US officials believe Russia is preparing to falsify evidence to blame Ukrainian troops for last week’s deadly explosion at Olenivka prison, ahead of visits to the site by outside parties.
A government official told CNN they expect Russia to falsify evidence, blame Ukrainian troops and even have “reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it look like Ukraine’s HIMARS was to blame before journalists arrive.”
The US delivered the HIMARS multiple-launch missile system to Ukraine earlier this year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that the attack on the prison in separatist-occupied eastern Ukraine, which killed at least 50 inmates, was “a deliberate war crime by the Russians.” Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.
The Olenivka prison near Donetsk has been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago. CNN was unable to independently verify the allegations made by either party.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at a news conference on Wednesday that the UN is seeking an investigative team to study the attack, following requests from both Russia and Ukraine to investigate. He added that the panel’s terms of reference must be accepted by Russia and Ukraine before the fact-finding mission can begin.
Videos broadcast on Russian networks and shared on social media channels in Donetsk show extensive destruction of a building and several bodies. CNN was able to geolocate footage of the strike to an industrial area about two miles outside the frontline city of Olenivka.
The Ukrainian army said the explosion took place on the territory of the industrial zone, in a newly built building specially equipped to hold prisoners taken from Azovstal.
The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the strike. In a statement, it said preliminary data from the preliminary investigation shows that “the occupying state attacked the territory of penal colony No. 120 in the temporarily occupied village of Olenivka in the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region.”
Donetsk and Luhansk are the two regions that make up Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists began in 2014.
The area has become the focus of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military ambition in Ukraine after his forces failed to take over Kiev earlier this year.
The Russian army has been holding a sustained barrage of artillery and missile strikes in the region for several weeks. The Kremlin says the goal of what it calls its “special military operation” is to take control of both Luhansk and Donetsk.