Ukraine Liveblog Day 185: Russian Airborne Forces Reportedly Captured In Ukraine

August 21, 2014
Captured BMD-2. Photo: Roman Bochkala.

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.

Akhmetov Coal Mine Re-Opens After Damage from Shelling

After fighting in Khrashchuvata and Novosvetlivka (in Ukrainian Khriaschuvate and Novosvitlivka), there were reports of damage to several coal mines owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.

On August 18, Russian-backed rebels reportedly opened fire with Grad missile on a convoy of refugees traveling between these two towns, killing more than a dozen, the Kyiv Post reported. Separatists denied responsibility, claiming Ukrainian forces were behind the rocket attack.

Ukrainian government spokesmen said fighting continued in the cities of Zhdanivka, Makiyivka, Khartsyzsk, Debaltsevo and Starobesheve; the Kyiv Post said rebels in Yasnyuvata were taking Ukrainian artillery fire.

Metinvest, owner of Krasnodon Coal’s Samsonovskaya-Zapadnaya mine, published a press release on its web site dated August 20, saying that the mine had re-opened after a shut-down for two days when electricity was lost due to shell attacks:

The Samsonovskaya-Zapadnaya mine was cut off from electricity supplies on August 17 as a result of artillery shelling.

At the same time, the situation remains extremely tense. The armed conflict is still ongoing near where the mine is located in the area of the Novohannivka, Khryaschuvate and Novosvitlivka settlements.

Akhmetov’s System Capital Management Group (SCM), is a major share-holder of Metavest, Ukraine’s largest private business and one of the larger steel businesses in Europe; Akhmetov owns 75% of SCM.

Earlier DTEK, Ukraine’s largest energy company, another property of SCM, published a press release July 15 saying that it was forced to close six coal companies in Lugansk due to fighting.

On July 10, a bus carrying coal miners to work came under mortar file, with several killed and more than 20 injured, said DTEK.

Because of Akhmetov’s considerable business interests in the Donbass, there has been constant media speculation about his role in the conflict. In June he paid bonuses to his workers in Maripuol to keep them from joining the separatists, and had them patrol the streets following an attack by separatists.

There have also been allegations of direct support to separatists which Akhmetov has denied. Russian journalists have continued to draw a connection between Akhmetov and separatist leader Aleksandr Khodakovsky.

New Video Shows Russian Military Hardware Moving Toward Ukraine

These types of videos should now be familiar to our readers. This video, uploaded today, was taken in Rostov-on-Don, Russia (exactly here) and shows a train loaded with a significant amount of Russian armor headed west, towards the border with Ukraine.

The location is confirmed (the road, railways, hardware store, street
signs and other details all match). There is no record that the video
was ever uploaded before late yesterday (the video was apparently taken
yesterday evening and was uploaded this morning).  

Again, this is another sign that for all of the talk of a diplomatic breakthrough between Moscow and Kiev, Moscow continues to prepare for an outright invasion, or at least the continuation of the slow-motion invasion which has been happening since late June.

Pro-Ukrainian Mystery Painters Strike Again in Moscow

An electrical tower in Moscow has been painted in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, reported.


The electrical transmission tower in the southwest district of Moscow on Remizova Street near the Nagornaya metro stop has been painted by unknown persons.

Four other people were put under house arrest pending trial on charges of “hooliganism” for painting the star atop the Stalin-era building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.

Saur Mogila War Memorial In Eastern Ukraine Destroyed By Months Of Fighting
For months, pro-Russian Twitter accounts decried the apparent shelling of the Saur Mogila war monument in eastern Ukraine (map). Those voices lessened when evidence began to emerge that it may have been the separatists themselves who may have been doing at least some of the shelling of the war memorial just to blame the Ukrainian government. Regardless, in recent weeks the area around the war memorial has become a warzone as the Ukrainian government captured the area from separatists, and it now appears that the war memorial has finally collapsed.
Poroshenko Will Ask Putin To Urge Militants to ‘Withdraw’ From Ukraine

Next Tuesday Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and other European leaders will meet to discuss the violence in Eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko has released a statement that may suggest that he will not accept a ceasefire without the withdrawal of Russian troops who are already fighting in eastern Ukraine:

At the meeting in Minsk, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko is willing to hold negotiations on peace, for “the whole world is tired of war”.

“Ukraine strives for peace,” the President said in the course of the working visit to Mykolaiv. He informed that on August 26, together with a “powerful team” consisting of 3 high EU representatives, he “is going to Minsk to speak of peace”.

