Russia and Ukraine have both launched criminal investigations after accusing the other of shelling a prison Friday in the separatist eastern region of Donetsk, killing dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war.
Separatist authorities and Russian officials said at least 53 people were killed and 75 injured in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic. The prisoners were captured after Mariupol fell in May.
The Ukrainian military denied responsibility for rocket or artillery strikes on Olenivka and claimed Russian forces shelled the prison to accuse Ukraine of war crimes to cover up torture and executions that took place there.
Meanwhile, Russia claimed that Ukraine used U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers in the attack on the prison, located in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region. Neither countries’ claim could be independently verified.
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►Ukraine has identified 5,600 children who were forcibly deported to Russia. Ukrainian authorities are working on returning these children home, and deputy interior minister Kateryna Pavlichenko said the numbers are expected to rise.
►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the first grain exports since the war began may begin in the coming days. Several loaded ships weren’t able to set sail since Russia’s attacks started in February. Zelenskyy said the country is “fully prepared” and is awaiting signals from Turkey and the United Nations before sending exports.
►The mayor of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, said a central part of the northeastern city was hit early Friday, including a two-story building and a higher education institution.
Russian operative charged with using US groups to spread propaganda
The Justice Department announced Friday that a Russian operative was charged with using political groups in the U.S. to promote pro-Russia propaganda.
Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov is charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government. Ionov was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department and is accused of giving money to organizations that he and Russian intelligence services thought would create a political disturbance in the U.S.
According to authorities, Ionov has recruited political groups in Florida, Georgia and California for about a decade and directed such groups to advance pro-Russia talking points. He also paid for group members to attend government-funded conferences in Russia and to attend a protest in the U.S. against social media efforts to suppress online support for Moscow’s Ukraine invasion.
Alabama men captured in Ukraine sent to prison, family says
Two Americans who went missing while fighting with the Ukrainian Army are spending time together in prison, the family of one of the men in a statement Thursday.
Alex Drueke, 39, who was captured with fellow veteran and Alabama resident 27-year-old Andy Huynh in June, told his mother they have been transferred during a phone call, according to a statement from his family.
“He sounded strong and clear-minded,” said Lois “Bunny” Drueke. “He said he and Andy have been moved to a traditional prison, that they are no longer in solitary confinement but that they are together now 24/7.”
The men, who traveled to fight separately but became friends in Ukraine, disappeared near Kharkiv during a battle in June. A video of the pair aired by Russia state television confirmed that they were taken captive. They are believed to be the first Americans captured by the Russians.
Blinken, Lavrov speak about ‘significant proposal’ on prisoner exchange
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with his Russian counterpart for the first time since February on Friday about the U.S. proposal to secure the release of Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player, and former Marine Paul Whelan.
He did not confirm that it involves a proposed prisoner swap but said it is a “significant proposal that’s been on the table from for some weeks now.” CNN reported the proposed deal would involve a swap of the American citizens with convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving time in the U.S.
Griner has been detained since Feb. 17 on drug charges for carrying marijuana in vape cartridges. Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.
Blinken said he urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with the proposal, but declined to say how he responded.
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told reporters prior to Blinken’s announcement that he considered it a “good sign” that Lavrov publicly acknowledged his willingness to listen to the proposal.
Kirby said making the existence of the proposal public “wasn’t a decision we took lightly.”
“We felt that in the context of what was happening in both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan’s cases, as well as what was not happening, that it was important to lay out publicly that there was in fact, a serious offer made by the American side that has not been acted on,” Kirby said.
– Francesca Chambers and Deirdre Shesgreen
Russia plans to restore captured Ukrainian city of Mariupol
Russian authorities plan to completely restore Mariupol within three years, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
The proposed plans include an airport and new transport infrastructure, with 90 social facilities restored sometime this year. “We plan to make a new transport interchange a hub where there will be a railway station, a port and tram lines,” Khusnullin said.
Russia claimed victory over Mariupol in May after a near three-month siege that destroyed much of the strategic port city. Over 20,000 civilians were feared dead.
Khusnullin’s proposed plans included determining what would happen to the Azovstal steel plant in Maripol. “We are discussing this issue a lot with the residents, we see that it is still possible to save some jobs without restoring harmful production,” he said.
Russia targets Kyiv for the first time in weeks; 5 civilians wounded
Russian forces struck the Kyiv region with six missiles launched from the Black Sea on Thursday for the first time since shifting focus to the eastern Donbas region weeks ago after failing to capture the capital.
Oleksii Hromov, a senior official with Ukraine’s General Staff, said the missiles hit a military unit in the village of Liutizh on the outskirts of the capital. Russia also pounded the northern Chernihiv region.
Fifteen people were wounded in the Russian strikes, five of them civilians, Kyiv regional Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said.
Meanwhile, five people were killed and 25 wounded in a Russian rocket attack on the city of Kropvynytskyi, about 150 miles southeast of Kyiv, according to the deputy governor of Ukraine’s Kirovohrad region, Andriy Raikovich. He said the attack hit hangars at an air academy, damaging civilian planes.
Ukraine pushes counteroffensive attack, British military says
Ukraine is gaining momentum in its counterattack while working to cut off access to the occupied city of Kherson, according to a British Defense Ministry assessment.
The British military said Ukraine has used its new, Western-supplied long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnieper that Russia relies on to supply its forces.
Kyiv’s forces are planning to isolate Russian troops and leave them with three options – “retreat, if possible, surrender or be destroyed,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said, according to Ukrainian media.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Chris Kenning, USA TODAY