Thursday, August 04, 2022

Murdering the prisoners

Olenivka is a small town in the Russian-occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. A few miles from the village is a prison that since 2014 has been used as a filtration camp for those captured while resisting the takeover of the Donbas region. In May, it became the destination for soldiers taken prisoner at the Azovstal steel mill, the last holdout in the defense of Mariupol in southern Ukraine. Many of them were fighters of the Azov Regiment, a volunteer unit formed in 2014 to fight in the Donbas region and later incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard. The Russians liked to portray the regiment as containing "Nazi" elements.

The Ukrainian government has reported that the Azov fighters were tortured at Olenivka Prison, though the United Nations and the Red Cross had "acted as guarantors of the life and health of our soldiers," in the words of the Ukrainian president.

On July 29, Russian state television posted a video of a prison barrack that had been hollowed out by an explosion, with charred bodies lying around. According to the Russians, 53 prisoners were killed and 75 injured by the blast. The Russians of course blamed the explosion on the Ukrainians, though there are no military targets in the area; while Ukrainian and Western intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind the blast. (Indeed, the Russian embassy in London had tweeted the following day that prisoners from the Azov Regiment "deserved death.")

Specifically, Ukrainian intelligence believes that the attack was the work of mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, citing an intercepted telephone conversation in the Donbas.


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