Ukraine Liveblog Day 184: Fighting Continues in Ilovaisk and Lugansk

August 20, 2014
Spire of the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building in Moscow, painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag overnight by unknowns. Photo: @unkn0wnerror

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs 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.

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.

Russian Humanitarian Cargo Still Not Crossing Ukrainian Border: ICRC

Russian trucks with humanitarian aid for eastern Ukraine have still not crossed the Ukrainian border, Andre Lersh, representative of the ICRC told The Interpreter has translated the report.

“According to the status as of 21:30, not a single truck has crossed the Ukrainian-Russian border,” he told Interfax.

According to earlier reports, the first KAMAZ trucks from the Russian convoy have entered customs control at the Donetsk checkpoint in the Russian Federation

(There are two cities named “Donetsk”, one in Russia and one in Ukraine).

Southern Custom Division agent Rayan Farukshin told Interfax South that customers agents had begun processing the humanitarian cargo:

“The customs agents have begun preparing the necessary documentation for the freight from the Russian humanitarian convoy to pass through. At the present time,there are four KAMAZes on the grounds of the Donetsk customs checkpoint, and four more are in line.

Andrei Lysenko, spokesmen for the information and analysis center of the Ukrainian Center for National Security and Defense told the Ukrainian news service this evening that the Ukrainian government had not obtained documentation about the content of the humanitarian cargo from Russia, so that its processing will likely start tomorrow morning:

“Beside the list of representatives of the ICRC, our
border guards and customs agents who are at that checkpoint have not
received it. Most likely they can begin work by tomorrow morning, since
in general there is documentation about the contents of this
humanitarian freight.”

The Kremlin propaganda station ran a live feed of the border checkpoint for a time today.

Ukrainian Separatists Reportedly Shoot Down 1-3 Aircraft
There are reports that a Ukrainian jet and two helicopters were shot down in eastern Ukraine:

AFP reports that the Ukrainian government has confirmed the downing of a jet plane:

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a Su-25 jet was shot close to the second-largest insurgent bastion of Lugansk, where government forces claim to have battled back control over several districts in the past few days.

Lysenko said it was too early to tell who had shot down the plane — the latest in a string of military jets to be hit — or what had happened to the pilot.

Clashes in and around the other major rebel stronghold of Donetsk killed 43 civilians in the past 24 hours, local authorities said.

AFP journalists saw fierce mortar fire tear through the centre of the city close to the state-of-the-art stadium of football team Shakhtar Donetsk, as Ukrainian troops tightened their grip on insurgents holed up in the mining hub.

Russian ‘Aid Convoy’ Will Cross Into Ukraine Late Tonight

The Russian state-operated propaganda network RT reports:

The first 16 trucks with Russian humanitarian aid to the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine are ready to go through customs inspections at the Donetsk checkpoint on the Russia-Ukraine border.

The convoy is expected to move out to its destination in Ukraine during the night, at around 3:00-4:00 MSK, the Itar-Tass news agency reports.

Russia Weakens Food Sanctions But Closes McDonald’s

RFE/RL reports that Russia has stopped the import ban on certain kinds of food because Russia can’t supply them:

Russia has removed lactose-free milk, juvenile salmon and some other foods that are hard to substitute from a list of banned Western imports.

Russia prohibited imports of most fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products from many Western countries in early August in retaliation for sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

But an order published on the government website on August 20 names several items that will be allowed because Russia istelf does not produce enough of them.

The list includes potato seeds, lactose-free dairy products and juvenile Atlantic salmon, which the order says is needed because domestic production covers only five percent of demand. It also includes some vitamins and other dietary supplements.

However, it seems that Russia believes that fast food is not in short supply:

‘We Fight Russia. We Don’t Fight Separatists, We Fight Russia’

The Ukrainian soldiers in this video say that they have been fighting this war since the beginning. These troops, members of the 72nd brigade, have recently escaped “the cauldron,” an area in eastern Ukraine where they were surrounded by ‘separatists’ while simultaneously being bombarded by Russian artillery from the other side of the border.

According to them, most of the Ukrainian separatists have already been killed. They are now engaged in a battle with the Russian military, a military that often fires from the other side of the border, and the troops are not allowed to return fire.

