Olenivka Donetsk POWs Ukrainian

Screenshot from a video shared by Russian propagandists 

Russo-Ukrainian war 2022

The explosion in Olenivka that killed at least 50 POWs was held to conceal their torture and beatings by Russia’s FSB and Wagner PMC, according to Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR).

In a post on Facebook, HUR wrote that the prisoners were interrogated by so-called investigators from the “State Bureau of Security of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” the puppet statelet Russia set up in 2014, together with representatives of the Wagner Private Military Company and FSB of the Russian Federation.

Interrogations involved physical torture and beatings. They were aimed not at obtaining confidential information, but at bullying, physical humiliation, and psychological demoralization to breaking the moral and psychological qualities of Ukrainian soldiers. If this were to happen, the FSB planned to involve Ukrainian prisoners in filming Russian propaganda films, HUR reports.

These films were to serve the Kremlin’s propaganda machine by providing “testimonies” where the Ukrainian POWs would tell about their alleged crimes and “atrocities against the local population, the fighters’ renunciation of their views, as well as condemnation of the actions of the leadership of Ukraine,” HUR writes.

Editor’s Note

The propaganda films would be crucial for Russian internal audiences, who are fed the lies that Russia has invaded Ukraine to “liberate” Ukrainians from their democratically elected government, whom Russia calls “Nazis.” As well, the Kremlin tells its populace the lie that the devastation that the Russian army has brought to Ukraine was actually committed by the Ukrainian forces. The Kremlin’s propaganda goes that it is the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol who destroyed their own city and civilians while being besieged by Russia, not Russian invaders. The “testifying” POWs would give fuel for this propaganda machine which has to keep running to ramp up support for war in Russia.

According to HUR, these interrogations were held regularly but were unsuccessful: the Ukrainian POWs withstood and refused to collaborate.

“The Russian side had no intention of exchanging prisoners of war and, in order to hide the improper conditions and forms of interrogation of Ukrainian servicemen (which could serve as an evidence base at the Hague Tribunal), deliberately destroyed the prisoners. According to the available data, the detonation of the place where the Ukrainian soldiers were held was carried out by the fighters of the ‘Wagner’ PMC using a highly flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of fire in the premises,” HUR wrote.

Immediately after the explosion on 29 July, HUR said that the Olenivka blast is a terrorist attack organized by the Wagner PMC under Prigozhin’s leadership. According to the agency five days ago, the killing of Ukrainian prisoners in Olenivka was organized by the PMC on the personal instructions of Yevgeny Prigozhin, without coordination with the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Then, the HUR stated that the explosion was carried out to cover up the theft of funds allocated to the Ukrainian prisoners. According to HUR, 0n 1 August, a commission from Russia was due to arrive at the colony to check how the funds were used and the conditions of their detention. However, the condition of the building did not meet the requirements, so the “problem” was eliminated by destroying the premises with the Ukrainians inside.

As well, immediately after the explosion, the Ukrainian SBU shared an intercept alleging proof of the explosion being an internal job.

Background of the Olenivka POW murder

On 29 July, a blast destroyed the barracks of the Olenivka prison in Russian-occupied Donbas. It killed at least 50 POWs, many of whom were the legendary defenders of Azovstal steelworks in besieged Mariupol who were evacuated after surrendering to Russia under the guarantees of the UN and ICRC.

Ukrainian authorities and relatives of the POWs accused Russia of a deliberate war crime and called to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Russian propaganda media and officials blamed Ukraine for shelling the prison with a western-supplied HIMARS rocket launcher; however, experts have noted that the damage after the blast is not characteristic of a HIMARS and points to an internal explosion. Russia has denied the ICRC access to the site.

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