Ukraine Liveblog Day 176: Russian Aid Convoy Bound For Kharkiv Border

August 12, 2014
Russian aid convoy last night in Naro-Fominsk, just outside Moscow. Photo: Maksim Blinov / RIA Novosti

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

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

Russian TV Claims Convoy, Now in Voronezh, Flying Flags of ICRC

A report from TV 1, Russia’s state news channel, shows footage of the convoy traveling through Tula Region and reaching Voronezh Region, where it will reportedly spend the night.

The anchor said the convoy was being accompanied by the Russian traffic police (GIBDD).

The trucks are painted white and have no license plates. Flags of two regions of the Russian Federation are on the trucks, and flags with the red cross are also visible. At 1:49, the news anchor says a “the flags of the International Committee of the Red Cross” are on the truck.


The ICRC does not have a practice of allowing states to use its name, as distinct from the practice of using the red cross in wartime, which is governed by the Geneva Conventions, and is careful about authorizing consent for private organizations.

UPDATE: This video has been removed from YouTube, but the broadcast in which a TV1 anchor speaks of the “flag of the ICRC” can be seen on TV1’s website.


A citizen reporter uploaded a video of the convoy in Voronezh and labelled it as “humanitarian convoy” at about 19:25 Moscow time. We have confirmed the location, as the trucks pass the distinctive red Memorial to Glory in Voronezh at 0:25.

Russian Humanitarian Convoy Spotted Going Through Tula

A local TV station in Tula, TeleTuva, reported today that the humanitarian convoy sent by the Russian government from a Moscow suburb has passed through their town. The YouTube is dated August 12, was uploaded about 7 hours ago, and is labelled “Convoy of trucks with humanitarian aid for the southeast of Ukraine passed through Tula.”

If this is true, the convoy could reach the border checkpoint at Shebekino-Pletenevka agreed upon between Russian and Ukrainian governments in another few hours by tonight, not tomorrow morning as reported earlier — depending on what route they take and whether they stop for breaks.

The vehicles are painted white, do not have license plates, and are topped by Russian flags or flags with a red cross.


The video has the TeleTula logo on it and shows a billboard with a phone number and Internet address that track to a local business so it is likely to have been filmed in Tula.


Evacuation Efforts In Lugansk Lack Buses

There are not enough buses in Lugansk to properly evacuate residents of the city, according to (translated by The Interpreter):

The Lugansk Regional Government Administration (OGA) is trying to organize the evacuation of people with the help of city transportation. However, the location of buses is not know, and they cannot get in touch with the deputy of the city mayor.

UNN reported this, citing Dmitry Alev, director of the department of mass communications of the Lugansk OGA.

“In the last 24 hours, volunteers from the organizations Spasyom Stranu [“We’ll Save the Country”] will notify the population of Lugansk about the meeting place for departure from the city. All that we need for this place are the city buses. Moreover, we need fuel that would last at least for 15 kilometers in order to reaqch one of the Ukrainian checkpoints in the area of Metallist. But we don’t know where to find that transport,” said Alev.

He also said that Manolis Pilavov, deputy of the city mayor is currently in Lugansk, but could not be reached.

A total of 2,160 residents of Lugansk have
made use of a humanitarian corridor and fled in private cars and vans in the last 4 days, the
Lugansk Regional Government Administration reported, according to local
news site

As their report indicates, many of them have gone to the town of Schastye and other towns in the Lugansk region.

A total of 5,750 people have made use of the corridor since it was opened last week.

in Schastye were making sure there was enough food and drinking water
for the newly-displaced. A center to register the displaced has been set
up and hot-lines have been established.

Lugansk had a population of 427,634 before the war. 

New Russian Official Statements On Aid Convoy Don’t Answer Key Questions

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement saying that the Russian aid convoy headed to Ukraine will abide by Russia’s agreement with the Ukrainian government (translated by The Interpreter):

Commentary from the Foreign Ministry Department Information and Press in Connection with the Humanitarian Aid to the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions

For the purposes of providing humanitarian aid to the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine, Russia in agreement with the Ukrainian government and the International Committee of the Red Cross has sent humanitarian cargo, including food products, medicines, and electrical generators. In doing so, the Russian government has agreed to the wishes of the Ukrainian government on the route for the convoy, the inspection of the freight, and other modalities of implementation of the operation.

During the course of the humanitarian action, 262 vehicles are to be deployed, of which 198 vehicles with trailers are loaded with materials goods and electrical stations with a total weight of 1,809.9 tons.

The freight includes: 69 sets of electrical stations; 400 tons of various grains; 340 tons of canned meat; 30 tons of salt; 100 tons of sugar; 60 tons of canned milk; .8 tons of tea; 679.6 tons of bottled water; 62.4 tons of baby food; 54 tons of medical supplies; and 12,300 sleeping bags.

