Conflicts & War

Relatives of Ukrainian POWs killed in Donetsk demand inquiry

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Aug 1 (EFE).- Family members of the estimated 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war killed in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) are demanding an investigation into what they have called a “public execution” by Russia.

Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for Friday’s attack on a prison in Olenivka, located behind the front lines in separatist Donetsk territory, that killed an estimated 50 Ukrainian soldiers being held prisoner.

Pro-Russian separatist forces claimed Ukraine’s army had hit the prison with a United States-made HIMARS missile system while Kyiv has accused Moscow of trying to cover up potential war crimes.

The POWs were soldiers who had been evacuated from Mariupol in an operation coordinated by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In mid-May, some 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov regiment agreed to surrender after holding out for months in the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol.

The Ukrainian soldiers had agreed to lay down their arms in the hopes that they would be returned home in a prison swap with Russia, but instead were kept in prisons in the DPR.

Dariia Tsykunova, 22, has not heard from her boyfriend since May 20. His name, Illia Samoilenk, was not on the list of those killed or wounded in the Olenivka prison attack released by the Russian defense ministry.

Dariia is part of a community demanding that humanitarian organizations launch an investigation into the attack as well as ensure that the wounded prisoners receive proper medical treatment and that the bodies of the dead are returned for a decent burial.

“Why would Ukraine shoot its own soldiers?” Dariia tells Efe.

“The prisoners who returned have said that their conditions were bad. They did not have enough food, clean water or medical care,” she adds.

Following the attack, the UN said it was ready to send a team of experts to the premises for an investigation while the Russian defense ministry said it had invited humanitarian agencies, including the UN and Red Cross, to conduct an investigation into the attack.

But the Red Cross said it had been unable to access the site of the attack and provide assistance to the soldiers.

“Russia is a terrorist state,” says Dariia.

A day before the attack, a video on Russian social media networks showed a Ukrainian prisoner being tortured in an unspecified location.

Dariia, as well as several Ukrainian public figures, believe the display of torture and killing of prisoners of war are part of a Russian plan to demoralize Ukrainians.

“They are trying to stop us from defending our country. The Olenivka explosion is an attempt to scare us, to make us lose faith,” Dariia says. EFE


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