Ukraine Liveblog Day 153: Russian-Backed Separatists Move Bodies Of Flight MH17 Victims

July 20, 2014
"Bodies being loaded into these refrigerated rail cars in city of Torez. #MH17 - 5:01 AM - 20 Jul 2014" - Paul Sonne of the Wall Street Journal

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.

Putin Calls to ‘Cease Bloodshed’ and for ‘Absolute Security’ For ICAO Experts at Malaysian Crash Site

The Kremlin has released a statement by President Vladimir Putin from his resident at Novo Ogaryovo at 01:40 am July 21st.

The Interpreter has provided a translation:

In connection with the terrible tragic events which occurred in the sky above Donetsk, I would like once again to say how we in Russia regard the events that are going on today in Ukraine.

We have repeatedly called on all sides of the conflict to immediately cease bloodshed and sit down at the negotiation table. With confidence we can say that if the combat actions in the east of Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, then this tragedy would not likely have happened.

Meanwhile, no one should, nor has the right to exploit this tragedy to achieve selfish political aims.  Such events should not divide but should united people. It is necessary that all people who have responsibility for the situation in the region increase their accountability both before their own people and the people of the countries whose representatives became victims of this catastrophe.

We must do everything to ensure the security of the work of international experts at the site of the tragedy. Today representatives of Donbass, Donetsk, the representatives of the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry and experts from Malaysia are already working there. But that is not enough.

It is necessary that a full-fledged group of experts under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organization works at the site of the catastrophe. Everything must be done to ensure its full, absolute security and to ensure the necessary humanitarian corridors for its work.

For its part, Russia will do everything that depends on it so that the conflict in the east of Ukraine moves from today’s military phase to the phase of discussion at the negotiation table by peaceful and exclusively diplomatic means.

Separatists Publish Expense Report – Night Vision Scope, Satellite Communications, and ‘Humanitarian’ Handcuffs

The VKontakte community “Strelkov’s Dispatches,” which has been publishing information from the pro-Russian separatists for months, has issued a report on purchases made “for the militia by Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky.”

Supporters of the separatists said that after the fighters fled from Slavyansk, they bought more supplies for their movement, concentrating on a specific group of “Strelkovites” who had “heroically covered the retreat from Slavyansk with armored vehicles.”

The items the rebels shopped for including everything from boots and knapsacks to a night vision scope and handcuffs for what they described as the “humanitarian” detention of prisoners of war.

 Regarding the most expensive item on their list — a satellite communications system for 300,000 rubles or $8,500, they commented:

“We are not providing details or showing a photo in light of the risk of discovering the location via the model of the device.”

Supporters say that after they published their last report of purchases, they raised about 1.750 million rubles or US $50,000 to add to the remainder of funds they had previously raised, and thus had the equivalent of some $63,500 in cash to buy gear, electronics, camouflage uniforms, boots, and other equipment for the Donbass fighters.

The Interpreter has translated the shopping list, with prices in rubles:

50 Walkie-talkies – 75,000
50 accessories for walkie-talkies – 25,000
Night vision sight – 30,000
Calimator reflex scopes – 75,000
4 Planks for scopes – 16,000
Binoculars – 10 – 80,000
3 Solar batteries – 21,000
5 GPS navigators – 40,000
Satellite communication – 300,000
6 Backpacks with unloaders – 31,200
4 camouflage uniforms – 8,000
10 camouflage coveralls – 15,000
7 pairs of boots – 14,7000
5 tactical belts – 2,800
7 holsters – 6,600
8 handles for AK 8s – 3,200
10 signal cartridges – 10,000
20 Handcuffs (for humane detention of war prisoners) – 16,000
25 helmets – 8,300
20 Sappers’ shovels – 8,000
25 Chemical warfare suits – 75,000

About 120,000 rubles were spent on transportation of the freight and vehicle repair, and they also ordered 100 more walkie-talkies for 150,000 rubles and had some additional expenss for mobile communications, drivers, etc. of 50,000 rubles with 380,000 rubles left over.

The coordinator of the purchases supplied the numbers of accounts at Sberbank and Webmoney to send donations, and even published his email to use to send funds via Western Union.

In addition to their shopping expedition, supporters describe that they received donations of  camouflage outfits, 10 bullet-proof vests and 5 generators.

They also provided aid to a widow of a slain fighter and assistance in order to evacuate three families to Russia.

The knives weren’t in the list, but a picture of them was included with the report.




Ukrainian Police Discover Mass Grave in Slavyansk

A mass grave has been found in the city of Slavyansk, recently re-taken by Ukrainian military as pro-Russian separatists fled, Information Resistance reported, citing the TV station

“In Slavyansk, I met with the group for the Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation department. They discovered a burial ground with civilians of Slavyansk who had been tortured to death. There were dozens of them. They were tortured, stabbed, and burned alive. Now there are witnesses to all of this,” said Yury Lutsenko, advisor to the president on TSN.


In recent weeks there have been reports in Western media and by human rights watchdog Amnesty International of kidnappings, torture and disappearances in Slavyansk and other towns in southeastern Ukraine under control of pro-Russian separatists. Ukrainian forces have also been alleged to mistreat detainees.

‘This Is The Moment Of Truth For Russia’ – But What About The World’s Response?

US Secretary of State John Kerry had strong words for Russia today:

“This is the moment of truth for Russia,” Kerry said. “Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists, and Russia has not yet done the things necessary in order to try to bring them under control.”

In addition, he said the administration was hopeful that the shoot-down would galvanize support in Europe for increasing sanctions on Russia over its overall actions in Ukraine.

“We hope this is a wake-up call for some countries in Europe that have been reluctant to move,” Kerry said, recalling that President Barack Obama had signed off on a new round of sanctions on Russia the day before the plane went down Thursday.

Regarding the Buk anti-aircraft system suspected of knocking Malaysian Flight MH17 out of the sky, Kerry said he knew who to blame:

“It’s pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia into the hands of separatists,” he said.

But inside these statements there may be a hidden clue about what the United States will do to punish Russia and stop its further aggression — not much. The US keeps pointing toward Europe to lead the way in sanctions, and while there has been criticism of the US’s weak response to this crisis, in some ways the US has been more heavy-handed than its European allies. So If Europe does nothing, the US may do nothing as well.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said that she would like the international investigation to progress further before jumping to conclusions, but Kremlin-backed separatist gunmen, the very people who are accused of shooting down MH17, are the ones guarding the crash site. This sums it up nicely.

Separatists ‘Recover’ MH17 Black Boxes

The BBC reports:

Alexander Borodai said the devices had been taken to Donetsk, the biggest rebel-held city in the east.

NBC adds that there is confusion about the identity of the men seen carrying the black boxes (which are actually orange for visibility purposes):

It is not clear what happened to the black box. The crash site, in a contested area of eastern Ukraine, is under the control of pro-Russian separatists. The men in the video are wearing Ukrainian Emergency Ministry uniforms, but a senior Ukrainian official told a news conference Sunday that rebels had taken the black boxes. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said the search of the site was being complicated by the rebels. Bodies of some of the victims were seized at gunpoint by rebels and stored on a train. However, the militants’ leader told NBC News the bodies were removed by rebels who were being “humane.”

Both the government in Kiev and the separatist leaders appear to agree, however, that the separatists have the flight data recorders, though the separatist deny that they have moved the black boxes to Moscow.

Here is the video:

Audio recordings released by the Ukrainian government (and discussed in depth earlier on this liveblog) reportedly show that the separatists were working with Russian military intelligence to recover the flight data recorders and deliver them to Moscow.
How To Beat Putin In The Games He Plays

The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief, Michael Weiss, has written an analysis for the New York Daily News. In the article he examines the evidence that Russia played a major role in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Evidence that Kremlin-backed separatists in east Ukraine downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is now so overwhelming as to rule out any other culprit, at least outside the imaginations of conspiracy theorists or professional Kremlin propagandists.

For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has waged maskirovka warfare in east Ukraine – an old, Soviet-perfected model of destabilizing foreign countries which is characterized by dissimulation, misdirection and plausible deniability, all done with the use of arms-length proxies.

Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, continues to maintain that he has nothing to do with the separatists even as their political leadership has lately visited Moscow begging for more materiel and even opened a satellite office there to coordinate their activities more closely with their master and patron. It also pays to remember that Putin denied invading and annexing Crimea – until he didn’t.

Weiss goes on to explain how he came to this conclusion, and what exactly the world can do about it — which, as it turns out, is a whole lot:

According to the independent InDem Foundation in Moscow, $318 billion a year is frittered away annually in this resource-rich resurgent empire due to corruption. That’s the equivalent of one third of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product. Revolutions have erupted for less than that.

Putin and his inner circle posture to their domestic constituency as great Russian patriots, a bulwark against a cynical and decadent West, but they prefer to spend and invest their money in America and Europe. Their economic vices are similar to their martial ones in that they adopt a form of financial maskirovka, too. Offshore bank accounts, semi-anonymous real estate holdings in the south of France, the Ivory Coast, London, South Beach, Miami and New York City; commercial ventures controlled by third-party nominees in dummy companies registered in no-questions-asked jurisdictions such as British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Cyprus – this is how the Kremlin elite stows its vast, ill-gotten wealth.

The same names and companies keep coming up in anti-corruption investigations launched not just by investigative journalists such as myself, but also by the embattled Russian opposition, notably its de facto leader Alexey Navalny.

Weiss then explains that the networks through which Russia’s elites, including its president, shelter and funnel money are well-known and easily discoverable. They’re also easy to shut down, and if the west was serious about stopping Putin, they’d take steps to do so immediately. He then explains exactly what kind of ultimatum might just get Putin’s attention.

Read the entire analysis here.

More Fighting Reported Near Crash Site
Christopher Miller of Kyiv Post reports:
Separatists Recorded Trying To Get The Black Boxes To Moscow

The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) has released more leaked audio, reportedly a conversation between Oleksandr Khodakovsky, commander of the separatist’s Vostok battalion and various separatist fighters and staff members. The Vostok battalion is widely regarded as Moscow’s main military presence in eastern Ukraine and has been trying to establish increased control of the situation on the ground in the last month or so.

We cannot verify the audio, though we have heard audio of Khodakovsky before and this sounds like him.

We’ve provided an excerpted transcript. This first excerpted conversation reportedly takes place at 17:53 local time on July 18th. Khodakovsky is asking his man to locate the black boxes:

Khodakovsky – Do it really quick. Urgently. Moscow asks where the boxes are… Who is there besides you? Are there Strelkov’s guys?

Oleksiy” – I don’t know. Just now OSCE people came.

KhodakovskySo, first of all they are interested in the fate of ‘black boxes.’ They must be under our control. Please, do this task, ok?

Another conversation, reportedly recorded on July 18th at 18:10 local time, between Khodakovsky and “Andriy”.

Khodakovsky I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the ‘black boxes.’ I mean people from Moscow.

There are two items — Khmuryi, Strelok’s [sic] head of intelligence, has one. Please, cooperate with the Ministry of Emergency. All that you find must not come into somebody else’s hands. Only yours, or Strelkov’s people or Khmuryi’s, it doesn’t matter…

And together with that guy from the Ministry of Emergency, Oleksiy, try to take everything that you can find… so that it doesn’t get into somebody else’s hands…

All those people that are coming, OSCE and so on….

A conversation 50 minutes later:

Oleksiy:  Listen, they should look like some orange small barrels?

Khodakovsky  – The hell I know? You know better…

Oleksiy: We found something, This is just a box — satellite navigation block. It is written on it. [note – the SBU is being polite. The actual translation is “We found some sort of fucking crap. It’s got ‘satellite navigation’ written on it” – The Interpreter]

Khodakovsky  – Hide it anyway. Who knows how they are described.

Here’s what else we know. Earlier today we posted a statement from Igor Bezler, a GRU (Russian foreign military intelligence) officer and separatist commander in Gorlovka. He actually admits that the audio from a previous SBU leak where he talks about shooting down the plane was in fact real, but claims it was doctored and he was talking about shooting down a different plane.

While we know that the separatists have shot down plenty of planes, this incident proves something very significant. The separatist leadership is so panicked over this incident that in Bezler’s attempt to distance the separatists from the shooting down of MH17 he accidentally admitted that the separatists are actively coordinating with Russian military intelligence (GRU) and that the audio being leaked by the SBU contains genuine intercepted phone conversations.

All of this, along with the fact that this newest audio release sounds like Khodakovsky’s voice, adds credibility to this new leak which suggests that Moscow is trying to capture the black boxes and retain control over the crash site.

Read our previous update here or scroll down to the entry made at 13:04 GMT.

Approximate Flight Path Of MH17 Mapped
Flightradar24 has posted this tweet:

It’s not terribly detailed, and we don’t know exactly where flight MH17 was when it was shot down, but we’ve added a (very approximate) flight path to our own map (which we’ll be updating as time allows):


This is a helpful piece of data, and we’ll try to get a more exact flight path if we can, because it helps place all of these claims of where a surface-to-air missile may have been fired from. Not only do these weapons have a maximum altitude (which has been discussed at length by us, the rest of the media, and world powers) but they have a maximum range, a lateral range that is.

