Ukrainian officials said on Sunday there is mounting evidence that an explosion at a Russian penal colony that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners was ordered and carried out by Russian forces, citing recently released satellite photos as proof that the soldiers were not killed in a missile strike. .
Since Thursday night’s explosion at the camp in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the two sides have traded accusations over the source of the blast that killed at least 50 prisoners, many of whom were believed as national heroes after being captured in a steel mill siege. in the coastal city of Mariupol.
While Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday it would allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations access to the blast site, neither organization has confirmed that claim. The Red Cross said in a statement on Saturday that its request to visit had “not been granted” and did not immediately respond to the Russian statement.
The Kremlin argued that Ukraine attacked the prison to deter defectors, while Ukrainian authorities dismissed the account as absurd. They said the deaths were a premeditated atrocity committed by Russian forces from inside the prison, where survivors described deplorable conditions and ritual abuse.
Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to the President of Ukraine, told The New York Times on Saturday that expert analysis of photos and videos released by Russia indicated that the center of the explosion was inside the building, the exterior of the building being virtually intact.
“Any military expert will say that the consequences of the explosion are not similar to a missile or artillery strike,” he said.
On Sunday, he pointed to satellite photos as additional evidence.
“Satellite images show only one building was damaged,” he said in a statement. “Photo analysis shows a thermobaric explosion from within.”
Mr Podoliak said Ukrainian prisoners had been moved to the barracks where the blast had occurred just days before the incident and it was suspicious that no Russian soldiers or prison staff had been hurt.
He accused Russia of moving debris from other places where Ukrainians hit targets with US-made precision missiles to the prison camp before the explosion.
“That, along with the speed and organization of the Russian propaganda, indicates that the terrorist attack was planned,” he said in an interview. “The purpose of this despicable terrorist attack was to cover up Russian war crimes previously committed against prisoners, to discredit the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to disrupt the supply of Western weapons and to create tension in Ukrainian society.”
Tetiana Katrychenko, a Ukrainian human rights activist whose organization has been in contact with prisoners at the camp, said a Ukrainian prisoner called his wife on Thursday evening and reported hearing an explosion around 11 p.m. .
“No shelling, just an explosion,” Ms Katrychenko said, adding that she had a recording of the call. “He also said two of his friends were taken out of the jail, where he is, earlier the same day the explosion happened.”
One of her friends was injured in the blast and another was killed, she said. Soldiers detained in other parts of the camp passed on similar accounts to their own family members, Ms Katrychenko said.