The Red Cross called Friday, Oct. 14, for “immediate and unimpeded access” to thousands of prisoners of war is has so far been unable to visit in the Ukraine conflict.
“We share the frustration regarding our lack of access to all prisoners of war held in the international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Ewan Watson, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told reporters in Geneva.
He did not say how many PoWs have been taken since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, but lamented that his organisation so far had been unable to access thousands of them.
Under the Geneva Conventions, all parties to international armed conflicts are required to grant the ICRC “immediate access to all PoWs, and the right to visit them wherever they are held,” Watson pointed out.
He refused to go into details about whether one side or the other in the conflict was being more cooperative in terms of granting access.
“We have been able to visit hundreds of PoWs on both sides, but there are thousands more who we have not been able to see, and we are concerned about their fate,” he said.
He said the ICRC teams had yet to access the prison in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka in eastern Ukraine, where dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war died in a July bombing strike which each side blamed on the other.
“We want to stress that our teams are ready on the ground, and have been ready for months, to visit the Olenivka or any other location where PoWs are held,” Watson said.
Russia has claimed that Ukraine carried out a strike on its own captured fighters at Olenivka, while Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of covering up a deliberate massacre.
The United Nations has since warned of dire sanitary conditions for those remaining in the facility, with many PoWs reportedly suffering from infectious diseases, including hepatitis A and tuberculosis.
Watson said the ICRC was eager to visit but had to wait until it was granted authorisation and security guarantees to ensure Red Cross teams are not in danger.