Zelensky accuses Russia of ‘war crime’ after air strike kills 50 Ukrainian prisoners

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Debris following a shelling at a prison in Olenivka, in the Donetsk region (REUTERS)
Debris following a shelling at a prison in Olenivka, in the Donetsk region (REUTERS)

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of committing further war crimes following a deadly missile strike on a prison.

Up to 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed in a missile strike on Friday, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of carrying out the attack.

Russia’s defence ministry said 50 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in the attack on the prison in the frontline town of Olenivka, in a part of the Donetsk province held by separatists. The Kremlin claimed the attack was carried out by Ukrainian forces using US-made Himars rockets.

Mr Zelensky said, however, the attack was a “deliberate war crime by the Russians”.

"The occupiers’ attack on Olenivka is a deliberate war crime by the Russians, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war," Mr Zelensky said in a statement.

"There should be a clear legal recognition of Russia as a terrorist state. Russia has proven with numerous terrorist attacks that it is the biggest source of terrorism in today’s world," the Ukrainian president added.

Many Ukrainian soldiers, including some who were captured after the surrender of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, have been taken to Olenivka in recent months.

Ukraine’s armed forces denied carrying out the strike. They said Russian artillery targeted the prison to hide inmates’ mistreatment before laying the blame on Ukraine.

Video released by a Russian war correspondent, Andrei Rudenko, shows Russian-backed military personnel sifting through the remains of what he said was the prison.

The smashed roof of the burnt-out building can be seen hanging down and the charred remains of bodies are shown.

The Russian defence ministry said the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and that eight prison staff were also wounded.

The Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying that there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.

It comes as British defence chiefs say that Ukraine has repelled Russian assaults from the front line near Donetsk.

The latest Ministry of Defence (MoD) update also warns that Russian-installed authorities in southern Ukraine are set to hold referendums on formally joining Russia later in the year.

It adds: “Russia currently classes the occupied areas as under interim ‘civil-military administration.’ Local authorities are likely coercing the population into disclosing personal details in order to compose voting registers.”

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