UN decries killing of Ukrainian, Russian POWs, as strikes kill 10 civilians

Kyiv: UN human rights monitors have documented dozens of summary killings of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war, as well as other possible war crimes such as the use of torture, human shields and other abuses against POWs since Russia invaded its neighbour.

The report was released as Kyiv officials reported Russian strikes had killed at least 10 civilians on Friday (Ukraine time). Five of the deaths occurred in Kostiantynivka, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, when a Russian missile hit an aid station.

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline during a battle with Russian troops near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Friday.Credit:AP

The first full look by the UN human rights office’s mission in Ukraine at the treatment of POWs was released on Friday (Ukraine time) along with an update of human rights violations overall from a six-month period that ran through January. The report was based on interviews with about 400 POWs — half Ukrainians who had been released and the other half Russians held captive in Ukraine.

The team said it had no access to POWs held in Russia or in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine where it identified 48 internment sites. The mission said it nonetheless documented some 40 summary executions over the course of the 13-month war.

The UN rights office, which has had a monitoring team in Ukraine since fighting broke out in areas of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists in 2014, has said its findings are based on confirmed cases and typically understate actual tolls.

The reporting from the world body is part of a meticulous effort to uncover details and determine the truth behind reports of atrocities and violations of the law of war committed during the current conflict. The UN’s documentation may be introduced as evidence for possible trials at the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is looking into accounts of killings and child abductions, or by other tribunals.

Volunteers and cynologists search for bodies of killed Ukrainian and Russian soldiers near a damaged Russian tank in the Kharkiv region on Friday.Credit:AP

“We are deeply concerned about the summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons ordered to combat by Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Matilda Bogner, the head of the UN monitoring mission, said.

Bogner laid out abuses allegedly committed by both sides but noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at the root of the violence against civilians and POWs. She said Ukrainian prosecutors were investigating some cases, but none had been taken yet to court.

“In relation to the treatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war, we are also deeply concerned by the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war shortly after being captured by Russian armed forces,” Bogner said. “The Wagner Group — military and security contractors — perpetrated 11 of these executions.”

It also documented five cases in which Ukrainian POWs had died after being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and four cases of death due to a lack of medical attention during internment.

The report found that while torture and ill-treatment of POWs took place on both sides, it was far more common against Ukrainians — more than nine in 10 of interviewees reported such abuse— than against Russians, about half of whom testified to such mistreatment.

In its update on rights abuses affecting other groups, the rights office said children from the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine were sent to “summer camps” in Russia with their parents’ consent but were not returned home as expected after the vacation period. Several parts of Kharkiv province were occupied by Russia last year before Ukraine’s military reclaimed them in a late summer counter-offensive.

Some 200 children sent to a camp in the Russian city of Krasnodarskyi Krai, remained after the summer and were enrolled in a local school, according to the second report. The update noted that Russian authorities said in October that as many as 2500 children from Ukraine were living in temporary accommodation centers in Russia, and some had remained there.

But the rights office cautioned that it remained unclear how many unaccompanied children were placed in camps, temporary lodging or institutionalised care in Russia, as well as how many children were transferred there with their parents.

Russian strikes kill civilians

Long-range Russian bombardment killed at least 10 civilians and wounded 20 others in several parts of Ukraine, as a Kremlin official boasted that its forces were prepared to repel an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive this spring.

Five people died in Kostiantynivka after a missile struck an aid station where residents hard-pressed by the war could warm up, recharge their cellphones and get food.

Prosecutors said the Russians attacked with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The civilians who died were refugees, according to Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

As the mostly artillery war of the winter months stretches into its second spring, Russian forces also used air-launched missiles, exploding drones and gliding bombs to attack several regions, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said.

Two civilians were killed and nine were wounded in the town of Bilopillia in Sumy province by an overnight rocket and artillery barrage and airstrikes, officials in the northeastern region said.

In southern Ukraine, Russian shelling killed one person in the city of Kherson and killed another person and wounded four others in the town of Bilozerka. President Volodymyr Zelensky visited that region on Thursday.

Ukrainian forces are poised to use the arrival of warmer weather and new weapons from the West, including tanks, for a counteroffensive aimed at dislodging Russian troops from occupied areas.


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