For instance, the Buk missile system seen in videos and pictures can hit a target at up to 22,000 meters in altitude (MH17 was flying at 10,000 meters, easily within range). But the Buk can also hit a target that is approximately 35,000 meters (35km, almost 22 miles) away. All of the locations we’ve placed the Buk so far are well within this range as well.

It’s also important to note that wreckage from MH17 would not have stopped moving forward at the moment of impact, so it’s hard to place the exact spot where the missile impacted without more advanced data.

Geolocating The Video Of The ‘Buk Headed Toward Russia’

While there are now multiple videos which have been geolocated and place the Buk M1 surface-to-air missile systems in range of flight MH17 (these videos match eyewitness reports from Associated Press and Ukrainian journalists), there is a much more controversial video which has been shared by the Ukrainian government that reportedly shows the Buk, missing two missiles, headed back towards Russia. In The Interpreter’s Russia liveblog, we posted the following analysis:

Ever since a video of the pro-Russian separatists anti-aircraft BUK system was uploaded to YouTube, legions of Russians and Ukrainians on social media have been trying to locate this scene.

As we reported on our Ukrainian LiveBlog, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook the BUK had been taken through Krasnodon and was headed to the Russian border. A Russian convoy had been spotted in Krasnodon on 15 July.

Given the short snippet of film, it seemed nearly impossible to find anything to confirm the scene, but when Hive Mind got to work, eventually people figured out that the billboard in the scene was from an autodealer named Bogdan, which had its showroom in Krasnoarmeysk, another town, and evidently no stores in Krasnodon, though it also has a showroom in Lugansk. Then people speculated on the location of other buildings and painted telegraph poles and then debated whether the area could possibly be in Krasnoarmeysk at all, given that this town has no trolleybus lines (as clearly visible in the video), but Krasnodon does. Some maintained that the lines visible in the picture could be power lines, but trolleybus lines are unmistakeable as this old photo of Krasnodan’s trolleybus illustrates.

Still other social media commenters at Avva’s LifeJournal concluded that the short video was in fact taken when the BUK was still in Torez, where the BUK has been earlier confirmed as parked behind a gas station and some stores. User Alexey Bobkov bolstered his claim by producing a dash cam footage, much like the one used by Aric Toler to confirm the original parked BUK, only driving from the other direction, and said the curb, meridian and poles — and even the billboard — were visible near the clearly-identifiable StroiDom store with the yellow, red and green sign and the five-story striped-edged brown building with the video ad. The problem is that Torez doesn’t have trolleybus lines, either.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that Kremlin propagandists have now gotten into the geolocation game (seeing how much it has fascinated Westerners and been used by them to debunk Kremlin propaganda). On Friday and Saturday, we noticed as did Russian bloggers, that an identical post appeared on hundreds of sites — such as social media, news portals, news media comments sections, and blogs — claiming that the scene had been geolocated in Krasnoarmeysk — but that this proved that the BUKs belong to the Ukrainian military, which had control of Krasnoarmeysk “since May 11″ and therefore the BUK sighting video was Ukrainian disinformation. The post has the feeling of engineered propaganda not only because of its massive appearance everywhere simultaneously,  posted by commenters with either no name or by various authors, but also because it quickly appeared on Rossiya 24, Russian state TV, where Konstantin Knyrik, coordinator of the South Eastern Front Information Center, a pro-separatist activist, repeated it almost word-for-word.

The Interpreter has translated the mass-produced post:

“A video is being disseminated in Ukrainian communities where supposedly the militia are hauling the shooting BUK toward the RF [Russian Federation – The Interpreter]. But the city of Krasnoarmeysk is in the video, the billboard with the advertisement for the car dealership at 31 Dnepropetrovskaya St. Since 11 May and until now, the city has been under control of the junta’s forces, conducting the ATO! [anti-terrorist operation].

The BUK is missing one missile. In the photo and video with the trailer (the same one) there is a StroiDom [construction material] store. Address: Krasnoarmeysk, 49 Gorky Street. That is, the shooting BUK was located on a territory under the control of the junta and is still there. What questions are there? Everything is as clear as day — the Boeing was shot down by Ukrainian military by this very BUK, and now, in order for the video which leaked on to the web not to become compromising material, they decided to stupidly lay the blame on the militia, that they are hauling it. Remaining true to their lying nature (the Odessians burned themselves, the Luganskites blew up their own air conditioner, the DPR itself shells towns and so on). Mongrels.”

The propaganda technique here relies on a certain factology, playing on the fascination people have for geolocation. There are two things wrong with the story, however; one is that the StroiDom store isn’t at that location in Krasnoarmeysk, but on Lermontov St. The other is, of course, a lack of explanation for the trolleybus wires.

So it’s back to work looking through all the billboard companies in Krasnodon and their locations, and all the billboard companies in Krasnoarmeysk. Good luck!

This morning we’d like to add this:  Krasnoarmeysk, the town where the Russian blogs say this video was taken, is about 110 kilometers from the crash site, far outside the range of the Buk. The Buk in question has a maximum range of 35 kilometers. While no one supporting this theory seems to have any theories about where the missile would have been when it launched its attack on MH17, this means that the vehicle would have had to travel through 60-70 kilometers of densely populated territory after MH17 was shot down. Surely it would have been spotted.

If this vehicle is indeed in Krasnadon, however, it would have to travel perhaps 75-90 kilometers to escape from the most probable launch site (based on evidence we’ve been evaluating for days, either Snezhnoye or Torez), through Krasnadon and on to the Russian border. All of this territory is still in the control of the Russian-backed separatists, it is more sparsely populated, and we know from analyzing many videos in the past that this is a favored route taken by separatists moving goods, equipment, and fighters to and from Russia, and since Lugansk is the nearest big town from Krasnadon (about 40 kilometers, 25-27 miles) it makes sense that this billboard could be in Krasnadon.

We have made a map to help readers sort the confusion, viewable here.

Separatist Leader Confirms Audio Tape Authenticity, But Denies He Meant Malaysian Plane

Igor Bezler, the GRU officer and commander of the separatists in Gorlovka, known as Bes or “Demon,” has admitted that the audio tape published by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) is from a conversation that did take place, but he says that the discussion was not about the Malaysian airliner shot down July 17, reported 18 July.

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

“We really did discuss over the telephone the searches for a plane, but those who think that we shot it down, have to pour the kefir out of their brains.

On the tape, it is clearly audible that the talk was about a plane in Enakievo. The Boeing fell in the area of Snezhnyoe. There are 100 kilometers between them, I don’t have weapons capable of downing planes at such a distance.”

The flight path of the Malaysian plane was over Enakievo and it crashed in Grabovo, which is roughly equidistant from either Torez or Snezhnoye, both towns controlled by separatists where the BUK anti-aircraft system has been spotted.

Another person who doubts the authenticity of the tape is Aleksandr Kofman, vice speaker of the parliament of the Union of People’s Republics, the joint body of “Novorossiya,” the putative nation created by the separatists. He says the tape is a montage of several conversations:

“The first conversation likely [was taped when] at the Chernukhino road block there was an SU shot down, they have already shot down a fair number. The second piece are when people saw the falling airplane and hurried to the site of the crash and found the ‘200s’ [dead bodies]. But the second part of the conversation has no relationship to the first. This is visible to the naked eye. That is, it is an entirely clumsy collage, Kofman told Rossiya 24.

Rossiya 24 also produced an audio expert who pronounced the tape was made up of snippets of conversations — something that was in fact already clear as the SBU presented the material as three distinct conversations in a YouTube video.

Bezler — and — don’t seem to realize that by authenticating this conversation, they’ve also exposed how the separatist leadership reports to the Russian GRU — Geranin is described as a colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly by its Russian initials “GRU”. is a formerly independent news site whose editor-in-chief was recently fired and replaced by a pro-Kremlin manager, causing many of the journalists to resign. 

Pro-Russian Separatists Seize Bodies of MH17 Victims

Pro-Russian separatists have seized the bodies of 196 victims of the Malaysian plane shot down July 17, loaded them into refrigerated train cars, and may be taking them to an unknown destination — or keeping them in the town of Torez.

AP reported:

Armed rebels forced emergency
workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines
crash site and then had them loaded onto refrigerated train cars bound
for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said Sunday.

surprising, rapid-fire developments Sunday morning came after a wave of
international outrage over how the bodies of plane crash victims were
being handled and amid fears that the armed rebels who control the
territory where the plane came down were tampering with the evidence.

Reporters said there were no bodies left at the scene of the crash, and more than 100 bodies were unaccounted for.

A train official said the train was scheduled to head to the town of
Ilovaysk, 35 kilometers further east toward the Russian border,but it was not know if it would depart.

One reporter on the scene indicated that the separatists might hold the bodies at Torez, and may also hold the black boxes.

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