Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war are believed to have been killed in a missile strike

  • Russia and Ukraine blamed trade in death of prisoners
  • The UK says Russia is deploying Wagner fighters more widely
  • UN hopes grain advances, says details still unclear

Kyiv (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have been killed in a rocket attack on Friday, as Moscow and Kiev accused each other of carrying out the attack.

The incident cast a shadow over UN-backed efforts to re-ship grain from Ukraine and ease the looming war-induced global hunger crisis, now in its sixth month.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded in an attack on a prison in the frontline town of Olenivka in the separatist-held part of Donetsk region.

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Russian news agencies reported that the organization accused Kyiv of targeting it with US-made Himmars missiles.

Ukraine’s armed forces denied carrying out the strike and blamed it on Russian forces, saying Russian artillery had targeted the prison.

“In this way, the Russian occupiers sought to achieve their criminal goals – accusing Ukraine of ‘war crimes’, as well as concealing the torture of prisoners and executions,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the prison housed Ukrainian prisoners of war and that eight prison staff were also wounded. Russia-backed separatist leader Denis Pushlin was quoted as saying that there were no foreigners among the 193 people held there.

A video posted by a Russian war correspondent showed Russian-backed military personnel examining the burned remains of what he said was a prison.

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The roof of the shattered building was hanging down and the charred remains of corpses could be seen.

Ukraine separately said at least five people were killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile attack on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port off the Black Sea, while Russia fired across front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The region’s governor, Vitaly Kim, said via Telegram, that a missile landed near a public transport station.

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately comment and Reuters was unable to verify the reports on the battlefield.

cereal hopes

Russia and Ukraine agreed last week to lift a ban on grain exports from Black Sea ports, which have been threatened by Russian attacks since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The deal was the first diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict and wheat prices offered in Asia fell this week on expectations of higher supplies.

But fierce fighting makes it risky.

Martin Griffiths, the UN aid coordinator, said Thursday night he hoped to move the first grain on Friday, but crucial details of safe passage for ships were still being worked out. Read more

He stressed that the process was commercial, not humanitarian, but said the United Nations hoped poor countries would be given priority, citing Somalia, where nearly a quarter of a million people face starvation.

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While a grain ban in Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters, has sent food prices soaring around the world, a shortage of Russian gas has driven up energy prices in Europe and raised fears of winter shortages.

Russian gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany remained at just 20% of capacity on Friday, after Russia halved flows on Wednesday due to maintenance work.

Moscow, which describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” in self-defense, blames Western sanctions for reduced gas supplies. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian attack was never justified.

Focus on the south

An intelligence update from Britain says Russia has ordered its mercenaries to hold parts of Ukraine’s frontline – a sign it lacks combat infantry as Kyiv steps up a counterattack in the south.

A greater reliance on fighters from Russia’s private military company Wagner Group for frontline missions rather than their usual special operations work would be another sign that the Russian military is under pressure six months into its war in Ukraine.

But the British Ministry of Defense said in the update that Wagner’s mercenaries were unlikely to make up for the loss of regular infantry units or change the course of the Russian invasion.

“This is a significant change from the group’s previous employment since 2015, when it normally carried out tasks different from regular, overt and large-scale Russian military activities,” the ministry said.

Wagner and the Kremlin could not be reached for comment.

Officials in Kyiv said on Wednesday they had observed an “intense redeployment” of Russian forces in the south, where British defense officials believe the 49th Russian Army, stationed on the western bank of the Dnipro River, is at risk.

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Ukrainian counterattacks in the south come as Russia fights for control of the entire Donbass industrial region in the east, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Lincoln Fest and Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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