Ukraine Liveblog Day 147: Ukrainian Forces Retake Several Villages Around Lugansk

July 14, 2014
Ukrainian paratroopers from the 95th Zhytomir Brigade making preparations yesterday. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / Kyiv Post.

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

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View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Russian Helicopters May Be On The Move, But No Evidence They’re Near The Border

We’ve been tracing an interesting report, a video that claims to show
Russian helicopters flying toward the Ukrainian border near  Losevo,
Pavlovsky District, Voronezh Region (approximately here on a map):

Dramatic video. However our staff has spent hours looking for terrain
like this in the area. We haven’t found it. The highway is completely
different in this area.

However, that may be because the video was taken elsewhere.

In fact, that area is a very close match, and while we have not located the exact location where this video was taken, we’re fairly confident that this is a match.

So the helicopters may have been filmed flying west, which is definitely in the direction of the Ukrainian border, but this is a long way from the border. It may be evidence, however, that the Russian army is mobilizing to the west. There’s certainly other evidence that suggests that. But as of now, we haven’t seen any videos that suggest a move across the border is immediately imminent.

Lugansk ‘Practically Completely Surrounded’ By Ukrainian Forces has more on the fight for Lugansk (translated by The Interpreter):

From all accounts, Lugansk is completely blocked from the west and south, the Ukrainian Army has cut off the connection along two main highways connecting Lugansk to Donetsk. Now the main action is unfolding toward the north of the city, near the village of Metallist. “The ATO forces have liberated Aleksandrovsk, Beloye, Roskoshnoye, Sabovka from the terrorists and are waging a battle for Metallist in the Lugansk Region,” the ATO press center reported on Twitter.

As of this writing, the Ukrainian military has announced the seizure of Metallist. According to Ukrainian journalist Petro Shuklinov, “Lugansk is practically completely surrounded, the terrorists have only one corridor, toward Krasnodon.” This city is to the southeast of the regional center, on the highway toward the Ukrainian-Russian border.

However, tonight battles were still raging there. “A battle at the Izvarino checkpoint, near Krasnodon. Ukrainian military are trying to break through across the Uralo-Kavkaz toward the eastern quarters of the city,” said the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic press service. Thus, the Ukrainian forces are trying to take the city in a total circle, cutting it off from the border of Russia.

This morning the SBU anti-terrorist center reported that some of the militia were retreating from the area of Lugansk Region toward the border with Russia. But the LPR leadership could not confirm this information. For their part, the separatists announced the latest knockdown of a plane from the Ukrainian Air Force; however they did not cite any details. There were also reports of two SU-25 fighter planes shot down which fell on territory under control of the National Guard.

Shell fire from Ukraine has landed on the home of the border town of Donetsk in Rostov Region, killing one man. Vladimir Putin, in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed extreme concern about the assault by the Ukrainian Air Force, RIA Novosti reported.

Immediately, reports appeared in the media about retaliatory pinpoint strikes being prepared against Ukrainian territory by Russia. But Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called them nonsense.

The Fight For Lugansk Intensifies
The fighting in and around Lugansk is intensifying as Ukraine’s military closes in on the separatist headquarters.

As we reported earlier, a series of villages around the town have been partially or completely recaptured by the Ukrainian military in the last 24 hours.

Earlier there were reports that a separatist leader,  Aleksandr Mozhayev, AKA “Babay,” deserted, but that claim is now disputed. According to a report, partially translated by The Interpreter, representatives of Ukraine’s armed forces say that a separatist convoy has actually left Lugansk and is headed toward the Russian border:

Representatives of Ukrainian armed forces announced that supposedly some of the militia have left Lugansk and together with armored vehicles have headed toward the Russian border. No confirmation of this information has come from the LPR itself, therefore there is a likelihood that the [Ukrainian] army is continuing its information warfare and planting rumors.

In fact, the militia gave a reason themselves for this. It is reliably known and confirmed by DPR militia commander Igor Strelkov that Aleksandr Mozhayev, known by the nickname “Babay,” has quit the ranks of defenders of Novorossiya. Mozhayev himself has already written an appeal on the Internet in which he has announced a new recruitment to the first Cossack regiment.

This report is unconfirmed.Ukrainian authorities also reported separatists fleeing Lugansk, some in civilian clothes and vehicles.

What we do know however is that overnight fighting in Lugansk has been intense. Here is a video which reportedly shows some of the fighting though we have not confirmed its authenticity nor the location that it was taken.

This video reportedly shows destroyed Ukrainian armor, the result of an ambush by rebel forces outside of Lugansk near Lutuhyne, south of the village of Roskoshnoye which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in the last 24 hours (map). The vehicles were reportedly ambushed during a raid launched by Ukrainian forces to open up the road to Lugansk airport just to the east. It seems that even as Ukraine advances the separatists have plenty of heavy weapons capable of doling out destruction and slowing down the Ukrainian ATO:

The Ukraine at War blog and Storyful’s Rachael Kennedy estimate that this is the exact location of the convoy.

We believe that’s a separatist fighter at the end of the video, indicating that the Ukrainian military’s incursion was not successful, however there are reports that the airport has been recaptured so it’s unclear what happened right after this ambush.

The narrator says that a “truck with mortars which exploded” was hit by an “ambush with RPGs.” At one point what is described as an unexploded mortar is shown. He also says that there were bodies but that they had been pulled to the side and he did not record them so his video would not be removed by Youtube.

The Ukraine at War blog reports that this video shows fires burning at the Lugansk airport last night. We have not verified these claims, however. As we reported earlier, Ukrainian forces say that the separatists attacked the airport with GRAD rockets. The fires in a successive straight line could be consistent with that report.

Russia Proposes OSCE Monitors at Border Crossings

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued the following statement (translated by The Interpreter) in which they propose the deployment of OSCE monitors to the Donetsk and Gukovo border crossings:

Due to the sharp deterioration of the situation in the area where Kiev’s security operation is being conducted in south-eastern Ukraine, the Russian side, as an act of goodwill, without waiting for the establishment of a ceasefire, is inviting OSCE monitors to the Donetsk and Gukovo border crossings on the Russo-Ukrainian border.

Today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, S.V. Lavrov sent a letter to the President of Switzerland, the chairman-in-office of the OSCE, D. Burkhalter. At the same time, at the OSCE, Russia is introducing a draft decision of the Permanent council of the organisation on the deployment of monitors. We expect that this document will be approved as soon as possible.

We believe that this step will help create favourable conditions for the realisation of the objectives of a rapid cessation of violence, and the start of an inclusive and transparent all-Ukrainian dialogue, as set out in the Geneva declaration of April 17 and the Berlin declaration of July 2.

Russian Stocks Dip, But Not Because Of Ukraine

The Russian MICEX is down about 1% today, but business analysts don’t seem to be making any connection between the drop and events in Ukraine. Bloomberg reports:

The gauge lost 0.7 percent to 1,488.09 by 3:21 p.m. in Moscow after rising 0.7 percent last week. Lukoil, the nation’s second-biggest oil producer, fell 3.6 percent before adjusting for the payout and 0.7 percent after. Inter RAO slumped 4.5 percent after saying July 11 OAO Vnesheconombank will exercise a put option the power company can’t pay for without state aid.

Energy shares dropped 1.6 percent on average on the Micex, the biggest decline among nine industry groups. Some stocks have come under pressure in the past month as companies distribute dividends. Lukoil has a 14 percent weighting on the gauge, the second-biggest. Inter RAO said it may need government aid or to sell its stake in OAO Irkutskenergo to buy back 31.4 billion rubles ($918 million) of its shares from Vnesheconombank.

“Technically and psychologically, dividend cut-off dates are pressuring energy shares,” Aleksei Belkin, who helps manage about $4 billion as chief investment officer at Kapital Asset Management LLC in Moscow, said by phone.

That article mentioned Ukraine a total of zero times. 

As we’ve been reporting, the crisis in Ukraine did significant damage to the Russian economy for a time. Though the losses in February and March have since been corrected, the crisis has slowed overall growth in an environment where Russia’s economy was already fairly stagnant. But despite damage done, investors don’t seem to be paying any attention to what’s going on in Ukraine. Russia’s markets seem to believe that sanctions are inconsequential, open warfare will be avoided, and covert warfare will have no further consequences. They are back to worrying about the overall weakness in Russia’s economy.

Of course, this all could change pretty quickly if the situation escalates significantly over the next week or so. There are signs that things could be escalating, but the Russian markets have seen this before, and for now they don’t seem worried.

The Ruble, on the other hand, is losing value, and is down .4% against both the dollar and the euro. Again, Bloomberg reports:

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian insurgents continued hostilities, with both sides accusing each other of an attack on residential apartments in Donetsk. U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia must support a cease-fire, release all hostages, prevent the transit of weapons and fighters across the border and engage in a road-map for talks. More sanctions will follow if President Vladimir Putin fails to take those steps, they said.

“The armed stand-off continues without any signs of a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist at ING Groep NV in Moscow, said in an e-mailed note. Further economic sanctions are still on the table, “which reflects in the ruble’s rate,” he said.

NATO Says Russian Troops Once Again Building On Ukraine’s Border

We’ve seen a large amount of equipment appear in the hands of the separatists since July 2nd, including new tanks and new anti-aircraft systems. We’ve also seen both sides accuse the other of attacking across the border. Now NATO is warning that Russia is once again building its military presence on the border with Ukraine:

“Our current assessment is that between 10,000 and 12,000 troops are now in the area … In the last week alone, we have seen several units moving into the border region,” the officer said.

Ukrainian Security Council Says An-26 Downed by Either Russian SAM or Fighter reports that Andrei Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO) has told reporters that the An-26 shot down in the Lugansk region could have been struck by a missile from either a Pantsir anti-aircraft system in Russia, or an air-to-air missile from a Russian fighter.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

“The aircraft was hit at an altitude of 6,500 metres. None of the anti-aircraft missile systems at the disposal of the terrorists could damage an aircraft at this altitude. The An-26 was struck by other, more powerful weapons, probably from Russian territory,” said the spokesman.

Lysenko said that, based on data received from Ukrainian pilots, two versions of the incident were being considered.

“The strike could have come from the modern Pantsir missile complex or an air-to-air homing missile from a Russian aircraft, which could have taken off from the Millerovo airbase,” said the representative of the SNBO.

The SNBO also confirmed that the the crew of the aircraft had successfully bailed out.

Separatists Claim They’ve Captured Crew Of Ukrainian Aircraft

As we’ve been reporting, a Ukrainian AN-26 military cargo transport was shot down today. The separatists are now reporting that they have captured some of the crew. This is a tweet from the press office for the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic.’

Translation: LNR: Four members of the crew of the An-26 military aircraft, shot down in the LNR, have been taken into captivity. They are being questioned in Krasnodon.

The picture appears to be a capture from one of the Youtube videos we posted earlier.

Gunmen Fire on Minibus in Donetsk, a Donetsk-based news site, reports that a minibus was fired on by unknown gunmen last night in the centre of the city on Lagutenko street.


One person was wounded and is now in hospital. The report says that the police have no further information on the incident and that representatives from the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ are on the scene and have prevented law enforcement agencies from investigating.

A source suggested to that the shooting may have been the result of infighting between separatist groups.

Ukraine Says Aircraft Was Shot Down By Advanced Missiles

The Russian separatists have been spotted with many anti-aircraft missiles. Most of them are MANPADS, shoulder-fired rockets that are quite effective. The main weapon in this category is the 9K38 Igla. But that weapon is only capable of hitting planes that are traveling at no more than approximately 3.5 kilometers (11,000 feet). Recently, we’ve been tracking a weapon which very well may have crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine on July 2-3rd. This is the advanced 9K35 Strela-10. But even this weapon has a maximum intercept range of about 3500 meters.

Below is the English press release from the Ukrainian President’s Office:

Crew members of An-26 established contact with the General Staff – report of the Minister of Defense to the President of Ukraine

Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletey reported to President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko that crew members of An-26 that had been fulfilling the task within the active phase of the CTO had established contact with the General Staff.

Also, given the fact that the plane was going at a height of 6500 m, its damaging by MANPADS was impossible. Thus, the plane was downed by another, more powerful missile weapon that probably was used from the territory of the Russian Federation.

Currently, SAR mission is being conducted to deliver the crew of the plane to the territory controlled by Ukrainian servicemen.

6500 meters would be well out of the operational range for both the Igla and the Strela. The 9K330 Tor missile system is capable of hitting targets in roughly this range (about 6,000 meters). The K12 Kub is capable of hitting targets at 14,000 meters, but there is no indication that the separatists have either of these weapons. 

The  9k37 Buk is a weapon with a range of up to 14000 meters, but has never been seen in the hands of separatists. The Russian network TV Zvezda, the news network for the Russian military, did report that a Buk fell to separatist hands on June 29th. However, is it possible that TV Zvezda was “seeding” the story, planting an explanation for why the separatists would have such an advanced weapons system? After all, they are the only source reporting this story to our knowledge, there are no pictures or videos of the separatists possessing this missile system, nor have we been able to tie the claims made by TV Zvezda back to a specific incident that may have resulted in the loss of such a weapon. Just one day later Ukraine launched its new anti-terrorism operation, capturing significant separatist territory and flushing out a lot of the separatist vehicles, and yet no 9k37 Buks were spotted during this time to our knowledge.

