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Ukraine war latest: At least 32 Ukrainian POWs executed in Russian captivity during winter, UN says

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 27, 2024 12:04 AM 8 min read
Graves of Ukrainian soldiers during the memorial day at the Lychakiv military cemetery on Nov. 1, 2023, in Lviv . (Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Key developments on March 26:

  • UN: At least 32 Ukrainian POWs executed in Russian captivity during winter
  • Russian landing ship Konstantin Olshansky hit with Neptune missile, says Ukraine
  • Ukraine dismisses Security Council secretary Danilov
  • Polish official says NATO considering shooting down Russian missiles that approach its borders
  • SBU says it caught FSB saboteurs trying to blow up railroad in Ukraine's Poltava Oblast
  • FT: Russia begins ‘arms-for-oil’ trade with North Korea, defies sanctions.

At least 32 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs), recently captured by Russia, have been executed between Dec. 1, 2023, and Feb. 29, a report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on March 26.

Reports of Ukrainian POWs being tortured or killed while in Russian captivity have been surfacing since the start of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine. As of late February, the Prosecutor General's Office said 19 criminal investigations were underway regarding the execution of 45 Ukrainian POWs.

OHCHR said it had recorded 12 cases of executions of at least 32 captured Ukrainian POWs during the winter, meaning that some of them presumably were killed in groups.

"OHCHR has verified three of these incidents in which Russian servicemen executed seven Ukrainian servicemen hors de combat," reads the report, which is based on interviews with 60 Ukrainian soldiers released from captivity.

Their accounts confirmed the previously documented facts of widespread torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment of Ukrainian POWs in Russian captivity, as well as detention conditions that do not comply with international law, OHCHR said.

The agency also interviewed 44 Russian prisoners of war who did not report torture in official Ukrainian places of detention. The organization said, however, there were "credible allegations of instances of torture and ill-treatment of Russian POWs committed in transit places after their evacuation from the battlefield," according to the report.

An investigation by the Kyiv Independent from last December revealed the inhumane conditions of detention, hunger, and torture at one Russian camp in particular: Olenivka prison, located in Russian-occupied Donetsk Oblast.

Russian landing ship hit with Neptune missile, says Ukraine

Ukraine has claimed yet another successful strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, announcing on March 26 that the landing ship Konstantin Olshansky had been hit by a Neptune missile.

Speaking on national television, Navy spokesperson Dmytro Pletenchuk said damage to the vessel was still being determined.

In recent months, Ukraine has intensified its attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea, successfully targeting several ships and forcing Russian forces to redeploy to safer waters.

In comments to LIGA.net, Pletenchuk said the attack on the Konstantin Olshansky had occurred earlier this week on March 23, the same day two Russian Ropucha-class landing ships, Yamal and Azov, were hit.

Built in 1985, the Konstantin Olshansky was transferred to the Ukrainian Navy in 1996 when the naval fleet of the Soviet Union was divided up.

It was one of many Ukrainian ships seized by Russian forces during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“This ship was supposed to be used by Ukraine, therefore, a decision was made to destroy this unit with our Neptune,” Pletenchuk said.

The attack in the late hours of March 23 also hit some Black Sea Fleet infrastructure in Crimea and a Russian military communication center, the Ukrainian military said on March 24.

The Strategic Communications Center of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (StratCom) recently reported that as of early February 2024, 33% of the fleet’s warships had been disabled, including 24 ships and one submarine.

Russia has taken a number of steps to address the continuing threat, including replacing the commander of the Russian Navy earlier this month.

Russia aims to knock out Ukraine’s power grid in new wave of attacks
Russia launched a fresh wave of missile and drone attacks against Ukraine between March 21-25, hitting the country’s critical infrastructure heavier than ever before. Some 190 missiles, 140 Shahed-type drones, and 700 aerial bombs pounded the country over the past week, President Volodymyr Zelensky…

Ukraine dismisses Security Council secretary Danilov

President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov on March 26.

The dismissal was announced on the Presidential Office’s official website, which gave no reason for Danilov's dismissal.

The National Security and Defense Council is a body that coordinates and controls the activities of executive authorities in the field of Ukraine's national security and defense, and its decisions are enacted by presidential decrees.

Danilov has served in the position since Oct. 3, 2019, shortly after the beginning of Zelensky's term in office.

"I am grateful to fate for giving me the opportunity to serve my country and my people in times of peace and war! I thank Ukraine's president for his trust," Danilov wrote on Facebook, without revealing the reasons for his dismissal.

In the evening address, Zelensky thanked Danilov for his work. "He is being transferred to another direction," the president said, promising to reveal details later.

In the 1990s, Danilov was the mayor of now-occupied Luhansk and later became the Luhansk Oblast governor. In 2006, he was elected to Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, as a member of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.

Since 2021, the National Security and Defense Council has been actively used as a tool for imposing sanctions. For over three years, this list has included hundreds of entities and individuals, including a number of high-profile pro-Kremlin Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.

After Russia's full-scale invasion, Danilov assured that Ukraine had been preparing for war since 2019, but did not expect a "simultaneous attack from all sides."

