Ukraine Liveblog Day 143: Ukraine Prepares to Move on Donetsk

July 10, 2014
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27s dispense flares over Izyum yesterday. Photo: Ganya Savilov/AFP

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 so check back often.

Reports That A 9k35 Strela-10 Crossed Border From Russia

There are reports that the 9k35 Strela-10 (also known by the NATO reporting name A-13 “Gopher”) entered Lugansk via Russia on July 2nd. 

Other activists reported that it caused traffic jams last week.

Then there is this video, reportedly taken on July 5th. The Strela appears at the 1 minute mark, after a long convoy of other separatist armored vehicles. The flag on one of the vehicles, which we mistook for a Ukrainian flag at the time, is actually the Imperial Flag of Russia:

Where Did Donetsk Separatists Get An Advanced Anti-Aircraft Battery?

The 9K35 Strela-10 is a vehicle-mounted surface-to-air missile, one of the Soviet Union’s more advanced air defense systems, and one that is responsible for knocking jets out of the sky in Angola, Operation Desert Storm, and Kosovo. It is more than capable of destroying Ukrainian helicopters, transport craft, or even jet fighters. A Strela has not, to our knowledge, been reported missing by the Ukrainian military. A Strela is not on a list of weapons, published by RIA Novosti, reportedly captured or destroyed in Ukraine. And yet today a 9K35 Strela-10 was seen rolling down the streets on Donetsk — being driven by Russian-backed separatists.

LifeNews, a news agency with close ties to Russian intelligence and security forces, publishes this video. It shows a significant amount of heavy weaponry in the hands of Donetsk rebels as they construct a barrier to defend the city against Ukraine’s advancing anti-terror operation (ATO). The Strela is clearly visible:

This could be the most obvious — and blatant — piece of evidence that the Ukrainian separatists are being militarily supported by Moscow. It’s not the only piece of evidence, though.

Is it a coincidence that Russian ultranationalist leftist Sergei Kurginyan, who berated the separatists for retreating from Slavyansk, has recently promised more support from Moscow?

Separatist Leaders Prepare To Evacuate Parts of Donetsk

RIA Novosti, a Russian state-operated news agency, has posted a story that says separatist leaders are preparing to evacuate parts of Donetsk in advance of the predicted Ukrainian military assault on the city (translated by The Interpreter):

DPR authorities were preparing a partial evacuation of “some districts of Donetsk,” DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Boroday said at a briefing.

“We were forced to do this. Russia must prepare for several hundred thousand refugees. They practically all want to go to the Russian Federation,” said Boroday.

According to him, the evacuation will be voluntary and it can begin in a few days.

Earlier Kiev authorities said that they would encircle Donetsk.

Ukraine Says 6 Russian Helicopters Crossed The Border

RFE/RL reports that, according to Ukraine’s government, Russian helicopters have crossed the border into Ukraine. Then Kiev makes a threat — illegal aircraft in Ukrainian airspace will be destroyed:

National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko says Ukrainian border guards reported the brief presence of six Russian helicopters just inside Ukrainian airspace. Lysenko said Ukrainian mortar positions and ammunition were reinforced after the helicopters were spotted, apparently making demonstrative flights.

Council chairman Andriy Parubiy says that any aircraft illegally entering Ukrainian airspace will be destroyed. 

Ukrainian Forces Suffer Losses in Attacks in South-East

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the ATO press centre has announced that 3 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and around 30 wounded in the last 24 hours.

A Ural truck came under machinegun fire near the town of Muratove, Luhansk region, at around midnight, the report said. “The truck was ambushed. One serviceman was killed and three were injured,” the press service reported.

It came under fire from an AGS-17 grenade launcher and automatic weapons at a roadblock in the Luhansk region after midnight. A militant was taken prisoner. The servicemen did not suffer any casualties.

The Ukrainian infantry engaged in a shootout with the militia near Siversk, Donetsk region, at about 1 a.m. Two mortar crews were destroyed. Two servicemen were wounded, and a tank was damaged, the press center said.

It confirmed that a BTR-80 infantry fighting vehicle was blown up near Chervona Zoria. Two servicemen died and six were wounded.

Mortar and automatic gunfire was opened on the town of Dolzhansky from the village of Biriukove on Wednesday night. “Seven servicemen were wounded. Two of them are in a serious condition. Four of the injured are border guards,” the press center said.

Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance went into more detail on several of the incidents on his Facebook page.

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

A BTR-80 of the ATO forces was blown up by a landmine near the village of Chervonaya Zarya (in the Donetsk region). 5 members of the security forces were injured.

In this same area a BMP-2 was blown up by another landmine. The ammunition inside the the combat vehicle was detonated. 2 servicemen were killed, 6 wounded.

In addition, terrorists carried out a mortar attack on the Dolzhansky border checkpoint. Militant snipers also attacked security forces. 5 servicemen were wounded. 

A convoy of ATO forces was ambushed. 1 serviceman killed, 3 wounded.

Overnight, 5 ATO checkpoints at various points in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were fired on. One security officer was injured.

The terrorists fired on ATO positions near the village of Metalist, close to Lugansk, with their BM-21 Grad MLRS. All of their rockets missed the positions. There were no casualties. 

Separatists Shell ATO Positions And, Reportedly, Residential Areas

Vladislav Seleznev, the official spokesman for the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), has written on his Facebook page that separatist fighters in Severodonetsk have shelled Ukrainian positions and residential areas.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Seleznev wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

“Having fired several rounds at the positions of the Ukrainian troops, the militants deployed their mortars in the opposite direction and opened fire on residential areas of the city,” wrote Seleznev.

According to operational data, there are no civilian casualties, but “a few buildings in the city were damaged.”

According to the spokesman for the ATO, the terrorists have used this tactic to turn the local population against Ukrainian forces.

We would stress here that Seleznev’s report of the separatists firing on civilian areas in order to tarnish the image of the ATO is not, as yet, verified by any material evidence.

Ukrainian Forces Engaging Separatists Near Donetsk
Ukrainian forces appear to be preparing for an assault on separatist forces in the city of Donetsk. The number of militant fighters in the city has grown after a large number, led by the Russian, Igor Girkin aka Strelkov, evacuated to the city ahead of the liberation of Slavyansk by Ukrainian forces last week. Large quantities of Ukrainian armour were seen on the move along the road to Donetsk from Mariupol yesterday.

Here is another video filmed yesterday which shows a large Ukrainian column en route from Mariupol to Donetsk:

Semyon Semyonchenko, the leader of the volunteer Donbass battalion, reported today on his Facebook page on operations by Ukrainian forces to push through separatist front lines near Donetsk.
He writes (translated by The Interpreter):
Donetsk was awoken by an artillery barrage this morning. 

Several days ago elements of the Ukrainian armed forces – the Dnipr-2 and Donbass battalions – carried out a successful operation, destroying terrorist fortifications and firing positions. 

Today, the same team, using armoured vehicles, is making a decisive attack on the same section of the front. We will provide information on the progress of the situation later.
Stanislav Rechinsky, an adviser to the minister of internal affairs, told the Ukrainian news agency UNN today that the Ukrainian military expected the main separatist fighting force to be pushed out of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions within a month.
Rechninsky noted: “And we already see that the terrorists are in a nervous state.”