Ukraine Liveblog Day 54: Russian Invasion Underway?

April 12, 2014
An armed man gestures from a barricade in front of the police headquarters in Slaviansk, April 12, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

This morning armed men stormed a police building in both Slaviansk and Krasni Liman. There are more concerning signs that Russia may be planning an invasion. Are we headed towards yet another stage of this crisis?

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. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.

An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April 9, 2014 in a larger map

Our coverage continues on our new liveblog.

1117 GMT: One mystery is solved — it turns out that Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov didn’t put any fresh status post on his Facebook page, but two hours ago, put the news of the shootout in a comment replying to others, below his post. Here is a translation from The Interpreter:

“Slavyansk. Killed and wounded on both sides. On our side — an officer of the SBU. The head of the SBU Anti-Terrorist Center is wounded, along with four others. On the side of the separatists — the number has not been established. Separatists began to use human shields from the civilian population. There is a re-grouping of the forces.

In Kramatorsk, people are not happy with the actions of those who have come…In Slavyansk, the level of support is about 1,000 people. The SBU has declared a re-grouping.”

Note that Avakov specifies that one is killed and five others are wounded, not “five killed” as some Russian media are reporting. His Facebook comment is so far the only report on this shoot-out that has not been confirmed directly by foreign or local reporters on the scene.

1046 GMT: Russian and Ukrainian media continue to report that there was a shoot-out with deaths and wounded; foreign reporters on the ground don’t find any such thing:

Meanwhile, a nasty threat has been made against a Russian journalist who has been reporting from Slavyansk for Ekho Moskvy:

: @Pravdiva_pravda We are distributing the photo of the traitor!!!
Text Translation: ANNA News agency appeals to coordinators of the units of the resistance to the Kiev junta. Spies and provocateurs are operating at your positions. One of them, who has been involved in exposing activists, their photos and video locations, is a certain Ilya Azar @AZAR who is working for the USA and the Kiev junta. We ask you to distribute and bring this information to the Resistance!

1024 GMT: The Russian state news agency Vesti is reporting that Ukrainian forces shot at demonstrators, and is citing the Ukrainian Interior Minister’s Facebook page — except there does not appear to be any such post on his page. Here is an excerpt from the Vesti report translated by The Interpreter:

“During a special operation in Slavyansk Donetsk Region, an officer of the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] was killed along with five law-enforcers. Activists also suffered casualties, which Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has reported on his Facebook page, Interfax reports.

Earlier, Vyacheslav Rudenko, one of the commanders of the self-defense units, stated that Ukrainian APCs situated next to the village of Semenovka not far from Slavyansk began to shoot at people. A civilian was wounded, Rossiya 24 reported.”

Yet a Kiev photojournalist says the protesters report no one was wounded:

Translation: @xxxpitx A representative of the protesters #Slavyansk stated that there are no casualties on their side.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry repeatedly has stated that any use of force by Ukrainian forces will scuttle the Geneva peace talks, there is concern about the accuracy of the reports. Russia may also be looking for an excuse to escalate military action.

Demonstrators are still reported as blocking a road outside of town.

1005 GMT: Continuing contradictory reports from Slavyansk. The Russian state news service Vesti is reporting that one SBU [Ukrainian State Security] officer has been killed along with five other law-enforcers in a shoot-out with pro-Russian separatists. AP just moved a story reporting the killing of one Ukrainian officer, citing the Facebook page of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov:

“Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post Sunday the Security Service officer was killed in Slovyansk where a police station was seized by camouflaged armed men.

An Associated Press reporter on the ground didn’t see any unrest there when he arrived.”

The Russian state news agency Interfax reported the same story.

Yet there isn’t any such story of a killing in Slavyansk on Avakov’s Facebook page, which was updated four hours ago and which we translated at the time.

What’s going on?

