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Zelenskyy condemns prison strike as a 'war crime' amid calls for U.N. and Red Cross investigations

“Russia has proven with numerous terrorist attacks that it is the biggest source of terrorism in the world today. It’s a fact,” the Ukrainian president said.

There should be “a clear, legal recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said late Friday after dozens of prisoners of war were killed in an attack both sides traded blame for.

Calling the strike on a prison in a Russian-controlled territory a “war crime,” Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address that Moscow had “proven with numerous terrorist attacks that it is the biggest source of terrorism in the world today.”

A destroyed barrack at a prison damaged in a rocket attack
A destroyed barrack at a prison damaged in a missile strike in Olenivka, Ukraine on Friday.AP

Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donetsk region said Friday that the attack on the detention facility in the town of Olenivka killed 53 prisoners of war, including some captured after the fall of Mariupol in May. They said 75 others were injured.

Russia denied it was behind the attack and has instead accused Ukraine of using a U.S.-supplied rocket system to hit the detention facility near the eastern front lines.

NBC News has not been able to independently verify the claims of either side.

Ukrainian security agencies called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to dispatch their representatives for an inspection mission of the site.

The ICRC said, in a statement on Friday, that it was seeking access and offered its support in evacuation of the wounded, reiterating that all prisoners of war were protected under international humanitarian law, irrespective of their location.

A pre-trial detention center damaged in a rocket attack in Olenivka
A pre-trial detention center damaged in a missile strike in Olenivka, Ukraine on Friday.Ria Novosti / Sputnik via AP

European Union High Representative Joseph Borrell also condemned Russian armed forces in a statement and accused them of violating the law.

After months under siege at the Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian soldiers surrendered and were evacuated to the Russian occupied territory in Donetsk as prisoners, with the mediation of the U.N. and ICRC, which acted as guarantors of their lives.

Ukraine’s security agencies accused Russia of “cynically violating” the agreement in a joint statement late Friday. The sudden transfer of prisoners to a new location as well as telephonic conversations intercepted by Ukrainians would prove the Russian involvement, the statement said.

Elsewhere, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that Russia had “effectively set the U.N. charter on fire.”

Moscow was reviewing plans to completely annex Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, in clear violation of the U.N. Charter, and with a “blatant disregard for the principles of national sovereignty,” she said.

In the Kherson region, however, where Ukrainian forces have been mounting a counteroffensive in recent weeks, the country's military said Saturday it had killed scores of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in the area. NBC News could not independently verify this claim.

Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, Russian rockets hit a school building in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, overnight and another attack occurred about an hour later, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The bus station in the city of Sloviansk was also hit, according to Mayor Vadim Lyakh. Sloviansk is near the front line of fighting as Russian and separatist forces try to take full control of the Donetsk region, which along with Luhansk is one of two eastern provinces that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.

In southern Ukraine, one person was killed and six injured in shelling that hit a residential area in Mykolaiv, a significant port city, the region’s administration said.

But in a rare public statement Saturday, Richard Moore, the chief of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency, said Russia was “running out of steam.”

Moore made the remark above an earlier post on Twitter by the U.K.’s defense ministry, which described the Russian government as “growing desperate” and as having lost thousands of soldiers in its invasion of Ukraine.