The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Thursday that it had recently gained access to Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war, visits that until then had been very limited and sporadic.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly criticized the ICRC because he believes the organization is not doing enough to reach Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces. The International Committee of the Red Cross itself has expressed its frustration at its inability to carry out its mission, which is nonetheless enshrined in the Geneva Conventions that define the laws of war.
Last week, the ICRC paid a two-day visit to Ukrainian prisoners of war. Another visit takes place this week. During the same period, visits were made to Russian prisoners of war. “Further visits are scheduled for the end of the month,” said a press release from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The organization also indicated that the delegates were able to assess the living conditions and treatment of prisoners and inform their families of the news.
It was also able to distribute books, personal hygiene products, blankets and warm clothes.
The ICRC did not give any details about the prisoners’ living conditions.
Asked by AFP, the ICRC did not immediately respond to the number of prisoners visited or the places Red Cross teams were able to go.
“These visits represent an important step forward because they help preserve humanity in the face of the brutality of international armed conflict,” said Mirjana Spulgaric, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in her statement.
“We are able to assess how prisoners of war are being treated and make sure their families are kept informed. I hope that at the end of these visits we will be given more regular access to all prisoners of war.”
However, the organization is not satisfied with these visits.
“The recent visits are an important step forward. However, the ICRC must be allowed unimpeded access to all prisoners of war, whom it must be able to see frequently and without witnesses, wherever they are being held.”
The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had recently reported on ill-treatment of prisoners of war at the hands of their Russian or Ukrainian prisoners, citing in certain cases torture.
If the Ukrainian authorities allowed unimpeded access to the Russian concentration camps, they had to rely on testimonies of released Ukrainian prisoners before they could return to the Russian-controlled camps.
“The vast majority of those interviewed by Russian forces and allied armed groups told us they had been tortured and ill-treated while in detention,” said Ms. Bogner.
Not only to extort information from them, but also to “intimidate and humiliate” them on a daily basis, Matilda Bogner, head of the expedition, explained in mid-November.
It also reported “credible allegations” of summary executions of Russian prisoners of war captured by Ukrainian forces and several cases of torture and ill-treatment.