Ukraine Live Day 371: Russian-Backed Forces Continue Attacks Across Front Line

February 23, 2015
Aftermath of shelling in Ukrainian-held Avdeyevka this morning. Photo:

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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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?

Ukrainian Policeman, Russian-Backed Militant Die in Clashes in Mariupol

A Ukrainian policeman as well as a Russian-backed militant both died in clashes in Mariupol today.

 Translation: a clash occurred in Mariupol between saboteurs; one fighter is killed, a bag is enabled.

Vyacheslav Abroskin, head of the Donetsk Interior Ministry, reported on his Facebook about the attack, says

Today at 18:15, in Mariupol in the district of
Pashkovskogo Street, a rapid-reaction group from the Sokol special
division of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and the traffic patrol of
the Interior Ministry of Ukraine stopped a car in Donetsk Region to
check the drivers’ passports.

The saboteur and reconnaissance group of militants
opened fire. During the clash three police officers were severely
wounded; one of them died in the hospital of his wounds.

of the perpetrators was killed during a pursuit, another escaped from
the scene of the incident. The Mariupol Police have been put on alert.
An investigation is under way.

The militants’ car was found to have explosives. Explosives technology is being operated at the site.

the price of his life, a policeman in Donetsk Region prevented a
terrorist attack that possibly might have taken the lives of dozens of
civilians in Mariupol.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatick

Ukraine Says Russia Has Not Delivered Gas Kiev Paid For In Advance

One condition the Russian energy giant Gazprom placed on Ukraine is that Kiev has to pre-pay for its natural gas. But now the Ukrainian energy company Naftohaz says Gazprom has failed to deliver.

RFE/RL reports:

Naftohaz press secretary Alena Osmolovskaya said the Ukrainian company prepaid for some 114 million cubic meters of gas but received only 47 million cubic meters.

Osmolovskaya said Gazprom’s failure to deliver the full amount of gas represents a violation of the three-party agreement reached between Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in Brussels on October 30.

Nafothaz said that agreement is a legally binding protocol.

Reuters adds more context:

The Ukrainian company said it had sent a notice of the breach of contract to the Ukrainian government and the European Commission in Brussels which had helped broker the deal. Russia is Europe’s main gas supplier, and the EU is keen to ensure that supplies that transit Ukraine are not interrupted.

Last week Ukraine cut back supplies of gas to regions held by pro-Russian rebels, and Moscow began supplying gas to the separatist regions directly for the first time.

A Gazprom spokesman said at the time that the supplies to the rebel regions were being shipped under the contract with Naftogaz. Gazprom and Russian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. adds that Russia began supplying eastern Ukraine with gas for “humanitarian reasons” after Ukraine cut supplies last week:

Gazprom said it immediately began supplying gas to eastern Ukraine through two pumping stations on the two countries’ shared border. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said his company was pumping the fuel at a rate of 12 million cubic meters per day. This was in addition to the 30 million cubic meters of gas per day that Ukraine already was receiving, according to Sergei Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman.

Gazprom’s fuel deliveries to Ukraine – and their occasional interruptions – have been just one sore spot in the sour relations between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine receives most of its gas from Russia, and at the same time pipelines transiting Ukraine provide Western Europe with about 30 percent of its gas, which comes from Russia.

James Miller

Kharkiv Bomb May Have Been Anti-Personnel Mine Detonated by Radio or Phone, Prosecutor Says
Kharkiv Region Prosecutor Yury Danilchekno said at a briefing today that according to the bomb that went off and killed 3 people and wounded 10 on Sunday February 22 was an anti-personnel mine, Ukrainska Pravda reported, citing

According to the preliminary data of experts, an anti-personnel mine with a radio-guided device exploded. Its TNT equivalent was about 2 kg.

Experts are now studying whether the bomb was set off by a remote control or a mobile telephone. With this information, investigators can determined at what distance the perpetrator stood from the location of the explosion.

Initially two people were killed who were taking part in day of memorial for the Maidan revolution one year ago. Then a 15-year-old boy died today of his head injuries.

Vladimir Guzyr, deputy prosecutor general, said that detectives were “practically certain” that the remote-control mine was set “from 1:00 to 4:00 am, when the lights are turned off” in the city.

More than 200 people have been questioned as witnesses as well as 8 victims.

Police believe the bombing was a terrorist attack designed to destabilize the situation inn Kharkiv. Guzyr said one terrorist group, called Kharkiv Partisan was being looked at as a possible perpetrator, as well as another unnamed group.

