Despair reigns among the prisoners on both sides in light of the slow-moving exchanges

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The lack of information about the number and whereabouts of the captured soldiers annoys the families, as they do not know whether they are alive or killed at the front.

The last POW exchange between Russia and Ukraine took place on June 29 and there is still no date for a new exchange. After that, all sides released 144 soldiers, a number which, while the actual figures of those captured on either side are not known, is considered insignificant.

Friday’s massacre of Ukrainian military prisoners in a penal colony in Olenivka, in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, has further heightened mutual mistrust and mistrust. No one believes that the situation will be lifted any time soon. The prisoners seem to have become a bargaining chip for everything but their release.

The Russian antenna of the International Committee of the Red Cross says “thousands” of written requests for help have been received from relatives of Russian soldiers whose whereabouts are unknown. They want to know if and where they are imprisoned or if they were killed in battle and that it is possible to recover their bodies.

The same is happening on the Ukrainian side and especially with the mothers and wives of the members of the Azov battalion, who complain that they have not been able to speak to them on the phone once since they laid down their arms and surrendered to the armed forces. Russian and separatist troops on May 17.

This unit of the Ukrainian army, considered “neo-Nazi” by Moscow, fiercely defended the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for three months. Most of their fighters are believed to have died in Friday’s strange attack on 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 Donbas rebel leaders have already announced that regardless of what was agreed with the United Nations, the Azov battalion commanders and foreign brigade members would be sentenced to death for “war crimes.”

In an effort to unblock the prisoner swap, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) this week amended the Criminal Code to allow even Russian soldiers convicted of atrocities to be swapped, something the law has not allowed until now. A new article, 841, has been added to the Criminal Code on “exemption from serving a sentence in connection with a decision to transfer a convict for exchange as a prisoner of war.” In that case, the penalty would be quashed.

On May 23, a Kiev court sentenced a Russian military officer, Vadim Shishimarin, to life imprisonment for the first time for war crimes, notably for killing a civilian from the Sumy region. After appealing the ruling, his sentence was reduced this week 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 Kharkov.

But after the exchange in late June, the head of the Russian Instruction Commission, Alexander Bastrikin, announced that no more exchanges would take place in the near future. He suggested using the captured “for reconstruction work on destroyed infrastructure”. According to Bastrikin, the POWs “will be held in preventive detention centers for the duration of the investigation — such as those destroyed Friday in Olenivka” to determine what crimes they may have committed. The Russian judicial official estimated the number of Ukrainian prisoners of war at 2,000.

Days later, on July 6, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu increased the number to 3,826, of which 2,439 surrendered in Azovstal. For their part, the separatist authorities in Donbas claim to have captured about 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers. The one who has not yet given figures, neither of prisoners nor of dead in the battle, is the government of Kiev.

The status of prisoners of war is determined by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which also applies in cases where the conflict has not been officially declared. That is the current case, as the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion of Ukrainian territory is described as a “special military operation”. However, organizations such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International argue that both Moscow and Kiev are not abiding by the Geneva provisions regarding the detainees. Russia and Ukraine also accuse each other of torture, atrocities and mistreatment of captured soldiers.

Ukrainian authorities on Saturday denounced an attack with more than 80 projectiles in the city of Nikopol, in Dnipropetrovsk. According to the governor, Valentin Reznichenko, the rockets destroyed more than 15 homes and damaged as many agricultural facilities. No deaths have been reported, unlike Friday’s Russian bombing of a bus stop in Mykolaiv, which has risen to seven dead today.

On the other hand, the UN has offered to send a group of experts, if it gets “consent from both sides”, to investigate the attack on the Ukrainian POW prison in Olenivka, which left more than 50 dead.

Meanwhile, fighting continues in the invaded country, especially in the Donetsk region, the epicenter of today’s war. For this reason, Zelensky’s government has announced the “mandatory” evacuation of more than 200,000 residents for the winter, given the near-total destruction of the heating supply infrastructure from the fighting.

Source: La Verdad

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