Ukraine Live Day 265: Tensions High After Heaviest Fighting In Weeks

November 9, 2014
AP reporters spotted these vehicles, part of an 80-vehicle convoy, in rebel-held eastern Ukraine | AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov

Yesterday’s live coverage can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Bomb Goes Off in Kharkiv Rock Club, Injuring 11

A bomb went off in a crowded night club in Kharkiv, wounding 11, Mediaport, Unian and other Ukrainian media report.


At the rock club, which is named Stena, or Wall, a collection was being taken up for the Azov Battalion and other Ukrainian soldiers as well as displaced persons.

The bar is located at 13 Rymarkskaya Street in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, which has seen some mass unrest and violence but nothing like the cities of the southeast.

Mikhail Ozerov, manager of the club, told journalists he believes the bomb was a “terrorist act” due to the collection for Azov.

He said the bomb went off at about 22:00 local time near the bar on the patrons’ side.

We have been collecting a lot and continue to collect money for refugees, for military, for orphans, we collect assistance. Someone is bothered by this and somebody has views about whom we are helping, a fact remains a fact. I believe this is a terrorist act. The investigation will show more. But this establishment had no business rivals.

(Translation by The Interpreter).

All the injured were taken to local hospitals, and at least two were listed in critical condition.

Broken glass was scattered throughout the area and damaged some cars.

Igor Baluta, head of the regional state administration, came to the scene of the incident.



Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Further on the Shelling of School No. 63 in Donetsk

Since we covered the shooting of Donetsk School No. 63, in which 2 children were killed and 4 were wounded, there have been a number of bloggers or officials who have come forward with other assessments (see Missile That Killed Two Teens May Not Have Come from Ukrainian Forces).

New evidence has been supplied by two videos that covered more of the soccer fields school, and showed the staircase between the two soccer fields that was also struck by a shell. This damage was not shown by any of the Russian state TV broadcasts or Russian-backed separatist YouTube channels on the day of the tragedy.

This video was uploaded to YouTube by blogger Anatoly Shariy on November 5:

At 1:53 there is a statement by one of the victims on the soccer field. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

somehow got up, the guys ran out, there was no time, they ran to the DK
[recreation center]. Then I…it hit me the first time and we started
running toward the DK. We ran and ran and then boom! we started
down, in order to lay down, and I was worried whether there was
shrapnel. I started falling, my arm, I suddenly couldn’t feel my arm. I
ran up to the DK and began to realize my leg was hurting, I didn’t
understand what was happening. I look and I see blood. So I began asking
people to call an ambulance.

see they were also frightened and didn’t know what to do, they began
calling an ambulance, and calling the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic]
people. I asked for first aid, they wrapped it [my arm] up a bit. There
was a lot of shrapnel, it landed but good, it bled a lot. Then they
brought in next to me an 11-year-old boy, Kirill, seriously wounded in
the arm, nearly ripped off, then Vitalik, it had hit him in the groin.
Then the guys came in and said there on the field, another two were
killed. So…so…had I been a little bit more to the right, it would
have killed me right away,
instantly. You could say that I was spared, that I began running when I
saw all that. Uh-huh. Then the guys came into the DK who hadn’t managed
to get caught on the field. You could hear them. It was something
powerful, I don’t even know what.

This next video was uploaded to YouTube by Oplot.TV on November 6. Oplot is the name of a separatist fighter’s unit which is the one commanded by Aleksandr Zakharchekno, now elected as prime minister in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Our report and later the new evidence prompted a number of responses:

1). One Twitter user @SeaninDK has reasoned that both the rocket that hit the soccer field and the rocket that hit the stairwell were fired from the north from the positions of the Ukrainian forces at Avdeyevka, a suburb north of the Donetsk Airport. His map is contained here with photos, a Google map, and his reasoning.

2). Another Twitter user @Conflict_Report has looked at the trajectory marked by @djp3tros of Ukraine@War and decided that the trajectory should be marked further northeast than east.