0943 GMT: Ilya Azar has a long and colorful report on the last day’s events in Slavyansk posted at Ekho Moskvy. A translation by The Interpreter of an excerpt:

Photo by Ilya Azar

Photo by Ilya Azar

“The Ukrainian flag over the administration building in Slavyansk was replaced by the Russian residents of the city themselves (a typical affair for the Donbass by now). Women standing on the square under the statue of Lenin recounted how the Russian tri-color was hung three times; first it fell down, then it was hung upside down. A guard at the mayor’s office said that he didn’t try to block the crowd, so that he wasn’t taken into the building along with the doors.

In fact, if the Russian flag over the administration building was hung personally by Slavyansk Mayor Nelya Shtepa, no one would have been surprised. She previously actively supported Viktor Yanukovych and in general is quite an odious figure. A striking buxom blonde of middle age, she immediately supported the seizure of the buildings, saying that the TV channel LifeNews had come just in time, that ‘the whole city has stood up in defense, defending the guys who seized the building’ and that ‘I cannot object to them, since Slavyansk considers Russia its elder brother and we will not fight with Russia.’

There is almost no one in front of the administration building this evening — there is no point to seize it, there are no people here with arms, and therefore it is dull to stand around here. Several dozen people who are here routinely curse the new Ukrainian government and totally support the armed attack on the city which, in fact, they consider not an attack, but a defense.”

0916 GMT: Reports from Slavyansk are contradictory; local news media are saying there was a Ukrainian police action against pro-Russian separatists with casualties, but British reporter Simon Ostrovsky tweeting from the police station says “all quiet” and asks why Ukrainian Interior Minister is “talking bull”.

There is grave concern that reports of killings of separatists by Ukrainian law-enforcement could serve as a pretext for further Russian military action.

Translation: @novostidnua There are people killed and wounded on both sides in Slavyansk — Interior Ministry — Donbass News.

0902 GMT: VICE’s Simon Ostrovsky is reporting from inside the “People’s Republic”:

0847 GMT: Sergei Garmash, editor of the Russian-language local news site reports on the pro-separatist take-overs, using the term “Colorado beetle,” the nick-name for those who wear the black-and-orange striped St. George ribbons:

Translation: @s_garmash The active phase of the operation in Slavyansk is over. They are counting the losses. There are some. Now they are taking down the checkpoint on the BZS (highway).

Translation: @s_garmash Near the Kramatorsk police station, a crowd of patriots is gathering. The Russian saboteurs have left the police building. Several local Colorado beetles are standing around.

Translation: Report from Slavyansk: our paratroopers destroyed the Colorado beetles’ checkpoint. The terrorists are being shot at in the city police department.

0837 GMT: Old people carrying icons and Russian flags block the road into Slavyansk.

0832 GMT: After pro-Russian separatists from the “Donetsk People’s Republic” took over the police building in Kramatorsk yesterday, one of the separatists came out to speak to a crowd that had gathered. A video uploaded yesterday provides a glimpse of the scene as the “people’s militia” — widely reported as instigated by Russian intelligence — encounter the actual people in a town they are “liberating”:

“If we become a confederative republic, our money will stop going to Kiev,” says the separatist, expressing a common complaint of people in the poorer areas of the south-east. “Our money, earned in our coal mines, will remain here, in the Donbass.”

But the “People’s Republic” didn’t seem to be going over so well. He was met with cat-calls and whistles, and shouts of “who are you?!” and “you guys are idiots”.

“We’re the People’s Republic,” he insisted. “But then who are we?” shouted a woman back at him. “Who do you represent?” shouted a man.

0758 GMT: Reports of revolts still underway in nine eastern towns this morning; in Gorlovka, Ukrainian police have restored order, Donbass News reports.

0747 GMT: More local reports from towns in the region by @novostidnua, Donbass News:

Translation: @novostidnua Kramatorsk: separatists attacked civic activist Stas Chernohor and stole his video camera. Details on our site.

Translation: @novostidnua Druzhkovka: situation is calm, executive committee [local government] not seized, police working in regular regimen

Translation: @novostidnua Mariopol: separatists have tried to seize the news office of the local site 0629 and TV Sigma, but left

Translation: @novostidnua Kramatorsk: separatists have set up a checkpoint near the military airfield

0742 GMT: A report from local Donbass News on action by Ukrainian special forces:

Translation: @novostidnua Ukrainian spetsnaz have removed one of the checkpoints in Slavyansk.

0735 GMT: Here is a translation by The Interpreter of an interview reportedly with a pro-Russian fighter in Slavyansk, uploaded yesterday by Midgard-INFO Vedicheskoye News Agency.

“Fighter: We are the Popular Front of Donbass. We came to the city of Slavyansk, and locals came to support the people’s power in this city. And now a liberation struggle is underway, all those who obey the illegal government, that is, Turchynov, Yatsenyuk and the others who came to power through a coup. The people are greatly outraged. When we asked peacefully, they didn’t listen to us. So now we’ve resorted to their methods and have taken up arms, and now no one will put down arms until we come to victory. But when we come, we will lay them down. We’re peaceful people of Donbass, we’re not fascists.

Reporter: What about the police in the building?

Fighter: There wasn’t a single police officer in the building. Not a single woman. No one was hurt. I guarantee you. No civilians were hurt. We don’t want war and we don’t want bloodshed. We’re here to defend law and order of the People’s Republic.

Reporter: People are concerned that under your brand, looting and theft could start. There’s a switchboard here where telephone calls about robberies come in, where reports of crimes come in. How will law-enforcement be maintained in this situation?

Fighter: The city department, criminal investigation, patrols, all the rest, all of those departments that were subordinate to the city, they will continue to work as before, without interruption. We’re only here to maintain law and order and help the city, so there will be order, and no provocations or raids by Right Sector, Svoboda, UPA and others

[Crowd cheering]

Reporter: Are you planning to be here long? Do you plan to seize other buildings?

Fighter: We’ll be here to the end. Until there will be a referendum. All the cities are going to be brought under guard and we will repeat the Crimea.

Reporter: What is it you’re trying to achieve with a referendum, tell me?

Fighter: The people will have to decide. Either a federation, or a part of Russia or total autonomy of the Donbass Territory — the people will decide that.

Reporter: If negotiators come to talk to you from the authorities now in Kiev, will you talk to them?

Fighter: We will not talk to them because we tried asking them, they didn’t listen, now we’re not going to listen to them. There will be a forceful scenario, and for every person killed, there will be a thousand more.

Reporter: Do you plan to go around the city? Because, well, people are afraid when they see guns.

Fighter: Yes, there will be patrols jointly with police officers, everything will be according to law and there will be law and order.”

0703 GMT: This is how ITAR-TASS reported the situation in Kramatorsk this morning, translated by The Interpreter:

“Representatives of the ‘People’s Militia of Donbass’ occupied the building of the Kramatorsk City Department of the Donetsk Region Main Directorate of the Interior Ministry [police]. About 50 armed people entered the building, several shots were heard. According to eye-witnesses, no one was hurt, and no one went to local hospitals.

Volunteers took the building within several minutes. Soon afterward, all the police officers left the building without their weapons, Pavel Volovoy, a commander of the People’s Militia of the Donbass told ITAR-TASS.”

Some Twitter commentators were skeptical of how authentically local and civilian the militia was:

Translation: These are those residents of Donbass driven to desperation, according to Lavrov [Russian foreign minister].

0659 GMT: Russian correspondent Ilya Azar, formerly of and now a special correspondent for Ekho Moskvy, is on the scene in Slavyansk, where Ukrainian forces have begun an “anti-terrorist operation.”

Translation: Outside of Slavyansk, smoke is visible, it looks like they are coming from there into town.

Translation: @AZAR Helicopters have stopped flying but people are saying that there is shooting somewhere on the approaches and they are calling everyone to go to the city police department (that is, to die?)

0629 GMT: Ukrainian Interior Minister Avakov has reported on his Facebook page that an “anti-terrorist operation” has begun, and made an impassioned plea, reported. The Interpreter’s translation:

“1. An anti-terrorist operation has begun in Slavyansk. It is being led by the Anti-Terrorist Center of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). Forces from all the law-enforcement divisions of the country have been brought in. God speed!

2. (unofficially, emotionally)

Who are these idiots who have sent people into Kharkiv, which had barely gone back to a peaceful life through gigantic efforts — without fights and bonfires? Who are those puppeteers, who are doing this at a moment when we need to concentrate on Donbass?! Who are you, rogues and provocateurs?! You wanted once again to set Kharkiv on fire with Molotov cocktails and arouse the base part of the Colorado beetles [those wearing the Russian nationalists’ striped orange and black St. George ribbons–Interpreter], to frighten the neutral “with military rightists”?! You wanted so that by evening, not only Donetsk and Lugansk but Kharkiv as well would burn? Who are you working for, who is using you and your emotions, friends?! Turn on your brains, at last, those who are being used blindly for such things. Kharkiv people from EuroMaidan — what, are you watching all this in silence?! Or is a pose and “a little war” higher than the interests of the country and peace in your own city? Or do you know at what price the fragile stabilization was reached in Kharkiv? Curse and take down whom you wish, including even me — but don’t lose common sense, the east of the country must not be lost!

Before the clash between the Poltava police and 5 buses of visitors in Chutovo, there were enormous efforts made not to allow the convoy to enter Kharkov, to stop and turn the line of vehicles back..It failed. I appealed to politicians and politicos — they’ve gone into hiding. They are populists and irresponsible people. I have become convinced that for many of our “heroes,” going to bring order to peaceful Kharkiv, a pose is higher than the interests of the country.

I appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office regarding the facts of actions of the police in Poltava Region and asked that an investigation be made and an evaulation made of the clash that occurred.”

Other live reports of Ukrainian operation beginning against pro-Russian protestors:

0402 GMT: Ukrainska Pravda reports that the group of “Russian saboteurs” who were involved in the attack on Slovyansk are now moving toward Kharkiv, citing an account on the web site Waves based on an unnamed source in law-enforcement early Sunday morning.

There is concern this could represent “a new wave of destabilization in eastern Ukraine in Kharkov and possibly Kherson regions.” The report also claims the involvement of Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov and his subordinate Alexei Vorobyov in the operation.

0049 GMT: A late-night extraordinary session of the Ukrainian Council for National Security and Defense was held on the situation in the eastern regions of Ukraine, reported at 23:39 local time 12 April.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov invited to the session the governors of the “problem” regions in which outbursts of separatism have been reported, reported, citing an unidentified source.

Turchynov was said to be discussing with the regional leaders the option of introducing a state of emergency, said

0038 GMT: Military analyst Dmitry Tymchuk of the Information Resistance in Kiev provides his take on the events of the day in a Facebook post here. Translation by The Interpreter:

“According to operational information from the Information Resistance group, the current extremist actions in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine are initiated and directed by a network of coordinators from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces [the GRU].

Agents of the Russian GRU have been identified who staged the seizures of government bodies and blocked Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea in March.

Earlier, as we reported, a group of these GRU agents were transported from the Crimea to Rostov-on-the-Don.

The purpose of these current actions are to seize as many local government and law-enforcement buildings as possible before 17 April, that is, before the meeting in Geneva of the representatives from Ukraine, European Union, the US and Russia on settling the crisis in our country. According to the Russian government’s plan, this will provide an opportunity for Russia to make a statement about the lack of control over the situation in Ukraine on the part of the Ukrainian government, and also about its illegitimacy in the eyes of a significant part of the population.”

His latest update:

“For the last hours, the divisions of Russian troops near the eastern borders of Ukraine have changed the areas of their deployment, have dispersed to their locations and have taken measures to mask their weapons and military vehicles.

All together, the total number of Russians forces (according to our estimates, of the order of 50,000 men) has not been reduced.

An additional 20 or so transport combat helicopters have been deployed to the airfields in the border zone by Russian soldiers. The total number of units of army aviation has reached 240.”

2326 GMT: David Patrikarakos, a correspondent for The New Statesman, is in Sloviansk right now and has been tweeting photographs from a city largely in the hands of armed pro-Russian militiamen and what he certainly believes are professional soldiers. The Interpreter‘s Editor-in-Chief Michael Weiss interviewed David briefly via Facebook:

Michael Weiss: What did you see today? Is this is a Russian invasion or just some kind of incredibly well coordinated fifth columnist putsch? Any signs of actual soldiers, disguised or otherwise, on the streets?

David Patrikarakos: The situation is the most intense I’ve yet experienced. I’ve attended pro-Russia demos and seen and been inside occupied building in Donetsk and Luhansk. And this is on another level. While at the other protests/occupations there were armed men and lots of ordinary people, here it almost universally armed and masked men in full military dress. Automatic weapons are everywhere. Clearly a professional military is here. There’s the usual smattering of local militia with bats and sticks but also a military presence. Of that there is no doubt. This could well be the start of something bigger. My friend just tried to get back into the police station they wouldn’t let him in for his own safety. The people are wild inside. I have heard several rounds of gunfire over the last few hours.

MW: Has anyone admitted to being given a script by Moscow?

DP: No, the line they always stick to is that they are local people. But definitely a military presence that seems beyond a spontaneous outbreak of the citizenry.

MW: There was evidence that one “local” in Sloviansk was actually from Crimea.

DP: Yeah, I heard that. It would not surprise me at all. Certainly I think people are coming in from around Ukraine. One woman here tonight we saw in Donetsk, she showed us her passport there.

MW: Have you talked to any pro-Kyiv people? What are their views on this crisis?

DP: There are no pro-Kyiv people here showing their faces on the streets. But generally the feeling of the pro-Kyiv people in Eastern Ukraine we have spoken to is that the Russians are preparing to invade.

MW: So where are they? Hiding and fearing for their lives?

DP: I suspect so. In Donetsk, Luhansk they are there and I have spoken to them. Here: where people are firing into the street and carrying automatic weapons I did not find any tonight. But I have been here for about 8 hours, most of which I have spent in the occupied police station for obvious reasons. Clearly there are no pro-Ukraine types there.

You have to understand what it is like: intensity around the barricades and then pretty deserted, but pro-Russian sentiment is everywhere. The guy I was traveling with was doing a phone interview. He mentioned that the pro-Russians are armed. The woman who owned the hotel in the lobby he was standing in booted him out. She took photos and filmed our car and then started calling people. She thought we were badmouthing Russia and was informing on us.

2129 GMT: We’re looking for more confirmation, but…


Translation: checkpoints at all the entrances to Dnepropetrovsk.

Why is that important? Remember that map we posted at 2043 GMT? Dnepropetrovsk is the western arrow.

2119 GMT: Roland Oliphant has just posted his dispatch from Slaviansk. The headline: “Fears of full-scale Russian invasion as eastern Ukraine cities toppled.”

After raising the Russian flag at both the police station and the local security service headquarters, they ransacked the police station armoury of at least 400 handguns and 20 automatic weapons.

“The aim of the takeover was the guns,” a Ukrainian police statement said. “They are giving these guns to participants in the protest in Slavyansk.”

The men standing guard behind newly erected barricades appeared to include professional soldiers as well as retired veterans and civilian volunteers. Some said they wanted a referendum on becoming part of Russia, as Crimea did last month.

“For three months we have been demanding a referendum and they haven’t listened to us,” one armed man told The Sunday Telegraph, describing himself as a veteran of Afghanistan.

“Since that war I have not picked up a gun, I became a builder and tried to forget a war. After this, I’ll put it away and never need it again,” he said, tapping a loaded AK-47.

Asked where the weapons came from, he nodded at the Russian flag now flying from the police station and said: “Look at that flag. You know which country that represents.”

2111 GMT: The White House has made statements on today’s events. Note that the language is similar to what John Kerry said earlier (jump to update 2033).



2105 GMT: More great reporting from Graham Phillips who, considering how these pro-Russian elements have treated the media today, is taking big risks to get us the news:


2056 GMT: An ominous sign that could lead to an escalation, as the leader of Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist group, asks for his supporters to resist these militias.


This video has English subtitles. He blames the Kremlin for these attacks and calls on a full mobilization to stop the Russian threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine:

2043 GMT: As we’ve been reporting, in many ways Slaviansk is in a key strategic location, as it is on a railway in the central part of eastern Ukraine that connects other key cities together. But now there is this claim, coming from the main twitter account of the Euromaidan protests:



We’re not in a place to validate whether the arms held in the police building in Slaviansk are a major arsenal compared to other locations, but earlier we reported that some police buildings in this general region do not have large weapons stockpile (jump to update 1955). EuromaidanPR may have enough connections to Kiev’s government to have knowledge that this is what is being whispered by Ukraine’s government. This would indicate, again, that the attack on this particular police station was well coordinated, part of a larger plan — and perhaps even informed by intelligence that may have been gathered by a foreign government?

2033 GMT: Curious wording by the US Secretary of State. We’ll see if we can find the full statement:


2027 GMT: Maks Czuperski translates a tweet from the US ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, sent about 7 minutes ago. It seems the ambassador thinks that this intelligence is relevant again:



2018 GMT: This video appears to show the gunfire in Kramatorsk, at a police building occupied by pro-Russian militants.

We’ve translated some of the dialogue which can be made out on the video. The voices speaking sound young, scared, and relatively close the the camera:

-Those are real, right?
-Yes, real.
-I’m inside, even.
-Open the door we’re coming in anyway.
-It’s from Russia, looks like.
-The boss.
-Oh, it’s all fucked.
-Film that…
-It’s a druzhina [volunteer corps].
-I’m going in closer.
[Gunfire at 1:35]
-Those people in the druzhina are there with automatic rifles.
-Film us, go ahead, film.
-I don’t know.
-Guys, let’s go.
[3:18 Gunfire]
-Pick it up. They’re behaving like pigs.
-Oh, it stinks of gunpower, ugh. Fuck.

2012 GMT: An interesting claim – that one of the gunmen in Sloviansk is the same man, with all the same equipment, as one of the gunmen in Crimea:




2005 GMT: More shooting:


2000 GMT: After hours of being poked and questioned by foreign correspondents and diplomats, the Russian Foreign Ministry has finally posted the following statement, translated by The Interpreter, on today’s events in Ukraine.

On 12 April at the Initiative of the Ukrainian government, a telephone call took place between the Russian Federation’s Foreign Minister S.V. Lavrov and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister A.B. Deshchitsa.

During the conversation, A.B. Deshchitsa tried to place responsibility on Russia for the aggravation of the situation in the South and South-East of Ukraine. He claimed that certain Russian agents are operating in these regions and supposedly several of them have already been arrested.

In reply, S.V. Lavrov stated that there are no grounds for such claims. He recalled that similar claims against Russia are being made from Washington, but no concrete facts were provided there.

The Russian government emphasized the responsibility of the current authorities in Kiev for not permitting any forceful actions in the South and South East of Ukraine. It was explained to A.B. Deshchitsa that the constant threats from Kiev to storm buildings occupied by protesters in Donetsk and Lugansk were unacceptable. S.V. Lavrov urgently called on the Ukrainian government to act in an exclusively peaceful manner, through dialogue, with full account of the lawful demands of the South and South-East of Ukraine, including direct involvement of representatives of these regions in the process of constitutional reform.

