UKRAINE WRAP | Russia committed war crime with strike on prison, says Ukraine foreign minister

29 July 2022 - 06:54 By TImesLIVE
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
A house burns after a Russian military strike on the town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 28 2022.
A house burns after a Russian military strike on the town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 28 2022.
Image: Donetsk Regional Military Administration/Handout via REUTERS

July 29 2022 — 20:08

Blinken says he spoke to Lavrov, pressed Kremlin to accept US offer on prisoners

U.S. Secretary of state Antony Blinken on Friday said he has held a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and pressed the Kremlin to accept the 'substantial proposal' that Washington has put forward to secure the release of two Americans detained in Russia.

In their first such conversation since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the two sides looked to stick to their existing positions, according to the readout of the call from Blinken and the Russian foreign ministry.

“We had a frank and direct conversation,” Blinken told a news conference at the State Department. “I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” he said.

Lavrov suggested to Blinken that the two sides return to quiet diplomacy on the issue of prisoner swaps.

“Regarding the possible exchange of imprisoned Russian and US citizens, the Russian side strongly suggested a return to the practice of handling this in a professional way and using 'quiet diplomacy' rather than throwing out speculative information,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

The US this week announced that it made an offer to Russia, weeks ago, to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan but did not reveal what it was offering.

A source familiar with the situation said Washington was willing to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25 year-prison sentence in the US, as part of a deal.

Families of Americans detained abroad, many of them by some of the top US adversaries, have been increasing pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden, most recently in the case of two-time Olympic gold medallist Griner, who was arrested on drugs charges at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 and could face up to 10 years in prison.

Lavrov told a news conference that talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit in Geneva last year where President Vladimir Putin and Biden had agreed to nominate officials to look into the issue.

Blinken said he also emphasised to Lavrov that the world expected Russia to fulfil its commitments under a deal with Ukraine struck in Turkey to reopen grain and fertiliser exports that have been blocked by war, which is deepening a worldwide food crisis.

Lavrov told Blinken that it was the US sanctions that complicated the global food situation.

The top US diplomat also warned Lavrov against going ahead with plans to further annex parts of Ukraine. “The world will not recognise annexations. We will impose additional significant costs on Russia if it moves forward with its plans,” he said.

Lavrov said Russia will meet targets of its 'special military operation' in Ukraine — the term Moscow uses to define its invasion of Ukraine, which it says is conducted in self-defence. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian assault is entirely unprovoked.

Lavrov also told Blinken that 'the continuous pumping of US and NATO weapons into the armed forces of Ukraine...only prolongs the agony of the regime in Kyiv prolonging the conflict and multiplying the casualties,” according to the Russian foreign ministry.


July 29 2022 — 16:45

Ukraine opens investigation into attack that killed Ukrainian prisoners of war

The Ukrainian prosecutor general's office opened a pretrial investigation into an attack that killed about 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war on Friday.

It said “the occupying state struck the territory of correctional colony No. 120" in an attack in which 130 people were also injured.

Each side accused the other of carrying out the attack in territory held by Russian-backed separatists.


July 29 2022 — 16:40

Dozens of Ukrainian POWs killed in missile strike

Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have been killed when a prison building was destroyed in a missile strike on Friday, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of carrying out the attack.

The deaths, some of which were confirmed by Reuters journalists at the damaged prison where the men were held, overshadowed UN-backed efforts to restart shipping grain from Ukraine and ease a looming global hunger crisis.

Russia's defence ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in the attack on the prison, in the front line town of Olenivka, in a part of Donetsk province held by separatists.

It accused Kyiv of targeting it with US-made HIMARS rockets, Russian news agencies reported.

Ukraine's armed forces denied carrying out the strike, saying Russian artillery had targeted the prison to hide the mistreatment of those held there and lay the blame on Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had committed a war crime and called for international condemnation of the incident.

Reuters TV footage showed the remains of a cavernous burnt-out building filled with metal beds, some with charred bodies still lying on them while other bodies were lined up on military stretchers or on the ground outside.

Shell fragments had been laid out on a blue metal bench, apparently so they could be photographed. It was not immediately possible to detect any identifying markings and it was not clear where the fragments had been collected from.

