Friday, October 7

Prisoners of war: between horror and despair

The last exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine took place on June 29 and there is still no date for a new exchange. Then each of the parties released 144 soldiers, a number that, although the real figures of those captured on either side are unknown, are guessed to be insignificant. The massacre of Ukrainian military captives on Friday in a penal colony in Olenivka, in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, has further increased mutual suspicion and mistrust. Nobody believes that the situation is going to be unblocked in the short term. The prisoners seem to have become a bargaining chip for anything but their release. The Russian antenna of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintains that there are “thousands” of requests for help received in writing from relatives of Russian soldiers whose whereabouts are unknown. They want to know if and where they are prisoners or if they fell in combat and it is possible to recover their bodies. Related News standard No Moscow and kyiv are accused of the death of 40 Ukrainian prisoners in the bombing of a prison in Donetsk YES The Kremlin affirms that the attack was carried out with long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine by the United States The same is happening on the Ukrainian side and, above all, with the mothers and wives of the components of the so-called Azov battalion, who complain that they have not been able to speak to them once on the phone since they laid down their arms and surrendered to the Russian and separatist forces last May 17. This unit of the Ukrainian Army, considered neo-Nazi by Moscow, fiercely defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariúpol for three months. Probably, a large part of their fighters perished on Friday in the strange attack on the Olenivka prison. According to the agreement reached in May with the mediation of the UN and the Red Cross, they should have been exchanged for Russian soldiers. But the rebel leaders of Donbass have already announced that, regardless of what was agreed with the United Nations, the commanders of the Azov battalion and the foreign brigade members would be sentenced to death for “war crimes.” AFP In an attempt to unblock prisoner exchanges, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) this week amended the Penal Code so that even Russian soldiers convicted of atrocities can be exchanged, something that until now the law did not allow. A new article has been added to the Penal Code, 841, on “exoneration from serving a sentence in relation to a decision to transfer a convicted person to exchange him as a prisoner of war.” In such a case, the sentence would be annulled. On May 23, a kyiv court sentenced for the first time a Russian soldier, Vadim Shishimarin, to life in prison for war crimes, specifically for killing a civilian from the Sumy region. After appealing the ruling, this week his sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison. On the other hand, a court in the Poltava region sentenced two Russian soldiers, Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, to 11 years and 6 months in prison for bombing residential areas in the Kharkov region. The exchanges are stopped But, after the exchange carried out at the end of June, the head of the Russian Instruction Committee, Alexander Bastrikin, announced that there would be no more exchanges in the near future. He proposed using the captured people “for reconstruction work on destroyed infrastructure.” According to Bastrikin, prisoners of war “will be kept in preventive detention centers – like the one destroyed on Friday in Olenivka – while the investigations last” to determine what crimes they may have committed. The Russian judicial official put the number of Ukrainian prisoners of war at 2,000. Russian soldiers searching Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol AFP Days later, on July 6, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu raised the number to 3,826, of which 2,439 surrendered in Azovstal. For their part, the separatist authorities in Donbass claim to have captured some 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers. The one that has not yet provided figures, neither of prisoners nor of deaths in combat, is the Government of kyiv. The status of prisoners of war is defined by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which also applies when war has not been officially declared. Such is the current case, since the ongoing invasion of Ukrainian territory is described by the Kremlin as a ‘special military operation’. However, organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) or Amnesty International maintain that both Moscow and kyiv fail to comply with the provisions of Geneva in relation to the captives. Russia and Ukraine also accuse each other of torture, atrocities and mistreatment of imprisoned soldiers.

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