Kyiv, Ukraine –
Russia launched nightly attacks on several Ukrainian cities, Ukrainian officials said Saturday, as they and Moscow blamed each other for the deaths of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in a separatist-controlled zone in the country’s east.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have a duty to react after the bombing of a prison complex in Donetsk province killed prisoners of war.
“It was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday night. “There must be a clear legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Both sides argued that the prison attack was premeditated and intended to silence Ukrainian prisoners and destroy evidence, including of possible atrocities.
Russia claimed Ukraine’s military used US-supplied precision rocket launchers to attack the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic.
However, the Ukrainian military denied carrying out rocket or artillery attacks on Olenivka. He accused the Russians of bombing the prison to cover up the alleged torture and execution of Ukrainians there.
Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and wounded 75 others. Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday issued a list naming 48 Ukrainian fighters, ranging in age from 20 to the 62-year-olds, who died in the attack; it was unclear whether the ministry had revised its death count.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which organized evacuations of civilians in the war and worked to monitor the treatment of prisoners of war held by Russia and Ukraine, said it requested access to the prison “to determine the health and state of everyone present.” on site at the time of the attack.
“Our priority right now is to make sure that the injured receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are treated with dignity,” the Red Cross said in a statement.
Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Russian rockets hit a school building in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, overnight and another attack occurred about an hour later, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Saturday. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The bus station in the city of Sloviansk was also attacked, according to Mayor Vadim Lyakh. Sloviansk is close to the front lines as Russian and separatist forces try to take full control of the Donetsk region, one of two eastern provinces that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.
In southern Ukraine, one person was killed and six injured in a shelling that hit a residential area in Mykolaiv, a major port city, the region’s administration said on Facebook on Saturday.
Friday’s attack on the prison reportedly killed Ukrainian soldiers who were captured in May after the fall of Mariupol, another port city where troops and the national guard’s Azov Regiment withstood a months-long Russian siege.
On Saturday, an association of relatives of Azov fighters held a demonstration in front of Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral and issued a statement calling for Russia to be designated a terrorist state for violating the Geneva Convention rules for the treatment of prisoners of war.
Moscow has opened an investigation into the POW prison attack and dispatched a team from the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation agency, to the scene.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said conflicting claims and limited information made it impossible to assign responsibility for the attack, but “available visual evidence appears to support the Ukrainian claim more than the Russian.” “.
On the energy front, Russia’s state natural gas corporation said on Saturday it had halted shipments to Latvia due to contract violations. Gas giant Gazprom said shipments were stopped because Latvia breached “terms for gas extraction”. He did not elaborate.
The statement likely referred to a refusal to meet Russia’s demand for gas payments in rubles rather than other currencies. Gazprom previously suspended gas shipments to other EU countries, including the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria, because they would not pay in rubles.
EU nations have been scrambling to secure other energy sources, fearing Russia will cut off more gas supplies as winter approaches.