GENEVA: Russia said Thursday the Red Cross had permission to visit Olenivka prison, where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war died in a July bombing strike, but was blocked by the security situation.
Kyiv earlier this week accused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of “inaction” over Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia, saying a lack of visits to detained soldiers and civilians left them vulnerable to being tortured.
The ICRC meanwhile has said it shares in the frustration, though stressing it could only conduct such visits when it was granted authorisation and security guarantees.
The organisation has been urging both sides to provide more access to their prisoners of war, and has voiced particular concern about the lack of access to the prison in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka in eastern Ukraine.
Each side has blamed the other for the deadly July 29 strikes, while the United Nations has warned of dire sanitary conditions for those remaining in the facility.
Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador in Geneva, said the Russian defence ministry had granted permission for a Red Cross visit to Olenivka on August 4.
“They gave the green light,” he told reporters during a briefing organised by the UN correspondents’ association, stressing though that “this situation is changing from the military point of view”.
The ICRC, he said, is requesting security guarantees to conduct a visit, but “it is not easy to provide that sort of security, because the shelling is continuing”.
“From the point of view of security… this situation does not allow for such a visit to Olenivka,” he said.
But Gatilov said he had discussed the issue of PoW access with ICRC’s new chief Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, stressing that Olenivka was just one facility where ICRC visits were on the table.
He said Russia was taking a “constructive position” and had enabled five or six such visits to Ukrainian PoWs held in Russia in recent months, and that it was in discussions to facilitate more visits.
But, he said, “we have more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners, and sometimes it is not possible to organise all visits”.
Gatilov rejected accusations that PoWs held by Russia were suffering abuse, insisting they were treated “quite well”.
He maintained the same was not true of the other side, which he accused of “torture”.
Under the Geneva Conventions, all parties to international armed conflicts are required to grant the ICRC access to all PoWs, to assess their situation.
The organisation does not publicly divulge its findings, but strives to work with the various parties to improve conditions.





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