In reply to questions from A.B. Deshchitsa regarding the prospects of conducting a four-sided meeting among Russia-US-EU-Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Minister noted that preparation for this event both as to its content and as to its format and schedule continues to be discussed between Moscow and Washington.

So Lavrov said there are “no grounds for such claims.” He didn’t say that the claims weren’t true.

1955 GMT: Not all of the attacks on police stations have been successful. reports:

Police in Gorlovka in the Donetsk Region have cut off an attempt by unidentified persons to penetrate the city police department building, says a spokesman from the Gorlovka Police Department, and report.

At about 20:00 local time, several cars pulled up to the police building and unidentified persons got out and headed to the building attempting to get in.

Police belief the intruders’ main purpose was to grab guns, although in fact there aren’t any in the police building or any of three local precincts.

Police called on citizens not to storm buildings “because as a result, people on both sides can be hurt.”

Separatists seized city police buildings earlier today in Slavyansk, and also Kramatorsk and Krasny Liman.

1934 GMT: As news of the armed separatists taking over police stations was spreading, a protest was growing in Kharkiv tonight – a pro-Ukraine protest:



1922 GMT: Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia, seems to believe that this is a Russian invasion. He retweeted this:


And is asking questions like this:





The current US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, retweeted our own update about there being growing evidence that these gunmen may be Russian soldiers.

In other words, longtime Russia watchers seem to think that this is now an academic question. The consensus is that Russia is behind these provocations, even if there’s no confirmation yet that these are Russian troops.

1912 GMT: As we’ve been reporting, earlier polling shows that very few people even in Eastern Ukraine support joining Russia or even declaring independence, and even a majority in eastern Ukraine reject the idea of federalization. Now, a new poll shows that the total number of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine is extremely small – even in areas where we’re seeing gunmen take over police and government buildings.

Read: Few in Ukraine – Including in the East — Support Separatism or Joining Russia, Poll Shows

1853 GMT: RFE/RL has more on the statements from Ukraine’s government that effectively brand what is happening as a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine:

Acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says attacks by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine today are an “act of aggression” by Russia.

Avakov said in a statement on his Facebook page that units of the Ukrainian Interior and Defense ministries “are implementing an operational response plan” to attacks by protesters on police stations and other government buildings in several cities and towns.

It began early when gunmen seized a police station in the city of Slovyansk.

Pro-Russia protesters later took control of other government buildings in the city.

Separatists then stormed or took control of several other government buildings in Donetsk city, Krasny Liman, and Kramatorsk.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine.

The meeting will reportedly held in Kyiv at 2100 (local time).

1838 GMT: Earlier, BBC journalists had their camera’s taken and their memory cards wiped by these pro-Russian gunmen (who may or may not be Russian spetsnaz). That makes this a brave piece of reporting:


Here’s another video, posted by the independent Belarusian outlet Belsat:




What can we take from this? Very well-armed gunmen, operating in ways that indicate they have elite training, are behind the takeover of these police buildings. The timing of the attacks across multiple cities indicates that these were coordinated moves. But we also see these units working with local civilians, former Berkut officers, and possibly local defected police officers. In other words, while the Kremlin is using its propaganda arm to rile up the pro-Russian populace (who are a minority even in eastern Ukraine), these elite teams are leading these attacks, attacks which net large amounts of local firepower and ammunition which can then be distributed to local supporters of these elite teams.

1820 GMT: These units that are on the move in eastern Ukraine appear to be elite, disciplined, and extremely well equipped:




And the Ukrainian government appears to be on the same page as analysts that we’re currently consulting:



1750 GMT: Are these random gunmen in random towns, or is there a logic to their actions. Here’s a theory:


In fact, both Slaviansk and Kramatorsk are in between Kharkiv and Donetsk (map). If pro-Russian gunmen controlled Lugansk, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, and Slaviansk, then they could have control of all the key roads in eastern Ukraine. With Russian troops in Crimea, and a massive Russian force just north of Kharkiv, if one wanted to establish pro-Russian militias inside Ukraine in order to soften the ground for an invasion with the rest of Russia’s military, this is exactly what it would look like. Furthermore, this is exactly how pro-Russian militias established control over Crimea. There was a significant body of evidence suggesting that those pro-Russian militias were actually Russian special forces. Now there’s a growing body of evidence that these militias are too.

1742 GMT: There is now a gunfight in Kramatorsk, Krasni Liman:



1733 GMT: The question now becomes whether these gunmen in eastern Ukraine are taking orders from Russia. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that as least some of them are. On April 7th, one of the separatist gunmen in Donetsk was spotted wearing a Telnyashka, a shirt worn by Russian airborne units. Those shirts, of course, are for sale on the public market, and some supporters of Russia sometimes wear them. One could argue that even if the man was not a member of the Russian military, and even if he was not taking orders from the Kremlin, he was acting on a narrative being pushed by the Kremlin propaganda machine.

Now, however, there are new indications of Russian interference in eastern Ukraine. Take this claim:



We can’t confirm the claim except to say that this picture appears to be new, and there are similarities between the medal on the man’s shirt and medals awarded for service to Russian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Then there’s another claim:



We’re still working to identify this rifle. But here’s more images of the gunmen in Slaviansk (gallery here). Many of the gunmen are heavily equipped:




Then there’s a report that one of commanders of the men in Donetsk identified himself as a Russian from Tula who has only come to Ukraine to help “a fraternal people defend their rights.”

So far, none of these images are conclusive, but what is readily apparent is that these men are well equipped, well organized, and well coordinated with units in multiple cities. This movement is not a spontaneous mob taking over these locations, nor did these groups organize overnight.

1630 GMT: This morning gunmen stormed police buildings in both Slaviansk and Krasni Liman, two eastern Ukrainian towns, and while no injuries are reporting there are now serious concerns that the government in Kiev is losing control over the country’s eastern regions.CNN summarizes the latest news from the two towns where police buildings have been seized:

Natalia Stativko, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, said a police building in the town of Krasni Liman had also been taken by protesters. Special units are being sent to both Slaviansk and Krasni Liman to assess the situation, she said.

However, the mayor of Krasni Liman told CNN the police building there was surrounded by protesters but had not been seized.

A CNN team in Slaviansk saw dozens of armed men in camouflage in control of the Ukraine Security Services (SBU) building, as well as the police building. Makeshift barricades have been erected around both buildings and locals were bringing food to the armed men at the SBU site.

The BBC says that reporters were harassed in Sloviansk, where gunmen have reportedly captured a significant amount of firearms:

Meanwhile, regional police spokesman Ihor Dyomin described how armed men were bussed to the police station in Sloviansk.

“Six or seven unknown persons got out. They fired several shots in the air and attempted to storm the police department,” he said.

He added that “people in camouflage uniform” and with weapons” were inside the building.

Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov promised to deal with the attackers.

“The response will be very tough because there is a difference between protesters and terrorists,” he said in Ukrainian on his Facebook page.

The Interior Ministry said the aim of the attack was to seize arms from the police station, where some 40 automatic rifles and 400 pistols were stored along with ammunition.

One of those who seized the police station said the group had gone to Sloviansk to fight people who represented the illegal authorities of interim President Oleksandr Turchynov, according to a video posted on Youtube.

Kiev is responding. CNN reports that the acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, has fired the head of security in Donetsk. But there are concerns that it’s not just a few towns that are slipping away from Kiev, but many areas in the east:


The situation is urgent:


The allegation of many observers is that these gunmen may be taking orders directly from the Kremlin.


The bottom line – gunmen who support joining Russia do not have popular support in eastern Ukraine, but they are pushing the country closer to an internal crisis, and with Russian troops still staging on the borders, an internal crisis could rapidly become a geopolitical crisis.