Ukraine Live Day 335: The Battle for Donetsk

January 18, 2015
Ukrainian soldier takes down a Russian flag in Donetsk. Screen grab from VTU TV January 18, 2014

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Russia Says Ukraine Rejected Peace Plan, Should Withdraw Heavy Weapons

In August, Russian military units invaded Ukraine. In order to halt their advances, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a ceasefire deal which should have halted the fighting. But Russian-supplied tanks, artillery, soldiers and rockets continued to press the attack in some areas.

In the last week, Russian weaponry and fighters have relentlessly battered Donetsk Airport, defended by a small group of Ukrainian soldiers, nicknamed “Cyborgs,” who has somehow managed to survive the brutal attacks despite nearly being overrun multiple times. Today, Ukraine has finally launched a counter-attack which has brought some relief to the Cyborgs, and now Moscow is accusing Ukraine of rejecting a Russian “peace plan” and is urging it to withdraw heavy weaponry from the front lines.

Reuters reports that according to Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko rejected a peace plan put forth by Putin last week:

“In recent days, Russia has consistently undertaken efforts as an intermediary in regulating the conflict,” Peskov said in comments quoted by the ITAR TASS news agency.

The Twitter account for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation just tweeted these messaged from the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik.

In the last link, Moscow tried to blame Ukraine for a Grad rocket attack against a Ukrainian security checkpoint which resulted in 13 civilian deaths:

Moscow is alarmed by Kiev’s attempts to shift the blame for the bus tragedy in southeast Ukraine on the local militia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

“It is outrageous that Kiev and its US patrons are attempting to place the blame for the tragedy in the town of Volnovakha on the militia, without awaiting a trial or investigation,” the foreign ministry’s statement reads.

According to the statement posted on the ministry’s website, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Commission (SMM) investigation report released earlier on Saturday refutes Ukraine’s allegations.

Confusingly, however, the OSCE’s actual assessment matches a preliminary investigation of available information conducted by The Interpreter which concludes that the rockets responsible for the attack came from the north-north-east — territory controlled by the Russian-backed rebels:

The SMM concluded its third fact-finding patrol to government-controlled Volnovakha (35km south-west of Donetsk), where 12 civilian passengers of a bus had been killed and 17 injured on 13 January (see SMM Spot Report 14 January and SMM Daily Report 14 January). The SMM conducted a comprehensive inspection, focusing on five craters caused by explosions that had occurred during the incident. The investigation included comprehensive crater analysis of two specific blast craters, including the crater located 10 metres from the side of the passenger bus. In the SMM’s assessment all craters examined were caused by rockets fired from a north-north-eastern direction.

As you can see from the picture below, this corresponds to our initial investigation, which can be read here.

In other words, now that Ukraine has finally responded to months of ceasefire violations on the part of the Russian-backed fighters, Russia now has a sudden urge to implement a peace plan, and will point fingers at Ukraine for any civilians deaths caused during this fight, even those who were obviously killed by Russia’s own weapons.

James Miller

Intense Shelling, And Uncertainty, In Donetsk As Ukraine Launches Counter-Attack

In the last 24 hours there appears to have been a significant Ukrainian counter-attack in Donetsk, and it appears to have taken some of the pressure off of the defenders at the airport. As we’ve been reporting today, it appears that Ukrainian forces have made some advances, and the commander of the Russian-backed militants who are attacking the airport, Motorola, was nearly killed by his own forces and is expressing frustration over the fighting.

The situation remains unclear, but what is clear is that there has been heavy shelling in Donetsk today and it now appears that the situation there may not be resolved any time soon.

The latest report on the situation in Donetsk from Ukraine’s ATO Facebook page says “the situation in the area ATO has not undergone significant changes and remains difficult.”

Journalist Oliver Carroll has been in Donetsk reporting on the latest developments. His latest:

Carroll also wrote a longer post on Facebook last night explaining several aspects of this fight, including the symbolic importance of the airport. What is interesting is that he also talks about how the fight in Donetsk is effecting other cities across the country, some of which have seen an uptick in terror attacks. His note, written last night, was prophetic, it seems, since there have been new “disruptions” today:

Ukraine, on the other hand, can’t afford to let any of the demarcation lines slip, because any hint of weakness will be picked up elsewhere. Although the grim humanitarian situation in DNR and LNR acts as a strong counter-example to middle class in Kharkiv, Zaporizhe, Odessa etc, the same is probably not true for big business and political lobbies in these cities. The Party formerly known as the Party of Regions polled well in all of these regions — at a time that many of its natural supporters were demoralised.

In December, [Pavel Gubarev, the self-declared “People’s Governor of the Donetsk People’s Republic” – The Interpreter] told me they have people working on disrupting the situation in all these cities. I was reminded of that conversation today.

Read the entire note here.

James Miller
Ukrainians Demonstrate for Peace Amidst War

The Ukrainian “Cyborgs,” as the soldiers defending the Donetsk Airport are known, continue a desperate fight surrounded by Russian-backed forces, including contractors from Chechnya and other Russian regions.

Russian tanks have been spotted in the streets of Donetsk today, as they have been many times over the last weeks.

Translation: This is Donetsk. This is a city “in which there are no Russian soldiers.”

A number of explosions have gone off today in Ukrainian towns, as saboteurs from the Russian-backed forces plant bombs in various public places, often the offices where volunteers gather aid for the Ukrainian army.

Even in the midst of war, and as President Petro Poroshenko has given orders to his army to fire on the DNR positions this morning, Ukrainians are marching for peace. They had planned these marches to honor the 13 civilians killed in a Grad rocket attack that struck near a commuter bus at the Volnovakha checkpoint on January 13, an attack believed to have been committed by DNR forces in nearby Dokuchayevsk.

Politicians have joined the march; here Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kiev, and his brother Wladimir are shown with marchers. The Klitschkos are famous world boxing champions.

Translation: The Klitschko brothers have come to Mikhailovskaya.

Translation: March for Peace. Odessa.

Translation: Thousands of people are on their knees in order to pay respects to the memory of all the victims of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

There have also been some counter-demonstrations:

Translation: Slavyansk right now: the communists have come without “I am Volnovakha,” they have other values.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Motorola Berates DNR Forces for ‘Friendly Fire’ in Radio Intercept
In this intercept evidently made by Ukrainian forces and uploaded to YouTube yesterday January 17, Russian-backed
commander Motorola is complaining in very colorful terms about his
fellow fighters from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” who
are firing on their own men.

He says he can’t tell whether the forces firing on him from near a church and cemetery are from the DNR or the Ukrainians, and he is shouting at his men to take aim better.

“There are some kind of pederasts firing right at us!” he shouts. 

There are two cemeteries by the airport, one directly across from it:


Earlier, @tombreadley reported a message indicating that the
reinforcements that have come to back up the DNR at the airport are new

Translation: The idiot who nearly shot Motorola is saying that Motorola is still alive.

The phone message from Gleb Kornilov attached to this tweet at is translated as follows:

I just talked to Motorola. It’s awful at the
airport. The Ukrainians are hitting with everything they got and
throwing infrantry and armor into a storm. Motorola and his fighters are
there. They are holding the defense. In Sparta, there is a huge
reinforcement, but the new recruits have come practically “naked.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Is Motorola Alive?

Rumors are flying about the reported killing of “Motorola,” the nick-name of Arseny Pavlov, commander of the Russian-backed Sparta Battalion attacking the Donetsk Airport. Yet some reports say he is still alive.

Pavlov is a Russian from Russia, and came to lead one of the main battalions of the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”

Translation: In order to gladden you triply, I will write once again: Motorola has croaked, our 93rd brigade has finished him off : ) DAP fighters personally confirmed this to me.

The fighter is using a slang word common to a number of languages in the Eurasia region, kirdik, which means “dead” or “finished.”

Translation: is this Motorola?

Translation: Radio intercept at 21:00 17.01.2015.

The Azov Battalion had this notice on their page on the Russian social media service VKontakte (translated by The Interpreter)

There’s this information.

Senior lieutenant from the Odessa Airborne Troops

Motorola is 200 [dead], they have already found the body outside the airport. I hope it’s him. It’s dark there. A guy transmitted this info from Karlovka. He’s an officer of the VDV [Russian Airborne Troops], I hope it’s true.

The idiot who was nearly shot by Motorola says that Motorola is alive.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Poroshenko Gives Order to Fire on Russian-Backed Separatist Positions

President Petro Poroshenko has given the order to Ukrainian forces to storm the positions of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR), presidential advisor Yury Biryukov has reported on his Facebook page. The Interpreter has translated the text:

Good morning, country. At 8:01, we already can say now that two
hours ago, the whole group of our forces in Sector B has received the
order to open massive fire on the known positions of the seps
[Russian-backed separatist forces–The Interpreter].

We were keeping to the ceasefire, yes? We showed that we were
interested in a peaceful settlement, yes? So now today we will show JUST
HOW MUCH we know how to punch them in the teeth.

Did you think that #everythingisf**kedallover? Did you think #wearedumped?

Stay tuned, I will keep you informed once an hour.

Update: information on the cowardice of fighters in the
volunteer battalion under the Interior Minister has been REMOVED. Now it
is a question of official investigation.

His reference is to a battalion that reportedly refused to go to the airport to pick up the wounded men because it was too dangerous — an incident that was gleefully picked up by DNR press. The wounded were evacuated in any event.

UTV has uploaded a video (below) showing a Ukrainian fighter describing his forces are having a hard time firing on DNR positions because they have put their tanks in the yards of schools and apartment complexes and the Ukrainians want to avoid firing on civilians.

Another group of fighters describe how they have taken over a DNR position “about 1.5 kilometers” from the Ukrainian position and have taken down the Russian flag from a slag heap on the outskirts of Donetsk.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick