Ukraine Liveblog Day 165: 21 Ukrainian Soldiers Reported Dead in Ambush In Shakhtyorsk

August 1, 2014
Burning BMP-2. Screenshot from YouTube video of aftermath of Shakhtyorsk ambush.

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.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

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

Obama And Putin Speak But Take Away Different Messages

Here is the White House’s version of a phone call between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin:

President Obama spoke today with Russian President Putin about the situation in Ukraine and the bilateral relationship.  The President reiterated his deep concerns about Russia’s increased support for the separatists in Ukraine.  The President reinforced his preference for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and the two leaders agreed to keep open their channels of communication.  The President also reiterated his concerns about Russia’s compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty.

Here is the Kremlin’s version of the same conversation:

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of the United States of America Barack Obama on the American side’s initiative.

The two leaders exchanged views on developments in the Ukrainian crisis. Despite their significant differences in views on many fundamental issues, both sides stressed the urgency of an immediate and stable ceasefire in southeast Ukraine and the launch of a political process. In this regard, the two presidents gave a positive assessment of the consultations by a contact group held in Minsk and noted the importance of continuing talks in this format.

The two heads of state discussed many aspects of the relations between Russia and the US. The President of Russia described Washington’s actions to impose pressure through sanctions as counterproductive, causing serious damage to bilateral cooperation and international stability overall.

Both presidents agreed that the current state of affairs does not serve the interests of either state. In this context, the two leaders exchanged views on prospects for Russian-American dialogue.

It’s interesting that the Russian version sounds far more conciliatory, as if there is far more common ground than the Washington version would suggest. Both statements ignore the concerns raised in the other statement, though they both agree that communications will not be cut between the two countries.

The Tatars Are Again Oppressed, And Their Anger Is Palpable
Another must-watch report from Vice News.
Russian Helicopters Holding Ground-Attack Exercises On The Border With Ukraine
On its own this would be a provocative move, but when one considers that we’re also trying to locate videos which may show cross-border fighting and Russian tanks moving across the border in this region, this news should be setting off alarm bells.
The article says that the drills are being held in the Rostov and Stavropol territories, near the border of the Donetsk region in Ukraine. The video in the report may show the very helicopters which appear in the video in our previous update, or they may show that Russian helicopters are mobilized in multiple areas.
Has A Full-Scale Cross-Border War Already Started?

We have not yet geolocated this video, but here is what it shows:

Dated July 31st, a group of Ukrainian tanks, artillery, rocket launchers and support vehicles is firing into the distance. A Ukrainian flag clearly designates who these vehicles belong to.

But if one looks closely, one sees that there are also what appear to be smoke clouds rising up behind these vehicles — clouds which look like they were caused by incoming shells. The video is only described as “paratroopers” attacking a checkpoint, presumably near the border.

We are working hard to locate this footage.

Then there is this video, which has somewhat similar terrain. It appears to show a forward operating base inside Russia. At one point, a Russian helicopter lands, marked with the familiar red star. In the video a large amount of tanks, armored vehicles, and support vehicles is visible, as well as a significant amount of helicopters.The video is simply described as “Russian troops near the Russian-Ukraine border.”

Could this be a base, hastily set up near the border, and potentially the same one which is engaged in an artillery duel in the previous video?

In (potentially closely) related news, we have translated a report of Russian Grad rockets firing across the border:

Seventeen BM21 Grad volley fire systems aimed toward Ukraine have occupied equipped positions opposite Chernigov Region in a forest.

Russia is making active preparation of firing positions for shelling the territory of Ukraine. The Ukrainian State Border Service reported this Friday.

“On 31 July in the area of the settlement of Strativ in Starodubsky District of Bryansk Region (5 km from the border – opposite Chernigov Region), 17 BM21 Grad volley fire systems aimed toward Ukraine have occupied equipped positions in a forest,” the press service statement said.

According to information from border guards, the presence of groups of Russian Armed Forces is increasing in other border regions as well.

Thus, in Donetsk in Rostov Region of Russia, the presence of servicemen from the 200th Separate Motorized Brigade has been detected, re-deployed from Murmansk Region.

In addition, according to border guards, Russia is continuing to violate the air space above Ukraine.  Four Russian Ka-52 battle helicopters violated the airspace of Ukraine in the area of the village of Krasnaya Talovka (Lugansk Region).

The report from Krasnaya Talovka is interesting, because that terrain closely matches the last video we posted. Note that at the end of that video there are Russian tanks crossing a river. There is a river on the border here, and parts of it are on Russian soil and other parts on Ukrainian land. While we have not definitively geolocated this video yet, it could be in this area (map).

Over the last 48 hours we’ve seen, and located, many videos like this one. This video claims to show more Russian armor headed to the border in the Rostov region. We have not, however, definitively located this video.

We know that Russian troops and armor are moving toward the border. Yesterday we definitively geolocated Russian armor only 2000 meters (and closing) from the border and a Buk only hours from the border. We also have significant evidence that Russia is openly militarily supporting the separatists and many experts now believe that Russia could militarily beat back the Ukrainian anti-terror operation. Ukrainian journalists are already reporting that at least some of this armor has already crossed the border.

That Russia has brought Ukraine to the edge of war is a point of view that is becoming more widely accepted in recent weeks. But evidence is growing that suggests that Russia and Ukraine are already, clearly and simply, engaged in a war — but so far it seems that it’s almost an entirely one-sided war.

