Ukraine Live Day 336: Ukrainian Military Claims Airport Under Control

January 19, 2015
Putilovsky bridge in Donetsk. Photo: TASS

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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Ukrainian Forces Take Control of Pisky

The district of Pisky (Peski in Russian) northwest of the Donetsk Airport is under full control of Ukraine again after Ukrainian forces launched a counterattack to defend the airport and environs yesterday.

(Photos by @unaPhotographer [Tom Daams] from Pisky in the last week can be seen here.)

Dowse posted a photo from Pisky on Instagram:


Translation: Peski is controlled by Ukrainian forces. Volunteers are evacuating the civilians.

Novosti Donbassa reported that six injured people have been brought out of Pisky, and six more from the neighboring village of Tonenkoye.

Earlier, the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) had claimed control of the area, although the pro-Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda war correspondent now concedes the Ukrainian control:

Translation: They’re asking about Peski…Well, for now, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have it.

Borislav Bereza, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, reported the following on his Facebook page. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:


here’s how it was. There really was a tank strike on Pisky. Our forces
repelled an attack by the rashisty [Russians]. In reply to this, the
separs [Russian-backed separatists] banged away with all their weapons
on Pisky. But! No one surrendered Pisky nor has any intention of
surrendering Pisky.

Regarding Donetsk. Everything is all complicated.
The unified forces of the Russian Airborne Troops are not clearing
Donetsk, they have just…lost their way. At this time, they are
orienting themselves to the locality. During the process of the
paratroopers’ orientation, a spontaneous self-clearing is underway of
Donetsk of the separatists’ forces. This information has been
received from sources at the scene of the events.

I will repeat
it for those who don’t understand. Ukraine does not intend to violate
the Minsk agreements. The separs are perishing on their own.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Lawyer Found Shot Dead In Kharkiv

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

The body of a lawyer has been found in the centre of Kharkiv with gunshot wounds.

This was reported on Monday evening by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency, citing a source in law enforcement.

“This was near 1, Pravdy avenue. A body was found. It appears to be a lawyer, Aleksandr Gruzkov,” said the agency’s source.

In addition, the source noted that the lawyer was not connected to a case that was heard on Monday in Kharkiv’s Moskovsky court, near the walls of which, an explosion occurred on Monday evening.


— Pierre Vaux

At Least 13 Reported Injured in Kharkiv Court House Bombing

At least 13 persons have been reported as injured now in a blast at the Kharkiv Moskovsky District Court House.

Earlier, we reported that the bombing may be related to the case of a Svoboda party member who was ordered arrested by a judge for carrying weapons into a voting booth in October 2014.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

DNR Launching Artillery From Civilian Areas; Amnesty Int’l Warns of Civilian Casualties
Ruptly’s live video feed from Donetsk is offline (RT says their cameras lost power due to the fighting, and while we can’t confirm this it is a plausible claim). RFE/RL has collected several tweets from Donetsk, however, the first is two hours old and the second is was sent about an hour and a half ago:

RFE/RL also reports that Amnesty International has warned about the increasing risk to civilians:

“The use of heavily populated areas for launching attacks by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Horlivka and the return of fire into these areas by pro-Kyiv forces is putting civilian lives in great danger,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“Pro-Russian separatist forces must stop using densely populated areas for launching military operations and Kyiv-controlled forces must not launch indiscriminate attacks which put civilian lives at risk. These are violations of the laws of war for which civilians are paying with their lives.”

The problem with this statement, however, is that it’s not clear whether Ukraine has more advanced weaponry to bring to bear against the Russian-backed fighters who are well supplied by their Kremlin arms masters. Ukraine has also repeatedly asked the United States and other nations for drones in order to better target their weapons, but these requests have not been honored.

While several incidents which have led to civilian casualties have not been properly examined, most of the civilians this week have been killed inside territory controlled by Ukraine, presumably by rockets fired by the Russian-backed militants. An OSCE investigation into the Volnovakha Bus Shelling, which left 13 dead, concluded that the Grad rockets originated from the north-north-east, which we explained is territory controlled by the Russian-backed militants.

The Russian-backed fighters have bragged about their strategy to employ human shields, a phenomenon recorded by Russian state TV reporters and documented by The Interpreter. Since these rockets, and the ones that have hit Ukraine’s military positions, are often located in civilian areas, this puts Ukraine in a precarious situation.

James Miller

Explosion at Kharkiv Court House; 6 Wounded

Yet another bomb has gone off in Kharkiv, this time at a court house, and six people have been wounded, local bloggers and media are reporting.

Translation: Kharkiv. Explosion at the Moscow Court, no killed, there are several seriously wounded.

Translation: at this moment, as witnesses are saying, there are no people killed in the explosion at the Moskovsky District Court. has reported that the explosion may be related to a case heard at the courthouse today.

Anton Gerashchenko, member of parliament and former Interior Ministry advisor, reported on his Facebook (translation by The Interpreter):

Half an hour ago in Kharkov, an explosion was heard at the Moscow District court building.

I emphasize that it is not inside the courthouse, but next to the court building.

Six people are wounded. A investigative group is working at the scene along with a brigade of medics.

From preliminary information, it is known that the explosion accured immediately after the conclusion of a court case regarding a member of the Svoboda Party whose last name is Sokolov.

He is charged with entering a voting precinct on October 26 with a weapon.

The judge ordered Sokolov’s arrest. His support gropu demanded that he be released from arrest, but the court did not make such a decision today.

His support group was at the hearing.

After the hearing, they entered the court building, and then the explosion was heard.

It is still too early to make any conclusions as to whether this is a terrorist act or one of the comrades of the accused came to the courthouse with a grenade.

There have been many similar incidents across Ukraine in the last week or so. Two days ago reporter Oliver Carroll recalled a conversation he had with Pavel Gubarev, the self-declared “People’s Governor of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” in which Gubarev said that the separatists may have provocateurs inside many Ukrainian cities: 

In December, Gubarev told me they have people working on disrupting the situation in all these cities. I was reminded of that conversation today.

Here are several tweets from December 6 when he interviewed Gubarev:

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Adviser to Ukraine’s President: Part of New Terminal of Donetsk Airport Collapsed, But There’s Good News

Yury Biryukov, adviser to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, reported the latest news from the Donetsk Airport an hour ago (translated by The Interpreter). He says that while part of Donetsk airport has collapsed, “impressive help” has arrived to the Ukrainian forces defending the airport against the separatists.

He also warns that Ukraine’s military is not as strong “in life” as it is “on paper”:

Bad news.

Part of the overhead support of the second floor of the new terminal has collapsed — it was blown up by the separatists. The pieces have fallen on the [Ukrainian] fighters among others. There are many wounded.

Good news.

Impressive help is already on the move. Hope has appeared.

The generals have made a lot of mistakes, but most of them are from banal planning “on paper” without taking realities into account. On paper, our BTR-70 rides well; on paper our battalions are fully formed; on paper we have no drunks or cowards.

But in life…In life, the commander of the battalion had to be seated next to the driver of an MTLB [armored transporter].

– it was the only option to force the driver to fulfill orders. But we have a catastrophic shortage of decisive commanders. And there’s also a big shortage of brave mechanics and drivers.

— Catherina A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller

Heavy Fighting Reported In Lugansk Region Over Last Few Days

UNIAN reports that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced that Russian-backed forces have continued attacks on Ukrainian positions despite the announcement of a ceasefire over the weekend.

The governor’s office said that during the afternoon yesterday, Russian-backed fighters carried out intense bombardments with artillery, mortars, Grad rockets and small arms.

Among the settlements struck were Tryokhizbenka, Schastye, Krymskoye, Toshkovka, Popasnaya, Stantisa Luganskaya, Valuyskoye and Gorskoye, where an 83-year-old woman was hospitalised with shrapnel wounds.

The governor’s office reported that fire-fights between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces were continuing today on the outskirts of Krymskoye.

Meanwhile today, the Ukrainian military published video footage of what they described as a tank battle near Schastye yesterday:

Here is a map of the locations mentioned:


— Pierre Vaux

Are Russian Naval Infantry From Murmansk Fighting In Donetsk?

Images culled from Russian state TV footage of the battle for Donetsk Airport have been circulating on Twitter today, coupled with the claim that they show soldiers of Russia’s Naval Infantry fighting inside airport:

The emblem seen in the video does indeed match that worn by members of the Naval Infantry, as seen here on the uniforms of soldiers from a reconnaissance unit of the 61st Marine Brigade, based in Murmansk.


While the use of military insignia and patches is not conclusive proof, given the (albeit perhaps unlikely) possibility that such uniforms came from surplus stores or donations, soldiers from the Northern Fleet in Murmansk have been linked to the conflict in Ukraine before.

Back at the beginning of September last year, as the Russian offensive, pushing Ukrainian forces back from much of the Lugansk area and crossing the border in the south near Novoazovsk, there were reports that the bodies of three soldiers killed in Ukraine has been brought back to their units in Pechenga, Murmansk.

