The International Committee of the Red Cross has responded to criticism from the Ukrainian government calling for “immediate and unimpeded access” to all prisoners of war.
It comes after the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused the ICRC of inaction in upholding the rights of Ukrainian prisoners and called on it to visit Olenivka, a notorious camp in eastern Ukraine where dozens of Ukrainian POWs died in an explosion and fire in July.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of inaction in upholding the rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war and urged it to undertake a mission to a camp in the Russian-occupied east of the country.
His chief of staff issued an ultimatum to the ICRC to launch a mission within three days or Kyiv authorities would do it themselves.
In his nightly video message, Zelenskiy said 20 Ukrainian prisoners had been freed, the latest result of constant attempts to bring home detainees.
But Zelenskiy, in the latest of a series of Ukrainian criticisms of the ICRC, said no one had yet visited Olenivka — a notorious camp in eastern Ukraine where dozens of Ukrainian POWs died in an explosion and fire in July.
“I believe the International Committee of the Red Cross is not a club with privileges where one receives a salary and enjoys life,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
“The Red Cross has obligations, primarily of a moral nature. The mandate of the Red Cross must be fulfilled. It is necessary to immediately do what is entirely logical for the Red Cross.
“There is Olenivka, a concentration camp where our prisoners of war are kept. Access to them must be provided as it was agreed. The Red Cross can make it happen. But you have to try to make it happen. Ukraine is ready to facilitate this.”
Zelenskiy suggested a Red Cross mission could be organised along the lines of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has visited both Russia and Ukraine to uphold safety at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
“But it requires leadership,” the president said. “Conscientiousness is required. It is necessary to understand who and why an institution such as the Red Cross was created.”
Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told officials in a video on YouTube of experts of a meeting that included at least one ICRC official participating remotely, that Ukraine had lost patience.
“If there is no mission within three days, we, as a sovereign state, reserve the right to use all available mechanisms,” Yermak told the meeting.
A group of experts, he said, would conduct a mission which “should be performed by you. We will not wait any longer.”
There was no one available from the ICRC to comment.
More than 50 Ukrainian POWs were killed in the attack at the Olenivka camp in July — many of them soldiers who had defended the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol before giving themselves up.
Ukraine accused Russia of blowing up a barracks to cover up what they said was torture and killing of prisoners. Russian authorities said a Ukrainian missile caused the explosion.
(Reporting by Ronald Popeski and Elaine Monaghan; Editing by David Gregorio)