Kyiv, Ukraine — Russia is working to fabricate evidence and frame Ukraine in an attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, US and Ukrainian officials told NBC News on Thursday.
Describing recently released intelligence information, a US official said the United States expects Russian officials to falsify information about the July 29 attack on the Olenivka detention center, in which Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said that 53 were killed and 75 injured.
Ahead of anticipated future visits by international investigators and journalists to the scene of the attack, the official said, “We have reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to suggest that Ukrainian HIMARS were to blame.” HIMARS refers to High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems , advanced medium-range rocket launchers recently supplied to Ukraine by the US.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukraine had shared intelligence information with other nations that backed up Russian plans to frame Ukraine in the attack.
“There was no artillery attack from any area. It was an internal detonation in a building where our prisoners of war were being transferred,” Podolyak told NBC News in an interview at the president’s office in Kyiv. “Russia did this terrible cover-up to hide its war crimes.”
Russia’s military has claimed that Ukraine launched the strike against its own prisoners with US-supplied weapons, a claim Ukraine has vehemently denied.
“Ukraine killed its own prisoners and injured many,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peksov said Thursday. “There is a lot of evidence. There is nothing to hide.”
Ukrainian officials with knowledge of intelligence findings on the attack said organized Russian efforts to frame Ukraine in the attack began long before the prisoners were killed.
On July 28, the day before the strike, Russian channels of the news service Telegram, known to spread Kremlin propaganda, predicted that Ukraine would attack with HIMARS, Ukrainian officials said, describing it as a pre-emptive attempt to target the Russian population to prepare the acceptance of Russia’s narrative that Ukraine was behind the attack.
Before the site blew up, prisoners who had been held elsewhere were taken to the specific industrial site where they were killed for no apparent reason, according to Ukrainian officials, citing Russian sources, intelligence channels and information from the prisoners themselves, although they refused to detail how they obtained this information.
Satellite images verified by the Ukrainian government also showed that graves were previously dug at the Olenivka site, Ukrainian officials said.
They added that there was some evidence that some of the POWs were already dead before the strike, such as the lack of shrapnel wounds or burns on the bodies that would be expected if they had died in a military strike.
The officers were not allowed to be named and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has claimed that Ukraine deliberately targeted its own POWs to discourage its soldiers from surrendering, arguing that Ukrainian troops know Russia treats POWs so well that many of them are now turning themselves in voluntarily.
Ukrainian officials said they believed Russia may have had two motives: first, to foment chaos that would lower Ukrainian morale, and second, to make Ukraine’s military appear incompetent in hopes of undermining the US to use the US-made HIMARS and other advanced weapons Support for the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Although Russia has said it has invited the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate, the Red Cross said Thursday it has still not been granted access to the site.
“We are ready to dispatch to Olenivka,” said the Red Cross, whose access to prisoners of war is mandated by the Geneva Convention.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that he was appointing a fact-finding mission to investigate the killings at the prison in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine.
Podolyak, Zelenskyi’s adviser, also said that the Ukrainian leader is seeking direct talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in hopes of persuading Beijing to withhold support and supplies to its Moscow-based ally. He said Zelenskyy had sought talks with Xi since the beginning of the war.
“China is still participating in this war, not directly but indirectly,” Podolyak said. “President Zelenskyy is looking for ways to reduce the resource capacities of the Russian Federation.”
Josh Lederman reported from Kyiv and Peter Alexander from Washington.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/russia-fabricate-evidence-ukraine-prisoner-of-war-deaths-officials-rcna41593 Russia wants to fabricate evidence of the killing of prisoners of war, warn the US and Ukraine