The Russian defence ministry said that the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and that eight prison staff were also wounded. Russian-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin was quoted saying there were no foreigners among the 193 detainees.

The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Its armed forces general staff said the prison attack was an attempt to shift the blame.

“In this way, the Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals — to accuse Ukraine of committing 'war crimes', as well as to hide the torture of prisoners and executions,” it said.

Russia has denied involvement in war crimes, accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces and said it is investigating Ukrainian war crimes.

A spokesperson for the Moscow-backed separatists told journalists in Olenivka that Ukraine had attacked after the prisoners of war had begun talking about crimes conducted by the Ukrainian military.

There was no way to immediately verify either of the two versions of events.

Separately, Ukraine said at least five people had been killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile strike on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port just off the Black Sea, as Russia fired across front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.

A missile struck near a public transport stop, regional governor Vitaly Kim said on Telegram.

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the situation.


July 29 2022 — 15:17

Zelensky says Ukraine ready to ship grain, awaits signal to start

Ukraine's president visited a Black Sea port on Friday to show his country is ready to start exporting grain under a UN-brokered deal aimed at easing global food shortages, and said Kyiv was awaiting the signal for the first shipment. On a rare trip out of Kyiv since Russia's invasion, President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced a Russian Black Sea blockade that has prevented Ukraine from exporting grain, contributing to a sharp rise in global grain prices.

“We are ready to export Ukrainian grain. We are waiting for signals from our partners about the start of transportation,” Zelensky said on the Telegram messaging app after visiting the port of Chornomorsk near the southern city of Odesa. He said he thought exports could resume “today or tomorrow”. “It is important for us to remain a guarantor of global food security. While someone blocking the Black Sea takes the lives of other states, we allow them to survive,” he said in comments posted alongside photographs of him wearing a khaki T-shirt and meeting officials in front of a docked ship, the Polarnet.

Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and the UN-brokered agreement they signed in Istanbul last week is intended both to ease the food crisis and reduce global grains prices that have risen since the Russian invasion. The agreement aims to allow safe passage for grain shipments in and out of Chornomorsk, Odesa and the port of Pivdennyi. Moscow blames Ukraine for stalling shipments by mining the port waters.

Presidential officials said there were 17 ships docked in Ukraine's Black Sea ports with almost 600,000 tonnes of cargo. Of them, 16 vessels held Ukrainian grain with a total tonnage of about 580,000 tonnes, he said.

Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov told reporters in Odesa that 17 vessels trapped by the Russian blockade were already loaded with grain, and another was now being loaded. Kubrakov said Chornomorsk and Odesa were ready to start shipping grain and that he hoped Pivdennyi would be ready by the end of the week.

“We hope that today we will receive confirmation from the UN regarding the proposed corridor in which the ships will sail through the Black Sea towards the Bosphorus, and after this we (will be) ready to begin. I hope that the first ships will leave our ports before the end of this week,” he said.

Kubrakov did not say what volumes of grain would be shipped and gave no further details of the planned cargoes. “This initiative, if it works as we hope and expect it will — and if our Turkish and UN partners can ensure its execution — we are convinced that world (grain) prices will drop,” he said.

Ahmet Yucel Alibeyler, captain of the Polarnet, said the loading of 12,000 tonnes of bulk grain had started and the plan was to finish loading by noon on Sunday. “After that, we will start our passage through the identified grain corridor towards Turkey, along with the other ships, as the convoy leading vessel,” he said. 

— Reuters

July 29 2022 — 14:02

Ukraine foreign minister says Russia committed war crime with strike on prison

Ukraine's foreign minister accused Russia of committing a war crime with a strike on a prison facility in Russian-held Olenivka which housed Ukrainian prisoners of war. “I call on all partners to strongly condemn this brutal violation of international humanitarian law and recognise Russia a terrorist state, foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote in a Twitter post on Friday. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of being responsible for the strike on Olenivka. Moscow has put the death total for the attack at 40. — Reuters

July 29 2022 — 13:03

North Macedonia donates tanks to Ukraine as it modernises own military

North Macedonia plans to donate an unspecified number of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine as it seeks to modernise its own military to meet Nato standards, its defence ministry said on Friday.

