Ukraine War Day #161: Yelenovka Erratum

Dear Readers:

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.

Infestation problem in your barracks? Use HIMARS, the Wonder-Weapon!

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.

“It ain’t my fault, these dames forced me to push the button.”

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.

Darya Morozova, Human Rights Ombudsman for the Donetsk Peoples Republic

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.

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37 Responses to Ukraine War Day #161: Yelenovka Erratum

  1. jgsyrjfjshfj says:

    Eventually, I’m going to have to come with a name, and put the disclaimer about that stupid unwanted swastika as the first line in every post I make, I suppose. That’s Gravatar’s swastika not mine. All they would have to do is not have four-fold symmetry and the problem would be fixed. I can think of other things that could result from two-fold symmetry, but none of them are as bad as what I got stuck with.

    Anyway, what I’m posting to say is this: The fact that they have pieces of a HIMARS rocket at the site is, unfortunately, not proof at all. (On the other hand, not having the pieces would be strong evidence against it, so it’s good that they do.) As has been pointed out by others, the pieces could have been brought in from any of the schools, churches, homes, and hospitals the Ukrainians have used them against already. A little late now, but proof would be an unedited video from start to finish of workers recovering the bodies and locating the pieces of the rocket in the debris. If they have such a video, they should release it and let the world examine it. If they don’t, well, you can’t really blame them for not thinking about that aspect while entering the scene for the first time, but the pieces they found only count as evidence, not proof, because they have no certain proof where they were found.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Hey dude, I wouldn’t worry about that swastika so much, everybody knows it’s just a random pattern that you got stuck with. Anyhow, I agree that Russia would need more evidence to prove they didn’t do it, if they even care what Westies think. One thing that is easily refutable is the pro-Ukrainian claim (I saw it on some blog comments) that there was no hole in the roof of the barracks. In some Westie MSM I saw this photo from a satellite, I think one of the obliterated rectangles (where a building used to be) might be the barracks in question:

      Like

      • ospkdjrhsj says:

        In case anyone is wondering: That’s Gravatar’s swastika not mine.

        In the center of that picture there’s a lot of white powder (formerly concrete?) blown out onto the street, and a lamp post on its side, next to a building with a big hole in the roof. As a prison, it was made of sturdy walls (not wood) and was not “obliterated” as can be seen in other pictures of it in interior views. One rocket can’t pack the punch of an aircraft-delivered bomb.

        Like

      • F17 says:

        (Not my swastika, can’t change it)

        Related article, including interior picture showing the walls still mostly intact:

        https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/russia-informed-un-of-evidence-proving-ukraine-targeted-elen

        And I’d love to change Maxar’s bullshit caption, since they decided to include commentary that has nothing to do with the picture; change it to say Azov “infamously” used civilians as human shields while the patient Russians famously held the siege for months.

        Like

      • F17 says:

        One more thing, and I’ll stop.

        If they haven’t cleaned the room yet, they should not do so. They should put together all the fragments of the rocket that they have, proving that it’s a U.S.-supplied rocket that Russians don’t have (nor the launcher to input the target coordinates). THEN have the U.N. investigators and the Red Cross dig through the ash and dirt and rotting human flesh to find all the small missing fragments that are undoubtedly hiding in crevices and sludge piles. Let them discover for themselves how they fit with the other pieces. That will prove that the whole rocket cam in through the roof and exploded, after being fired by Ukrainians with the willful assistance from U.S.

        Of course, they’ll probably never see this, but I hope someone there is smart enough to think of it.

        Like

        • Personally speaking, I liked your old handle of “That’s Gravatar’s swastika…” because it spelled it out plainly and clearly. I might not have noticed the swaz if it wasn’t for the nym you used, but now I can’t ignore it. Each comment uttered a protest against Gravatar’s weird image-assignment. It was kinda like one of those Tibetan prayer wheels that’s always turning in the wind to issue a stream of wishes to the doGs. “I am not a Nazi, I am not a Nazi…” Can’t be said enough!

          Like

        • yalensis says:

          I think the only way to get rid of the swastika is to get a new email address. Otherwise, we shall just go on ignoring it, or pretend that it’s a Tibetan prayer-wheel, like Bukko says.
          🙂

          Like

      • BM says:

        I don’t see any obliterated buildings (in the sense of completely obliterated that you seem to imply), but I see two damaged buildings: one very small building in the centre that the complicated-name fellow refers to below, with apparently the roof almost totally festroyed; and a big long building bottom left with numerous small holes in the roof but far less damage. The long building looks to me more plausibly like a big prisoners’ dormatory, but I don’y know the scale. The building in the centre looks surprisingly small; also the roof looks far more destroyed than the interior picture on the almayadeen link. By the way, the mentioned white dust also appears to cover the adjacent trees. It is a very low resolution photo though.

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          One of the barracks is for the guards who sleep where they work. I don’t know which building that would be. Somebody mentioned that they don’t sleep in the same barracks with the prisoners, surprisingly enough. I heard varying reports whether any guards were killed or injured. Some say yes, some say no.

