Ukraine Liveblog Day 120: Fighting Continues in the Borderlands

June 17, 2014
Fighting in Slavyansk last night. Photo: @sloviansk

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.

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Ukrainian Tank Disabled By Separatists In Lugansk?

This video was reportedly taken in Lugansk, near the front lines of Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation, and was uploaded today:

We have not verified the location and so far there is no confirmation from Kiev that the military has lost a tank.

A translation of the audio indicates that the civilians who are near the tank say that the commander and tank driver are dead and are now inside one of the homes nearby. One of the men says that there is plenty of TNT and active explosives inside the tank. He also mentions that the tank commander was shot, but the driver shot himself.

Videos Reportedly Show Ukraine Military Convoys
Several videos like this have been posted since late last week, each reportedly showing significant amounts of Ukrainian military firepower moving toward the front lines of the Ukrainian military anti-terror operation (ATO).

We have not geolocated the video, but the key difference between this troop movement and the corresponding Russian reaction is that the Ukrainian government does not deny that they are moving troops toward the front lines of the battle. And there is also no evidence that Ukraine’s military is preparing to invade Russia as these troops have a clear purpose, albeit one that Russia disagrees with — the retaking of territory captured by separatist militants.
Ukraine Closes Its Borders To Russia — and Transnistria
Not only had the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) closed its borders to Russia, which is to be expected, it has also closed its borders to Transnistria, the breakaway republic in Moldova where Russia has an unlawful contingent of “peacekeepers” which Russia, in an agreement with Moldova, said would be withdrawn back in 1994.
US State Department Says They’re Investigating Russian Movement
This statement from the State Department is perhaps days late and follows on the heels of information that we have been posting for several days, as well as statements made by the Ukraine government, that show Russian troops and armored vehicles moving toward the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry Considering Terrorism as Possible Cause of Pipeline Blast

The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has issued a statement on its website, addressing the pipeline explosion earlier today. The statement says that terrorism is being seriously considered as a probably cause while investigations are under way.

The statement reports that (translated by The Interpreter):

The flow of gas through this branch of the pipeline is currently shut off. The danger of a greater catastrophe has been averted, as of 16:15 [13:15 GMT], the fire has been extinguished. Gas is being passed through the reserve branch at full volume. An MVD operational group is conducting investigations to determine the cause of the explosion. Several versions of the event are being considered, including the key scenario – a terrorist act. According to local residents, just before the outbreak of fire, they heard two loud bangs, which may be evidence of deliberate explosions, said the Minister for the internal affairs of Ukraine.

At the moment the investigative department has opened a criminal case under part 3, article 292 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code. If the key scenario is confirmed, the case will be reclassified under terrorism articles. 

I would like us to recall that, on the eve of the presidential elections, we prevented two attempts to commit terrorist acts on the Ukrainian gas transport system in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. Furthermore, on June 3 the prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatseniuk, announced in his statement at the Verkhovna Rada that these acts of sabotage were intended to discredit the Ukrainian gas transport system, interrupt the transit of gas to Europe, and most importantly: to legitimise the ‘South Stream’ pipeline in the eyes of Europe.

Article 292 of the Part 3 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code is as follows (taken from


Article 292. Endamagement of facilities on main pipelines for oil, gas, or oil products

1. Endamagement or destruction of main pipelines for oil, gas, or oil products, or branch pipes, or any technologically related facilities, constructions, or automation, signal and communication devices, where it disrupts normal operation of such pipelines or exposes human lives to danger, –

shall be punishable by a fine up to 100 tax-free minimum incomes, or correctional labor for a term up to two years, or restraint of liberty for a term up to five years, or imprisonment for a term up to five years.

2. The same actions, if repeated, or committed by a group of persons upon their prior conspiracy, or by a generally dangerous method, –

shall be punishable by restraint of liberty for a term up to five years, or imprisonment for a term of three to eight years.

3. Any such actions as provided for by paragraph 1 or 2 of this Article, if they caused death of people, or accidents involving people, or industrial accidents, or fire, or significant pollution of environment, or any other grave consequences, or committed by an organized group of persons, –

shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to twelve years.


Both Leaders of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Now in Moscow

On June 11 Denis Pushilin, the ‘Chairman of the Supreme Soviet’ of the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ turned up in Moscow. He was photographed by the BBC’s Daniel Sandford at a meeting with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

Today Daniels reported that Aleksandr Boroday, the ‘prime minister’ of the separatist group, is also in Moscow:

Judging from an ITAR-TASS report today, Pushilin is still in the city. Confusingly, Pushilin announced that the DPR would form an alliance with their fellow separatists in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic:

He said the republic would form a close alliance with another self-proclaimed republic — Luhansk People’s Republic — and cooperate with international bodies in the post-Soviet space.

“Many ministries of the proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics will work jointly, because the two republics have signed a union treaty and have similar action programs,” Pushilin said. “We’re looking to Russia, the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community.”

 This announcement is confusing because on May 24 an ‘act’ was reportedly signed establishing a union between the two entities, creating the “unified state of Novorossiya”. The agreement was reportedly signed in the name of Boroday and was publicly heralded by Pushilin:

While Pushilin does mention the existence of a union treaty in the ITAR-TASS report, his proclamation of a future “close alliance” seems to suggest that the “unified state of Novorossiya” has not, as yet, come into existence. Indeed, despite a large rally the following day in Donetsk, at which the first newspapers headed ‘Novorossiya’ were handed out, there has been little mention of the name since, while separatists in Donetsk have continuously referred to the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

The rally on May 25 was notably attended by a large force from the Vostok battalion, who later on stormed and temporarily took over the DPR headquarters in Donetsk.

Since then Boroday and Pushilin have insisted they are still in charge, however the presence of both the leaders of the DPR in Moscow, despite continued action in Donetsk, is intriguing

Two Russian Journalists Killed Near Lugansk

The Guardian has more details of a story which we reported earlier. Now two Rossiya 24 journalists, a reporter and a sound engineer, have been killed outside Lugansk:

Sound engineer Anton Voloshin was killed at the scene – the village of Metalist [Metallist] village outside the city of Luhansk – while a reporter, Igor Kornelyuk, died in hospital during surgery. A third member of the crew survived.

This video provides some insight into what may have happened. It starts off with the cameraman filming something smoking. The smoke gets worse right before the explosion. Our best guess is that a mortar shell had already landed there but did not detonate right away. After the first explosion, several incoming shells can be heard, and there are more explosions.

A possible alternative explanation is that the first explosion, likely of whatever we see smoking at the start of the video, triggered incoming fire. As the video starts after the incident has started, it’s not entirely clear.

It seems that the journalists were near what appear to be separatist APCs when the explosion occurred.

Just three days ago The Interpreter summarized a report from Igor Kornelyuk who was reporting near the front lines of the Ukrainian military anti-terror operation in and around Lugansk.

Here is the Rossiya 24 report (one of several we’ve been watching) on the deaths of the journalists. According to this report, the Rossiya 24 team had gone to investigate a home that was reportedly shelled. When they reached the area the separatist militants told the TV crew that it was too dangerous and that they should leave. They were on their way back to the hotel when they reached the separatist checkpoint, which was then fired upon, reportedly by the Ukrainian military.

Rossiya 24 reports that the crew were wearing clearly identifiable press markings. The cameraman is seen hiding underneath what looks like a PTS-2 amphibious APC, one of several recently captured by the separatists. We never seen the position from which the incoming shells came from, so it’s not clear whether the people firing could see precisely what was happening at the checkpoint.

Gazprom Stocks Drop After Ukraine Pipeline Explosion

Contrary to the impression that the lack of mainstream media coverage of Ukraine might give readers, this have intensified greatly in the last 24-48 hours. Yesterday started with Russia telling Ukraine that its gas would be shut off. By the end of the day there were clear indications that convoys of Russian troops were charging toward the border as Moscow was demanding that Ukraine shut down their intensifying anti-terrorism operation to resecure the border. Today, a major gas pipeline has been destroyed.

The Russian markets, or at least specific stocks, have noticed:

The MICEX index also took a small hit today, closing down .71%, though the incident likely happened too late in the day for the markets to fully react so it’s hard to see how significant the damage is.

The MICEX has been on a gnetle but consistent slide since last Wednesday but has largely recovered from the brief crisis it faced during February and March.

Russia’s Remote Controlled War in Ukraine

What is the evidence that Russia’s military intelligence apparatus is in direct control of the situation in eastern Ukraine? After several months of work, The Interpreter has released a report documenting and analyzing the evidence that the Kremlin has already directly intervened in eastern Ukraine.

The efforts of the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine hinge on a single highly important tactic — plausible deniability. As we demonstrate, at every turn there is strong circumstantial evidence of direct covert action and indirect coordination with Russian allies on the ground in Ukraine, but definitive proof remains frustratingly elusive (though there are holes in the Kremlin’s smokescreen). The separatists in eastern Ukraine are then coordinating their efforts, which Russia maintains are independent from Moscow’s direction, with the diplomatic and military maneuvers taken by the Russian government serve the needs  of the separatists on the ground.

Heavily armed gunmen, many of them Russian citizens, fighting in coordinated attacks, operating with military efficiency, striking targets which suggest the possession of military-grade intelligence, all serve as compelling-but-circumstantial evidence that the separatist insurgents are directly supported by the Russian military intelligence apparatus. But the methodical intersection of the Russian government’s diplomatic, propagandistic, and military actions with the military and political realities on the ground in eastern Ukraine prove that at the very least Russia’s military intelligence complex is coordinating its efforts with the pro-Kremlin separatists in order to destabilize eastern Ukraine and increase Russia’s control over post-Yanukovych Ukraine.

The problem that Ukraine and the West face is that Putin is able to preserve face and thus his economic and political influence as long as he can deny direct state control. By utilizing proxy groups and spreading disinformation as long as possible, the Kremlin is buying itself time to destabilize the situation until Ukrainian control in the Donbass is no longer tenable. Knowing full well that European states will hold out until the last before sacrificing their economic interests (exemplified by France’s continued export of Mistral assault ships and the UK’s hesitancy to risk economic relations), Putin can act as long as that thinnest sliver of doubt remains as to whether the Russian state is in full control of the operation.


More Videos and Pictures of Natural Gas Pipeline in Ukraine
As you can see from the multiple news reports and multiple video and still camera angles, the explosion of the gas pipeline in Ukraine is confirmed:

First Video of Gas Pipeline Explosion in Ukraine
As we’ve reported below, there has been an explosion on a gas line in the Poltava region of Ukraine. Below is the first image we’ve seen of the explosion.
And video:

Explosion on Gas Pipeline in Poltava Region

Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Interfax-Ukraine (translated by The Interpreter):

There has been an explosion on the Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod pipeline in the Lokhvytsia district of the Poltava oblast.

This is reported by Interfax-Ukraine, citing the press office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Poltava oblast.

“A report of an explosion came in at around 14:20 [11:20 GMT]. Fortunately, there no one was injured. Fire fighting is still ongoing”, said the press office.

According to the police, the explosion occurred on a section of the gas pipeline in a field around 1 km from the nearest settlement. “According to eyewitnesses, the flames rose to a hight of around 200 metres”, said the press office.

The Ukrtransgaz press office has no information about the incident as of yet. 

Six Killed in Yesterday’s Fighting in Kramatorsk

UNIAN reports that they have been informed by the Donetsk Regional Administration’s health department that 6 people were killed in fighting in Kramatorsk yesterday.

They were informed that 13 people have had to receive medical treatment, 8 of whom are hospitalised “in states of varying severity”. Some of the casualties will have to transported to regional medical centres. 

Novosti Donbassa reported on the fighting:

Intense battles are under way in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. This is being reported by eyewitnesses and users of social networks. 

According to eyewitness reports there is very dense smoke above Slavyansk and powerful explosions have been heard. 

Twitter users have reported shelling in several locations in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.

Photo: Novosti Donbassa

Photo: UNIAN

Armed Men Occupy Prosecutor’s Office in Donetsk

Regional news site OstroV reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Armed men have occupied the offices of the Donetsk City Prosecutor. OstroV was informed of this by a source in law enforcement. 

Yesterday afternoon, June 16, armed men in camouflaged uniforms entered the City Prosecutor’s building. Departmental workers were not present at the time. It is known that the armed men are still inside the building”, said the source to OstroV.

According to him, the details of the incident are being investigated.

Gennady Kernes Returns to Kharkov

Gennady Kernes, the mayor of Kharkov, is due to return to his city today following surgery in Haifa, Israel, to save his life after an assassination attempt on April 28. Kernes is due to arrive in the next few minutes.

An announcement on the Kharkov city website reads (translated by The Interpreter):

The mayor of the city of Kharkov, Gennady Kernes, will return to Kharkov on the 17th of June at around 15:00 [12:00 GMT].

The mayor will arrive at Kharkov international airport from Israel, where he has been receiving treatment.  

We’re inviting media representatives to Kharkov airport (1-a Romashkina street) for 14:30 at the VIP terminal. A press conference will be held for journalists. 

Reports Say One Russian Journalist Killed and Another Wounded Near Lugansk

Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti reports that separatist sources have told them that two Russian journalists came under fire near Lugansk in south-eastern Ukraine. 

They report that one, so far unnamed, was killed, while another,  Igor Kornelyuk, was seriously injured. The report of Kornelyuk’s wounding was apparently confirmed by his employer, the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). 

 They report (translated by The Interpreter):

According to initial reports, one of the Russian journalists, who came under fire outside Lugansk, has been killed. The other, a correspondent for VGTRK, was seriously wounded, report the militia.

“Igor Kornelyuk, a VGTRK correspondent, has been seriously wounded, cameraman Viktor Denisov was not injured”, a source told the agency. VGTRK confirmed the report that their correspondent had been wounded outside Lugansk. 

Combat in Eastern Lugansk and Donetsk Regions

Vladislav Seleznev, the spokesman for the government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), announced today that a large column of separatist fighters had been found and engaged in the east of the Lugansk region.

He writes on his Facebook page:

Sources report that yesterday ATO forces discovered a large column of militants in the east of the Lugansk region. The number of militants significantly exceeded the numbers in the ATO unit. The militants opened fire. The Ukrainian soldiers set up a defensive position. Reserve combat forces quickly arrived in the area to support the Ukrainian unit. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Ukrainian unites, the militant column suffered heavy losses. Up to 30 militants were killed or wounded. One Ukrainian serviceman was wounded. A medical evacuation was organised and conducted. The solder is now in hospital.

Meanwhile, in the Donetsk region, there were reports of a number of attacks by separatist fighters on government positions.

Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance wrote on his Facebook page:

According to Information Resistance’s operational data, several attacks on ATO forces were recorded last night.

In particular, an assault was launched on a joint block-post held by border guards and ATO forces near the vilage of Alekseyevskoye (in the Amvrosievsky district in the Donetsk region). Bombardment with rocket propelled grenades detonated the munitions stored at the block-post. Around ten members of the security forces were injured.

There was also an attack on an ATO checkpoint at a turn between Krasny Liman and Slavyansk. Security forces returned fire. There were no casualties among the servicemen.

Both the Alekseyevskoye and the eastern Lugansk clashes are close to the border with Russia. Yesterday Andriy Parubiy, the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, said that Ukrainian forces were pushing back separatists from the border regions and working to establish a “line of containment” starting from Birukovye in the south, and closing as their forces moved east from Horodyshche to Novokievka.

However the Alekseyevskoye attack comes well to the south of this line. Indeed there has been considerable fighting in the area around Marinovka and Dmitrovka in recent weeks. 

Meanwhile, this post from @sloviansk purportedly shows images of shelling and flares last night in Slavyansk:

All translations by The Interpreter.