Danilov will be replaced by the current chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Oleksandr Lytvynenko.

Lytvynenko has headed the Foreign Intelligence Service since July 2021. Prior to this, he was director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies between 2019 and 2021.

Oleh Ivashchenko, a former deputy head of Ukraine's military intelligence agency (HUR), was appointed as the new head of Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence Service.

Bloomberg: Prague’s ammunition initiative may supply 1.5 million shells to Ukraine, Czech FM says
“We can do much more than the initially announced number,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky told Bloomberg, saying that the number may be as high as 1.5 million.

Polish official says NATO considering shooting down Russian missiles that approach its borders

NATO is reportedly considering the option of shooting down Russian missiles if they stray too close to its borders, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Szejna said to the Polish media outlet RMF24 on March 26.

Poland was forced to scramble its fighter jets to protect its airspace during Russia's drone and missile attack against Ukraine on March 24, when a Russian cruise missile entered Poland's airspace for 39 seconds.

Russia's ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreyev, was summoned by Poland's Foreign Ministry in response to the incident, but he rejected the request.

Szejna said that "(Russia) knew that if the missile moved further into Poland, it would be shot down. There would be a counterattack."

"Various concepts are being analyzed within NATO, including for such missiles to be shot down when they are very close to the NATO border," he added.

Such a proposal would have to be approved by the Ukrainian side, Szejna said.

Russian missiles have previously entered Polish airspace during attacks on Ukraine. On Dec. 29, 2023, a missile entered Polish airspace, putting the country's defenses on high alert.

In another incident on Nov. 15, 2022, a missile flew onto Polish territory during a Russian mass strike, killing two civilians. Polish investigators later concluded that it was a stray Ukrainian anti-air projectile launched to intercept the Russian attack.

Update: Number of injured in Russia’s March 25 attack on Odesa rises to 10
The Southern Defense Forces reported the day before that four people had been injured by a Russian ballistic missile attack on the city.

SBU says it caught FSB saboteurs trying to blow up railroad in Ukraine's Poltava Oblast

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said on March 26 that it had foiled an attempted act of sabotage by agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) at a railroad in Ukraine's Poltava Oblast.

The Prosecutor General's Office added that the two suspects were Ukrainian citizens.

Ukrainian security services and border guards intermittently intercept Russian saboteur groups attempting to infiltrate Ukrainian territory, although it is more common in regions such as Sumy Oblast that border Russia.

Poltava Oblast is located in central Ukraine, with its easternmost part some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Russian border. The SBU did not specify exactly where the attempted sabotage occurred.

According to the SBU, two FSB agents were arrested "on the spot" after they had laid an improvised explosive device by a key railroad track that connects central and eastern Ukraine.

After the two individuals were searched, SBU agents found phones in which the suspects were communicating with their Russian handler, a known FSB agent.

The SBU said that the two individuals had been charged with committing sabotage and face life in prison if convicted.

UK Defense Ministry: War may hamper expansion of Russian army in other parts of the country
Russia is recruiting for its new 44th Army Corps in an attempt to expand its armed forces but may have to send it to Ukraine to sustain operations, the U.K. Defense Ministry said on March 26.

FT: Russia begins ‘arms-for-oil’ trade with North Korea, defies sanctions

Russia is defying U.N. sanctions by supplying North Korea with oil, likely in exchange for weapons, the Financial Times (FT) reported on March 26.

According to satellite images seen by the FT and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), North Korean tankers have been sailing to and from the Vostochny Port in Russia’s Far East with their tracking responders disabled since March 7.

Pyongyang is subject to a strict cap on oil transfers, imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2017 after a series of nuclear weapons tests.

Hugh Griffiths, a former coordinator of the U.N. panel that monitors sanctions on North Korea, told the FT: “These oil deliveries constitute a full-frontal assault against the sanctions regime, which is now on the brink of collapse.

“What we can see now is a clear arms-for-oil bartering arrangement in open contravention of sanctions that (Russian President) Vladimir Putin signed off on personally, illustrating Russia’s trajectory in recent years from international spoiler to outlaw state.”

North Korea has been shaping up as Russia's leading weapons supplier, reportedly providing Moscow with extensive military packages, including ballistic missiles and over 3 million artillery shells.

There have been at least 10 cases of Russia using North Korean missiles to strike Ukraine, said Jung Pak, the U.S. Senior Official for North Korea, as reported by the Voice of America (VoA) on March 18.

One of the first cases of Russia using North Korean ballistic missiles was recorded on Dec. 30, 2023, during an attack on Zaporizhzhia, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wrote.

Later on, Russia's use of North Korean missiles was officially confirmed in the attack on Kharkiv on Jan. 2.

Two other cases of the launch of North Korean missiles at Kharkiv Oblast are currently being investigated, according to the local prosecutor's office.

Russian attack on Dnipropetrovsk Oblast injures 91-year-old woman
A Russian attack on the evening of March 25 on Dnipropetrovsk injured a 91-year-old woman, Governor Serhii Lysak reported on March 26.
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