He also said that a special investigative group would examine whether police had sufficiently swept the area of the parade before the event. Without mentioning any specific lapses, he said (translation by The Interpreter):

The shortcomings exposed in the work on these matters, especially in the activity of the investigative divisions has received the appropriate assessment. Certain recommendations have been made which would significantly influence the effectiveness of the investigation of this category of cases.

This is the 10th time a bomb has gone off in Kharkiv since November 2014 and the third time this year.

There was also another attack today in Kharkiv.

Translation: An attack has been made on a leader of the Kharkov EuroMaidan, Vasiliy Ryabko; his teeth were knocked out, he suffered a concussion.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Ukraine’s Currency, The Hryvnia, Falls Nearly 10% To Record Lows
Ukraine’s currency is in crisis:

According to Bloomberg and Xe, the hryvnia is currently trading at approximately 28 to a U.S. dollar.

To put things in perspective, when The Interpreter‘s editors Michael Weiss and James Miller were in Kiev in August, the hryvnia was trading at nearly 15 to a dollar, and nearly everyone whom we spoke with said that this was a crisis.

Reuters details the extent of today’s slide:

The average hryvnia rate slid 10 percent on Monday to a fresh-record low of 30.55 to the dollar as of 1400 GMT, after Ukraine’s military said ongoing rebel attacks were preventing it from withdrawing its heavy weapons from the front line in eastern Ukraine.

A trader at a large foreign bank in Ukraine said he was seeing market rates at around 31.3-31.8 to the dollar.

“For now, the market is weakening and there’s no reason to see it stabilising so long as the war rolls on,” he said.

The latest hryvnia level is nearly 30 percent weaker than the 21.7 rate foreseen in Ukraine’ 2015 budget. If the weakness persists, it will upset the government’s strict austerity plans.

Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine’s Central Bank has jumped into action to stop the bleeding, something it is trying not to do anymore:

In a bid to halt the slide of Ukraine’s hryvnia, the National Bank of Ukraine is capping foreign currency payments at $500,000 to limit outflows. “It’s time to present a new administrative restriction,” said NBU head Valeriya Gontareva in announcing the decision on Feb. 23.

The decision will involve only business entities. Moreover, companies with a letter of credit from foreign banks are not subject to the new regulation. Gontareva also said that prepayments will be checked to stop fraud.

Financial Times adds this pessimistic note from Tim Ash of Standard Bank:

Let’s not beat around the bush – Ukraine is facing economic/financial meltdown.

There are many problems facing Ukraine, including Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, and the conflict scenario therein – but the other big one is the leisurely approach to supporting Ukraine adopted by the West. Its an absolute travesty that Ukraine has not recevied any International Monetary Fund support since August 29, so like almost 6 months ago – and this was a credit that the West was saying had to be financially supported, and not allowed to fail.

Thus far, international monetary aid to Kiev is not working to stabilize the economy nor the currency. A key component of the IMF loan, for instance, requires a massive cut in government spending. Since the Ukrainian government has had to increase military and emergency spending to respond to the invasion of Russian troops and equipment, to say nothing of the aid it is trying to deliver to internally-displaced refugees, government budget cuts have largely come in the form of cutback in services and welfare programs at a time where the economy is hurting, unemployment is high, and international investors are hesitant to invest new money.

For the people in Ukraine, both those on the front lines of battle and those just trying to make ends meet, the crisis is real.

James Miller

Ukraine To Get 3G Mobile Networks

A major step toward modernization — despite the fact that cell phones are nearly as prolific in major Ukrainian cities as they are in much of Europe, we can attest from first-hand experience that the speed of mobile data networks are very slow.

Finally, 3G is coming to Ukraine: 

James Miller
Ukraine Says It Cannot Withdraw Artillery While Russian-Backed Forces Continue To Shell Cities

As we have been reporting, multiple Ukrainian cities are under attack today: between Donetsk and Lugansk, in the area near Donetsk, and in the area east of Mariupol. Since the Minsk II deal was signed nearly two weeks ago, Russian-supported forces have not stopped their attack, having captured the strategically important town of Debaltsevo, and having continuously shelled multiple cities across the line of demarcation. Now, the Ukrainian military has announced that it cannot withdraw its heavy artillery, as was prescribed at Minsk, because Russian-backed forces continue to break the ceasefire. Washington Post reports:

Continuing rebel attacks in the country’s embattled east are preventing a withdrawal of heavy weapons, a key component of a cease-fire deal which went into effect Feb. 15, Lt. Col. Anatoliy Stelmakh told reporters Monday.

Stelmakh said there were two artillery attacks overnight and although much fewer than in previous days, “as long as firing on Ukrainian military positions continues, it’s not possible to talk about a pullback.”

Associated Press adds:

Col. Valentyn Fedichev, deputy commander of the military operation against the rebels, said there had been 27 attacks against Ukrainian forces over the past 24 hours, which he said was lower than in recent days. He also indicated that no pullback was imminent.

“If the enemies continue to use their own heavy weapons, it is clear that Ukraine will continue to counteract these operations,” he said.

While the United States has openly blamed Russia for breaking the Minsk agreement(s), many European countries have been far more hesitant in pointing fingers. RFE/RL reports:

The German government is very concerned that there is still no comprehensive ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, more than a week after it should have taken effect, and urged Moscow anew on Monday to use its influence over pro-Russian separatists.

“When you look at the situation as a whole since leaders met in Minsk, it is clear the implementation of the agreed measures is not satisfactory,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

“What is decisive is a comprehensive cease fire. It is worrying for the German government that we haven’t seen anything like this yet,” he said.

While Germany did ask Russia to free imprisoned Ukrainian airforce pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who is on hunger strike and in danger of dying, there have not been strong statements coming out of Europe which indicate who is to blame for the violence or what the next step should be in order to stop it.

What is clear is that the Minsk deal, which showed so little sign of ever producing a solution, is now completely broken. What is not clear is what the United States, the European Union, or even Russia and Ukraine will do about this development.

James Miller

Popasnaya Shelled Twice This Morning

RFR/RL reports that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced that the Ukrainian-held town of Popasnaya has been shelled twice this morning.

The Interpreter translates:

“The majority of the shells exploded on the outskirts of the town, where the Ukrainian soldiers’ defensive positions are located, without causing significant damage. One shell struck the water treatment plants distribution system, damaging it.”

The governor’s office said that the lull in shelling in the area, that had followed the fall of Debaltsevo, was now over.

RFE/RL noted that Krymskoe, to the north-east, near the strategically important front line of the Bakhmutka highway, had been shelled yesterday.


— Pierre Vaux

Avdeyevka Shelled Overnight

Ukrainian-held Avdeyevka, just north of Donetsk, was shelled last night, with extensive damage done to the town’s vast coke and chemical plant (AKHZ).

Musa Magomedov, CEO of AKHZ, posted photos of the aftermath on his Facebook page.

He had written that, at about 00:30 (22:30) today, a fire station and the plants personnel department had suffered direct hits. Fortunately, there were no staff on-site at the time.




Outside Avdeyevka, attacks were reported on the villages of Kamenka and Krasnogorovka.

The ATO press centre announced that a small arms attackwas made on Ukrainian positions near Krasnogorovka at around 21:30 (19:30 GMT) last night, and that Kamenka came under artillery fire at 2 am (00:00 GMT). 


— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Forces In Shirokino Attacked Overnight

At least one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and another wounded during attacks by Russian-backed forces over the weekend around Shirokino, a village east of Mariupol which was retaken by Ukrainian forces nearly two weeks ago and has since been the target of a Russian-backed counter-attack.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the ATO press centre announced that Russian-backed forces attempted to storm Ukrainian positions in Shirokino at midnight last night. The assault was repelled after a battle lasting half an hour, the press centre claimed.

Mariupol news site reported, citing journalist Aleksandr Rudomanov, that, on February 21, seven soldiers from a reconnaissance group of the 79th brigade had been ambushed outside Mariupol.

The group established a defensive position and held out, despite one being killed and another wounded in the attack, until soldiers from the 3rd battalion and tanks from the 17th brigade conducted a rescue operation. The rescue was, Rudomanov claimed, successful, and was completed without further losses.

Writing on his Facebook page, Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance claimed that Russian forces were continuing to build up east of Shirokino.

Tymchuk wrote that Information Resistance had received reports that around 350 servicemen, 15 trucks and around 20 armoured vehicles, including 6 tanks, had been recorded moving into the area over the last 24 hours. 

These forces, Tymchuk wrote, were deployed between the coast and the T0519 road, leading from Telmanovo to Mariupol, through Kominternovo, which Ukrainian fighters claimed to have retaken on February 10.

Tymchuk also reported that, over the weekend, three large convoys had arrived to reinforce Russian positions to the north, near Granitnoye, which lies on a strategically important road between separatist-held Telmanovo and the Ukrainian front-line town of Volnovakha.

According to Tymchuk, these convoys included up to 40 trucks, 8 2S1 Gvozdika and 2S3 Acacia self-propelled guns, 5 tanks, 7 armoured fighting vehicles and also specialist equipment, including command and communications, reconnaissance, and air defence control vehicles.


— Pierre Vaux