It’s also worth noting, however, that the claims that the aircraft was flying at 6500 meters has also not been confirmed.

Our investigation will continue.

Ukraine Says Anti-Aircraft Missile May Have Been Fired From Russia
Some breaking news from Sky:

We’re not sure what “probably” or “likely” means or which is the right translation, but we’ll get details when we have them.

This video also reportedly shows the plane being shot down. At about the 23 second mark a verticle flash can be seen in the video. This roughly matches the previous video:

The separatists have a variety of MANPADS (shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles) and a more powerful anti-aircraft weapon, the 9K35 Strela-10, which has effectively shot down aircraft in the 1988 Angola War, during Operation Desert Storm, and during Kosovo. It’s not clear how high the aircraft was flying when it was hit though this is an issue we will try to investigate.

Both Russia and Ukraine have accused the other of firing across the border. Since Friday, Ukraine has accused Russia of conducting cross-border rocket attacks and helping the separatists move fighters and heavy equipment from Russia into Ukrainian territory. Also this weekend Russia accused Ukraine of shelling a Russian village with GRAD rockets, though the details in that incident are also disputed.

See the analysis we posted yesterday which tries to sort the various claims.

Ukrainian Transport Aircraft Reportedly Shot Down in Lugansk Region

A Ukrainian Antonov An-26 cargo aircraft has reportedly been shot down by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region. The disappearance of the aircraft has been confirmed by the press centre of the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation.

The YouTube channel for the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ carries a video which purportedly shows the downing the wreckage of the aircraft:

This video is, so far, unverified.

Ukrainska Pravda reported that the press centre for the ATO had announced that the aircraft had vanished.

They cite the ATO press centre (translated by The Interpreter):

“At 12:30 [9:30 GMT], communication was lost with an Air Force An-26 aircraft, which was providing air-transport support for the active phase of the ATO.

The causes of the loss of contact are being checked. A search and rescue operation is now under way in the identified area of the Lugansk region.”

Earlier, UNIAN reported that the organiser of the ‘civic initiative’ Prava Sprava, Dmitro Snigiryov, had reported that he had received news of the downing from local witnesses.

He claimed that the aircraft had been downed by separatists using MANPADS from woodland near the Vostochnaya mine (owned by Krasnodonugol) in the Krasnodon district. He claimed that the pilot had bailed out.

Ukrainian Forces Retake Several Villages Around Lugansk

UNIAN reports that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has announced the retaking by Ukrainian forces of several villages on the outskirts of Lugansk, where government forces are making a concerted push against separatist fighters.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

The situation is most acute in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, Lisichansk, Severodonetsk and Antratsyt. In these settlements the militants are preparing captured state administration buildings as fortified positions. Central state television stations and radio channels have been blocked in the cities, but Russian television channels, which do not provide an objective view of the actions of ATO troops during the liberation of the cities of the Donetsk region from terrorists, are being broadcast. 

The militants are continuing to intimidate the local population. There are documented cases of looting and the seizure of property and commercial vehicles, which raises tensions amongst the local residents.

Thanks to the conduction of active military operations by the armed forces and other security bodies engaged in the ATO, the settlements of Metalist, Aleksandrovsk, Beloye and Roskoshnoye have been liberated from the militants and the blockade around Lugansk Airport has been lifted.

Due to the successful offensive operations by the ATO forces in the Donetsk area, some of the militants are trying to leave the city while dressed  in civilian clothes in cars stolen from citizens.

Over the last 24 hours illegal armed groups have carried out 5 shellings on checkpoints and the positions of units of the armed forces. From around 00:23-00:30 [21:23-30 GMT] an attack was made with small arms on a checkpoint near the village of Staraya Krasnyanka. Ukrainian soldiers opened fire in response. 

At around 3:00 [00:00 GMT] the terrorists fired on Lugansk Airport with Grad rocket launchers from the direction of the suburb of Ostraya Mogila.

There was also an unsuccessful attempt made by the militants to break through a checkpoint near Zelenopolye at around 23:00 [20:00 GMT]. 2 cars carrying militants were destroyed by ATO forces during the battle. There were no losses among the members of the armed forces.