Russian Airborne Units Prepare To Expand Beyond The Borders

The commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, has announced that his units are preparing to expand their operations beyond the boundaries of Russia (translated by The Interpreter):

“We plan further growth of our military potential both in the zone of the presence of our forces and beyond the borders of our state,” said Shamanov.

He added that within the framework of the state defense purchasing order through 2025, the RF Airborne Troops will receive more than 1,500 new BMD-4ms paratrooper battle vehicles for their armament and also more than 2,500 Rakushka BTRs with various modifications.

“All of this in full volume will ensure the technical re-armament of the Airborne Troops by the end of 2025 and enable us to resolve tasks far beyond the borders of Russia,” emphasized the general.

Of course the Russian airborne played a critical role in the conquering of Crimea, and there is new evidence, including airborne insignias on separatist tanks, that the Russian airborne is actively engaged in an operation in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine Says Russia Positioning Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles On The Border

The government in Kiev now says that they have “detected” a 9k33 Osa anti-aircraft system just across the border (translated by The Interpreter):

“This morning from the direction of Maloyekaterinovka (Russian Federation)-Shevchenko (Ukraine) one kilometer from the state border on RF territory a position of an Osa [Wasp] anti-aircraft missile system was detected,” said Andrei Lysenko of the Ukrainian Council on National Security and Defense (CSND) at a briefing in Kiev today.

The Osa is an advanced SAM system. If it is only a kilometer from the border it is capable of shooting down an aircraft within 14 kilometers of Ukrainian airspace and at an altitude of up to 12,000 meters (39,000 feet). 

We have yet to see any visual evidence of an Osa moving to the border, but in the last 48 hours we have documented the movement of a significant amount of Russian armor and anti-aircraft missiles toward Ukraine.

International Forensic Experts Finally Reach MH17

A team of international investigators consisting of 70 Dutch and Australian forensic experts have finally reached the MH17 crash site. BBC reports:

The investigators travelled in 16 vehicles to the crash site, outside the village of Grabove, AP news agency reports.

By midday, they had begun setting up base at a chicken farm while artillery fire could be heard periodically somewhere in the distance, AP says.

In a tweet, the OSCE said the investigators had been bolstered by “new assets”, an apparent reference to two vans marked with red crosses.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the investigation at the crash scene, said on the Dutch justice ministry’s website: “If human remains are found during the search, they will be recovered instantly.”

It is believed that remains and debris were scattered over a 35 sq km (13.5 sq mile) of countryside, to the east of the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Regional OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw, who visited the site previously, said that despite reports of tampering with evidence, it looked much the same as when his team had last seen it, nearly a week ago.


Top Separatist Leader Killed While Delivering ‘Humanitarian Aid’

RFE/RL reports:

According to a Facebook post by Russian Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin on August 1, 32-year-old Aleksandr Proselkov was killed by gunfire the previous day as he “accompanied a convoy of humanitarian aid” to Donetsk.

Proselkov was the de facto deputy foreign minister of the breakaway Ukrainian region and an aide to its self-proclaimed leader, Pavel Gubarev.

Ukrainian military officials said Proselkov was killed by “friendly fire” from militants and mercenaries from the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic.

Dugin speculated Proselkov may have been killed by supporters of rival Russian nationalist political adviser Sergei Kurginyan because of his support for the breakaway regions’ military commander, Igor Girkin (aka, Strelkov).

Ukraine Reports 21 Dead in Separatist Ambush Near Shakhtyorsk

The Ukrainian government is reporting that 21 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in an ambush yesterday evening near the town of Shakhtyorsk, the scene of heavy fighting for the last few days.

Ukrainska Pravda reports on the incident, citing the ATO press centre.

The ATO press centre said:

Overwhelming enemy forces, making use of the terrain in Shakhtyorsk, ambushed, and turned their weapons on our soldiers. The detachments, who were in the process of redeploying, suffered losses. 

Ukrainska Pravda then report:

Later, sources from Hromadske TV, citing volunteers and the troops themselves, reported that 21 soldiers, including the commander of the 2nd battalion, were killed, and many wounded, during the shelling of military unit A1126.

The wounded were transported by helicopter to Dnipropetrovsk.

“I just had a call on my mobile from the Bruno Santos unit. According to them, they’re being pounded from 4 sides with Grads. They said goodbye. They said that they had no chance, no one had brought them anything, there were no reinforcements or supplies,” said the source.

A video was disseminated online which purportedly shows the aftermath of the ambush. The video is graphic  and shows the bodies of a number of soldiers near a burnt out BMP-2. We have not yet geolocated this footage. (Note that the preview image is unrelated to the video.)

WARNING: Graphic

Another video, which we stress is unverified and unlikely to be possible
to geolocate, claims to show Ukrainian helicopters en-route to the
scene of the battle (note that the preview image is unrelated to the

There were also claims that the soldiers who took part in the ambush were members of the Russian military.

Last night, a number of news outlets published photos which were apparently taken by the ambushers, showing them posing with the bodies of dead soldiers. e71e734-10545009-828508577182520-1638697

Ukrainska Pravda reported that some had identified the man on the left, with the sunglasses, as being a Russian paratrooper via a VKontakte profile. A video from the scene was also reportedly uploaded to the same page.

However, when we attempted to check this today, we found that the profile, attributed to one Dmitry Gritsyuk, had been shut down.

A VKontakte notice on his page reads:

We have detected suspicious activity on Dmitry’s profile

and temporarily suspended it to prevent further damage.

Tom Parfitt, the Moscow correspondent for The Daily Telegraph also tweeted these photos, ostensibly from the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. We have not yet found the source location though: