Paris condemns Russian ‘barbarity’ after French aid workers killed in Ukraine

Kyiv says Moscow ignoring questions over prisoners it claims died on downed plane

France said Russia would have to “answer for its crimes” after two French aid workers were killed in a drone strike on the Kherson region of southeastern Ukraine.

Local officials said the strike took place on Thursday in Beryslav, a Ukrainian-controlled town on the western bank of the Dnipro river that is frequently hit by shelling from Russian troops who control the eastern side of the river. Three other aid workers were wounded in the attack.

“Russian barbarity has targeted civilians in Ukraine. Two French humanitarians paid with their lives for their commitment to Ukrainians. Three are injured,” French foreign minister Stephane Sejourne said on Friday. “France stands by their side. Russia will have to answer for its crimes.”

French president Emmanuel Macron condemned what he called a “cowardly and unworthy act”, and said: “I am thinking of their loved ones and injured comrades. My solidarity goes out to all volunteers who are committed to helping people.”


The victims were working for a Zurich-based group called HEKS/EPER, which is linked to the Protestant church in Switzerland.

“At approximately 2.30pm [on Thursday], an attack targeted HEKS/EPER employees during a field assessment, resulting in the tragic loss of two dear colleagues and injuries to others,” the group said on its website.

“A dedicated taskforce in the HEKS/EPER head office in Zurich is working tirelessly to ensure the safe evacuation of the affected employees ... [We] strongly condemns this vicious, unjustifiable attack and serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said: “Russian terror knows no boundaries or victims’ nationalities. The brave French aid workers assisted people and we will always be grateful for their humanity.”

Moscow did not immediately comment on the attack but crossed diplomatic swords with Paris last month after claiming that a Russian missile strike on the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv killed about 60 “mercenaries” fighting for Kyiv, most of whom were allegedly French. Paris flatly denied the allegation and Russia revealed no evidence to corroborate it.

Kyiv said Moscow was ignoring its requests to hand over the bodies of 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) whom Russia claims were killed when Ukraine allegedly shot down a Russian military plane near the neighbours’ shared border on January 24th.

“Ukraine has asked and continues to ask about handing over the bodies. So far, the Russian side is not agreeing to this,” said Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Kyiv’s GUR military intelligence service.

“Therefore, our state’s demand for an impartial international investigation not only into the circumstances of the crash of the Il-76 plane, but also to find out what was actually on board, whether it was people or ammunition ... remains relevant.”

Several Kyiv officials have implied that Ukraine shot down the Russian military plane, but say Moscow has shown no proof that it was carrying Ukrainian POWs to a planned prisoner exchange.

“An investigation is under way and during the investigation, naturally, all processes are determined only by the investigative authorities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about the POWs’ bodies on Friday.

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Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe