Ukraine Liveblog Day 109: Fighting in the Border Region Intensifies

June 6, 2014
Burning separatist truck on Russian side of border near Ukrainian checkpoint at Marinovka, Donetsk region. Photo: Ukrainian State Border Guard Service

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.


Ukraine Says Its Aircraft Were In Russian Missile Lock

Yesterday the battle for the Marinovka checkpoint north of Lugansk became so intense that the Ukrainian airforce dispatched jets to conduct strafing runs against the separatist gunmen and armored vehicles. Today, Ukraine says that its pilots report that Russia had locked onto the Ukrainian fighter jets. The radar lock would have allowed Russian fighter planes to fire at the Ukrainian aircraft at any point. 

According to the Ukrainian pilot, his aircraft was shadowed by two Russian aircraft at all times.

This move could have been seen as a way to discourage Ukraine’s airforce from engaging the ground targets that were striking across the border.

More On Putin’s Meeting With Obama and Poroshenko

RFE/RL has more details about Putin’s meeting with both Poroshenko and Barack Obama (see previous update):

Putin later told reporters that during the 15-minute meeting, he and Poroshenko discussed the main issues related to settling the crisis.

Poroshenko separately told reporters that he sees “good chances” of successful dialogue with Russia.

Putin also spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama at the D-Day ceremonies.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security advisor, said Obama indicated that if Russia engaged with the new government in Kyiv, “there could be openings to reduce tensions.”

Poroshenko and Putin Meet At D-Day Event… Sort Of

Much is being made about the fact that Ukraine’s new President, Petro Poroshenko, had an ‘informal meeting’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion during World War II. Reuters reports:

Hollande invited Poroshenko as his personal guest to the ceremonies for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, saying the event should be used to “serve the purposes of peace”.

The Reuters reporter did not, however, see any handshake between the two men. French diplomats said before the event they would see a handshake as tacit acknowledgement by Putin that he recognizes Poroshenko’s legitimacy the day before he is sworn in, opening the door for dialogue.

But let’s take a look at this “meeting” for ourselves. 

It’s not much of a meeting, but is it diplomatic breakthrough? Or, more likely, is this just a case of having a lot of cameras at an important international event, and having a group of politicians who are trying to make the smallest headlines possible during a chance meeting.
Ukrainian Military Expert Says Separatists Have Shot Down Cargo Aircraft

Dmitro Tymchuk, a Ukrainian military expert who is observing and reporting on the conflict, now reports that separatists have shot down an Antonov An-26 military cargo plane. According to the report, the plane that was carrying humanitarian aid was shot down by MANPADS (anti-aircraft missile) and the crew bailed out.

This matches our earlier report and video that a Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down. The initial reports of this incident did not come from the Ukrainian government, however, but from LifeNews, a Russian news outlet, which actually posted the news before the video was uploaded.

Video Shows LDPR Flag Raised Above Separatist Militia Training Camp in Eastern Ukraine

A BBC video report by Paul Kenyon, published earlier today, shows a separatist training camp at an undisclosed location in eastern Ukraine. The camp is reportedly run by a former construction company owner, Alexei Moskovoy. Kenyon notes that he had met Moskovoy a month earlier, when he was returning from “meetings with officials in Moscow”. Moskovoy is notably evasive when asked about the source of their weapons.

Interestingly, above the militia’s base flies the flag of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR):


The LDPR is a far-right nationalist party led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The party is ostensibly in opposition but often acts to support the ruling United Russia party. Zhirinovsky has received much media attention for his extreme public statements about race, religion and women, (most recently exhorting one of his aides to rape a pregnant journalist who had questioned him at a press conference).

Prior to this incident, he was filmed on May 6, carrying out a publicity stunt in support of the separatists in Lugansk. The video is summarized here on our Russia This Week blog. Zhirinovsky brought a ‘Tiger’ armored car, emblazoned with the LDPR logo, as a gift. He also pledged, dressed up in a military uniform:

to give a free Volga car to any “soldier, officer or citizen who is the first to break through to Kiev at some stage and plant a Russian flag on the Verkhovna Rada” (parliament of Ukraine). He added that the Volga would be the newest off the line at a Russian factory, just like the one Brezhnev rode in, but “with an American engine.”

The appearance of the LDPR flag above the separatist training camp would suggest Zhirinovsky’s support for the separatists may have extended further than his public visit. 

Aleksandr Barkashov, the leader of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity movement, has, according to SBU phone intercepts, been involved in organising separatist fighters in Donetsk. While Barkashov seemed to be in contact with the Kremlin from these recordings, he appeared frustrated with their responses. Barkashov is, however, far more removed from central influence than Zhirinovsky, who Putin has been happy to appear alongside. The LDPR also command a major presence in the Duma. The Kremlin may be making use of extreme nationalists outside the executive government or United Russia to channel funds and support to separatist fighters so as to maintain deniability.

Ukrainian Reconnaissance Aircraft Shot Down Near Slavyansk

Reports are breaking that a Ukrainian Antonov An-30B photo-reconnaissance aircraft has been shot down by separatist fighters over Slavyansk. 

A video of the aircraft, with one engine aflame, was uploaded to VKontakte earlier. Here is a YouTube version:

Novosti Donbassa report that eyewitnesses described the aircraft diving towards the village of Nikolaev. The pilots reportedly bailed out. 

Russia’s LifeNews, who have long been suspected of having close ties to Russian security forces, published a report shortly before Novosti Donbassa, at 14:16 GMT, stating that the aircraft had been shot down by separatist fighters using shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The report went into detail on the attack, claiming that the fighters had launched two missiles at the An-30, the second of which had struck. They also claimed that the pilots had both ejected in the Blue Lakes area.

A video, apparently taken by separatist fighters, with audible radio dialogue, was uploaded at 14:25 GMT, almost ten minutes after LifeNews reported on how the aircraft was downed. The video shows the aircraft being struck. Radio chatter records a go-ahead being given and the subsequent celebration as the aircraft bursts into flames.

The aircraft is flying at a much higher altitude than the helicopters downed so far by MANPADS in the Slavyansk area.
Fighting in Slavyansk Area
The deputy Interior Minister Sergei Yarovoy announced today that separatist fighters had fired on Ukrainian forces from the grounds of a church in Slavyansk. A statement on the Interior Ministry website, (translated by The Interpreter), read:
An hour ago near Slavyansk terrorists opened fire with mortars from the grounds of a local church. The targets of their shelling were the Interior forces’ roadblocks, which form part of the forces of the Anti-Terrorism Operation.

A member of the Ivano-Frankivsk special police unit was killed during the attack, two others were seriously injured.

The law enforcement officers have been taken to a military hospital, where they are being given the necessary medical assistance. 
Footage was uploaded onto YouTube today which purportedly shows shelling around Semyonovka, outside Slavyansk:

There was also a disturbing report of human shield tactics being employed by separatist fighters in the nearby town of Kramatorsk, to the south of Slavyansk. Vladislav Seleznev, the official spokesman for the government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation, claimed on his Facebook page that separatist fighters had occupied an orphange as their headquarters.

Ukrainska Pravda cited Seleznev (translated by The Interpreter):

“It’s been established that the militants’ headquarters are now located on the ground floor of an orphanage. There are currently infants on the second floor of this institution. The militants are forstalling their punishment by hiding behind children”, he writes. 

The ATO leadership “does not, under any circumstances, use weapons against civilians, or fire on residential areas, kindergartens, hospitals or schools”, stresses Seleznev.
Of course reports involving children, and in particular infants, abound as propaganda in wartime, so, while we convey this report from an official spokesman, we must treat it with some caution. This claim is, beyond Seleznev’s words, unconfirmed by any other reports or material.
Russian Intelligence Now Running The Fighting In The East?

Last week the Vostok Battalion took over the separatist headquarters in Donetsk and began to take point in a new wave of attacks against Ukrainian National Guard and Border Guard positions. Professor Mark Galeotti has told Business Insider that the Vostok brigade, descendent from a brigade that was a key tool in the 2008 invasion of Georgia, is proof that Moscow is now taking direct control over the fighting in the east

“This is a specifically Russian military intelligence operation,” says Galeotti. “They stood this force up and its role is to try and reassert some degree of control over the situation. Moscow is beginning to become alarmed how Eastern Ukraine was spinning into chaos and warlordism.”

Vostok is one of Moscow’s instruments in achieving this victor’s peace. Their role is “essentially political,” Galeotti says: Vostok is Putin’s way of controlling other, less disciplined pro-Russian militants.

But there are between 300 and 400 Russian fighters from Vostok in Ukraine right now, and they are highly capable soldiers.

Separatists Reportedly Seize Hospital In Donetsk

According to Interfax news agency, separatists have captured part of a hospital in Donetsk and are using it to provide medial treatment to their fighters. Voice of Russia reports:

“The building of the Kalinin hospital in Donetsk has been settled by the representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” a spokesman for the regional administration said on Friday.

“Self-defense forces apparently want to use the clinic to provide medical treatment to their injured activists,” he added, according to the Interfax report.

Aftermath of Marinovka Attack

As we reported yesterday, the Ukrainian customs station near Marinovka in the Donetsk region came under attack from Russian or Russian-backed fighters, with the Ukrainian Air Force delivering air strikes in response. The attack was repelled but the incident demonstrates the scale of the threat along the border with Russia.

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (SBGS) has published photos and videos of the aftermath. Two Kamaz trucks, at least one fitted with armour and another with a heavy machine gun mounted, along with a BTR-80, were knocked out or abandoned during the battle. The trucks and armoured personnel carrier are emblazoned with the name of the Vostok Battalion, the separatist force, apparently staffed with large numbers of Russian, Ossetian and Chechen fighters, that seems to have taken over combat duties in south-eastern Ukraine. All of the vehicles were left on the Russian side of the border.


BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier bearing the name of the Vostok Battalion.



Armoured Kamaz truck with the Vostok Battalion logo.


Kamaz truck fitted with heavy machine gun.


Damaged Ukrainian SBGS vehicle.


The border checkpoint after the attack.

The SBGS also published photos of equipment seized from the attackers after the battle. Vostok Battalion armbands and patches are seen, alongside ammunition and rocket launchers.