Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) – Just hours after he bust out of a high-security prison as it was rocked by mortar blasts in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, Natalya Nikitenko drove her son right back to jail.
“He himself said that he had to return so it wouldn’t count as escaping. We are doing everything according to the law,” she told AFP as she climbed into her car outside the jail in the besieged rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
Nikitenko’s son — who still has four years left to serve for car theft — was one of 106 inmates who escaped as the jail was shelled by government forces late Sunday.
A prison official said the inmates escaped “in a panic.”
One prisoner was killed and several injured as mortar blasts rocked the correctional facility in a western district of the city, prison authorities said.
However 34 had made their way back by Monday.
“How can you live without the law?” Nikitenko said, adding that she had driven her son back at his own request after he ran home.
She said her son had told her “some kind of firing hit their barracks. He said he leapt out and a man was lying with his head missing. He was scared and ran out like a bullet. He didn’t even know how he got home.”
An AFP correspondent at the scene found the prison gates open Monday and rebel gunmen patrolling around.
A mortar had blasted a hole some 50 centimetres (20 inches) deep in the asphalt in the jail yard.
A rebel spokesman going by the nom de guerre Koba said several fighters had come to search the location over fears escaped prisoners could get their hands on weapons and commit violent crimes.
“We want to work out how many prisoners escaped,” said Koba, who was carrying a pistol and also had a gun slung over his shoulder.
“When these people start doing lots of foul deeds, it will all get blamed on the rebels” he added.
A plain-clothed prison official told AFP that one prisoner was killed after “half his head was blown off by the force of the blast” and around 10 had minor shrapnel injuries from three shells.
He said scores of inmates were still missing but could be hiding nearby.
“In panic, people hid in bomb shelters and cellars. We are now working out how many and checking the prisoners,” the official said.
Central Donetsk has been pounded by heavy shelling over the past few days as Ukrainian forces have surrounded the city and vowed to retake the pro-Russian rebel bastion.
A growing number of civilian casualties have been reported as artillery shelling has hit hospitals and homes around the beleaguered city.
Over 1,300 have been killed and more than 285,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Ukraine due to fierce clashes in four months of conflict.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]