Red Cross denied access to prisoners at Russian-held Olenivka despite 'intense' talks -ICRC chief

Mardini, director-general of the ICRC attends an interview with Reuters in Geneva
Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) attends an interview with Reuters on the situation in Ukraine, in Geneva, Switzerland March 29, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

KYIV, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Red Cross officials have failed to secure access to Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka where dozens were killed in an attack in July, the head of the international aid group said on Thursday.

Ukraine and Russia have traded accusations over the missile strike or explosion in the front-line town of Olenivka in eastern Donetsk that killed prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists. read more

International Committee of the Red Cross Director-General Robert Mardini told reporters in Kyiv that the group was engaged in intense negotiations with Russian authorities, but had not been granted access to those POWs and also lacked security guarantees to carry out such a visit.

The Red Cross registered 1,800 people taken from the besieged Azovstal steel works in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, with the understanding that it would be allowed to visit them, but that has not been possible, he told a news conference.

Olenivka is about 90 km (55 miles) north of Mariupol.

Mardini said the Red Cross had visited hundreds of POWs on both sides of the war, now in its seventh month, but there were thousands more it still had not been able to see.

"We are negotiating every day to have full access to all prisoners of war," Mardini said. "It is clearly an absolute obligation (of) the parties to give the ICRC access to all prisoners of war."

He declined to provide any details about conditions in the prisons that had been visited.

Mardini said the group was discussing the lack of access to prisoners at the Olenivka site with officials at "every level" of the Russian government and was engaged in a "very constructive" dialogue with the Ukrainian government about what he called an "unsatisfactory" situation.

Mardini said the Red Cross had facilitated the transport of over 1,000 letters from Ukrainian troops being held in Russia to Ukraine, where they will be delivered to their families.

He said the aid group had provided more than 3,000 families with news of their loved ones since the start of the war, which Russia calls a "special military operation".

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Nick Macfie

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