Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict 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.
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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?
— James Miller
The following is a video posted by the Russian news agency LifeNews, which has extremely close ties to the Russian security apparatus, and the Russian-backed separatists. The video takes us deep inside today’s battle for the Donetsk International Airport. It, and a video we posted earlier also filmed by LifeNews, are must-watch footage.
The claim made in the video: that the anti-Ukrainian forces now control the new terminal.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what we see:
The first few frames of the video appear to show the militants firing from a high position, perhaps from the 4th floor of the new terminal.
At 30 seconds in we may be seeing the fight for the second floor.
At 47 seconds in we see that the video is looking up at the old terminal. We believe that this is filmed from the underground parking garage, which may now be in control of the Russian-backed fighters.
At 2:04 we see a tank and a man with an RPG firing at the far side of the terminal. It’s interesting that the soldier with the RPG is so exposed, perhaps suggesting that at various points in the fight the Ukrainian military ‘Cyborgs’ are completely suppressed and cannot fire out of the terminal.
The takeaway: at least during parts of the day, the Russian-backed militants had control over large parts of the airport and were moving around with near impunity. This is the second time in three days that parts of the new terminal have been taken over by the militants.
In our previous entry we noted the report of a ‘Cyborg’ counter-attack. This video and that claim are not mutually exclusive, since the entire LifeNews video appears to have been shot early in the day while the sun is high.
Meanwhile, the positions Ukraine has used to defend the airport in Peski and Avdeyevka have been absolutely hammered, reducing the towns to rubble and potentially limiting the Ukrainian military’s ability to directly support the Cyborgs.
It’s not clear who controls which parts of Donetsk Airport, and things appear to be very quiet there for more than an hour. One thing is clear: Donetsk International Airport has come close to falling into the hands of Russian-backed fighters twice this week, and it’s clear that the anti-Ukrainian forces are expanding their fight both here and elsewhere.The Cyborgs have lasted this long, but they have perhaps never been in a tougher spot than they are right now, and as far as we are aware the Ukrainian military shows no signs of launching a major offensive against Donetsk any time soon.
— James Miller
All day there has been speculation about whether or not the Donetsk Airport has been captured by Russian-backed separatists.
The Cyborgs have moved to counterattack and defended the Donetsk Airport, Ukrainian journalist Yury Butusov says on his Facebook, according to a report from 62.ua. Here is his report as of 17:40 today (translated by The Interpreter):
Counter-attack of the “Cyborgs” in the new terminal! In light of the threatening situation and the surge of the enemy to the second floor of the new terminal this morning, a fresh sub-division of paratroopers came to their aid today at the airport. According to Censor.net, an hour ago the Ukrainian units at the new terminal had mounted a counter-attack on the second floor of the terminal in order to repel the storm groups of the Russian Sparta brigade. In a fierce, close battle, the enemy was forced out of most of the spaces on the second floor which has a key tactical significance for holding the building.
Fierce, close battle with the major forces of the enemy’s infantry today continued all day long and continues even these minutes. Several times it came to hand-to-hand combat — the enemy was 3-5 meters away. This is a real Stalingrad in the 21st century.
Control over the terminal is in our hands. The enemy has placed the DNR flags on the edge of the building and maintains positions in the basement of the new terminal and on the third floor. The placement of the flags is the only “success” of the enemy for the whole day. The latest 156th “seizure of the airport” by “Motorola” ended like all the previous storms. The Russian detachments suffered large losses. The new terminal is under our control, our forces do not intend to retreat from the terminal.
The Russian forces are conducting artillery fire along the whole front in the area of the airport, and are trying to crush the Ukrainian artillery, to disrupt the deployment of reserves and the supply to help the defenders of the airport. All Ukrainian villages along the line of contact are being subjected to massive strikes.
This confirms details we reported earlier that the Russian-backed Sparta Battalion had taken over part of the new terminal.
Meanwhile, on the live video feed facing the airport, large flashes can be seen hitting the western parts of the airport. This indicates that the Russian-backed anti-Ukrainian forces are continuing to shell those positions, a strong indication that they are not in control of the airport.
— James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The video was uploaded to Youtube at 16:37 GMT today (18:37 local time). There’s no evidence that it was uploaded to Youtube previously, though we cannot confirm the location due to lack of daylight.
This was uploaded earlier today. It is a video of a Ukrainian soldier who says several civilians have been killed and others wounded after shelling in the town. At one point, a civilian (possibly deceased) is loaded onto an ambulance.
The soldier says that separatists have also laid 6 or 7 mines in a civilian area (though, he may mean that the city has been shelled 6 or 7 times, the language is not clear).
The video shows extensive damage to civilian buildings. It is somewhat graphic.
This is a good reminder that the battle is so much larger than Donetsk, though significant explosions have been heard in the last few minutes in northwest Donetsk.
— James Miller
In recent weeks we’ve seen the Russian-backed anti-Ukrainian forces supplied with several weapons we’ve not seen before, including the BPM-97 fighting vehicle which is only used by Russian border guards, and the GAZ Vodnik armored vehicle.
However, there is a growing list of military equipment used by the Russian-backed fighters which could not have been supplied by anyone else than the Russian military.
— James Miller
In our previous update we noted claims from LifeNews that the Russian-backed fighters have taken large parts of the new terminal and have completely secured the old terminal. It’s possible that the claims are old, since two days ago the Russian-backed fighters did secure parts of the new terminal but were pushed back. However, we’ve seen no evidence that the video is old.
In the previous update we also noted a statement form the Ukrainian ATO confirming that their positions are under heavy attack. Journalist Oliver Carroll has been collecting statements from both sides. One Ukrainian commander is far more confident than the ATO statement suggests, while even the Deputy Prime Minister of the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ admits that the battle is far from over:
Watching the live video from Donetsk it’s perfectly clear that fighting continues.
— James Miller
It is a screenshot from a video from LifeNews, a Russian news agency with very close ties to the Kremlin security apparatus.The picture shows the old terminal, but it appears to have been taken from the new terminal.
In the video, Semyon Pegov, the live reporter from Donetsk Airport, says that the old terminal is totally in control of the insurgents, the DNR flag has been raised over the old terminal, and a flag will be raised on the new terminal as soon as the rubble can be cleared.At 0:17 you can see the flag raised on the new terminal, but its said that they will raise it higher when time allows.
This is the key: he is reporting from the fourth floor of the new terminal, and it’s filled with Russian-backed separatists, specifically fighters from Motorola’s “Sparta” Battalion. In the video it becomes clear that separatist forces are on the 4th and 1st floors, Ukrainian snipers are on the 3rd floor, though that floor is contested, and Ukraine controls the 2nd floor as well. The Russian-backed militants are trying to capture the stairwells, and from there secure the entire building.
It’s also clear, however, that the fight is not over. He says that the bodies of dozens of Ukrainian soldiers are still under the rubble, (an exact count cannot be made during the battle) and artillery fire still continues. Pegov says that the Ukrainian army remains and is actively shelling the former parking lot area. Gunfire can be heard throughout the video.
Listening to the live feed from Donetsk (see below) the airport is under intense attack today. It’s not clear that the battle is close to over, but it is increasingly clear that multiple waves of attacks over the last several days have dislodged a significant amount of Ukrainian defenders, and the Ukrainian military may be in danger of losing the entire airport.
While we cannot confirm LifeNews’ specific claims, Ukraine’s ATO (Anti-Terrorism Operation) Headquarters has put out a statement (translated by The Interpreter):
“The bandits have come right up to our positions, a battle is under way. Meanwhile, at any moment, representatives of the OSCE mission are supposed to come to the airport.
It is anticipated that the terrorists will begin shelling the international mission at any time from the side of the new terminal, so as to accuse the Ukrainian side of that crime.
A constant rumble of explosions has been audible for many minutes in the Ruptly live feed from a camera facing Donetsk Airport. It is hard to determine whether the explosions are incoming our outgoing, but it sounds as if there could be both at the moment. There is also the sound of gunfire.
Some of the explosions are deep and loud, like Grad rockets or artillery exploding, but some of them are more shallow, indicating possible tank or mortar fire. Either way, the entire northwest part of the city is being rocked by the sounds of war right now.
Right now there is the sound of Grads being launched, likely rockets fired by the Russian-backed militants.
A thick plume of smoke can now be seen rising from the Ukrainian-held new terminal at Donetsk Airport. Heavy thuds and small arms fire can be heard.
Here is a useful guide to what is visible on the Ruptly feed:
Reports on Twitter suggest that the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka, to the north of Donetsk Airport, is under heavy bombardment today. Ukrainian forces appear to be returning fire.
Translation: #Avdeyevka the shelling continues for the third day now, it’s not been like this before, Grads flying in and out several times an hour. We haven’t enough strength to hold out!
Translation: #Avdeyevka loud and heavy. Incoming.
Translation: #Avdeyevka the coke and chemical plant shelled again, two wounded at the central guardhouse.
Translation: #Avdeyevka a woman has died on the way to the hospital
— Pierre Vaux
Regular shelling can be heard right now on the Ruptly live feed from Donetsk.
The separatist-controlled Donetsk City Administration announced at 9 am (7:00 GMT) that one person had been killed and five wounded during the shelling, which struck residential areas of the Kuybyshevsky and Kievsky districts.
The administration named three address struck by shells: 49 Velozavodskaya Street, 22a Yershova Street and 89 Kurchatova Street.
Here are those locations marked out on a map, note the proximity to the airport and the railway:
The area around the most westerly of these strikes, Oktyabrsky and Vesyoloye, was heavily shelled on the night of January 12-13, resulting in civilian casualties.
The aftermath was documented by photographer Igor Ivanov:
— Pierre Vaux