Ukraine Liveblog Day 115: Separatist Forces Using Tanks in the East?

June 12, 2014
Screenshot from YouTube video purportedly showing T-64B tank in Snezhnoye.

Yesterday’s liveblog 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.

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


Separatist Tanks? ‘I Recommend Everyone Calm Down’

Ukrainian military analyst Konstantin Mashovets, of the military and political research center in Kiev, has posted an analysis of the citing of these now infamous “tanks” on his Facebook page. We have translated his statements below:

So, about those goddamn tanks (which, to be honest, have managed to really get under my skin today)…

Let me explain…

– There is NO military significance to this tank raid out of only three trophy T-64s in Donetsk, it’s purely an information action (you can debate about the specific goals)

– Only a barking mad military commander would let these tanks go “into the abyss” where the likelihood of their destruction by aviation or ground anti-tank means would be HIGH, the calculation was on completely different notions.. .

– For “effective destruction of the group of Ukrainian forces” (as several nervous, unstable personages have hinted to me here) these 3 T-64s even accompanied by the 2 Kamazos with the ZU-23-2 and the bands of separatists…to put it mildly is INSUFFICIENT.

– The arrival into the ATO zone of these “boxes” essentially changes NOTHING.


The MiniBus That Exploded in Donetsk Is Now ‘Ash’
The livestream in the link below shows the damage to the outside of the regional administrative building in Donetsk. It is not live at the moment, but is recorded:
Translation: The windows are knocked out at the OGA. 4 persons injured.
Translation: The minivan that exploded near the Donetsk OGA has burnt to ash.
Translation: Remains of automobile in which there was an explosive.
Minibus Explodes In Donetsk, Minimum Damage to Occupied Administration Building
The general consensus is that a minibus, or minivan, belonging to separatist leader Denis Pushilin exploded outside the administrative building in Donetsk which is occupied by the separatist leadership. From what we have seen the reports generally say that separatist leader Denis Pushilin was not hurt.
But some casualties are reported:
Translation: A car near the OGA in Donetsk was fired upon from a grenade launcher. 1 person dead. 2 seriously injured (former car of Pushilin’s)
Head Of Train Lines Arrested?
This is an unconfirmed story, but one we’re following:
Translation:  Head of the Simferopol-Donetsk train detained for ties to terrorists.
More Details Of The Car Bombing In Donetsk
It does appear that a minibus (or a car, but many reports say a bus) has exploded outside the city administrative building in Donetsk:
Translation: BREAKING: The car of DNR leader Pushilin has exploded in Donetsk, bodyguard and several passers-by injured.

Translation: the car of a “minister” of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] has exploded at the DonOGA [Donetsk Regional State Administration] building
Fire In Donetsk After Reported Bus Explosion
The first picture of a reported bus explosion in Donetsk:
Translation: Explosion at the DonOGA “Use the hashtags #чтотоебнуло #Донецк [whatthefuck Donetsk]
Translation: Funny. Mama has packed her “emergency suitcase” — matches, soap, canned food, hair colouring, hair curlers. #Donetsk

Translation: Explosion of a car ( Renault Kangoo) at the OGA. Possibly snipers were working, several people have been detained at the site, 4 persons injured. confirms the explosion (translated by The Interpreter):

2 powerful explosions, a parked bus belong to the OGA was site of explosions, ambulances racing to the scene. 

A Car Bomb, Possibly a Bus Explosion, Reported In Donetsk
Though the source is a good one, this is still unconfirmed:
Locals appear to be sharing a similar story, however, at least confirming an incident outside the City Administration Building:
Evidence That Multiple Sets of Tanks Crossed Into Ukraine From Russia?

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arseniy Avakov has given a speech (video translated by The Interpreter). He vowed to fix the holes in the border and improve the security situation. He said that all separatists taking over government buildings would be tried as criminals and would be given a harsh treatment since they are obstructing the state during a war. “Regardless of what flag they wave,” whether they are pro-Maidan or pro-Russian, they will face charges.

Then he went on to address the tanks: 

“Today, in the town of Dyakovo near the border, a BTR column also with automobiles, has penetrated through checkpoints which were earlier seized by terrorists; 3 tanks crossed the border, this morning they were in Snezhnoye; 2 of them then moved toward Gorlovka; they were attacked by the Ukrainian army; the battle is still under way, results don’t know, but I can say that column was destroyed.”

There is more information  on the movement of the tanks. Tanks have now been spotted in Donetsk AND Slavyansk, according to some reports.

Then there is this tweet:

Translation: In Donetsk Region there is a battle between the militia and the siloviki [Ukrainian troops]. In the region of the city of Snezhnoye (Donetsk Region) there is a gun battle between Ukrainian military.

TV Rain’s summary of the tanks story (translated by The Interpreter):

In the region of the city of Snezhnoye, Donetsk Region, there is a gun battle between Ukrainian military and armed persons calling themselves militia from the Donetsk People’s Republic, RIA Novosti reports.

As RIA Novosti reports, citing Ukrainian media, there are military vehicles taking part in the battle. Local residents report that they see BTR tracks on the road. Besides, last night a BTR and BMD with flags from the Donetsk People’s Republic were seen in Snezhnoye. According to eye-witnesses, the battle is under way in the region of Saur-Mogila – this is a strategic height which enables control of the locality.

Snezhnoye is a city on the border of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine situated near the Russian border.

But the problem remains that these towns and cities are in different directions from each other and cover a very wide area. How is it possible that three tanks that were captured in Lugansk have covered this much ground? It’s not. The theory that some tanks were captured in Crimea is also unlikely. First of all, to our knowledge no tanks were ever recorded as being captured and there were journalists everywhere. Secondly, the Ukrainian military is guarding the only land route on and off the peninsula.

There is no conclusive proof yet, but it is certainly possible, given the number of sightings and the various locations in which the tanks were seen, that there are several different groups of tanks in separatist hands. This actually matches the claims from the Interior Ministry that the tanks crossed the border from Russia in several locations.

And while we don’t know whether it’s related, tanks have been spotted in Donetsk and now there are explosions there:

More Videos Show Separatist Tanks Rolling Through Ukraine’s Streets
More videos show separatists, with heavy weaponry — and tanks — in the streets of southeastern Ukraine. This video was reportedly taken in Torez, west of  Snezhnoye (map). Note that the tank is part of a column of vehicles:
Then there is this video:

The “usual militia” is used here in the sense that these don’t look like Russian military. However, if one looks at their weaponry one would note that there is some serious firepower now in the hands of these militia. Reuters has shared this picture:


They also quote Ukraine’s Interior Minister’s explanation of the movement of the tanks. As we noted earlier,  Avakov said that tanks had crossed the border near Snezhnoye, but another column was seen elsewhere. Reuters now provides details of the other report:

One column, Avakov said, had entered Ukraine in the Dyakove area of the Luhansk region before moving into the neighbouring Donetsk region. Ukrainian forces had confronted the column.

“There is fighting going on,” he said. “Part of the column has been destroyed.”

This picture has been shared today which reportedly shows one of the disabled tanks, though we have not verified it.

UPDATE: This picture is from Georgia. Debunk in the tweet below it:

This claim by the Ukrainian government is being taken seriously by some in the international community, including by Artis Pabrisk, a member of the European Parliamen and the former Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia:
Did Russian Tanks Really Cross The Border Into Ukraine?

As we’ve been reporting, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arseniy Avakov reports that Russian-made T-72 battle tanks have crossed the border and have engaged in battles with Ukrainian forces. Is this claim true? Let’s review the evidence.

While some arms experts have said that the tanks seen in videos are not T-72s but are T-64Bs, the fact remains that battle tanks have been geolocated to the town of Snezhnoye, which matches the reports from the Interior Ministry. There are then two questions:

1) Are those tanks Russian military, or were they captured from Ukraine’s military?

2) Did the tanks cross the border?

A key piece of information:

That website does indeed claim that three T-64 tanks were captured near Lugansk. While this is unverified, the number of tanks does match the number of tanks spotted today by the Interior Ministry, even if the model numbers differ. But there are two more things to keep in mind:

1) It’s possible that there are both T-72 AND T-64 tanks operating in the area. While we can’t discount this possibility, there is also no evidence to support it at this point.

2) Lugansk is a long ways from Snezhnoye. In fact, the main body of the Ukrainian military anti-terror operation is south of Lugansk. These tanks would have to travel through, or around, the Ukrainian military front lines. It’s also important to note that in the video that we have geolocated the tank is traveling north — toward Lugansk. If the vehicle traveled from Lugansk to this area of Ukraine, it may have traveled across the Russian border and to the border in Ukraine’s southeast corner.

Regardless, there are tanks now driving around southeastern Ukraine, not a good sign for those who were looking for a deescalation this week.

Interior Minister Avakov Says T-72 Tanks Entered Ukraine From Russia Last Night

Censor.NET reports that the interior minister, Arseniy Avakov, has told them that the T-72 tanks seen in the Snezhnoye area today entered Ukraine from Russia last night. Avakov reportedly said (translated by The Interpreter):

“Last night, three T-72 tanks crossed the Ukrainian state border from the Russian side. One tank is in the village of Snezhnoye. Two other tanks have moved out of the town. These tanks were intercepted by Ukrainian troops in the vicinity of Snezhnoye. A battle is under way.”

But not everybody agrees that these are T-72s:

Are Separatist Forces Using Tanks in the East?

The have been a number of unconfirmed reports today of T-72 tanks being seen on the move in the town of Snezhnoye in the Donetsk region.

This video was uploaded today and appears to show a T-72 on the move there.

We believe we have located this video as being filmed in Snezhnoye. The yellow building and roundabout are visible on Google Maps in the town. 


 We can compare the Panoramio photo of the building with a screenshot from the video. Note the signage:



What we cannot determine so far is whether this video was actually recorded today.

Another video upload, which we haven’t geolocated yet, is below:

The T-72 is still in regular service in Russia but has been withdrawn from duties in Ukraine. There are however T-72s in storage as reserves in Ukraine. We do not know yet whether, if these videos were recorded today, these tanks were taken from Ukrainian storage sites (as recently seen with the theft and restoration of PTS-2 amphibious vehicles in Lugansk) or brought over the now porous border from Russia.
Armed Men Abduct ‘People’s Mayor’ in Mariupol

Local news site reports that armed men have abducted two men at around 9:40 (6:40 GMT) in the centre of Mariupol today.

Eyewitnesses told 0629 that the incident took place at the intersection of Prospekt Metallurgov and Karl Liebknecht Street.

They described four armed men in camouflage getting out of a Ford and a Mitsubishi, stopping a black and white Honda, and dragging out the driver and lying them down on the tarmac. The driver and passenger of the Honda were placed in a car and driven off. The Honda itself was also taken.

The news site had heard some reports that the Honda belonged to Aleksandr Fomenko, who was selected as the ‘people’s mayor’ of Mariupol during a Donetsk People’s Republic rally on June 1.

The press office of the self-declared ‘Republic’  reported that Fomenko was indeed one of the abductees, adding: 

“This is the elimination of the ‘people’s mayors’, three mayors have already been kidnapped.”

0629 reported that the State Police had received information on the incident. 



Donetsk Administration Says Bus Carrying 25 Children Intercepted by Separatist Fighters
Regional news site OstroV reports that the press office of the Donetsk Regional State Administration has told them that a bus carrying 25 refugee children from the town of Snezhnoye has been intercepted by separatist fighters.
They report (translated by The Interpreter):
This morning, a bus carrying 25 children left the town of Snezhnoye for refuge in Dnipropetrovsk. Among the children were orphans and those raised in family care homes.

The bus, accompnied en route by a police car, was stopped at a road block. The police car was intercepted by armed representatives from the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic]; they grabbed the police officers’ mobile phones”, says the report. 

The bus carrying the children, escorted by the armed men, has continued moving towards Crimea. The children have been left with no supporting documents or assistance.

The fate of the 25 orphans and children from family care homes is unknown. 

The Regional State Administration is currently establishing the details of what happened.