The President informed that Ukraine “will urge to withdraw militants from its territory” at the meeting. “I am confident that we will manage to achieve that,” Petro Poroshenko stressed.

The Head of State noted: “To have a strong negotiating position on peace, we must be strong, have the unity of people, a powerful country and a strong army”.

“We are capable of defending our sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity. Today, we are fighting for the independence of Ukraine. We will certainly win,” the President emphasized.

Earlier today, while visiting a state enterprise, the Gas Turbine Research and Production Complex “Zorya”-“Mashproekt,” Poroshenko also made statements about Ukraine’s territorial integrity:

“We will not let anyone call into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state. Our state doesn’t threaten anyone. It is peaceful and doesn’t want to make war,” the President said.

So while a diplomatic breakthrough has been heralded by the media this week, the bottom line is that it appears President Poroshenko is standing firm on key demands — that the Russian military must stop its aggression, and that the separatists will have to stand down and allow the Ukrainian government to regain control of the east.

Every day since the diplomatic ‘breakthrough’ was announced Russia has sent more arms and fighters across the border. There are continued reports that each day Russian artillery, based on Russian soil, has bombarded Ukrainian territory. And just today evidence has surfaced that Russian airborne units are already making war deep inside Ukraine. So it remains to be seen how willing Putin will be to withdraw his troops from eastern Ukraine.

Evidence of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Southeast Ukraine

A number of recent stories indicate that the 76th Guards Air Assault Division of Russian Airborne Troops from Pskov has been continuing to fight in Ukraine. A decree published on the Kremlin’s website, a report of documents seized in battle by Ukrainian forces, and a report of a Pskov soldier’s death have come together to help validate recurring reports of Russian military presence in southeastern Ukraine.

The 76th Guards were first sighted in Crimea in March. As we reported at the time, they were first noticed missing from their barracks by Lev Shlosberg, a deputy from from the Yabloko party in the regional legislature, who protested against their deployment abroad to forcibly annex the Crimea and was denounced by the Pskov Region governor.


Troops of the Pskov Air Assault Division outside Belbek air field in Crimea

Now the official Kremlin web site has published a notice dated August 18 of a decree by President Vladimir Putin that “the 76th Guards Air Assault Chernigov Red Banner Division of Russian Airborne Troops have been awarded the Suvorov Award for successful fulfillment of combat assignments of the command and display of the personal staff of courage and heroism.”


Meanwhile, today August 21 Andrei Lysenko, speaker for the information and analysis center of the Ukrainian Council for National Security and Defense said at a briefing in Kiev that the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) had seized two vehicles identified as belonging to the 76th Guards, Interfax Ukraine reported. A “full packet of documents, from driver’s licenses to military documentation” was discovered in one of the vehicles, he said. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

“The personnel and the vehicle were registered to army unit 74268 of the first parachute paratroopers’ regiment of the Pskov Division of the Airborne Troops. Among the items found was the personal tablet  of Lt. Popov, commander of the platoon of the guard.”

Lysenko said the crew left behind the vehicle; earlier as we reported there were local press reports of a seizure of Russian BMDs.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied that the paratroopers’ BMD-2s were seized from the Airborne Troops. Igor Konashenkov, a representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, made a sarcastic statement to reporters:

“Alongside the weekly ‘exposes’ of the Russian presence on the territory of Ukraine, this is already ‘proof’ no. 1001. It is quite likely that the next ‘indisputable fact’ will be the seizure during ‘fierce battles of Kalashnikov rifles or F-1 grenades with detailed personal diaries of supposed Russian soldiers.'”

Konashenkov added that there were a number of BMD-2s left over in the Ukrainian army since the Soviet era, and questioned the authenticity of the documents.

“All the service documents that were supposedly discovered in the armored vehicle are made out in old formats (templates) which ceased to be used in the Russian Army about 5 years ago. And it’s not clear, why would such an extensive library be taken along in an armored vehicle, including even a journal of dismissal of the staff?”

Finally, the Russian radio station and Internet news site Ekho Moskvy published a report based on an interview of Ekho St. Petersburg with the deputy Lev Shlosberg. He said there is an unconfirmed report that the body of a soldier who died in battle has been returned to Pskov.

“According to information which I cannot confirm with documentation, but which has come from people whom I have become accustomed to trust, we have the first Cargo 200 [the Russian military term for bodies of those killed in action–The Interpreter] in Pskov. It has come to the spetsnaz. One of the spetsnaz soldiers died in Eastern Ukraine very recently. I cannot provide the day of death, but I know the body has already been brought back. The man was killed. The family is in mourning. This has become an event that is known in close circles in Pskov. That is, the war has come home. I don’t yet know the name of this person, but I will find out.”

Ekho St. Petersburg was unable to get a confirmation of the death from the military. 

Despite Move Towards Border, Russian Aid Convoy Likely To Cross Into Ukraine Tomorrow
So many developments, escalations, de-escalations, and otherwise newsworthy events concerning Russia’s foreign policy occur during the weekend. It seems that the delivery of Russia’s aid convoy may be no different. Wojciech Bojanowski, a TVN24 correspondent on the border, says that the aid convoy may clear customs today and cross into Ukraine tomorrow:
Russian ‘Aid Convoy’ Prepares To Cross Into Ukraine

Reuters reports that the Russian aid convoy which has been stalled on the Russian side of the border for nearly a week is now moving toward the border:

The first trucks from a Russian aid convoy on Thursday passed a Russian border check point and started moving towards the border crossing with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

The trucks have moved into the no man’s land between the Russian and Ukrainian border checkpoints and it was not immediately clear if the trucks had entered Ukrainian territory, or stopped at the Ukrainian checkpoint.

A video from RT shows some aid trucks passing through a Russian checkpoint.

The BBC reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has reached an agreement with Russia and has given instructions to the truck drivers:

The Red Cross has given instructions to Russian lorry drivers at a Ukrainian border post so that they can deliver much-needed aid to civilians.

The Russian emergencies ministry said the drivers were told that the lorries must drive directly to the delivery point without stopping.

They are expected to go to the besieged city of Luhansk, where there has been heavy shelling by Ukrainian troops.

There will be only one driver per lorry and a Red Cross escort at all times.

IFV From Russian Airborne Division Captured In Ukraine

Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala reports that a BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) has been captured in the Lugutino district, to the south of Lugansk and near to Lugansk Airport. The vehicles bort number (3 digit identification code on the side of the vehicle) and documents indicate that it is from the Russian airborne forces.

The following text and photos are taken from Bochkala’s Facebook page, (translation by The Interpreter):


There is photo evidence of what was reported yesterday about the capture of Russian BMD-2 armoured vehicles in the Lutugino district in the Lugansk region.

Bort number 275, from the 1st paratrooper company, military unit 74268, Pskov Airborne Division (commanded by senior lieutenant Popov). 

I’ve spoken with the guys who personally captured the Russian paratroopers. These are soldiers from the 24th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Storm Special Forces unit.

The battle took place near the village of Georgievka. The battlefield was strewn with blue berets and bricks of Rollton dried noodles. 


The photographs show a combat vehicle and the PKT machine gun that was mounted on it, bearing the name of the machine gunner, Private N.D. Surnachev.



The same surname and initials are listed in the evening roll call journal, alongside the names of other soldiers of Russian Army apparently fighting in Ukraine. For example, it can be determined from the passport of N.S. Krygin, that he is from the Pskov region and was born in 1994. This suggests that as Putin is having trouble with experienced recruits, young, unseasoned fighters are being thrown into battle.

There is other evidence that regular soldiers from the Russian armed forces are fighting in Ukraine. Look at what the wife of one of the servicemen in the Pskov Airborne forces wrote to me yesterday on Facebook: “Our men have recently been sent to Ukraine. ‘On exercises.’ They didn’t know themselves where they were being sent. There have been no calls from them since then, not even a ‘hello.’ We’re stuck waiting for them, crying!” I myself would add that with every day, there will be more and more tears in Russia.


The Pskov division is taking losses. Soon zinc coffins will be taken back to Russia, not containing anonymous mercenaries, but the young sons of the fatherland, whose deaths are inexplicable. And if what the woman wrote is true, then it demonstrates a particular cynicism on behalf of Putin towards his own citizens.

The vehicle seen here, and the manner in which the identifying numbers have been partially erased, closely resembles one seen in video footage from the border town of Sukhodolsk on August 18


This footage, which was subsequently geolocated, came only days after a large column of VDV (Russian Airborne Forces) BMD-2s was seen near the border on the Russian side: first, at the junction of the road to the border near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, and then only 10 km from the border on August 15.