The 7×7 website reported that sources had told them that soldiers from the 200th Motorised Infantry Brigade, also part of the Northern Fleet based in Murmansk (and in fact operating alongside the 61st Marine Brigade in the article linked above to the photo above), had been deployed on exercises in the Rostov region, on Ukraine’s border.

The Barents Observer noted:

The VKontakte group for relatives of soldiers in military unit 08275 brings no clear information on the situation. Many are complaining that they cannot come in contact with their sons and husbands – others say that this is normal, as it is difficult to make phone calls from the practice range. “Don’t create panic. The guys who were there have all returned safe and sound”, another one writes. 

Photos showing armoured vehicles marked with a polar bear driving the M4 highway outside Rostov was published on Twitter on August 12. Northern Fleet vehicles are usually marked with a polar bear, the unit’s emblem.

Here are the photos referred to:

Here is a photo of a BTR-80 of the 61st Regiment for comparison:


What this means is that units from the 61st Regiment and the 200th Brigade were indeed operating on Ukraine’s border and most likely operating inside Ukraine. Given that, it seems likely that the soldiers bearing the insignia of the Naval Infantry are indeed troops from Murmansk.

— Pierre Vaux

Russian-Backed Forces Have Been On The Attack For Months. Now Ukraine’s Fighting Back And Moscow Wants ‘Peace’

The violence in eastern Ukraine has been getting significantly worse for weeks, but Ukrainian forces have mostly been on the receiving end of attacks and have only launched a counter-offensive in the last two days. Now that Ukraine is fighting back, however, Russia is finally raising alarm about the violence and pointing fingers.

Here was our summary of Moscow’s hypocrisy, posted last night:

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…

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. 

We also pointed out that while Moscow is blaming Ukraine for an incident where a shell hit a bus, killing 13, the OSCE report actually points a finger at the Russian-backed separatists, confirming an investigation by The Interpreter:

Today Russia is heightening its rhetoric, warning that any attempt to settle this crisis through military force could lead to “irreversible consequences for Ukrainian statehood.” RFE/RL reports:

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin spoke to Interfax news agency on January 19 as Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of ignoring appeals for a cease-fire to be respected.

Ukraine’s army said some 700 Russian troops had crossed into the country in the morning of January 19 to support pro-Russian separatists.

UNIAN.Info adds that Russian-backed fighters have reportedly launched widespread attacks, not just against Donetsk:

Over the last day, Russian-backed militants have launched attacks using artillery and mortars on the settlements of Bohdanivka, Vuhlehirsk, Krasnohorivka, Kryakivka, Leninske, Mykolaivka, Novotoshkivka, Novgorod, Novotroitske, Oleksandrivske Orlovo-Ivanivka, Petrovske, Slovianoserbsk, Smile, Starohnativka, Tonenke, and Frunze. The most intense attacks were on Stanytsia Luhanska, Krymske and Troitske.

The Russian propaganda outlet RT echoes this hypocrisy, accusing  Ukraine of “unilaterally ending the ceasefire” in Donetsk. The report, entitled “‘Poroshenko has an olive branch and a gun,'” makes no mention of the constant shelling of Donetsk airport from Russian-backed fighters who have been using Russian weaponry to wage their attacks.

The video also shows now-famous drone footage of Donetsk Airport, but says the video shows the devastation “around” the airport, inferring that perhaps this is destruction that is the result of the Ukrainian military’s actions. In reality, however, that footage shows damage to the airport itself, the result of the attacks by the Russian-backed fighters.

According to the demarcation lines agreed upon by all sides at the Minsk agreement, the Donetsk International Airport is territory that belongs to Ukraine. Yet this RT segment goes on to criticize Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, for turning his back on the Minsk accord. The guest, pro-Putin analyst Marcus Papadopoulos, argues that the people of Donetsk has “born the brunt” of Ukraine’s attack. “Unless the militia… give Ukraine’s forces and paramilitary forces a bloody nose, then I think it’s very unlikely for Kiev to pull back its heavy artillery.” Papadopoulos makes no mention that it is a “bloody nose” which forced Ukraine’s president to respond to the shelling and re-establish control of the airport, and he makes no mention of the fact that it is the Russian side which caused the deaths of 13 civilians near Volnovakha in the bus-shelling incident.

And while the “People’s Republics” in Ukraine launch attacks with Russian-supplied weapons and alongside Russian soldiers, Papadopoulos then echoed Moscow’s favorite line: that Washington and Brussels “hold the baton” and are responsible for the return of violence in Ukraine.

This is the kind of “through the looking glass” logic we’ve seen from RT, the Russian state media in general, and the Russian government which is funding and directing these efforts. It seems the Russian state propaganda machine is in full swing, however, now that Ukraine is finally militarily pushing back on the Russian-backed fighters in Donetsk.

James Miller

Ukraine Colonel Lysenko – 3 Soldiers Killed, 66 Wounded, In Just 24 Hours

The spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, says that there has been a significant uptick in Russian-backed militant attacks on both Ukrainian military positions and residential neighborhoods in the last 24 hours.

This was also obvious from the high amount of casualties Lysenko reported:

“We lost three Ukrainian servicemen and 66 others were injured in clashes over the last 24 hours.”

Some reports from Ukrainian soldiers over the last two days have suggested that the death toll is higher than this, though those reports are unconfirmed. Still, this is a large amount of casualties which correlates to the increase in violence we’ve been reporting for more than a week.

Of course, these reports from the Ukrainian government do not mention casualties among the Russian-backed anti-Ukrainian forces. Those numbers may be just as high or even higher, but there’s no reliable way to determine the amount of casualties among the insurgent fighters at this time.

James Miller

Children Among Casualties Following Shelling In Debaltsevo

Vyacheslav Abroskin, the head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, has announced on his Facebook page that a 12-year-old child and his father were killed, and 10 wounded when a residential area of government-held Debaltsevo was shelled this morning.

Among the wounded, Abroskin writes, are an 8-year-old girl and her mother, both in a severe condition.

Abroskin said that the shelling was carried out by Russian-backed fighters at 7:45 (5:45 GMT) this morning.

The press office of the Interior Ministry also reported on the shelling and casualties.

Abroskin posted photos of the aftermath of the attack:





— Pierre Vaux

Key Bridge Between Airport And City Destroyed

Yesterday morning, a section of a road bridge linking Donetsk Airport and the city centre, in the Putilovsky area, was reported as destroyed.

Both Russian and Ukrainian media reported that there had been a tank battle in the area before the bridge was destroyed.

Ruptly, a video news service from the state-owned propaganda channel RT, had footage from the scene. In the video description, it was claimed that the bridge was destroyed by Ukrainian shelling.

Writing on his Facebook page, Yuri Butusov, editor of Ukraine’s Censor.NET, claimed that the bridge had been blown by Russian sappers after Ukrainian forces destroyed at least one tank in the battle.

The Interpreter translates:

A group of the Russian mercenaries’ tanks violated the ceasefire regime and opened fire on Ukrainian vehicles, which had come out through the village of Spartak to the key junction on the approach to Donetsk Airport.

The enemy was destroyed by return fire and, according to Ukrainian soldiers, more than one tank was torched. After the destruction of the knot of resistance, Russian units blew up the bridge so as to deny our tank units access to Donetsk from the north. 

The burning remains of a Russian tank and its blackened barrel are peeking out from under the bridge on the left. Fantastic shot.


A tank is certainly visible in the photo above, but we cannot say from this photo alone whether it was Russian or Ukrainian. 

The bridge can easily be located and was here, in the middle of a long, three section bridge spanning both roads and railways.


The location can be verified using Google Streetview. Compare these screenshots with the Ruptly footage above:



The strategic significance of this section of highway is made clear when viewed on a wider scale:


This road is the only wide section of highway linking the airport to the city. There are several other roads that lead to the airport but these are small and run through residential areas.

While the demolition of the bridge could, if Butusov is right, have been ordered out of fear of a wider Ukrainian counter attack, it may also prove useful to the Ukrainian defenders of the airport, cutting off a trunk supply route to Russian forces attacking from the east around the old terminal. Certainly, small communicating roads would be easier to block or shut down with fire.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Military Claims Airport Under Control

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has published a statement on their website claiming that Donetsk Airport, despite repeated assaults and continued fighting this morning, remains under the control of Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the ministry insists that the defenders of the airport, popularly known as the ‘cyborgs,’ have everything they need to hold out, including weapons, ammunition and food.

The Ministry said that Ukrainian troops had eliminated a group of Russian-backed fighters who had been maintaining fire on Ukrainian positions at the airport.

While not commenting on Ukrainian casualties, the Ministry claimed that Russian-backed fighters had suffered losses and retreated back into residential areas of the city.

The Ministry also claimed that Ukrainian artillery is only firing on militant positions and concentrations of equipment and personnel.

Fire, from which side is not yet known, did however strike non-military sites in Donetsk today:

The hospital lies just east of the city centre, in the Kalininsky district, far to the south and east of either combat front around the airport or Marinka.


The situation has, for the time being, calmed, with no shelling audible on the Ruptly live stream from Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux