As it called for an international investigation into what it described as a ‘terrorist attack’, Ukraine’s government said on Saturday it was gathering evidence to prove Russia orchestrated an explosion at a Russian detention camp who had killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners.
Since Thursday night’s explosion at the camp in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the two sides have traded accusations over the source of the blast that killed at least 50 prisoners, many of whom were believed as national heroes after being captured in a steel mill siege. in the coastal city of Mariupol.
Russian officials claimed that Ukraine itself attacked the prison, to deter defectors, while Ukrainian authorities dismissed the account as absurd and said the deaths were a premeditated atrocity committed by Russian forces since the inside the prison, where survivors described deplorable and ritualistic conditions. abuses.
Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to the President of Ukraine, told The New York Times that expert analysis of photos and videos released by Russia indicated that the center of the explosion was inside the building, outside the building being practically intact.
“Any military expert will say that the consequences of the explosion are not similar to a missile or artillery strike,” he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday stood by its claim that the Ukrainians killed their own soldiers using US-made precision-guided missiles, known as HIMARS, to strike the prison camp in the territory controlled by Russia in eastern Ukraine.
Competing claims could not immediately be independently verified.
A senior US military official, speaking about Russian claims of a HIMARS attack on the camp, said Friday that Washington had seen no evidence to support those claims.
Mr Podoliak said the Ukrainian prisoners had been moved to the barracks where the blast had occurred just days before the incident and said he was suspicious that no Russian soldiers or prison workers were present. was injured.
He accused Russia of moving debris from other places where the Ukrainians hit targets using HIMARS to the prison camp before the explosion.
“That, along with the speed and organization of the Russian propaganda, indicates that the terrorist attack was planned,” he said. “The purpose of this despicable terrorist attack was to cover up Russian war crimes previously committed against prisoners, to discredit the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to disrupt the supply of Western weapons and to create tension in Ukrainian society.”
He also linked it to the international agreement to start shipping grain from Ukrainian ports, saying it was sending a clear message that Russian assurances allowing goods to get out safely could not be trusted. .
Tetiana Kravchenko, a Ukrainian human rights activist whose organization has been in contact with prisoners at the camp, said she could only divulge limited information about what she had learned to protect security people who were detained there.
She said a Ukrainian prisoner called his wife on Thursday evening and reported hearing an explosion around 11 p.m.
“No shelling, just an explosion,” Ms. Kravchenko said, adding that she had a recording of the call. “He also said two of his friends were taken out of the jail, where he is, earlier the same day the explosion happened.”
One of her friends was injured in the blast and another was killed, she said. Soldiers detained in other parts of the camp also passed on similar accounts to their own family members, Ms Kravchenko said.
She said witnesses at the camp did not recognize the barracks where the explosion took place, suggesting it was in a part of the compound not used to house prisoners.
The prison camp, she said, is divided into two large squares, with a road cutting through the middle. On one side are a dining hall, a church, an administrative building and a barracks. On the other side is an industrial zone where the prisoners do not go.
General Kyrylo Budanov, the commander of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said Friday that construction of the barracks in the industrial zone had been completed two days earlier and prisoners had been moved there just before the explosion.