White House says Russia plans to tamper with evidence to accuse Ukrainian forces of prison attack

An administration official told CNN they expect Russia to tamper with evidence, blame Ukrainian forces and even have “reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it seem like HIMARS Ukrainian was to blame before the journalists arrived”.

The United States provided Ukraine with the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system earlier this year. US believes Russia collected large amounts of HIMARS fragments in strikes on its positions in Ukraine and is likely to deliberately place them at sites such as prison to claim Ukraine was responsible, official says of the administration aware of the latest information.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that the attack on the prison in eastern Ukraine held by separatists, which resulted in the death of at least 50 prisoners, was “a deliberate war crime by the Russians “. Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday reiterated the Russian claim that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the attack.

“There’s evidence here and there’s nothing to hide here,” he told CNN. “In addition, you know that the Russian side has offered to the UN and invited the Red Cross to see this evidence on the spot, to carry out the necessary exhaustive investigation.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed on Wednesday that it had only been able to visit the Olenivka facility once – in May this year to deliver water tanks. “But we did not have access to POWs held there on an individual basis – in accordance with ICRC working arrangements in detention centers – and this continues to be the case,” he said. .

The ICRC added: “Under the Third Geneva Convention, during international armed conflicts, the ICRC must have access to all prisoners of war, wherever they are detained. We also have full freedom to choose the places we want to visit. Since February 2022, our teams have been able to access some PoWs, but not all.”

The ICRC says it has requested access to the detention center again since last week’s attack, but has not received permission from the Russians.

Olenivka prison near Donetsk was used to house many Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal factory in Mariupol several months ago. CNN could not independently verify the claims from either side.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told a press conference on Wednesday that the UN was seeking to set up an investigation team to look into the attack following requests from Russia and the United States to investigate. Ukraine. He added that the mandate of the special group should be accepted by Russia and Ukraine before the start of the fact-finding mission.

A video broadcast on Russian networks and shared on social networks in Donetsk shows the massive destruction of a building and several bodies. CNN was able to geotag footage of the strike in an industrial area about three kilometers from the frontline town of Olenivka.

The Ukrainian army said that the explosion occurred on the territory of the industrial zone, in a newly built building specially equipped to accommodate prisoners released from Azovstal.

The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the strike. In a statement, he said that preliminary data before the trial show that “the occupying state struck the territory of penal colony No. 120 in the temporarily occupied village of Olenivka of the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region” .

Donetsk and Lugansk are the two regions that together form Donbass, the eastern part of Ukraine where the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists began in 2014.

The region has become the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military ambition in Ukraine after his troops failed to take control of Kyiv earlier this year.

The Russian military maintained a persistent barrage of artillery and missile strikes in the area for several weeks. The Kremlin says the goal of what it calls its “special military operation” is to take control of Luhansk and Donetsk.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva, Josh Pennington and Richard Roth contributed to this report.

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