UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the United Nations said Wednesday he is appointing a fact-finding mission in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigate prison killings in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine that the warring states blame each other for. performing.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that he does not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, but he does have the authority to conduct fact-finding missions and that the terms of reference for a mission to Ukraine are currently being prepared and will be sent to the governments of Ukraine and Russia for approval.
Russia claimed that Ukraine’s military used US-supplied rocket launchers to hit the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic. Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian prisoners and wounded 75 others.
The Ukrainian military has denied launching any rocket or artillery attack on Olenivka. The intelligence arm of Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed in a statement on Wednesday that it has evidence that local Kremlin-backed separatists colluded with Russia’s FSB, the main successor agency to the KGB, and the Wagner mercenary group to mine the barracks before “using a flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of fire in the room.”
The Ukrainian military on Tuesday also claimed the barracks had been blown up from the inside, citing the nature of the damage it said was inconsistent with Russian claims that Ukraine had bombed the building. These claims could not be immediately verified.
Secretary-General Guterres said he took “very seriously” Russia’s and Ukraine’s requests for a UN investigation into last Friday’s deadly incident and expressed hope that both countries would agree to the terms of reference. At the same time, he said, the UN is looking for “competent, independent people” to take part in the mission.
The UN chief also expressed hope that warring countries would facilitate the mission’s access and provide the data needed “to clarify the truth about what happened.”
Ukrainian prisoners in the Donetsk prison included troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months hiding with civilians in the giant Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city. Their resistance during a relentless Russian bombardment became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression.
More than 2,400 soldiers from the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and other military units abandoned their fight and surrendered on the orders of the Ukrainian military in May.
Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers were taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia, but other families have no idea if their loved ones are still alive or if they will ever return home.
Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed on Wednesday that Ukrainian prisoners in the prison had been subjected to “intimidation, physical humiliation and psychological frustration” in an attempt to force them to star in pro-Russian propaganda videos.
“Ukrainian prisoners showed extraordinary courage and indomitable will,” the ministry said, arguing that Moscow and the separatists did not intend to include the prisoners in exchange and chose to “deliberately destroy” them in order to hide signs of torture that could be used as evidence in international criminal proceedings. He did not immediately disclose how he arrived at that rating.