Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of struggle have been killed in a rocket assault

  • Russia and Ukraine blame each other for prisoner deaths
  • Britain says Russia is using Wagner fighters more widely
  • Ukraine says grain ships are loaded but no date for move yet

ODESA, Ukraine/Kyiv, July 29 (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war were reportedly killed in a rocket attack on Friday, with Moscow and Kyiv blaming each other for carrying out the attack.

The incident overshadowed United Nations-backed efforts to resume grain shipments from Ukraine and alleviate a looming global hunger crisis arising from the conflict, now in its sixth month.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in the attack on the prison in the front-line town of Olenivka in a separatist-held part of Donetsk province.

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She accused Kyiv of attacking it with US-made HIMARS missiles, Russian news agencies reported.

The Ukrainian armed forces denied that the strike was carried out, saying that Russian artillery attacked the prison to hide the mistreatment of those held there and to blame Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation of the incident.

The video, released by Russian war correspondent Andrei Rudenko, showed Russian-backed military personnel searching the burned-out remains of what he described as a prison.

The building’s shattered roof was hanging down, revealing the charred remains of bodies.

Reuters journalists at the scene confirmed there was widespread destruction.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the prison held Ukrainian prisoners of war and eight prison staff were also injured. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.

Ukraine’s 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.

The Armed Forces General Staff said the prison attack was an attempt to shift blame.

“In this way, the Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals – to accuse Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’ and to cover up the torture of prisoners and executions,” it said.

Russia has denied involvement in war crimes, accused Kyiv of orchestrating them to slander its armed forces and said it was investigating Ukrainian war crimes.

Separately, Ukraine said at least five people were killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile attack on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port right on the Black Sea, as Russia fired across front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.

A rocket fell near a public transport stop, regional governor Vitaly Kim said on Telegram.

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the situation.

GRAIN HOPES

The news of the missile attack came as Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukraine was ready to resume grain shipments from its southern ports.

Servicemen of pro-Russian troops ride an infantry fighting vehicle during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Lysyhansk in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, July 4, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

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Russia and Ukraine last week agreed to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports that have been threatened by Russian attacks since Ukraine invaded on February 24.

The deal was the conflict’s first diplomatic breakthrough and wheat prices on offer in Asia slipped this week on expectations of higher shipments.

But fierce fighting makes it extremely risky.

Kubrakov told reporters in Odessa’s southern port that the country is ready to ship grain from two ports under the UN-brokered deal, but that no date has been set for the first delivery.

“A total of 17 ships were loaded before the war. Today we started loading another ship in Chornomorsk. In principle, we have solved almost all technical issues,” he said.

He said he hoped the first ships could leave port before the end of the week, while Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said she hoped an agreement could be reached later on Friday to pave the way for the to make the first delivery free. Continue reading

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country is ready and waiting for a signal from the United Nations and Turkey to start deliveries. Continue reading

United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said Thursday the world body hoped poorer countries would be given priority, citing Somalia, where nearly a quarter of a million people are at risk of starvation. Continue reading

While the grain blockade in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters, has caused global food prices to spike, shortages of Russian natural gas have pushed up energy prices in Europe and sparked fears of winter shortages.

Russian gas flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany remained at just 20% of capacity on Friday after Russia halved flows on Wednesday citing maintenance work.

Moscow, which describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “military special operation” in self-defense, blames western sanctions for the low gas supplies. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian attack was completely unprovoked and have accused Moscow of blackmail over its gas exports.

FOCUS ON SOUTH

According to an intelligence report from Britain, Russia has ordered mercenaries to hold parts of the front line in Ukraine – a sign of a shortage of combat infantry while Kyiv ramps up a counter-offensive in the south.

More reliance on fighters from Russia’s private military company Wagner Group for front-line operations, rather than their usual special operations work, would be another sign that Russia’s military is under stress.

“This is a significant change from the group’s previous employment since 2015, when it typically conducted missions distinct from overt, large-scale regular Russian military activities,” the ministry said.

Wagner and the Kremlin could not be reached for comment.

Officials in Kyiv said on Wednesday they had observed a “massive movement” of Russian forces south, where British defense officials believe Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, is vulnerable.

Ukraine’s counterattacks in the south come as Russia struggles for control of the entire industrialized Donbass region in the east. It has already captured one of the two provinces, Luhansk, and is advancing into Donetsk, where the prison hit on Friday is southwest of the provincial capital.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher; Edited by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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