Russia and Ukraine on Friday blamed each other for shelling a prison in the separatist eastern region that reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war captured after the fall of Mariupol in May.
Russia said Ukraine used US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers in an attack on a prison in Alenivtsi in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region. Russian officials and separatist authorities in Donetsk said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and wounded 75.
The press secretary of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant General Ihar Kanashenkov, called the strike a “bloody provocation” aimed at dissuading the Ukrainian military from surrendering. He said that eight prison guards were also wounded as a result of the shelling.
The Ukrainian military has denied any missile or artillery strikes on Alenivka, insisting that it was not shelling of civilian areas, but only strikes on Russian military facilities.
It accused Russian troops of deliberately shelling the prison in Alenivtsi in order to accuse Ukraine of war crimes and to cover up torture and executions there.
The statement condemned the Russian claims as part of an “information war to accuse the Ukrainian armed forces of shelling civilian infrastructure and the population in order to cover up their own treacherous actions.”
The Associated Press and NBC News did not verify any of the other claims.
Denis Pushylin, a Moscow-backed separatist leader, said there were 193 prisoners in the prison. He did not specify how many of them were Ukrainian prisoners of war.
Ukrainian authorities in the Donetsk region said that Russia continues shelling civilian objects in areas controlled by Ukraine.
“The fighting in the region is intensifying every day, and civilians should evacuate while it is still possible,” Donetsk Governor Paulo Kirilenko said. “The Russian army is not concerned about the casualties among the civilian population. They destroy cities and villages in the region.”
Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol were captured after fierce fighting for the port of Ukraine on the Sea of Azov, where they were stuck at the giant steel plant “Azovstal”. Their resistance became a symbol of Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion, which began on February 24.
The “Azov” regiment and other Ukrainian units defended the metallurgical plant for almost three months, holding on to its underground labyrinth of tunnels. More than 2,400 surrendered in May under relentless Russian attacks from land, sea and air.
Scores of Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas, such as Donetsk Oblast, a separatist territory in eastern Ukraine run by Russian-backed separatist authorities. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of a prisoner exchange 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 said that Russian troops shelled the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv.
The mayor of the city, Igor Tserakhov, said that the central part of the northeastern city was damaged, including a two-story building and a higher educational institution. Tserakhov said that the strike took place on Friday after 4 am.
“The State Service for Emergency Situations is already working – they are dismantling the debris, looking for people under it,” Tserakhov said in a Telegram update.
— The administration of the President of Ukraine reported that at least 13 civilians were killed and another 36 were injured as a result of Russian shelling over the past day.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, at least four people were killed and seven were wounded as a result of Russian shelling of a bus stop.
“Because of the successes of the Ukrainian troops in the south, the Russians changed their tactics. … They are shooting near the bus stop,” said the governor of Mykolaiv Vital Kim.
Russian shelling also hit a humanitarian aid distribution facility, where three people were wounded, officials said.
Ukrainian officials also said that at least four civilians were killed and five others were wounded in the town of Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk Oblast, which is the center of the Russian offensive in Donbass. More than 30 residential buildings and kindergartens were damaged.