Ukrainian authorities, however, denied any involvement and in turn accused Russian forces of carrying out the attack, which they called a war crime.
In messages on Telegram, DPR spokesman Daniil Bezsonov called the victims “prisoners of Azovstal” – the Mariupol steelworks that eventually fell to Russian forces after a long siege. An unverified video shared on Telegram showed charred human remains in the burnt-out shell of what was believed to be the prison.
The Russian Defense Ministry called the incident a “bloody provocation” aimed at discouraging Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering.
The heads of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, however, accused the Russian forces of carrying out “targeted artillery shelling on a correctional facility in the settlement of Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast, where Ukrainian prisoners were also held”.
“In this way, the Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals – accusing Ukraine of having committed ‘war crimes’, as well as hiding the torture of prisoners and the executions they carried out there,” he said. he said in a statement.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, writing on Twitter, accused Russia of committing a war crime and called for condemnation from the international community.
“I call on all partners to strongly condemn this brutal violation of international humanitarian law and to recognize Russia as a terrorist state,” he said.
None of the claims could be independently verified.
Among the soldiers who finally made it to Mariupol after spending months locked up in the steel mills were around 2,400 from the Ukrainian Azov Battalion and on Friday Andrii Biletsky, described as the “founder of Azov”, vowed revenge.
“I, on behalf of the Azov units, announce a hunt for all those involved in the mass murder,” he said on his Telegram channel. “Every grassroots performer and organizer, regardless of position and location, will take responsibility for this. No matter where you hide, you will be found and exterminated.
The Azov Battalion is among Ukraine’s most battle-hardened military units, but has sparked controversy over its links to far-right nationalist ideology. Russian President Vladimir Putin has presented his invasion of Ukraine as an attempt to “denazify” the country, in part referring to Azov forces.
Robyn Dixon, Mary Ilyushina and David Stern contributed to this report.