Ukraine Liveblog Day 253: Ukrainian Forces Evacuated From 32nd Checkpoint Near Smile

October 28, 2014
A truck carries away the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed defending the 32nd checkpoint. Photo: Andriy Tsaplienko

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.

Ukrainian Pilot Savchenko May Face New Charges of ‘Illegal Border-Crossing"

According to a report from RIA Novosti, Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, accused of involvement in the killing of Russian state journalists, may also be charged with “illegal border crossing,” her lawyer said today October 28.

RAPSI, the Russian judicial news service said investigators had sent a request to the Federal Security Service (FSB) to bring new charges. The charges stem from her allged entry into Russia:

Savchenko, 33, called in artillery fire via radio. She was seized by
anti-Maidan fighters in June but, according to the independence
supporters in the Lugansk area, managed to escape. Later she was
detained in Russia, which she allegedly entered as a refugee, and was
charged with complicity in the murder of Russian journalists during the
shelling of the self-defense forces in the contested Ukrainian region of

The two journalists Igor Kornelyuk and sound engineer Anton Voloshin were killed June 17 when a mortar fell by a rebel-controlled checkpoint near Metallist in Lugansk Region. Savchenko said she had no relationship to the incident.

Ukraine Unlikely To Receive IMF Loan Tranche This Year

Ukraine’s economy has plenty of problems, so this is unwelcome news (via Reuters):

Ukraine is unlikely to receive a second tranche of a $17-billion loan program from the International Monetary Fund this year as expected, Finance Minister Oleksander Shlapak said on Tuesday, in the latest economic blow to the debt-ridden country…

Kiev had expected that a second tranche, worth $2.7 billion, of the IMF bailout would come in December after the Fund’s mission was due later this month. But Shlapak said an IMF visit was unlikely before a new government was formed…

“An (IMF) mission will come when a new government is in place,” Shlapak told journalists. “They want to talk to a new government. The key question would be the adoption of a realistic 2014 budget.”

He added that most likely, the tranche would be postponed until next year.

“The maximum that we would like to achieve is to get an IMF decision (on the tranche disbursement this year),” he said.

Norwegian Scientists Find Russian Delta Class Submarine In Arctic Circle

The Telegraph has a fascinating story about two Norwegian scientists who may have accidentally discovered the Russian Delta class submarine Orenburg surfaced in the Arctic Circle:

A chance encounter by scientists adrift on an Arctic ice floe has given the first clues to a new Cold War being played out in in the far north, where Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his ambitions to extend Russian influence.

Yngve Kristoffersen and Audun Tholfsen, two Norwegian researchers, were coming to the end of their day when they spotted something unusual on the water.

“In the evening we spotted lights at a distance,” the scientists recorded in their blog for October 16.

“Turned out to be a submarine at the surface in position: 89° 17.5′ N, 172° 42.9′ W. We were not able to identify it.”

The men said that they approached the boat, but she sank back under the ice when they were within 100 metres of her.

Luckily, the two men snapped this and other photographs before the ship dove under the ice:


Swedish authorities have given up a week-long search for a suspected Russian mini-submarine operating in their waters.

RIA Reports The EU Sanctions Will Stay In Place
According to the Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novositi, Europe’s sanctions on Russia are not going anywhere.
Eastern Outskirts Of Mariupol Shelled

Mariupol news site reports that shells have fallen on the village of Talakovka, on the north-eastern fringes of the port city. 

The site cites reports from Ukrainian soldiers, who say that their positions in the village have been fired on with heavy weaponry.

While there are no reports on casualties yet, one military checkpoint is out of contact.

The press office of the ATO headquarters in Mariupol told 0629 that there had been an attack with 120 mm mortars, striking Ukrainian positions in the village of Gnutovo, further north-east, at 14:05 (12:05 GMT).

At 14:55, according to the military, mortars were fired from separatist-controlled territory in the village of Sakhanka.


Volleys of heavy artillery and machine-gun fire have been heard in the Vostochny area. However Ukrainian positions here are not being shelled.

Translation by The Interpreter.

Lysenko – Russia Did Not Notify Ukraine Of Plans To Send Another Aid Convoy

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukainian National Security and Defence Council, has told reporters at a briefing today that Ukraine received no notification of Russia’s plans to send further aid convoys into eastern Ukraine.

Earlier today, the Russian Emergencies Ministry announced plans to send 3,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid over the next week, starting with a convoy, carrying 1,000 tonnes, that set off from the Moscow area for the Rostov region today.

Lysenko said:

“The Ukrainian side received no official information, no official document in this regard.”

94.5% Of Votes Counted

Ukraine’s Novoe Vremya reports that the Central Election Commission has announced that 94.5% of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections have been counted.

The results so far are as follows:

22.22% – Popular Front

21.81% – Bloc Petro Poroshenko

11.01% – Samopomich

9.29% – Opposition Bloc

7.44% – Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko

5.69% – Batkivshchyna 

The far-right Svoboda party looks set to have failed to reach the necessary 5% vote share threshold to enter the Rada, having received only 4.73% of votes counted so far.

Elections Went Well. Putin’s Next Moves in Ukraine Won’t Be Pretty

Election monitors are praising Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine. For starters, they were not disrupted by violence, bomb scares, terrorist attacks, or fraud. In fact, election monitors noticed a significant decrease in fraud over previous elections. The OSCE praised the elections as an important step toward democracy.

Then there are the results (which we’ll analyze more fully in a later update). As our separate analysis yesterday pointed out, Far right parties lost ground over previous elections, as did Far Left parties. Despite claims made by pro-Putin propaganda outlets in both the East and the West, Ukraine is not radicalizing — in fact, the opposite is occurring.

In our Window on Eurasia column, Paul Goble writes that “Putin’s Next Moves In Ukraine Won’t Be Pretty“:

Having failed to disrupt the Ukrainian elections, to gain support for pro-Russian candidates, or to provoke Ukrainians into voting for national extremists that Moscow could use to discredit Ukraine in the West, Vladimir Putin will be tempted to stir up more violence in Ukraine to keep that country from pursuing its European course.

Goble is citing two different Russian writers who have written similar analysis in the last 24 hours. This analysis may be prescient. As we’ve been reporting, after more than a week of saying that there has been deescalation, today the Ukrainian government is warning that there has been an increase in violence, Russia has announced a new “aid convoy,” and (probably) fresh new Russian troops were spotted on the Ukrainian side of the border yesterday.

Read Goble’s analysis here.

France Reportedly Set To Upgrade Ukraine’s Helicopter Gunships

France, which has been heavily criticized for its plan to sell Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia, will reportedly also upgrade Ukraine’s attack helicopters. The Russian state-owned TASS news agency reports:

France is involved in upgrading of Ukrainian helicopter gunships Mil Mi-24, TASS learnt at international naval show Euronavale-2014 being held in Le Bourget, a Paris neighbourhood.

Sagem, a French high-tech company from the Safran group, industrial conglomeration specialised in electronics and high technologies, is a French counterparty in chopper’s modernisation project. Ukraine’s state-run concern Ukroboronprom is a contracting party in this project.

Russia Announces 3,000 Tonnes Of Aid Will Be Delivered Over Next Week

Russia’s state owned TASS news agency reports that a convoy carrying humanitarian aid bound for south-eastern Ukraine has set off from the Moscow area.

The convoy is reportedly made up of 100 trucks carrying a total of 1,000 tonnes of aid, including food, medicine, drinking water and construction materials.

The deputy head of the Russian Emergencies minister, Vladimir Stepanov, told reporters (translated by The Interpreter):

“We’re planning for the convoy to be in the village of Kovalyovka in the Rostov region by tomorrow evening. We will then act in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Red Cross.”

Stepanov added that, over the course of the following week, up to 3,000 tonnes of aid will be delivered to the Lugansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. In addition to the convoy from Moscow, three aircraft delivered further aid to Rostov-on-Don, from where it will be loaded onto trucks.

With Elections Over, Ukraine Sees Uptick In Attacks By Russian-Backed Fighters
For at least a week the National Security and Defense Council has been reporting a decrease in attacks by Russian-backed insurgents. That appears to be changing. As we just reported, last night there were reports of Russian troops near the border. Today Russia has announced that it is sending a new aid convoy across the border. And at today’s briefing the NSDC reported an uptick in attacks by Russian-backed fighters:
It’s not all bad news from the NSDC, though. Since the start of the ceasefire at the end of August, the two sides have been engaged in prisoner swaps which have gone off without any reported problems. Note that the NSDC calls the Russian-backed fighters “terrorists” and calls the prisoners that they hold “hostages.”
NSDC also reported on the ongoing efforts to defuse unexploded ordnance and land mines:
Russia To Send Another Humanitarian Convoy To Ukraine — But Has It Already Crossed The Border?

Late yesterday afternoon while driving on the Ukrainian side of the border in Donetsk, journalist Christopher Miller noticed a convoy of more than 20 vehicle, with no license plates, driven by men in camouflage. Soon after this Miller tweeted that he saw three men who were wearing insignias of the “Russian Armed Forces” gassing up a car.

One could infer that due to their proximity to the border, the possible Russian soldiers (to our knowledge Miller did not have a chance to speak to them to confirm that they were in fact Russian soldiers) may have just crossed the border. Russian interference in Ukraine is well established, as is the presence of Russian troops on the wrong side of the border. But tensions have been decreasing for at least a week and conflict has been winding down as the election drew closer, so why would more Russian troops be spotted near the border now, what were they doing in Ukraine, and what is inside these trucks?

Today RIA Novosti tweets this headline — is this related to the convoy spotted by Miller yesterday?

Ukrainian Forces Evacuated From 32nd Checkpoint Near Smile

UNIAN reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, has told reporters at a briefing in Kiev this morning that all the soldiers who had been pinned down at the 32nd checkpoint near Smile in the Lugansk region have been successfully evacuated.

The Ukrainian soldiers, 112 of them according to the Lugansk governor, Hennadiy Moskal, have been pinned down and almost surrounded since October 15.

Moskal reported that the attackers were separatist fighters claiming allegiance to Pavel Dremov’s ‘Army of the Don Cossacks.’ This stand-off was part of a series of confrontations in the area along the Bakhmutka highway, north of Dremov’s stronghold of Stakhanov.

On October 26, Ukrainian forces succeeded in delivering food and water to the soldiers but, on the next day, an attempt to lift the siege and relieve the troops there failed when two Ukrainian soldiers were killed in their BTR armoured personnel carrier. 

According to Lysenko, 10 soldiers were killed defending the checkpoint during the long stand-off. Their bodies were taken out by truck, photographed here by Andriy Tsaplienko from TSN:


Tsaplienko reported that the troops had been almost completely encircled.

Lysenko announced that there had been no losses during the withdrawal, adding that the evacuees would now be offered psychological help.