“We fight Russia. We don’t fight separatists, we fight Russia. With equipment, with weapons from Russia that gets through the border at night. Columns of tanks… don’t know, maybe they transport them on trucks? I don’t know, missiles and mortars… Everything… Every day they hit us from their side. Every day we lose people. Every day.

“79th Brigade was hit from behind the border. And we can’t retaliate. Battle? We have no problem with a battle. We all fought before. We all know how to shoot, no problem. But, we can’t shoot Russian territory. And our government stays silent. Short reports… 20 soldiers were killed during shooting. And that’s all. Somehow, it’s like that…”

The soldiers go on to say that their air support was either shot down or was reduced out of fear of the Russian anti-aircraft missiles now being used by the insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Russian drones, and even spy planes, help inform the insurgents where to shoot, they say.

One soldier describes how the Ukraine air dropped supplies, but dropped the wrong caliber bullets. The separatists, supplied by Russia, have not had this problem, and much of the incoming fire is coming from Grad rockets which the soldiers have no way of countering.

Russia Works To Find New Sources And New Markets For Food

As a reaction to international sanctions, Russia has announced a blanket ban on food imports from countries which have placed sanctions on Russia. That blanket statement, however, is just a guideline for the specific sanctions which have been rolling out for weeks. All of these banned imports has led to a massive spike in food prices. BBC reports:

Since the ban was imposed on 7 August imported pork used in processed meat in Moscow has gone up by 6%, Russian business daily Kommersant reports.

In St Petersburg food prices have risen 10%. That inflation occurred even before the impact of sanctions.

Russia’s ban on many Western foods is retaliation for sanctions over Ukraine.

The St Petersburg government’s economic policy chief, Anatoly Kotov, said the pork price had risen by 23.5% and chicken by 25.8%.

On Monday, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he did not expect the ban on food imports to lead to price rises or shortages in the shops. But he also said he hoped the ban – introduced for a year – would not last too long.

Russia is already seeking new markets to buy and sell food. One such method is to move food to and from the Customs Union, Russia’s alternative to the European Union. Reuters reports:

Russia will allow imports from neighbouring Belarus and Kazakhstan of food processed from Western raw materials as Moscow seeks to damp down domestic food price rises triggered by its ban on food imports from the West…

Last year, Russia imported $17.2 billion (10.3 billion pounds) worth of food from the countries covered by the sanctions, of which $9.2 billion was in the affected categories, according to the International Trade Centre, a joint venture of the United Nations and World Trade Organization.

Russia is now hoping to buy pork and sell milk with China, in response to the souring prices of pork from Brazil. And both Brazil and Argentina are working to ramp up production to sell food to Russia. But as South America scrambles to sell food to Russia, the massive increase in demand may impact food prices in South America, and may hurt the relationship between Europe and the United States and the South American countries which are flocking to Russia’s aid.

Richard Branson Launches Peace Initiative With Ukrainian And Russian Businessmen

Richard Branson, the billionaire head of the Virgin group, has launched an initiative, alongside Western, Ukrainian and Russian business leaders, to encourage a peaceful resolution to the Ukrainian conflict.

A statement published on the Virgin website reads:

The devastating loss of nearly 300 lives in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 and the continued bloodshed that has killed hundreds on the ground in Ukraine have already caused unimaginable suffering. Nearly a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it looks like we are entering a new era marked by deteriorating relations and armed confrontation. This is not the world that any of us envisioned.

Already, citizens and economies on either side are impacted. As the world has become more and more interconnected, we have an opportunity to advance peaceful solutions that will bring about a better future for all. As responsible leaders, we must ensure that differences are resolved peacefully, through dialogue and diplomacy, and with respect for both national sovereignty and the right of all human beings to live in peace.

We as business leaders from Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world urge our governments to work together to ensure we do not regress into the Cold War misery of the past. We call upon politicians to be bold and brave, so that our nations can end the painful suffering caused by war and once again collaborate for the greater good.

As a group of global business leaders, we would like to offer whatever support we can to help resolve this violent conflict. We appeal to other business leaders everywhere to open up a dialogue to create ways to resolve the issues peacefully.  Conversations, not armed conflict are critical at this juncture. 

We all have a responsibility to work towards peace in Ukraine, so that people can thrive without putting their basic human rights at risk. Join us in this call for peace. We will do our best to ensure that your voice is heard by political leaders. We will also bring the right groups of business leaders together to work towards a better, more peaceful future.

Richard Branson – Founder, Virgin Group; Mo Ibrahim – Founder, Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Paul Polman – CEO, Unilever; Jeff Skoll – Founding President, eBay; Ratan Tata – Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons Ltd; Muhammed Yunus – Nobel Laureate

Maxim Ivanov – Founder, Foodline Group (Russia); Dennis Ludkovsky – CEO, Svyaznoy Group (Russia); Arkady Novikov – Founder, Novikov Group; Sergey Petrov – Founder, ROLF Group (Russia); Igor Yurgens – President, All-Russian Insurance Association (Russia)

Jan Koum – Co-Founder and CEO, WhatsApp (Ukraine); Max Levchin – Co-Founder, Paypal (Ukraine); Igor Mazepa – CEO, Concorde Capital (Ukraine); Victor Pinchuk – Founder, EastOne Group (Ukraine); Evgeni Utkin – Chairman and President, KMCORE (Ukraine)

The Kyiv Post has interviewed Branson on the topic. Here is an extract from their piece today:

“It might sound simplistic,” Branson said of the personal meeting that he, Russian and Ukrainian business leaders are hoping to set up with Putin. But Branson said that he would feel “very irresponsible” if Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and nobody “had spoken out or done anything about it.”

Speaking with the Kyiv Post on Aug. 20 in a Skype interview from London, Branson said he would tell the Kremlin leader: “President Putin, please don’t turn the clock back. We remember when the Berlin Wall fell and how wonderful both Russians and the rest of the world felt about it…Let’s resolve the issues diplomatically and not militarily. Let’s trade together, let’s marry, let’s go on holidays with each other. Let’s work together to resolve conflicts in the world.”

Separatist Attempt To Retake Saur-Mogila Reportedly Repelled

The press office of the ATO headquarters has announced that separatist fighters attempted to retake the strategically important Saur-Mogila summit in south-eastern Ukraine last night.

They also reported that Stanitsa Luganskaya,to the north-east of Lugansk, where Ukrainian forces are fighting to retake the city, was shelled from Russian territory.

UNIAN reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“Stanitsa Luganskaya was shelled last night from the direction of the Russian Federation. We continue to hold Saur-Mogila. The latest assault was carried out from 16:00 to 19:45, the attack was repelled. There were no air strikes,” says the statement.

Active operations continue in the Yasinovataya area, 2 More checkpoints have been established in the Blagodatnoye area.

Dmyto Tymchuk of Information Resistance reported on his Facebook page that there had been a mortar attack on checkpoints in Stanitsa-Luganska.

Meanwhile, further into Lugansk itself, in the Vergunsky Razyezd suburb, where Ukrainian forces retook a police station on August 16, a Ukrainian defensive position was fired on with an AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher.

Battle To Retake Ilovaisk Continues

The battle, begun on August 18, to retake the town of Ilovaisk, to the east of Donetsk, is continuing with heavy fighting.

UNIAN reports that the press office of the Ukrainian National Guard has announced that the majority of the town is now under Ukrainian control, although fighting continues.

UNIAN reports:

However the report notes that not all terrorist forces have abandoned the town. Although the whole town is now under the control of Ukrainian security forces, terrorist counter-attacks continue. The terrorists are mounting attacks with tanks and artillery. At this time, security forces have already repelled three attacks by the militants.

Reinforcements for the Ukrainian security forces from the Azov volunteer battalion are now entering the town.

In turn, Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the minister of internal affairs, wrote on his Facebook page that the remaining terrorists were entrenched in the other half of the town, and are putting up stern resistance.

“Small groups of reinforcements for them are infiltrating from the direction of Khartsyzk and Makeyevka,” he writes.

Herashchenko also wrote on his Facebook page that 9 Ukrainian fighters have been killed in the battle.These include five fighters from the Donbass battalion (including Ukrainian-American Mark Paslavski, whose death we reported on last night) and four members of the Shakhtersk special police battalion.

However the Shakhtersk battalion has announced on Twitter that only three of their members have been killed:

Translation: According to verified information (20:08) we have 3 dead and 6 wounded. 2 of of the wounded are in a critical condition. The battalion is currently in battle in Ilovaisk.

All translations by The Interpreter.