death toll.
The families of Ukrainian prisoners of war are desperately waiting to find out if their loved ones survived the bombings.
Talk to The Guardian, Alina Nesterenko, whose husband was taken to prison after going to Azovstal, said: “At the moment my husband is not on the lists and I believe he is alive.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has organized civilian evacuations and worked to monitor the treatment of prisoners of war held by Russia and Ukraine, said it had requested access to the prison “to determine the health and condition of everyone present at the scene at the time of the attack.”
“Our priority right now is to ensure that the injured receive life-saving care and that the bodies of those who have lost their lives are treated with dignity,” the Red Cross said.
But the organization said on Saturday evening that his request for access to the prison had not been granted.
Granting the ICRC access to prisoners of war is an obligation of the parties to the conflict under the Geneva Conventions,” the ICRC said on Twitter.
“We will not stop demanding access to these prisoners of war and all prisoners of war in this international armed conflict to whom we have not yet had access.”
The Independent Gt