Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were feared dead on Friday as Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of carrying out a rocket attack on a prison in Russian-controlled territory.
Russia said Ukraine used a US-supplied missile system to hit a detention facility near the Eastern Front, killing at least 40 soldiers, including some captured after the fall of Mariupol in late May.
Kyiv vehemently denied such an attack, saying Moscow was to blame and accusing the Kremlin of deliberately shelling the prison to falsely accuse Ukraine of war crimes and cover up its own.
NBC News was unable to independently verify the claims by either side.
Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk region said a Ukrainian attack on the prison in the city of Olenivka killed 53 prisoners of war and wounded 75 others. The Russian Defense Ministry previously said that 40 were killed, 75 injured and eight employees at the facility were also injured.
The casualties included Ukrainian troops who had set up a last-ditch defense at the besieged Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, the ministry said, accusing Kyiv of conducting the strike to discourage its troops from laying down their arms in the future.
“Last night the Kiev regime deliberately committed a bloody provocation,” it said in a statement on its official Telegram channel on Friday. The missile was launched from America’s HIMARS multiple rocket system, the ministry said.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said in a statement that 193 people were in the building.
Ukraine’s military denied the allegation, saying the strike was launched by Russian forces with the intent to frame Ukraine for war crimes and to hide “the torture of prisoners and executions” at the place of detention.
“The Russian enemy continues its propaganda methods of waging an information war to accuse Ukraine’s armed forces of shelling civilian infrastructure and the population, thereby concealing its own insidious actions,” Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement on Friday .
The Security Service of Ukraine said in a Telegram post that it had intercepted communications that would prove its forces were not responsible.
“The Kremlin puppets have decided to commit another war crime,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, apparently referring to the Moscow-backed separatist forces in Donetsk.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, later expressioncalled on the International Criminal Court to “pay immediate attention to the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in the framework of investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians or civilian areas throughout the war.
But Kyiv, its allies and human rights groups have raised allegations of atrocities committed by Russian forces.
Ukrainian soldiers captured during the conflict who later spoke to NBC News described physical and emotional scars from torture, beatings and neglect at the hands of Russian forces.
International law protects prisoners of war, as the Geneva Conventions stipulate that they must be treated humanely and protected from acts of violence, intimidation and insults.
The apparently deadly strike overshadowed Kiev’s efforts to announce a blockade of much-needed global food supplies for the first time since the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy visited a port in the southern Odessa region on Friday to inspect a cargo being loaded onto a Turkish ship.
Meanwhile, a court in Kyiv on Friday reduced the Russian soldier convicted of war crimes from life imprisonment to 15 years after appeal, according to The Associated Press. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, was found guilty in May of the murder of a civilian in the first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the conflict began.
Darina Mayer contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/ukraine-russia-blame-strike-killing-prisoners-war-donetsk-rcna40587 Ukraine and Russia are swapping blame for the strike that has reportedly killed dozens of prisoners of war