Ukraine Live Day 373: Fearing for Her Life, Savchenko’s Attorney Appeals for Her Release in Court

February 25, 2015
Imprisoned Ukrainian pilot in Moscow court February 11, 2015.

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

Russian-backed Separatists Make Partial Pull-Back; JCCC Cannot Confirm Withdrawal; OSCE Monitors Hear Shelling

We have been watching to see how the Minsk-2 agreement for both sides to pull back heavy artillery has been going.

Today, as we have reported, Russian tanks were reported to shell Shirokino, near Mariupol in the south of Ukraine on the Azov sea, and there were also reports of shelling of Popasnaya.

A number of headlines in recent days have reiterated the Russian-backed separatists claims that they were moving their heavy artillery back from the line of contact per the agreement.

But Ukraine has disputed this, AP reports:

Eduard Basurin, a top rebel commander in the Donetsk region, said his side had begun a large-scale pullback of heavy weapons in line with the peace plan, but that could not be verified. A rebel website quoted him as saying 100 122-mm howitzers would be involved.

Associated Press reporters saw about a dozen howitzers moved from Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, to the town of Ilovaysk 12 miles to the east. That would put them roughly within the 15-mile pullback criterion for weapons of that size.

Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the international team monitoring the fighting, said he couldn’t confirm any pullback until receiving monitors’ reports.

The text of the second Minsk agreement said the withdrawal should be “50 kilometers [31 miles] apart for artillery of 100mm caliber or more.” That means each side has to move back 25 kilometers [15 miles] from the line of contact — Ilovaisk, at 19 kilometers [12 miles], is not at that point — so it is rough indeed.

Now the OSCE has spoken, but it’s a mixed report that involves seeing some militants’ artillery physically pulled back, yet still hearing shelling that may well come from separatist positions:

At 14:05hrs whilst in the western outskirts of “DPR”-controlled Makiivka
(12km east of Donetsk), the SMM observed movement of weapons: a convoy
consisting of 16 unmarked green military-type trucks and two utility
vehicles was moving eastbound on the H21 road towards Makiivka centre.
All of the trucks were towing howitzers (D-30 122mm). At 10:00hrs,
whilst at the “DPR”-controlled T-0507 / H21 roads section (27km east of
Donetsk) between “DPR”-controlled Amvrosiivka (57km south-east of
Donetsk) and DPR-controlled Ilovaisk (31km east south-east of
Donetsk ”), the SMM spotted a static MBT (T64). At 13:10hrs, the SMM
further saw a convoy consisting of 10 unmarked military trucks each
towing howitzers (152mm). The convoy was moving southbound on the T-0507
road. At 12:38hrs, the SMM observed four static MBTs (T64) located 7.5
km of the same aforementioned section (28.5km east of Donetsk).

The report also describes hearing a number of shelling incidents and “outgoing Main Battle Tank (MBT) fire:

At 11:18hrs, whilst in “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Snizhne (74km east of Donetsk),
the SMM heard one explosion, more than 10 kilometres south of its
position. The SMM assessed that the sound was consistent with outgoing
Main Battle Tank (MBT) fire. At 11:30hrs, whilst at the “DPR”-controlled
H21-T0517 road junction (55km east of Donetsk) near
government-controlled Artemivsk (77km north north-east of Donetsk), the
SMM heard three explosions 10 kilometres south of its location. The SMM
assessed that the sound was consistent with outgoing MBT fire. At
13:31hrs, whilst at the government-controlled E40/M3 roads junction
(66km north of Donetsk), the SMM heard three outgoing artillery rounds.
The sound was emanating from more than 10 kilometres south-south-west of
the SMM position. The SMM could not assess the weapon system involved
in the incident. From 11:10 to 11:31hrs whilst in government-controlled
Novoluhanske (53km north-north-east of Donetsk), the SMM heard
intermittent shelling. The sound of the shelling was emanating from 8 to
10 kilometres south-east of the SMM’s position. The SMM was unable to
determine whether the shelling was incoming or outgoing.

Here are some of the positions on the map, marked on the February 20 map of the pro-Russian separatist blogger dragon_first_1:


There is also shelling outside the Mariupol area:

‘At 10:50hrs, whilst at the centre of government-controlled Sartana
(90km south of Donetsk), the SMM heard 10 to 15 incoming and outgoing
bursts. The SMM assessed that the explosions were consistent with
artillery or MBT fire. The sound of the bursts was emanating from 10
kilometres south-east of the SMM’s position. Between 10:15 and 10:30hrs,
whist in government-controlled Lebedynske (83km south of Donetsk), the
SMM heard continuous incoming and outgoing 82mm mortar fire. The sound
of the shelling was coming from five kilometres east of the SMM’s
position. From 11:00 to 13:30hrs in government-controlled Berdianske
(95km south of Donetsk), the SMM heard continuous incoming and outgoing
artillery, MBT, 82mm mortar and heavy machine gun fire. The sound of the
shelling and shooting was emanating from one to five kilometres
north-north-east of the SMM’s location.

Thus it appears that while there are some optics for the Western cameras from the Russian-backed separatists, and some real movement, off-stage there is still serious fighting going on for the same towns where there have long been battles as the militants attempt to wrest more territories from Ukraine’s Donetsk Region beyond what has been grabbed already for the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”. shows the line today:


OSCE noted that the JCCC could not confirm the pull-back:

The Russian Colonel-General provided the SMM with copies of schedules
for the gradual withdrawal of heavy weapons by the “DPR” and “LPR”, and
the Ukrainian CoS provided a copy of a schedule for the Ukrainian Armed
Forces. These schedules did not appear to be co-ordinated or jointly
agreed. Although at least one schedule indicated a start date as early
as 22 February, Ukrainian and Russian JCCC representatives admitted that
they had not actually observed any withdrawal by the “DPR” or “LPR”.

At least some good news today:

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Poland ‘Intends To Send’ Military Instructors To Ukraine

Reuters reports that the Polish defence minister, Bogusław Pacek, has told the news agency that Poland intends to send military instructors to train Ukrainian soldiers with, Reuters notes, “the final decision expected next month.”

“The defence ministry intends to send Polish instructors to support the training of Ukrainian non-commissioned officers,” Boguslaw Pacek told Reuters.

He said the number of instructors sent will be finalised in March, but will be in the range of around a dozen to several dozens.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Military Report Another Attack Near Shirokino

Novosti Donbassa reports that Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the minister of internal affairs, has announced that Russian-backed forces have again attacked Ukrainian troops near Shirokino, east of Mariupol.

The Interpreter translates:

“Today, at approximately 17:00 (15:00 GMT), terrorists again attacked the ATO forces’ positions near to Shirokino with tanks and mortars.”

Shkiryak added that Ukrainian forces had also conducted a successful operation in the area:

“Just now, National Guard troops destroyed a large enemy ammunition depot, not far from that settlement, with precision fire.”

— Pierre Vaux

Breedlove Says Ukraine Could Not Stop A Russian Advance Across Eastern Ukraine But ‘We Need To Raise Russia’s Costs’

Earlier (below) we reported on statements being made by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command, General Phillip Breedlove, who is speaking to the House Armed Services Committee now. Breedlove was asked directly whether he believed that Ukraine could defend itself against the Russian military. Breedlove responded:

“I do not believe Ukrainian forces could stop a Russian advance across eastern Ukraine… even if we provide them with additional weapons.”

But Breedlove did not stop there. He then suggested that what needed to happen was that Russia needed to see an increase in costs to change its calculations.

“You’re talking about body bags,” Breedlove was asked. On the live video feed, Breedlove was seen leaning back in his chair and smirking, before leaning toward his microphone and saying essentially agreeing, without directly calling for the shipment of weapons.

James Miller
“I don’t think any of us are sure that he’s [Putin] accomplished his objectives inside Ukraine”
NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command, General Phillip Breedlove, has made another series of statements today while speaking to the House Armed Services Committee to the effect that the United States and NATO cannot trust Russia to abide by international norms.
Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin has been following Breedlove’s statements closely:
This last claim is well supported by the facts. When Ukraine’s airforce began to hammer away at the Russian-backed rebels in late spring and early summer, Russia supplied anti-aircraft missiles, including the Strela-10 and the now-infamous Buk which, evidence suggests, likely brought down MH17. When Ukraine’s military offensives were winning back large amounts of territory in late summer, Russian forces effectively invaded and reversed Ukraine’s momentum. Russian forces played key roles in encircling the Ukrainian military at Ilovaisk, Donetsk Airport, and Debaltsevo.
Breedlove said that the Russian military has invested in its land war capabilities, and has “smartly” invested in land and sea capabilities as well.
Here is where Breedlove’s expertise in NATO comes into play. NATO nations and Russia’s non-NATO European neighbors alike both believe that Russia will continue to infiltrate Ukraine in order to win strategic, economic, and political victories. But many Eastern and Central European countries are also fully aware that the dynamic between Ukraine and Russia in the leadup to this crisis is similar to the dynamic between several countries and Russia including: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, and even Belarus.

Follow Jeff Seldin for more updates as they come in or watch a live stream of the conference here.

James Miller

Putin Says Kiev Cutting Gas To Donbass ‘Smacks Of Genocide,’ Russia Holding Up Its End of Gas Deal

President Vladimir Putin has said, during a meeting with the Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, that Ukraine’s cutting of gas supplies to separatist-held areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions “smacks of genocide.”

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Putin said:

“It has become known to us that Kiev suspended gas supplies [to the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk republics] referring to alleged damage to gas pipelines

As for the damage to the gas pipeline, I don’t know for certain but I know that these regions are home to about 4.5 million people. Just imagine that these people may be left without gas supply during the winter period. In addition to the hunger there as is already stated by the OSCE and the humanitarian disaster, just imagine these people may also be left without gas supply.

The Interpreter translates Putin’s next comments, which do not appear in the English-language report linked above, but do appear in the Russian version:

What do we call this? This now smacks of genocide. To all appearances, today’s Ukrainian decision makers have no understanding of such humanitarian issues, of humanism. The very concept itself has, in my opinion, been forgotten.

Putin claimed that Gazprom’s commencement of direct supplies to separatist-held areas through gas monitoring stations that Ukraine’s state gas transit company, Ukrtansgaz, is unable to monitor, is not a violation of the Russian state-owned company’s contract with Ukraine’s Naftogaz.

TASS reports:

“At the same time, Gazprom is fulfilling the contract signed back in 2009 and an addendum to it made in October last year. In full compliance with this contract, it supplies gas to Ukraine under advance payments made for the volumes, which Ukraine needs,” the Russian president said.

These contracts also stipulate border points, Putin said. “Gazprom is not breaching any provisions,” he added.

Putin also said that supplies to Ukraine may be cut off completely in three to four days, unless Naftogaz can make further pre-payments, remarking that “it goes without saying that could create a threat to transit to Europe.”

The Russian president added that both his ministers and the management of Gazprom had, over the last few days, been making “energetic attempts” to explain the problem, and their proposed solution, to European leaders.

From TASS (translated by The Interpreter):

Putin expressed his hope that “it will not come to such extreme measures and that the supply will not be interrupted, but this depends not only on us, but on the financial discipline of our Ukrainian partners.” 

Naftogaz in turn said that they could not make additional advance payments without reasonable reassurances that Gazprom would abide by the contact signed as part of the ‘winter package’ agreed in Brussels. In addition to the dispute over the direct supplies through unmonitored gas metering stations, Naftogaz says that Gazprom has been supplying less than they are contractually obliged to.

— Pierre Vaux

Russian State-Owned TV Channel Claims Reporter Arrested In Kiev

NTV, a fiercely pro-Kremlin TV channel owned by the Gazprom Media group (and ultimately the Russian state), claims that their correspondent, Andrei Grigoriev, has been detained in Kiev.


NTV claims that Grigoriev was in the city centre, reporting on an ongoing protest led by the nationalist Praviy Sector faction.

The Interpreter translates:

We know that people walked up to Grigoriev and asked him to present his documents. On seeing that he is a Russian citizen, they took him away.

The last time Grigoriev got in touch, he sent an SMS in which he said that SBU officers had detained him. He is now in police custody. They are not telling him why he has been detained or when he will be released. 

Here are photos of the march from the official Praviy Sector Twitter account:

Translation: Praviy Sector outside the Prosecutor General’s office, several thousand nationalists demanding Truth and not window dressings!

The protest has little to no coverage in the major Ukrainian media today, while Russian state media has lavished attention upon it. Praviy Sector are, of course, a favourite bogeyman for Russian propaganda, which portrays them as the fascist vanguard of the Maidan revolution.  

RT has even maintained a live stream from the march via their Ruptly video service. The march appears to be over, with only small groups of camouflage-clad activists milling around as of 14:15 GMT.

While Zvezda TV, owned by the Russian Ministry of Defence, claimed that the protesters marched with molotov cocktails, we have not seen any indications of violence and the crowd, while not insignificant, does not, from this footage at least, appear to amount to “several thousand” as Praviy Sector themselves claim.

— Pierre Vaux
Savchenko’s Lawyers’ Appeal Rejected By Court

Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers, Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov, who have been attempting today to have her released from pre-trial detention, have tweeted that the Moscow court has rejected their appeal.

Translation: The appeal has been rejected

Translation: The Moscow court has left Savchenko in custody. #FreeSavchenko

This means that Savchenko’s pre-trial detention will remain in place until May 13.

Savchenko has now been on hunger strike for 75 days, her health is reportedly deteriorating and her lawyers fear she will die before this date is reached.

— Pierre Vaux

Russian Tanks Reportedly Shell Ukrainian Positions Near Shirokino

Novosti Donbassa reports that Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the minister for internal affairs, has announced that Ukrainian troops near Shirokino, where Russian-backed fighters are pressing a counter-attack after the village was retaken by Ukraine on February 10, were attacked today by Russian tanks.

The Interpreter translates:

“Today at 10:40 [8:40 GMT] Russo-terrorist troops fired on ATO forces’ positions near Shirokino with tanks. The terrorists have been strengthened in this area with two more Russian T-72 tanks. There are now 4 such armoured units outside Shriokino, as well as mortars (120 mm and 82 mm) manned by militants. Enemy self-propelled guns and conventional artillery are based in the Sakhanka area,” he said.

He said that the ATO forces had responded to the militants’ attacks with a tank strike.

Dmitry Chaly, the spokesman for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, told UNN that two Ukrainian servicemen had been wounded outside Mariupol over the last 24 hours.

Chaly said that there had been 9 shelling attacks conducted by Russian-backed forces yesterday.

The Interpreter translates:

“There 9 shelling attacks and 2 military confrontations yesterday. The militants shelled Berdyanskoye, Lebedinskoye and Tavricheskoye once each. All the other shelling attacks were aimed towards the Shirokino area.”


— Pierre Vaux

Popasnaya Suffers Heavy Shelling Overnight, Part Of Town Left Without Water Or Electricity

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced that the town of Popasnaya, north-east of Debaltsevo, came under intense bombardment last night.

The Interpreter translates:

Last night, beginning at 23:00 and finishing at 3:00, the town was shelled incessantly with artillery and mortars. Shells exploded every 10 minutes. According to local residents, last night was the most intense for the last two weeks.

Most damaged of all were the Chermushki neighbourhood (large blocks of flats) and Kapura (residential area). Gas pipes and electricity lines were cut in many areas, several streets have been left without such essential services.

Residential areas of the town are still without running water. Repair teams are attempting to bring services back online. Mobile communications went down after the attack but have now been restored.

There were no reports, the press office said, of civilian casualties.

Moskal claimed that the town had been shelled by the “Cossacks of the Great Don Army,” a Russian-backed separatist group operating in neighbouring Stakhanov.

Ukrainska Pravda notes that the group has repeatedly stated that they did not sign any agreement in Minsk and will therefore not comply with the ceasefire stipulated in that deal.

— Pierre Vaux

Fearing for Savchenko’s Life, Attorney Appeals to Moscow Court for Her Release
The attorney of abducted Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, now on the 75th day of a hunger strike, is appealing today in a Moscow court at noon to try to get his client released from pre-trial detention — or she may die.

Translation: We as Savchenko’s defense wlil submit exhaustive procedural grounds for changing the measures of restraint from arrest to any others. Let’s see.

Yesterday, Feygin said that Nadiya’s health had taken a turn for the worse.

Translation: Nadiya’s health is definitely worsening. So we have only a little time for her release. And she refuses to end her hunger strike.

Translation: “Little daughter, we will save you.” Dzhemilev asks Savchenko to end her hunger strike.

A group in Ukraine has created a “Savchenko List” on the model of the “Magnitsky List” of officials responsible for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in prison.

Translation: The “Savchenko List”: Putin, representatives of his administration, the FSB director, Plotnitsky — there is a total of 35 people in all.

Translation: The court has virtually the last opportunity to change the measures of restraint of an innocent Nadiya Savchenko, or risk letting her die.

Valery Borshchyov, a Russian prison rights activist and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group who was permitted to visit Savchenko yesterday, said she was suffering from worsening health problems now, Moscow Times reported.

Despite her declining health, Savchenko was “holding up well, sounded
fairly brisk when she spoke with us,” said Borshchyov.

But there is “a risk of complications because the hunger strike has
gone on for too long,” Borshchyov said, adding that the 33-year-old
pilot had “troubles with her kidneys, gall bladder.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick