The Washington Post

POWS killed in attack in Ukraine

MOSCOW AND KYIV TRADE BLAME Soldiers held by Russia had fought in Mariupol

- BY LIZ SLY, DAVID WALKER AND DAVID L. STERN

kyiv, ukraine — Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war from the famed Azov Regiment were killed Friday in a strike against their detention center in the Russian-occupied eastern region of Donbas, but it was unclear how the attack happened or who carried it out.

At least 53 POWS were killed and 75 injured in the strike, according to Darya Morozova, an official for the Donetsk People’s Republic, the pro-russian breakaway region where the prison is located.

Ukraine and Russia traded blame for the strike, with each saying the other had carried it out to silence the prisoners. All or most of the POWS were members of the Azov Regiment who had surrendere­d when Russian troops captured the city of Mariupol in May after a twomonth siege. Their fate had been the focus of fraught prisonerex­change negotiatio­ns between Moscow and Kyiv.

Russia’s Defense Ministry

accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack using U.s.-supplied HIMARS — High Mobility Artillery Rocket System — launchers, which are helping shift the tide of the war in Ukraine’s favor. The ministry framed the incident as “a bloody provocatio­n” intended to discourage Ukrainian soldiers from surrenderi­ng.

Russian media commentato­rs suggested that Ukraine hit the detention center to stop the prisoners from providing testimony to interrogat­ors about war crimes committed by Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine denied any involvemen­t and accused Russian forces of carrying out the attack, which it called a war crime.

Ukraine did not conduct any shelling or artillery strikes Friday in the vicinity of Olenivka, the town where the detention center is located, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a post on its Facebook page.

Rather, the General Staff said, it was Russia that staged the attack and used it “to accuse Ukraine of committing war crimes as well as to cover up the torture and execution of prisoners.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in a posting on his Twitter account, called on the world to condemn what he called a “petrifying war crime” and a “brutal violation of internatio­nal humanitari­an law.”

Ukrainian officials also questioned whether the incident had been caused by an artillery strike at all. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted that explosives specialist­s who had examined images of the burnedout detention center believe that the destructio­n may have been caused by an explosion or fire “inside the building itself, rather than the result of shelling.”

Videos of the aftermath of the blast broadcast by Russian media outlets show a tangle of twisted, burned metal bunks inside a blackened warehouse-like structure with a large hole in its roof. Charred bodies and body parts are strewn around the wreckage.

Russian media outlets also posted photos showing what they claimed were fragments of HIMARS rockets found at the scene. It wasn’t immediatel­y possible to verify that the shards had been fired by HIMARS launchers, but a senior Defense Department official in Washington pointed out that Russia could have gathered them from attacks elsewhere.

“The Russians have a lot of pieces of HIMARS. The Ukrainians have been sending a lot of HIMARS their way,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to brief the media. He cautioned against reaching any conclusion­s on the limited informatio­n available.

Also unclear was whether any Russians or prison staff members died in the attack. Russia’s Defense Ministry said eight members of the staff were injured, but Morozova, the Donetsk official, said in a video interview that no Russians or local staff members were hurt.

“Happily, the workers of the place of internment did not suffer. They find themselves in good condition. Only the prisoners suffered,” she said.

The Azov Regiment vowed revenge. Writing on his Telegram channel, Azov founder Andriy Biletsky pledged to hunt down those responsibl­e. “No matter where you hide, you will be found and exterminat­ed,” he said.

The Azov Regiment is among Ukraine’s most battle-hardened military units but has attracted controvers­y over its links to farright nationalis­t ideology. Russian President Vladimir Putin has framed his invasion of Ukraine as an attempt to “denazify” the country, partly referring to the Azov forces.

Ukraine did not need to use HIMARS launchers to attack a site less than six miles from the front lines, said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister. The high-precision weapon systems, of which Ukraine has only 12, are being reserved for their longer-range capabiliti­es, he said.

 ?? Associated PRESS ?? The exterior of the detention center where the prisoners died. All or most of them were members of the Azov Regiment captured after the fall of the port city of Mariupol in May.
Associated PRESS The exterior of the detention center where the prisoners died. All or most of them were members of the Azov Regiment captured after the fall of the port city of Mariupol in May.
 ?? ALEXANDER Ermochenko/reuters ?? The interior of the detention center after Friday’s attack. At least 53 prisoners of war were killed and 75 injured in the strike, according to an official of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the pro-russian breakaway region where the prison is located. It was unclear whether any Russians or prison staff members died in the attack.
ALEXANDER Ermochenko/reuters The interior of the detention center after Friday’s attack. At least 53 prisoners of war were killed and 75 injured in the strike, according to an official of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the pro-russian breakaway region where the prison is located. It was unclear whether any Russians or prison staff members died in the attack.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States