By Maria Varenikova
Three days after an explosion at a Russian detention camp in Ukraine, relatives and friends of the prisoners are confronted by a torment that compounds their fury: uncertainty.
The Russian government, which blames Ukraine for the strike, produced a list of 50 prisoners who it said had died at the Olenivka camp in Donetsk province in eastern Ukraine. But evidence that Ukraine says shows the bombing was an inside job has further fueled mistrust of the Russians after five months of fighting.
As a result, many relatives are waiting for independent confirmation of casualties.
The Russian list included the name of Vlad, 28, a member of the regiment that fought to defend the Azovstal steel factory in the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. Anastasia Kavulich, a friend, also 28, said she had seen evidence that he had been killed, although that had not been confirmed by either Ukrainian authorities or his family.
“Vlad died that night,” she said in an extensive post on Instagram. “We were supposed to see each other after the victory,” she said, and added: “I don’t know how to say goodbye.” She requested that his full name not be used because of the uncertainty of the situation.
Many Ukrainians believe the decision by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to invade their country in February is a war crime. Since then, Ukrainians have been appalled by Russia’s attacks on civilian targets and by other atrocities.
But the attack on the prison camp is seen as particularly horrible because the fighters, many of whom are seen as national heroes, had surrendered to Russian forces as prisoners of war and were protected by the Geneva Conventions.
“I just want to howl from my own powerlessness and helplessness,” said Alina Mykhailova, a Ukrainian soldier, in a post on Twitter.
Ina, who asked to use only her first name for fear of retribution, said she believed her brother and his wife, both of whom were fighters at the Azovstal plant, were being held in Olenivka, but she doesn’t know for sure.
“How can we know that the same will not happen to others?” she asked. “Who can guarantee that they will not shell it again?”
Kateryna Prokopenko, whose husband, Denys Prokopenko, is a commander of the Azov Regiment, said that a “line was crossed” with the attack. Her husband had been held at Olenivka, although she has not spoken to him since May and heard that he had been transferred to Moscow.
“We hoped that they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war,” she said. “As we see, they were cruelly killed in the night while they were sleeping.”
“We no longer have the strength. We can only go out and shout,” she said.
One relative of a prisoner, Yulia Stomina, said she had learned the day after the blast that her father had survived, but she remained concerned for his safety because of reports that prisoners were being beaten and underfed.
“We know they are being beaten,” Stomina said. “Food is bad, without hygienic standards. Large barracks for up to 400 people.”