ODESA, Ukraine/KYIV, July 29 (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have been killed when a prison building was destroyed in a missile strike on Friday, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of carrying out the attack.
The deaths, some of which were confirmed by Reuters journalists at the damaged prison where the men were held, overshadowed U.N.-backed efforts to restart shipping grain from Ukraine and ease a looming global hunger crisis.
Russia’s defence ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in the attack on the prison, in the frontline town of Olenivka, in a part of Donetsk province held by separatists.
It accused Kyiv of targeting it with U.S.-made HIMARS rockets, Russian news agencies reported.
Ukraine’s armed forces denied carrying out the strike, saying Russian artillery had targeted the prison to hide the mistreatment of those held there and lay the blame on Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation of the incident.
Reuters TV footage showed the remains of a cavernous burned-out building filled with metal beds, some with charred bodies still lying on them while other bodies were lined up on military stretchers or on the ground outside.
Shell fragments had been laid out on a blue metal bench, apparently so they could be photographed. It was not immediately possible to detect any identifying markings and it was not clear where the fragments had been collected from.
The Russian defence ministry said that the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and that eight prison staff were also wounded. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin was quoted saying there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.
The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
Its armed forces general staff said the prison attack was an attempt to shift the blame.
Russia has denied involvement in war crimes, accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces and said it is investigating Ukrainian war crimes.
A spokesman for the Moscow-backed separatists told journalists in Olenivka that Ukraine had attacked after the prisoners of war had begun talking about crimes conducted by the Ukrainian military. There was no way to immediately verify either of the two versions of events.
Separately, Ukraine said at least five people had been killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile strike on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port just off the Black Sea, as Russia fired across frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine.
A missile struck near a public transport stop, regional governor Vitaly Kim said on Telegram.
Russia, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the situation.