Russia and Ukraine take responsibility for the bombing of a prison for prisoners of war

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of bombing a prison in a breakaway eastern region that allegedly killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war captured after the fall of Mariupol in May.

Russia said Ukraine used US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers in the attack on Olenivka prison in the Russian-held Donetsk region. Russian officials and separatist authorities in Donetsk said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian POWs and injured 75.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov described the strike as a “bloody provocation” aimed at discouraging Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering. He said eight prison guards were also injured in the shelling.

The Ukrainian military has denied any rocket or artillery strikes on Olenivka, insisting it was not shelling civilian areas and only hitting Russian military targets.

He accused Russian forces of deliberately bombing Olenivka prison in order to accuse Ukraine of war crimes and also to cover up torture and executions there.

The statement denounced the Russian claims as part of an “information war to accuse the Ukrainian Armed Forces of bombing civilian infrastructure and the population to cover up their own treacherous action”.

Neither claim could be independently verified.

Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed separatist leader, said the prison had 193 inmates. He did not specify how many of them were Ukrainian POWs.

Ukrainian authorities in the Donetsk region said Russia continued to bomb civilian targets in Ukrainian-held areas.

“Fighting in the area has intensified day by day, and civilians must evacuate while it is still possible,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. “The Russian army is not worried about civilian casualties. They hammer the towns and villages of the region.

The Ukrainian troops in Mariupol were taken prisoner after the fierce fighting for the sea port of Azov in Ukraine, where they had been locked up in the giant Azovstal steelworks. Their resistance has become a symbol of the Ukrainian struggle against the Russian invasion which began on February 24.

The Azov Regiment and other Ukrainian units defended the steelworks for nearly three months, clinging to its underground maze of tunnels. More than 2,400 surrendered in May under relentless Russian attacks from land, sea and air.

Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas, such as the Donetsk region, a separatist area in eastern Ukraine ruled by Russian-backed separatist authorities. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia, but the families of others do not know if their loved ones are alive or if they will ever return home.

In other developments:

– Ukrainian officials say Russian forces shelled the country’s second city, Kharkiv.

The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said a central part of the northeastern city was hit, including a two-story building and a higher education institution. Terekhov said the strike happened just after 4 a.m. Friday.

“The state emergency service is already working – they are sorting through the rubble, looking for people under them,” Terekhov said in a Telegram update.

— Ukraine’s presidential office said at least 13 civilians were killed and 36 others injured in Russian shelling in the past 24 hours.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, at least four people were killed and seven others injured when Russian shelling hit a bus stop.

“The Russians changed tactics because of the successes of the Ukrainian forces in the south. … They fire near a bus stop,” Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim said.

The Russian barrage also hit a humanitarian aid distribution facility, where three people were injured, officials said.

Ukrainian officials also said at least four civilians were killed and five others injured in the eastern town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which is at the center of the Russian offensive in Donbass. More than 30 residential buildings and a kindergarten were damaged.

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Follow AP coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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