          Like

  2. raccoonburbleca says:

    I think if the Russians had a “whale” on their hands, they would have kept him somewhere separate from other PWs. Probably taken him to Moscow. Why keep it secret that they have him?

    I am interested in this story of some corpses being burned in the Azovstal tunnels. Although, there is much about that which does not add up, either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • michaeldroy says:

      If you are a Nato country and have special forces in Azovstal, of course you send in the request to Azov that they get executed. Your guys would expect that.

      Like

    • yalensis says:

      Hey, raccoon, my “whale” theory presupposes that the whale was in deep cover, disguised as an ordinary Ukrainian soldier; so that even the Russians didn’t necessarily know what a valuable target they had on their hands.

      I know, I know, I read too many spy novels…

      Like

      • raccoonburbleca says:

        In that case, why not just stay anonymous among the other Azovs. Why will the Ukraine side advertise that there is someone important there? The whale probably was/is not a special forces type guy. Probably some senior intelligence type.

        Like

  3. michaeldroy says:

    me I’m wondering whether the Ukies wanted to kill Azov members before they talk, or had run out of live uncastrated Russia POWs so they had to pre-empt any prisoner exchange.

    Like

  4. htyul says:

    “— 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! —”
    So… is this really want or mean? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • yalensis says:

      Ah, you caught me in a semantic contradiction! You know, that wasn’t deliberate, I just typed that sentence without even thinking. I meant “mean” of course, not “want”.
      Well caught. Maybe those 2 verbs are very similar, after all.

      Like

      • BM says:

        That use of “not want to” to mean “shouldn’t” that you refer to above, by the way, is 100% US American language, it is not English language at all. It is quite wrong to claim it is English language. The US Americans, of course, are well known for not speaking English very well.

        The English language (as opposed to the American language) says “shouldn’t” not “not want to”.

        Like

        • BM says:

          Phew! I didn’t get a swastica. Oh wait, I can just about see one in there … but fortunately (if anything) it is the (wholesome) original forward-facing swastica (which is a sign of good luck) not the perverted Nazi reversed swastica.

          Like

  5. Beluga says:

    Stop the presses!

    The cavalry are on the way!

    Yes, the UN is going to investigate this POW killing. Senhor Guterres announced the probe late today.

    So stand back as gimlet-eyed no-nonsense investigators get on the job, sifting evidence and taking names and statements. One can expect the Ukraine and Russia to stop everything and co-operate fully while the investigation proceeds.

    Neutral Dutch investigators who didn’t fight against the farmer riot at home will of course be the ones tasked to leave no stone unturned as they methodically apply forensic science to finding out who the dastardly killers are.

    I don’t know. HIMARS are usually fired off in salvos, aren’t they? You know, to overwhelm defences by having so many missiles in the air at once, antimissile missiles can’t lock onto them all. If so, and with their vaunted accuracy, there ought to be a few more holes in the roof of that barracks. Which roof looks pretty much intact. But no matter how many hit, what assurance can anyone have that the Whale would get his? 50 killed, 75 maimed. Hardly the complete complement of prisoners in the barracks offed, and some will live to tell their tale. Which won’t be much — “There I was having a pleasant daydream and the lights went out. When I woke up, it was hell.”

    With the Russian/LPR/DPR/Chechen/Wagner army types on apparent summer vacay and R&R because of sweltering sweaty weather, and with only the missile/artillery types lobbing over munitions on a steady basis, things seem to have calmed down a bit for the moment. The Ukies don’t seem very enthusiastic either. So Guterres’ investigative guys should have no problem bossing everyone around as they search for the killers.

    Ahem.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      I don’t trust the UN investigators nor Guterres further than I could punt them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • yalensis says:

        P.S. – as for the “one rocket” theory. It’s true that HIMARS are normally fired in salvos. But, from what I understand, it IS technically possible to load just one shell into the array. So maybe Americans are trying to spare the ammunition, since the Ukrainians are running short of shells? From what I understand, each and every shell costs a bundle, and the Americans are already balking at giving them more. (Currently Ukies already used up about a third of the world’s known supply, if I am not mistaken.)

        Which admittedly doesn’t address the issue of why Russian anti-air didn’t see the one single rocket coming and shoot it down. It could have just been a hail-Mary on the American side, thinking, if only they could nail that one barracks, then they might solve their “whale” problem once and for all. All of this is highly speculative. But it’s fun to speculate, no? (So long as one understands that nothing is being given out as known facts.)

        Like

        • BM says:

          The Russians can’t put their air defences everywhere, and surely defending civilians and/or military is a far higher priority for air defences than Nazi war criminals (actually I think mainly high-value military targets). So the Americans probably only used one missile. If they used a whole salvo that would not be good at all for their sought-after plausible deniability – it would be far easier to prove that it was a Himar, and far more implausible that it was a mechanical failure of the rocket, or targetting error or whatever. So no, definitely they will only use one rocket if that is enough to do the job. And cost is irrelevant – it’s peanuts compared to the cost of half a dozen helicopters (plus pilots) expended trying to du the job at Azovstahl before the surrender.

          Like

          • yalensis says:

            The Americans may not worry so much about the cost of each rocket. But I remember reading or hearing an analyst say (it might be Brian, at the New Atlas, or possibly Alex at Duran, sorry I can’t remember exactly where I heard it) that the HIMARS shells are actually in short supply. Due to American production issues, not having enough in stock, and not able to just crank up a factory and produce more of them. And they said that America had already donated 1/3 of their entire inventory to the Ukraine!

            Oh, wait, I just remembered where I heard this, it was Judge Napolitano’s youtube show, featuring Scott Ritter as his guest. Scott made these claims, and the Judge almost had an embolism to hear it. Given that Judge is an American patriot, and for him to hear that Biden is just giving those valuable things away, like candy… His point was, what if somebody invades America, and we have the HIMARS trucks and stuff, but suddenly come to find out we have no rockets for them, having dumped them all into the Ukrainian Black Hole – LOL!

            Like

            • BM says:

              His point was, what if somebody invades America, and we have the HIMARS trucks and stuff, but suddenly come to find out we have no rockets for them, having dumped them all into the Ukrainian Black Hole – LOL!

              In my opinion, that is a significant one of the reasons the Russians are lettin NATO stuff in so many weapons and ammunition – to destroy stocks in advance of the next stage (security in Europe) – which is still outstanding and important. Denazification and demilitrisation of NATO, once and for all, finishing off the job that was left unfinished in WWII.

              At one time we were hearing about Russia destroying railway lines to stop the weapons coming in (why didn’t they destroy them earlier, faster and more completely, then???). Yet Ukraine are still relying on rail for supply of its forces in Donbass! It seems to be bluff. Russia doesn’t want to discourage the west from sending in more stocks to be destroyed, so they strike a balance between letting some through and destroying batches in fits and starts. It’s also a major reason (one of numerous) why they are going so slowly, I think. It costs lives of Russian servicemen, and of Donbass civilians; but how many lives does it potentially save in the next phase?

              It’s all part of “when NATO is suiciding itself, keep all opportunities open for them that assist that task”.

              Like

              • yalensis says:

                I have some of the same impressions. Namely that when NATO keeps sending in all their surplus and newer stuff, Russian Generals might be shouting “Enough!” but Russian government is whispering, “Keep ’em coming, keep ’em coming…”

                All into the Black Hole.

                Like

  6. Mark Chapman says:

    Great piece, Yalensis! I saw it referred to in the comments on Moon of Alabama, you’re getting to be quite a well-known resource, and deservedly so.

    Here’s another great piece, by an eyewitness – Eva Bartlett, who went to the site to report. Some of the photos are pretty gruesome, it would take a tremendous amount of spot heat to render a body like charred wood, as some of the bodies are. Bartlett confirms many of the suggestions you made, such as that the Ukrainians knew exactly where the prison was, and since HIMARS is a precision weapon, it would have been ideal for such an attack. The American official belated defense – attributed, of course, to unnamed officials who requested anonymity, bla, bla – is that ‘it doesn’t look like a HIMARS attack’ and ‘if it was a HIMARS attack, it wouldn’t look like that’. Excellent; if only all countries had such comprehensive subject-matter experts.

    https://ingaza.wordpress.com/2022/08/02/who-killed-the-pows-at-yelenovka-all-signs-on-the-ground-point-to-a-ukrainian-attack/

    It’s quite true that bits of a HIMARS rocket allegedly found at the scene would be quite deniable, as the Russiuans do indeed have lots of pieces of HIMARS rockets, and could theoretically have planted them. But there will be other indicators at the site, and hopefully they will be preserved. I don’t hold out any hope of honesty from a UN-sponsored investigation, because they already know what they are supposed to ‘find’.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for the link, that’s a good piece by Bartlett. She is a great journalist and has a lot of guts. Literally, to be able to go the front lines like she does, and also to view charred bodies without barfing.

      Like

    • F17 says:

      The bits of a HIMARS rocket allegedly found at the scene would be quite deniable (because they could have been planted afterwards) – EXCEPT for the pieces of shrapnel removed from the injured patients by doctors. Those pieces could be fitted into the jigsaw puzzle of pieces they already found, thus proving the entire rocket was there, and that it was the explosion of that rocket that injured them and killed the others. And since you can’t launch those rockets from just any old tube, and only Ukrainians have the launcher, and U.S. pre-approves every use (by admission of a top Ukrainian) or actually loads and enters the target coordinates and fires the rockets themselves, case closed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mark Chapman says:

        That’s an excellent point, and I hope the doctors saved a couple of autopsies for after the UN team’s arrival. Otherwise the ideologues will just say, you took those fragments from somewhere else and we have only your word that they were removed from bodies here.

        Like

      • yalensis says:

        Yes, great point! The surviving Azov eyewitnesses interviewed after the fact (for example, in Shariy’s video) spoke about 3 rounds of injuries. Round #1 was people who incincerated immediately or were seriously injured by the explosion itself. The second set were hit by flying shrapnel (maybe from the rocket). A couple of seconds later there was a third round, injured by pieces of flying metal, from the frames of the bunk beds and other furniture. A competent pathologist should be able to put it all together and create a timeline and a scenario.

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