Russian invasion forces are still refusing to allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross into the Russian-occupied town of Olenivka in Donetsk Oblast, where a massacre of Ukrainian prisoners of war occurred on the morning of July 29, a Ukrainian official says.
Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said on Ukrainian television on Aug. 1 that he had asked to go to Olenivka together with his Russian counterpart to visit the wounded servicemen and possibly start a procedure of humanitarian negotiations.
He also suggested that Russia grant international experts access to the scene of the tragedy. According to the ombudsman, the Ukrainian side received a “signal” that Russia is “considering the request.”
“Despite the statements of the Russian Federation that they allegedly gave access to the site of the tragedy to representatives of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN mission, I received a response from the ICRC that they were not given access. That's why I took the initiative...” Lubinets said.
The ombudsman also added that his office had received a signal from the occupiers that they were ready to return the bodies of the defenders of Ukraine “after the end of the investigation.”
“I can inform you that we are in communication with the ICRC,” Lubinets said. “Regarding the United Nations, we have a worse situation. I send letters and requests. I did it on the first day, right after the tragedy. I personally havn’t received any signal, even an unofficial one. I can publicly confirm this.”
Earlier, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin stated that, according to international experts, thermobaric weapons were the cause of the explosion in the prison colony in Russian-occupied Olenivka.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on July 29 that the Russian Federation had struck the prison colony in Olenivka in order to accuse Ukraine of committing war crimes, as well as to cover up the torture of prisoners and executions, which it said were carried out on the orders of the occupation administration and commanders in Russian-occupied Donetsk Oblast.
Russian invasion forces were holding prisoners of war, in particular ones captured in Mariupol, and including Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov Regiment.
Following these soldiers’ surrender in Mariupol in May, the UN and the Red Cross were supposed to have guaranteed the prisoners’ safety.
Russian propaganda media claimed that at least 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war had been killed. The next day, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation published a list with the names of 42 dead Ukrainian prisoners. Ukrainian officials state that they have not yet been provided with this data. According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, about 40 people died and 130 were injured as a result of the explosion at the prison camp.
Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, known by its Ukrainian acronym the GUR, stated that the explosions in Olenivka were carried out by mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner private military company on the personal orders of Wagner’s nominal owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
According to the GUR, the explosions took place on the territory of the industrial zone in a recently built building that was supposed to have been specially equipped for prisoners of war from Azovstal. Some defenders of Ukraine were transferred there two days before the explosion.
Ukraine’s SBU security service has also published an intercepted conversation that it says is evidence that the Russians committed a mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the Olenivka prison colony. They added that, judging by the videos from social networks, the windows in some buildings of the colony were still completely intact – which indicates that the epicenter of the explosion was likely inside the destroyed building, and the walls of the building absorbed much of the blast.
Satellite images show little debris around the building, while photographic and video evidence show no impact crater, making Russian claims that the building was hit by one of Ukraine’s HIMARS rocket launcher systems dubious.
According to Ukrainian and foreign experts, the condition of the bodies of the dead soldiers, many of which were severely burned, indicate that a thermobaric weapon was used in the attack rather than a high-explosive rocket, as the Russians claim.
In the wake of the attack, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia should be declared a terrorist state.
Earlier, on June 6, Zelenskyi said that more than 2,500 defenders of Mariupol from the Azovstal plant were in Russian captivity. According to Ukrainian news website Ukrainian Pravda, a sister publication of the New Voice of Ukraine, 2,449 defenders left the territory of Azovstal and were held in Russian-occupied Olenivka.
Ukraine and Russia held a large-scale exchange of prisoners on June 29, during which 144 Ukrainian soldiers were returned home. Among them were 95 defenders of Azovstal in Mariupol, 43 of whom were servicemen of the Azov Regiment.