The delivery of this freight will be implemented as agreed between the Russian and Ukrainian governments at
the Shebekino-Pletnevka [sic] checkpoint on the border of Belgorod Region (Russian Federation) and Kharkiv Region (Ukraine). After crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border, the convoy will proceed under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Russian government counts on the maximum assistance of the Ukrainian government in securing the safety of the delivery of the humanitary aid to the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.

Taking into account the above, statements that have appeared from the Ukrainian government that supposedly the convoy’s route of crossing was not agreed upon, and new logistical demands provoke perplexity. Taking into acocunt the existing agreements, we expect that the parameters for the delivery of the humanitarian cargo earlier agreed with the Ukrainian government will be fulfilled.

[Note: the Foreign Ministry misspelled the name of the town in Russian, which should be Pletenevka; in Ukrainian it is Pletenivka–The Interpreter].

Essentially, the pledge that this convoy is “under the aegis” of the Red Cross is no different than the language used by Moscow yesterday and seems to fly in the face of statements made by the ICRC that they don’t know what’s going on.

Note that there is no mention of the trucks being unloaded and reloaded. In an article published in ITAR-TASS after this statement was released, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that this condition was dropped:

Ukraine has decided against reloading relief supplies from the Russian humanitarian convoy after its examination on the border, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday. He said this idea had been proposed during the talks but then rejected.

“They insisted on reloading the cargo from all 287 trucks to the trucks to be provided by the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] but eventually gave it up for obvious reasons as this would have made the humanitarian mission more complicated and costlier,” Lavrov said.

Still, questions remain. Did the Ukrainian government really decide to have these vehicles enter Ukraine near Kharkiv and not near Lugansk? If so, was the thought that this would avoid separatist areas of control (and possible ambushes)? Where is this aid going if it is not ultimately destined for Lugansk? Why did the convoy leave from a suburb of Moscow and not Rostov, right near Ukrainian border? Why did the convoys gather on Russian military bases, and why did they paint  army vehicles instead of just renting trucks closer to the border? If it is really the Emergencies Ministry that organized this effort, why is there no information about this on their web site?

Russia now essentially says that once these vehicles reach Ukraine then Ukrainian government officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross will have control and access to the vehicles. Until that happens, though, plenty of questions remain unanswered, including one of the most important — whether Russia will honor what they’re pledging in official statements. 

Red Cross Says It Still Does Not Know What’s In Russia’s Aid Convoy

A brief update from RFE/RL’s liveblog:

We just spoke to an ICRC spokesman, Ewan Watson, about the convoy: “At the moment it is not an International Red Cross convoy, inasmuch as we haven’t had sight of the material, we haven’t had certain information regarding the content, and the volume of aid that it contains.”  

Red Cross Confused About Russian Aid Convoy Though It’s Marked With Red Cross Flags
One of the things making everyone very nervous today is that fact that, as we’ve been reporting, the Red Cross has made statements that suggests that they have no information about the contents of this Russian aid convoy, and are unclear about Russia’s intentions. But that has not stopped Russia from using the Red Cross’s flags on its vehicles.
Russian Armored Convoys On The Move In Belarus
Over the last several days there has been a significant uptick in Russian troop movements on the move in Belarus. This video, reportedly taken today in Vitebsk, shows troops, transport trucks, and armored-personnel carriers moving through the city. The city is due north of Kiev: 

This video, sent to us on Twitter, reportedly shows a massive armored convoy iin Novoshakhtinsk, Rostov region of Russia (map),  on August 10th. The geolocation is done in the actual video.
The point, which we will be illustrating in depth in a later update, is that Russia is deploying and mobilizing forces near multiple border crossings, in every direction of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, but also in regions (and even other countries) that are further away but still within striking distance of Ukraine within hours or days. Russia could easily put troops into Ukraine west of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, perhaps in Kharkiv, or even Kiev, and they could do this nearly as easily as they could put troops into Lugansk or Donetsk. 
Russia Delivering Aid To Relieve a Crisis They Created
The Guardian’s Alex Luhn shares an important data point:

Essentially, from the start the crisis in eastern Ukraine was fueled by interference from Moscow, a proxy war conducted by Russian military intelligence which took advantage of the power vacuum that existed after the Yanukovych government fell. But in the last month and a half, since the Ukrainian government started to make significant military gains, Russia has exponentially increased their efforts to arm and supply the rebels. Those efforts have helped create the very humanitarian crisis that Russia now says it is trying to alleviate with this aid convoy.

And since NATO is warning that Russia may use humanitarian grounds to justify an invasion, and since the Red Cross has made statements today suggesting that they are not sure what Russia is doing or what is in those aid trucks, it’s no wonder that the Ukrainian government is taking steps to block the Russian convoy from entering its territory.

Reports That Separatists Have Forbidden Residents To Leave Krasny Luch reports (translated by The Intepreter):

At 11 o’clock on August 11, terrorists from the Lugansk People’s Republic banned the residents of Krasny Luch from leaving the town. Leaving or taking ones family in private vehicles out of the occupied town is forbidden.

According to witnesses, a ban has also been imposed on pedestrians moving around the town. This report is yet to be confirmed. 

As was reported earlier, terrorists have imposed restrictions on the entry, exit and movement of private cars in the besieged towns of the Lugansk region. The LNR has, since July 21, forbidden the use of any vehicles in the city, except for those used by municipal utilities and public transport. This was announced by the head of the self-proclaimed republic, Valery Bolotov.

ICRC Still Lacking Key Information On Convoy

Deutsche Welle reports that Andre Loersch, a representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has told them that his organisation has not yet received a list of the contents of the humanitarian convoy which has set off from the Moscow area for Ukraine.

Loersch said that it had been agreed that any humanitarian assistance should be transferred to the ICRC for distribution in Ukraine (as stated by Ukraine’s Valeriy Chaly). 

Loersch then says (translated by The Interpreter):

Following this, we tried to get a concrete list from the Russian authorities of what they are providing as humanitarian aid, be it medicine, food or other things.

However, we have not received this list so far. This is why we are so surprised to learn that the humanitarian aid convoy has none-the-less set out from Russia. These reports have completely confused us: now we need to work out what is happening ourselves. So many different reports are coming in from the Russian media that it’s hard for us to find a common denominator.

This morning the president of the ICRC had a telephone conversation with the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. We are continuing to communicate with Ukrainian agencies so as to figure what is going on.

Elsewhere there were reports that the confusion between the ICRC and the Russian authorities were even worse:

Russian Convoy To Halt At Border, ICRC To Distribute Aid Inside Ukraine

This news has been echoed by Valeriy Chaly, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. 

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“We’re not contemplating any movement by Russian convoys on Ukrainian territory,” he emphasised.

He stressed that Ukraine is under the assumption that the convoy, which is already headed for our border, must be unloaded at the border.

“There will be customs processing and clearance in the transit area. The Red Cross is taking responsibility for this and they are delivering this humanitarian aid on Ukrainian territory,” he said.

“This cargo will be loaded onto transport vehicles, which will be leased to the Red Cross. In doing so, we will not permit escorts from the Russian Interior Ministry or any other security forces into Ukraine,” he said.

“Everything will be under the control of the Ukrainian side, we are taking responsibility for the delivery of the humanitarian supplies,” he added.

Chaly noted that any unauthorised entry into the territory of Ukraine is an act of aggression.

Chaly added that he was in contact with representatives from the Red Cross.

Chaly also noted that the contents of the aid convoy were still unknown to him.  

Kuchma – Aid Convoy To Enter Ukraine Via Kharkiv

Leonid Kuchma, a former president of Ukraine and the Ukrainian representative at the trilateral contact group made up of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, has announced that the Russian aid convoy will cross the Ukrainian border inthe Kharkiv region.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“The Contact Group decided at a session on Monday that the humanitarian aid will be delivered through Kharkiv region. A route to Luhansk has been determined as well,” he said.

“This aid will be provided under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Representatives of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] are accompanying the convoy,” Kuchma said.

The trilateral Contact Group discussed the matter during a video link-up on August 11. Representatives of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) took part in it, but members of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR) were absent.

Both the supplies sent by Russia and “aid [provided] by Ukraine, the EU and the U.S.” will be delivered to Luhansk, Kuchma said.

“The way this aid will be distributed is highly important. First and foremost, it should be provided to hospitals, kindergartens, orphanages and other people who need it. The militants must not receive even a gram,” he said, adding that ICRC representatives would handle the distribution of the aid.

We can plot a prospective route now for the convoy, assuming they stick to main roads:


Is the Russian Army or Emergencies Ministry Handling Humanitarian Convoy to Ukraine?
RIA Novosti and other Russian state media are now reporting that the humanitarian convoy we’ve been following has left from Naro-Fominsk; earlier, they did not indicate any location (and yet another RIA report gives the town as Alabino.) The three-kilometer convoy is set to arrive Wednesday morning, says RIA.

Naro-Fominsk is at least an hour to the south from Kalininets, the location where we had geolocated this video showing rows of parked KAMAZ trucks painted white. Alabino is about 40 minutes to the south from Kalininets, and is the location of the 5th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade. A soldier stationed at the Tamanskaya Division 2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division reported that they had spent several days painting trucks and loading humanitarian aid into them.

Naro-Fominsk is also an area where there is an army base, the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division. But the video does not appear to have been taken at that location.

In any event, the reason why it matters to determine whether the convoy is being handled by the Russian Armed Forces or the Emergencies Ministry [known as MChS or Emercom] is because of concerns that the humanitarian mission may be used as a pretext for a military invasion. The Russian media has been contradictory on this point.

Russian blogger Masha Klyuchitsa has a good analysis of the contradictions on her VKontakte page (translated by The Interpreter):

This is likely the most unusual humanitarian aid convoy. It has no identifying marks, registration numbers on the vehicles — nothing. There are also conflicting reports in the media. RIA Novosti wrote simply about a convoy; on [Defense Ministry] TV Zvezda, it suddenly becomes a convoy of the Emergencies Ministry, although all the Emercom vehicles  have license plates and the relevant paint job (there is an archive photo on Zvezda’s site). The site Vesti 24 also writes about Emercom and even shows scenes of the loading of trucks, which can’t be seen in the [RIA] photographs.

In fact, the provenance of the automobiles becomes quite clear from this video [reported earlier by The Interpreter]. It is clear that soldiers are standing next to the convoy, and the license plates have not been removed yet from the KAMAZes. Of course the convoy is not carrying humanitarian aid disguising weapons — for that, they don’t need to go to such great lengths. Most likely, it’s the usual demonstration of force — “you forbid us to deliver humanitarian aid, but we will do this just as we consider necessary.” 

Therefore, likely, it’s not Emercom that is taking part, which would seem logical in any event, but the army, although not publicly. There isn’t a word on the Emercom website in the section on the latest information about this convoy.

 Photos by RIA Novosti of humanitarian convoy without license plates.





Meanwhile, there are reports that another 15 trucks with humanitarian aid have arrived in Rostov near the Ukrainian border, says

Authorities say they are prepared to send them to the Donbass, reports, adding that “the Russian Interior Ministry and Emercom will be responsible for the delivery of the convoy.”

Kiev wants the aid to go to Lugansk, and come not only from Russia but the EU and Germany; meanwhile there is fear that Russia will provoke the situation to invade, in a scenario recalled from the Georgian war. The Ukrainians have good reason to fear this, given that Russia has brought armored convoys marked with “peace-keeping” insignia right up to the Ukrainian border over the weekend.

Maxim Grigoryev, head of the working group in the Russian government’s Civic Chamber to provide humanitarian aid to southeastern Ukraine, told that Emercom, with the involvement of the ICRC, could make up the convoy within six hours to deliver the aid.

Yet the local Emergencies Ministry office for the South Region in Rostov didn’t have any information about a humanitarian convoy, and said the regional government was taking care of humanitarian aid, reported.

RIA Novosti reported that the ICRC was waiting to confirm the details with Russia concern the type and volume of deliveries and the transportation and storage requirements.

Russian Humanitarian Convoy Leaves Military Base for Southeast Ukraine

ITAR-TASS reported August 12 Moscow time that a convoy of 280 trucks had left the suburbs of Moscow for the southeast of Ukraine.

It was reported to carry 2,000 tons of humanitarian cargo including 400 tons of grains, 100 tons of sugar, 62 tons of baby food, 54 tons of first-aid items and medicines, 12,000 sleeping bags, and 69 electrical power generators of various capacity.

TASS reported Putin as stating that in a telephone call with EU Commission President Barroso, he reached an agreement regarding cooperation with the International Commitee of the Red Cross. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said the details of the convoy were being worked out with Ukrainian leadership. “I hope that the humanitarian action that we are working out now will not be stopped by our Western partners.”

There was a great deal of confusion today about how Russia would participate in a humanitarian convoy, given that it has appeared to wish to use “humanitarian relief” as a pretext for invading Ukraine. The ICRC made it clear that no armed escorts will accompany its mission in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, we have geolocated the video reported earlier showing numerous trucks painted white and marked with red crosses and the words “medical service.” They were parked next to an S-300 — one of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems Russia possesses — at a military base, being inspected by Russian Military Auto Inspection.

A soldier from the 1117th Air Defense Regiment of the 2nd Guards of the Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division reported on the social media network VKontakte that his unit had been busy for several days painting KAMAZ trucks white. His regiment is located in Kalininets, a suburb of Moscow and another nearby town Kobyakovo.

He wrote 11 August (translation by The Interpreter):

“Today we loaded humanitarian aid into KAMAzes [trucks] for Ukraine. Water, medicines, canned food, baby food, sleeping bags, electrical generators and various equipment (field kitchens and so on). There were about 300 trucks, all military KAMAZes, they were painted white in a few days.

His account has now been removed from VKontakte.

But his photos of the white-painted trucks and a screenshot of his VKontakte page survived on Twitter.


That information could be put together with the video of the white trucks to geolocate it to Kalininets.



A photo taken earlier published on Google Street View shows a tank at that location practicing for the Victory Day parade, with the rail yard visible behind it.


Also at 9 seconds in, the building in this picture taken at the same location can be seen: