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Despite Denials, All Evidence For Deadly Explosion Points To Kyiv

Firefighters arrive at the state administration building after the explosion in Luhansk on June 2.
Firefighters arrive at the state administration building after the explosion in Luhansk on June 2.
On June 2 an explosion ripped through the Luhansk state administration building.

Before anyone knew what had happened, graphic video from the scene began to appear online. A dazed woman with her legs blown off and seemingly near death stared blankly into a camera amid rubble and lifeless bodies.

Just as soon, rumors began to spread about what had taken place.

As is happening more and more frequently, both the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides were quick to latch onto stories that fit comfortably into their narrative of events on the ground.

Separatist supporters reported almost immediately that the attack came from a Ukrainian fighter jet.

From Ukrainian officials, the denials were swift. "The most likely cause of the explosion was careless and inept handling of small arms and explosives," Oleksandr Dmytrashevskyy, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Andriy Senchenko, deputy chief of staff for acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, declared that a heat-seeking missile fired by pro-Russian separatists had mistakenly targeted an air-conditioning unit on the fourth floor of the administration building.

Video from the scene showed a blown-out fourth-floor window with billowing smoke:
Luhansk Explosion Leaves Casualties, Damage
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Pro-Ukrainian supporters were quick to run with the story:

Despite the Ukrainian denials, the evidence from observers and journalists on the ground overwhelmingly points to a strike from a Ukrainian aircraft.

A June 3 report from the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said:
"Based on the SMM's limited observation these strikes were the result of non-guided rockets shot from an aircraft. The number of casualties is unknown."

The OSCE did not immediately reply to a request for further information.

A CNN investigation found "clear evidence" that the detonations came from the air:
"But a CNN investigation in Luhansk has found clear evidence that whatever detonations hit the building and the adjoining park came from the air. The tops of trees were splintered, and a series of small craters -- about a dozen -- had been blasted in a straight line, starting in the park and reaching the walls of the building, blowing out many of its windows and spraying the area with jagged shrapnel. That's what appears to have killed most of the victims and injured 20 more.

"The pattern of the craters clearly indicated some sort of strafing, according to a munitions expert at the scene with CNN. Their size suggested 30-millimeter ordnance, he said, which is standard equipment on the Su-25, a ground-attack fighter, and the Su-27 -- both combat aircraft operated by Ukraine."

Anna Nemtsova, a reporter for the "Daily Beast," tweeted this from the scene on June 3:

In a dispatch from the scene, Nemtsova also reported seeing 21 craters.

The Ukrainian military -- which has been in a pitched battle for two days against separatists who launched an attack on a border outpost in the region -- has used fighter jets to support its mission in Luhansk.

But it still has not claimed responsibility for the attack on the state administration building, where reports say eight unarmed civilians died.

And the dissembling has become a useful propaganda tool for the Russian side, while apparently hardening public opinion in Luhansk.

A photo making the rounds on Twitter, along with horrific images from the scene, shows the second World Trade Center building being hit on 9/11. The caption says, "air conditioner explosion."

Alex Luhn, a "Guardian" reporter, posted this image of Ukraine's president-elect, who met with U.S. President Obama on June 4 and is due to be sworn in on June 7:

And on a nationally televised Russian talk show hosted by Arkady Mamontov -- a well-known host who has provided a steady stream of sensationalist propaganda about Ukraine -- commentators said the actions proved the separatists were the last defense against "fascism and American aggression."

All this raises a more troubling question for Kyiv. As it ramps up its offensive against pro-Russian separatists, there are likely to be more civilian casualties -- particularly as air power plays a greater role. If it accepts this, is it also prepared to talk honestly about the consequences of war?

-- Glenn Kates