Last month I wrote about an explosion at a Russian prison which killed as many as 200 Ukrainian POWs. Russia immediately blamed the strike on the US HIMARS system claiming they had intentionally murdered their own captured troops to keep them from confessing to war crimes.
Ukraine denied that it had fired HIMARS or any artillery at all in the vicinity of the prison and noted that the prisoners killed had only recently been moved by Russian guards to the site of the explosion. Ukraine suggested Russia killed the prisoners to cover up the torture going on at the prison site. President Zelensky called the incident a “war crime.”
It has been about two weeks since the strike but today CNN has done a detailed visual investigation of the scene. Their conclusion is that Russia is lying about the attack. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone but this does add to the reliability that the conclusions reached by Ukraine and US officials are obvious to any fair-minded observer.
A CNN investigation based on analysis of video and photographs from the scene, satellite imagery from before and after the attack and the work of forensic and weapons experts concludes the Russian version of events is very likely a fabrication. There is almost no chance that a HIMARS rocket caused the damage to the warehouse where the prisoners were being held…
The morning after the blast, Andrey Lazarev, who works for the Russian Defense Ministry’s Zvezda channel, pointed to neatly arranged fragments, one of which included the serial number of a HIMARS rocket in remarkably good condition — despite an intense fire that had charred bodies.
But that evidence was clearly planted. The most convincing aspect of the story are the photos which show what the result of an actual HIMARS strike looks like. These photos are both credited to “Planet Labs, SkySat” and show the same site before and after a strike.
Here’s the the same building after being hit by HIMARS:
As you can see, the building is almost completely gone and there’s a big crater in the ground where it used to be. Now compare that to the image above showing Russians sorting through the wreckage of the building supposedly hit by HIMARS. A weapons expert CNN spoke to pointed out the obvious differences:
Weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith, who reviewed images and video of the aftermath, says the building, a warehouse with thin walls and metal roof, would not have been left standing by a HIMARS strike.
“There’s no crater anywhere in those videos, the beds did not move, pillars are undamaged, but there is massive fire damage visible. If it was a guided multiple launch rocket system, you’d see craters, ceilings and walls shattered, bodies blown up,” Cobb-Smith said…
Another Western official told CNN, “It’s clear to our explosive experts that this wasn’t a high explosive strike from the outside. It’s much more likely to be incendiary, and from inside the location.”
The bottom line here is that this very simple building would have been shattered and blown to pieces if it had actually been hit with a US HIMARS rocket. Here’s some video of the building (2nd clip below).
Ukraine furiously denies the strike, saying the POWs have been executed.
Russia's released a gruesome video, I've edited this pic.twitter.com/FC8FTglDMg
— Tim White (@TWMCLtd) July 29, 2022
It barely even shows any signs of shrapnel. What it does appear happened was a very high intensity fire. And that matches up pretty well with claims made in a call intercept released by Ukraine.
— PatrickMcMilan707 (@PMilan707) July 29, 2022
CNN mentions the intercept but says it can’t confirm the contents. Still, they did speak to a German pathologist who said the bodies of the victims lead him to believe this was some kind of firebomb set off inside the room.
As for why this happened, CNN concludes the Ukrainian version of the story is much closer to the truth.
Two Ukrainian officials told CNN the Olenivka attack came just as they anticipated a prisoner swap with Russia. The attack occurred “on the eve of a prisoner exchange,” according to one Ukrainian official who asked to remain anonymous due to protocol.
People released from Olenivka, including aid workers who had been held there, say beatings and abuse were common, and that living conditions are appalling…
[Anna] Vorosheva told a news conference in Warsaw: “The most terrible thing was that you could constantly hear the sounds of men being beaten, their pleas to stop this torture.”
Nothing about this is really new or surprising. It’s just the latest evidence that whenever Russian officials’ lips are moving they’re lying.