Europe

Ukraine war: Kyiv demands Red Cross visit notorious prison

Ukrainian officials have urged the Red Cross to conduct a mission to a notorious prison camp in the Russia-occupied east of the country.

The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, demanded that the Red Cross (ICRC) visit the Olenivka prison in Donetsk within three days.

“We just can’t waste more time. Human lives are at stake,” he tweeted.

Last month, the Red Cross tried to secure access to the camp, but said it was denied by Russian authorities.

The Olenivka prison has been under the control of Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk since 2014, and conditions are said to be extremely poor.

In July, dozens of Ukrainian prisoners were killed in explosions at the camp, which both sides blamed on each other. Kyiv said the prison was targeted by Russia to destroy evidence of torture and killing, while Moscow blamed Ukrainian rockets. Without an independent investigation, however, the truth remains unknown.

Those detained at the site include members of the Azov battalion, who were the last defenders of the city of Mariupol and whom Russia has sought to depict as neo-Nazis and war criminals.

This is not the first time Ukraine has applied pressure to international organisations to investigate what is going on at the prison.

Mr Yermak said he had raised the issue again during a video conference with officials from the ICRC and other international organisations.

He has demanded the trip be made by Monday.

“Ukraine… will contribute to this mission in every possible way,” he said on Telegram, adding he did not understand why a mission to inspect Olenivka had not yet been arranged.

President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed the calls, and accused the Red Cross of inaction, saying it had “obligations, primarily of a moral nature”.

In his nightly address on Thursday, Mr Zelensky said he believed that the Red Cross was “not a club with privileges where one receives a salary and enjoys life”.

He said a mission to the prison camp could be organised similar to that of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which visited the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in August.

“But it requires leadership,” Mr Zelensky said in a thinly veiled criticism of the Red Cross. “The Red Cross can make it happen. But you have to try to make it happen.”

The ICRC has been contacted for comment.

Last month, the organisation’s Director-General Robert Mardini said talks were ongoing with Russian authorities about access to Olenivka – but were eventually denied.

“We are negotiating every day to have full access to all prisoners of war,” he told reporters. “It is clearly an absolute obligation [of] the parties to give the ICRC access to all prisoners of war.”

Also in his Thursday address President Zelensky said Ukraine would celebrate its Defenders Day on Friday, which was made a national holiday in 2014 after Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

“Tomorrow we will definitely celebrate… one of our most important days. The holiday of all our warriors – from ancient times to the present, from the Cossacks to the rebels, from all of them to the soldiers of the modern army,” he said.

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