3). Meanwhile, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission went to the site and spent an hour examining it
before shelling forced them to leave.They concluded the firing was
coming from the northwest, from Peski, another position of the Ukrainian
Forces. Here is the relevant section of their report:

All craters seen by the SMM were about one metre in
diameter and the depths varied. The SMM’s analysis indicates that at
least four of the craters were caused by 120mm mortar shells and two
others were the result of 122mm artillery rounds. In the SMM’s
assessment, all of these were fired from a location north-west of the
football pitch and were the result of high-angle fire.

4). Roman Gnatyuk, a reporter for also visited the site, and
said he believed the rockets to have come from Peski in the northwest,
and was cut off while debating this with a Ukrainian foreign ministry official as we reported earlier.

5). The video blogger Anatoly Shaliy, who frequently takes positions unfavorable to Ukraine, although he is also occasionally
critical of the Russian separatists, uploaded another video November 6
that claimed that a Ukrainian tank crew, on the move and firing at the
separatists at the airport, may be responsible for the strikes against
School 63, because the same ammunition was used and the range of the
artillery was such that it might have conceivably hit the school and
environs. He uses a TSN story on the tank gunners as evidence.

6). Also there’s a Reddit forum discussion on the shelling of School No. 63.

7). Some Facebook members have
suggested examining all the sites shelled that day, some of which were
by the school, to see if a further pattern could be detected.

So @djp3tros took a look at some of this material and made an update to his previous post, assessed the staircase damage and added a second post mapping out some possible correctives, and questioned the OSCE report. He still concluded nevertheless that the range was from the east to northeast, within the positions of the separatists, but not as far as Avdeyevka or the airport itself in the north. He ruled out Peski in the northwest.


He was also concerned that shelling with two kinds of ammunition, landing so close together around the same time, and coming from different directions, could indicate a coordinated and targeted shelling. And he was worried that the presentation of the second shell damage by the stairwell, which hadn’t been shown on the first day, could mean that it was staged, especially after Ukrainian TV and the Foreign Ministry broadcast his findings and Russia sought a way to counter them.

There is also the factor that the school was the alma mater and beneficiary of the Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who has reportedly made payments to the separatists to keep them from destroying his coal mines but has also tacitly supported the Kiev government.

Some comments:

– We have no way of determining whether there was a deliberate targeting of the school, nor are there even agreed-upon criteria for what would constitute proof of such a deliberate targeting. Either side in the war could fire multiple weapons from the same location, and one side could immediately respond to the other side’s fire and the retaliatory shot might land near the same place, putting civilians in the crossfire. Both the Kuybyshev and Kievsky Districts have been stuck multiple times by both sides in the conflict, and some buildings repeatedly over the last few months of the shelling of Donetsk.

— We can’t make any determination that evidence is staged without visiting the site, and even those who do examine damage on the ground would likely be hesitant to make such a pronouncement. It is always possible that the first camera crews to get to the scene simply didn’t notice damage to a stairwell below the field where the teens were killed.

– The rocket that exploded causing shrapnel to strike the children entered the soccer field at a distinct angle slanting across the northwest corner of the field, with the entrance outside the fence and moving under the field. The damage to the northern fence, and now the damage visible on the western fence from a new video, along with the survivors’ testimonies, tend to indicate that the missile is likely from the east or northeast, but not from the northwest. However, further investigation is needed.


– If there is assumption of rockets from the north, there isn’t an explanation of the angle of the rockets’ path as it made damage. And @SeanDK in fact doesn’t attempt to explain his reasoning for the mapping of the first rocket, which evidently landed by the staircase, or perhaps further down by no. 12 Stepanenko (which is closer to Mirogorodskaya).

– The OSCE mission has not supplied any pictures or maps to explain its theory of a northwest direction. The mission is not mandated to perform investigations, and can only make observations of what they find on site. OSCE does not often comment on the direction of shelling or the parties responsible, although in a few cases, they have.

– Roman Gnatyuk also did not supply any additional evidence to back up his claim.

– The theory of the moving tank needs further investigation to determine where the tanks might have been moving and at what times they were shooting, and what roads they travelled and what direction they claim they were shooting in.

