Okay, I know I spelled the name of the town as Elenovka before, that is a direct transliteration from the Cyrillic. However, somebody convinced me that Yelenovka is a more correct spelling because it better reflects the pronunciation.
That’s not the real Erratum, though. In my Yelenovka post from a couple of days ago, discussing the various theories about the massacre (Who Dunnit?), I quoted a Pentagon official as saying ““If it was a blow from the Ukrainian side, I assure you they didn’t want to do it“, the Pentagon said.
I went on to write, quite presciently, if I do say so myself: [That last sentence sounds queer to my ears, when I first saw it I thought it must be something google-translated back from Russian into English. Americans would not say, “They didn’t want to do it.” They would say: “They didn’t intend to do it.”]
And went on to theorize from the rather odd semantics of that utterance, that the Pentagon official was cracking a joke, in rather poor taste; namely, the Ukrainians didn’t want to kill their own guys with the HIMARS, but the Americans forced them to do it.
Then one of my readers, Susan Welch, did some admirable sleuthing and found the original English-language quote, buried in this Pentagon briefing transcript. What the Un-Named Senior Defense Official actually said was this, in response to a reporter’s question:
Q: Yeah, thanks. Just one quick follow-up on the prison and then I have an unrelated question.
I know you can’t say definitively what happened but one of the claims is by the Russians that a HIMARS system was used to strike the prison. Can you say definitively that HIMARS were not used?
SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I don’t know that we can say definitively about any of it. I — but, you know, what I will — and listen, I haven’t seen all of the reporting but I am told that the Russians, you know, have made claims that they have pieces of HIMARS that were used in the strike. Listen, the Russians have a lot of pieces of HIMARS, right?
I mean, the Ukrainians have been, you know, sending a lot of HIMARS their way. So that would not surprise me. What would also not surprise me is if the Russians would — would lead us astray, in terms of information, and tell us that the Ukrainians had done this.
Here’s the last thing I’d say, if it happened to be a Ukrainian strike, I promise you, number one, they didn’t mean to do that, right? They certainly care about their own people and they care about the civilians and military in uniform of their own army.
And then the last piece would be, just from a practical perspective in terms of our conversations, whenever we talk to the Ukrainians, we’ve spent a great deal of time back and forth about, you know, reassuring — or them reassuring us about the loss of land warfare. They clearly understand that.
So anyways, we’ll see where this goes but I would just tell you, as you approach this in your reporting, you know, we’ll find the right side of this but I wouldn’t believe it’s the Russians right away.
The Semantics Of Wanting
In summary, that official waffled so much that he needed to add maple syrup afterwards: The Russians probably did it, but don’t just assume they did it; maybe the Ukrainians did it, but they’re good people and they didn’t mean to do it, yada yada.
From a Linguistics point of view, the moral of the story is to not blindly trust translated material. As a trained Linguist myself (even though I didn’t specialize in semantics), I can see exactly how the official’s words got twisted in the translation. The phrase, “they didn’t mean to do that” could be easily (and even correctly) translated into Russian using the Russian word khotet’ (“to want”), since the latter might also have the semantic aura of “mean to” (sometimes). At least more so than in English; although one of my readers, Gravatar, pointed out that it might be okay in English to say, “He didn’t want to do that,” in the context, say, of making a bad chess move. Although, to my ears, that sounds more British-English than American. If I had been translating the phrase into Russian, I probably would have tried to be more precise, maybe using some kind of construction with the adverb умышленно (“intentionally”). But “want” is perfectly okay, as an informal translation of “meant to”. However, translating back from Russian to English, which is what that twitter guy apparently did, translating khotet’ to “want“, in my view added an extra semantic load to the English word “want”, implying that the Ukrainians literally did not want to do this. A lot of commenters in the Russophile internet picked up on this and ran with it (including me), creating the meme of unwilling Ukrainians forced to push that button on the HIMARS operating panel… No No! Don’t make me push that button!
But They Knew Where They Were!
Okay, with that off my chest and my conscience cleansed — the last thing in the world that I want to do is promulgate fake info, there is more than enough of that in the world, thank you very much! — let’s move on to another important issue. Another of my readers, the talented Gravatar, also did some sleuthing and found claims (to add to the Case For The Prosecution) that the Ukrainians knew exactly where the prison colony was located in the town of Yelenovka. I mean, I think I had always assumed that they knew it, from American satellite photos, if nothing else. But turns out, not only were the Ukrainians aware of the location, they even had something to do with picking it, it was part of the overall negotiations and deal made, when the Azovites were trying to decide whether or not to come out of their holes in the Steel Plant.
Gravatar had found this link in RT. After which, I poked around and found a Russian version here, this story by reporter Alexei Degtyarev. A lot of Russian commenters are dubious about this whole thing, as in, Why would the Ukrainians and DPR even be talking to each other? But to me it makes sense. Even in the midst of a brutal, vicious war, the two sides, in between killing each other, are often in contact, especially back channels. There are constant negotiations and deal-making over prisoner exchanges, informal truces to pick up the corpses, that sort of thing. So that does not sound at all implausible to me, that the two sides discussed the location of detainment for the Azov POWs. Why the Ukrainians thought that Yelenovka was an acceptable place for their guys, I don’t know, but they apparently did. Maybe because it’s close by, and they were hoping for a prisoner exchange. I always had a suspicion that there was some trickery involved in the Azov “evacuation”, namely that the Russian side lured the hungry guys out of their hole with promises of warm food, comfy pillows, and a bus trip back home as soon as possible.
Be that as it may, the DPR Ombudsman Darya Morozova relates the story how the Ukrainian government had literally begged the DPR to house their prisoners in the Yelenovka camp. Darya: “To my knowledge, it was the Ukrainian government specifically which insisted on that place. This was agreed upon, with them. Nobody ever changed the rules of diplomacy and politics. Negotiations are conducted continuously about prisoner exchanges. In that context, the place of detainment is also discussed [between the two sides].”
In other words, the assumption is that at least some of the Azov prisoners were slated to be exchanged for Russian POWs, and maybe it was more convenient for both sides to keep them nearby. As opposed to shipping them off to the Russian mainland.
The downside being, of course, that “nearby” means within artillery range of the Ukrainian side. And the insinuation being, that since the Ukrainians knew exactly where these guys were, all the better for them (or their American handlers) to target them precisely with a HIMARS. Which is the theory of the pro-Russian side; and one that I personally endorse, with my very own “Whale” theory. [Which I would drop the moment anybody can prove it wrong, with raw facts.]
In conclusion: If this were a criminal case in a court of law, then the Prosecution, to win its case, would only have to prove (1) that it was a HIMARS – the Ukrainians dispute this, of course, they claim it was a bomb planted under the floorboards; and (2) that it was a HIMARS assigned specifically to the Ukrainians and not captured by the Russians.
I shall end this post with this video from Anatoly Shariy’s channel. In which Azov POWs who survived the blast, talk about their experiences of that horrible night. One of the guys addresses the Ukrainian side: “Don’t shoot this way, it’s your own people…” To which many of the (pro-Russian) commenters respond with outrage: “You only care about your own skins, what about the peaceful civilians in Donetsk who have been under your shelling these past 8 years?!” Amen to that. It is time for the shelling of Donetsk to stop, once and for all.