In a statement, the ministry said Ukraine will receive tanks belonging to the western Balkan country's tank battalion which is in the process of being upgraded. “Taking into account this situation and the requirements of the Ukrainian defence ministry, the government has decided that a certain quantity of these [tank] capacities will be donated to Ukraine, in line with its needs,” the statement said.

The ministry did not specify the number of tanks, but it said they belonged to the so called third generation of main battle tanks from the 1970s and 1980s that have composite armour and computer-stabilised firing control systems.

North Macedonia, an ex-Yugoslav republic, is a Nato member and candidate to join the European Union. It has, like other Western countries, already donated military equipment to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February.


July 29 2022 — 12:01

Belarus recalls ambassador to Britain over 'hostile' UK policy

Belarus recalled its ambassador to Britain on Friday in response to what it called “hostile and unfriendly” actions by London. In a statement, Belarus' foreign ministry said Britain had adopted policies that were “systematically aimed at causing maximum damage to Belarusian citizens and legal entities,” citing sanctions on its companies, a ban on national airline Belavia and restrictions on Belarusian state media.

Ties between Belarus and the West have plunged since the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, cracked down hard on the opposition after a disputed 2020 presidential election. Belarus also allowed Russia to use its territory to launch a major prong of its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Lukashenko and Minsk have become increasingly isolated in the West and moved closer to the Kremlin for crucial financial, military and diplomatic support.

Belarus' foreign ministry also attacked what it called the “political theatre” of Britain's domestic politics and called on politicians to “work not for their personal rating, but for the benefit of British people.”

— Reuters

July 29 2022 — 11:59

DHL to withdraw from domestic Russia transportation services

Logistics giant DHL will withdraw from all domestic transportation services within Russia from September 1, the company said on Friday, blaming technical issues with IT systems and infrastructure, operational difficulties and legal constraints.DHL, part of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, halted DHL deliveries to Russia in early March. After September 1, DHL International will only provide express-delivery services from Russia to other countries, the company said. — Reuters

July 29 2022 — 11:57

Ukraine signals plans for grain-export test run on Friday

Ukraine’s Seaports Authority told companies that a small test boat would sail on Friday, according to a local terminal operator, in a potentially encouraging sign that grain shipments are closer to restarting. Crop traders are watching closely for tangible progress towards unlocking the millions of tonnes of grain that have been piling up in Ukraine since ports were closed after Russia’s invasion in February. It’s been a week since the two sides signed a landmark deal to restart shipments, but there are few details about how and when the shipments are likely to start.

The Seaports Authority told companies at a meeting on Thursday that a small test boat would sail today, said Shota Khajishvili, the co-founder of Risoil, which operates a terminal at Chornomorsk port. Khajishvili said he had two ships ready that he was hoping could sail on Saturday if the test run goes to plan. A trader who has a shipment waiting to depart at the same port said separately they had also been notified about Friday’s test, while asking not to be identified discussing private dealings.

Both Ukraine’s seaport administration and Infrastructure Ministry didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment. Ukraine’s military authorities declined to comment.

A spokesperson for President Volodymyr Zelensky said it’s unclear whether any ships will sail on Friday, but that the “process has started”.

A successful resumption of grain and oilseed shipments from Ukraine is seen as key to easing a global food crisis, but many analysts and western officials have been sceptical about whether last week’s deal can be implemented. Shipowners are facing a myriad of challenges including getting insurance and recruiting crews to operate the ships as safety concerns remain. Russia’s attack on Odesa’s seaport with cruise missiles hours after signing the deal also raised questions about its commitment.

A group of G7 ambassadors to Ukraine and their Turkish colleague were in Odesa Friday, the UK ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons said in a tweet.

— Bloomberg

July 29 2022 — 11:21

Lavrov says Moscow will propose time for call with Blinken on prisoners

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, in which Blinken has said he wants to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.

Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, both detained in Russia.A source said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the US, as part of such a deal.