A word of caution on any geolocation effort: a variety of information is needed to make a determination, including examination of structural damage, shells and shrapnel on site, interview of eyewitnesses and survivors, knowledge of previously-existing battle positions of combatants, and mapping of the possible trajectories on the terrain.

When we post information on these efforts, by definition it cannot be definitive because we haven’t visited the site. The purpose is to report evidence found, challenge those who make immediate pronouncements without evidence, and encourage further investigation.

We are in an environment where Russia and the Russian-backed separatists immediately blamed Ukrainian forces before presenting any evidence at all, and also opened up a provocative case of “genocide” against Ukraine over the school shelling. Furthermore, Donetsk is under control of the separatists, who continued to be supplied by Russian convoys, making any independent assessment difficult.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

John Kerry Says US Will Share Info With Russia About Situation On Ukraine’s Border

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that the U.S. will be sharing some information about the situation on the Ukraine-Russia border with Moscow. CNBC reports:

“Suffice it to say that we do have some disagreements about some of the facts on the ground with respect to Ukraine. We have agreed to exchange some information between us regarding that. We have also agreed this is a dialogue between us that will continue,” Kerry told reporters in Beijing…

“The choices Russia makes will decide what happens with respect to sanctions in the long run here,” Kerry said, adding he hoped a ceasefire agreement in Ukraine would remain viable.

CNBC also reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed claims that more Russian tanks have crossed into Ukraine. Lavrov made a mention of the fact that the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, Jen Psaki, said at her press conference on Friday that she had no information about this claim:

“Even (spokeswoman) Jen Psaki said that the State Department doesn’t have the information about this,” [Lavrov] said. “Well, if Psaki doesn’t have it, I don’t.”

“The ceasefire has been signed between the rebels and the government” in Kiev, Lavrov said. “It’s for them to finalise the disengagement line which they are doing right now.”

Ukraine Warns That Russia Could Be Prepping ‘Peacekeeping’ Mission
In the lead up to yesterday’s heavy fighting and troops movement, the Ukrainian government had been warning of increased activity by the Russian military and Russian-backed fighters on both sides of the border. Today the National Security and Defense Council is warning that the Russian military could be preparing a “peacekeeping” mission as a result of the escalating violence.
As we reported, this is a reference to the fact that OSCE observers saw 9 tanks, 30 trucks and tankers, and 19 howitzer artillery systems on the move in the greater vicinity of Donetsk. AP reporters also said that they saw more than 80 vehicles on the move in a single convoy yesterday. The fact that the OSCE numbers and the AP’s numbers do not correspond could indicate that they witnessed different convoys, meaning that the number of troops, trucks, howitzers and tanks on the move could be higher than these reports indicate.
James Miller
Yesterday Was The Heaviest Fighting In Weeks
This tweet says it all:

It’s not just shelling. All across the territory held by Russian-backed insurgents there has been a surge in the movement of heavy military equipment. Yesterday we reported that this was witnessed by journalists, but it was also witnessed by OSCE observers. The BBC reports:

A lull in the fighting [yesterday’s heavy shelling], but shelling later resumed that was less intense. No casualties have been reported so far.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said its observers had seen a column of vehicles and heavy guns in rebel-held areas around Donetsk.

“More than 40 trucks and tankers” were seen on a road east of Makiivka, the monitors said , adding that 19 were large vehicles towing howitzer artillery systems and “containing personnel with dark green uniforms without insignia”.

Nine tanks were also seen south-west of the centre of Donetsk.

Later OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said  he was “very concerned about a resurgence of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine”.

The BBC report does have one curiosity. They reported that “The shelling in Donetsk started four days ago, just after elections in rebel areas, but the round which took place overnight into Sunday was extremely heavy.” Four days ago? The shelling in Donetsk began long before the ceasefire was signed at the end of August and it has never stopped. However, the report is accurate in the sense that the volume and intensity of the shelling was steadily growing in the lead up to yesterday’s events.

James Miller