Lavrov told a news conference that talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit in Geneva last year between presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden. He said a time for the call with Blinken was being worked out and he would listen to what his US counterpart had to say.


July 29 2022 — 10:20

Russia tasks mercenaries with front line sectors as losses mount: UK

Russia has tasked mercenaries to hold sections of the front line in Ukraine in a sign it is running short of combat infantry, Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Friday, as Kyiv steps up a counteroffensive in the south.

Greater reliance on paid fighters from the Russian private military company Wagner Group for front line duties rather than their usual work in special operations would be another sign that Russia's military is under stress six months into its war in Ukraine.

But the British defence ministry said in an intelligence update that Wagner mercenaries were unlikely to make up for the loss of regular infantry units or alter the trajectory of Russia's invasion. “This is a significant change from the previous employment of the group since 2015, when it typically undertook missions distinct from overt, large-scale regular Russian military activity,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Wagner and the Kremlin were not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.

Officials in Kyiv said on Wednesday they had observed a “massive redeployment” of Russian forces to the south where British defence officials believe Russia's 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, is vulnerable.

The southern city of Kherson, key to Russia's overland supply lines from Russian-annexed Crimea, was now virtually cut off from the other territories occupied by Russia, British intelligence said on Thursday. Kherson region fell to Russian forces soon after they began what Moscow calls “a special military operation” on February 24. Ukraine describes Russia's invasion as an imperial-style war of conquest.

The Ukrainian military has used Western-supplied long-range missile systems to badly damage three bridges across the Dnipro in recent weeks, making it harder for Russia to supply its forces on the western bank. Ukraine said its planes struck five Russian strongholds around Kherson and another nearby city on Thursday, the focus of its biggest counteroffensive of the conflict.

Russia bombed Kyiv's outskirts for the first time in weeks on Thursday. Fifteen people were injured when missiles hit military installations in Vyshhorod district on the edge of the capital, regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Air raid sirens blared as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed parliament alongside visiting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. The attack shattered the sense of normalcy that has returned to life in Kyiv since Russian forces abandoned attempts to capture the city in the first weeks of the war, in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

More than 10 Russian missiles also hit the Chernihiv region northeast of Kyiv, regional governor Vyacheslav Chausov told Ukrainian TV on Thursday.

Like Kyiv, Chernihiv had not been targeted for weeks. The north district command of the Ukrainian armed forces said more than 20 missiles had been fired at Chernihiv region bordering Russia from a base in Belarus, Russia's ally.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

— Reuters

July 29 2022 — 10:18

Russia: 40 Ukrainian POWs killed by Ukrainian missile strike on Donetsk prison

Russia's defence ministry said Ukraine struck a prison in separatist-held territory with US-made rockets on Friday, killing 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war and leaving 75 wounded.

“A missile strike from the US-made multiple launch rocket system (HIMARS) was carried out on a pretrial detention centre in the area of the settlement of Olenivka, where Ukrainian military prisoners of war, including fighters from the Azov battalion, are being held,” the defence ministry said in its daily briefing.

As a result of the strike, “40 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded,” and eight prison staff were also injured, it added.

Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield reports.


July 29 2022 — 10:15

Five killed in Russian attack on Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv — governor

At least five people were killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile strike on the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday, the regional governor said. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, said on the Telegram messaging app that at least some of the wounded had been near a public transport stop.

“At the moment, we know of seven wounded and five killed,” he wrote.

Reuters could not verify the events in Mykolaiv independently.

Russia did not immediately comment on the situation and has denied deliberately targeting civilians


July 29 2022 — 06:55

UK says Russia's Wagner allocated responsibility for specific sectors of front line in Ukraine

Russian private military firm Wagner has likely been allocated responsibility for specific sectors of the front line in eastern Ukraine, possibly as Russia is facing a major shortage of combat infantry, Britain's ministry of defence said in an intelligence update on Friday.

“This is a significant change from the previous employment of the group since 2015, when it typically undertook missions distinct from overt, large-scale regular Russian military activity,” Britain said in a regular intelligence bulletin on Twitter.

It also said that Wagner's forces are highly unlikely to be sufficient to make a significant difference in the trajectory of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

— Reuters

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.