Ukraine Liveblog Day 95: Another Deadly Ambush Near Donetsk

May 23, 2014
Aftermath of the ambush in Karlovka this morning. Photo: Olga Ivshina

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

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View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.

Presidential Candidate Oleh Lyashko Claims Responsibility for Torez Murders

Translation: DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] headquarters in Torez after being stormed by “men in black” from the ‘Lyashko Battalion’

 Members of a militia organised by Oleh Lyashko, a presidential candidate and leader of the Radical Party, have killed one and grievously wounded another in an attack on the separatist headquarters in the town of Torez in the Donetsk oblast. The Kyiv Post reports that Roman, 34, was found dead in the office, while Aleksandr, 25, was taken to hospital with severe wounds. Another man who did not want to be identified by the paper reported being struck with a rifle butt. The paper writes:

Lyashko claimed responsibility for the deadly assault in a post published on his Facebook page.

“Soldiers from the Lyashko Battalion ‘Ukraine’ have cleared and liberated the city government building from the ‘Colorados’ in Torez, Donetsk Oblast,” Lyashko wrote, referring to the the pro-Russian separatists who have adopted the black-and-orange St. George’s ribbon, a symbol of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, as their own.

“Two terrorists were killed, while among our men were no injuries. Glory to Ukraine!” he added.

Lyashko is a member of parliament who leads the nationalist Radical Party. He polled in single digits for the May 25 presidential election and is not likely to finish in the first two places. 

A video of the entrance and exit of the assassins is below:

Bus Explodes in Kiev
CEOs of EDF, Shell, BP, Statoil and Total Among Those Attending Petersburg Economic Forum

A graphic from Stratfor showing the names of CEOs of Western companies who have either declined to attend or are present at the St Petersburg Economic Forum today.


The intelligence company notes that:

This is important to Russia at this time for two reasons. First, Russia wants to prove that despite the Western sanctions levied against it, the global business and investment community still wants to operate in Russia. Second, Russia has seen massive capital flight from the country — $51 billion in the first quarter — due to tensions with the West, which has prompted Moscow to look for new economic opportunities. Leading up to the forum, a number of U.S. firms publicly rejected their invitations from Russia outright. As the forum neared, other firms decided they would pull out even though they initially accepted their invitations. While a number of foreign business leaders are still coming to St. Petersburg, this year’s economic forum remains under a cloud of tension and uncertainty about the future of investment in Russia.

Batkivshchyna Deputy Kidnapped in Severodonetsk

Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing a Batkivshchyna party press release, that in Severodonetsk, representatives of the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ have abducted the head of the party’s local election headquarters, Sergei Samarsky, a deputy in the town council. 

The report says that the kidnappers had waited for Samarsky outside his office. He was put into a black Volga car and driven off. The attackers also took electoral documents with them. His current whereabouts is unknown.

The abduction was witnessed by Samarsky’s son and mother. The report says that relatives and colleagues called the police “but they haven’t even been to the scene of the crime.”

One of those close to Samarsky said:

“We believe that the kidnapping of the council deputy was committed in order to destabilise the situation in Severodonetsk, which has been more or less quiet in comparison with neighbouring Rubezhnoye, where real warfare is going on.”

Report Says Donbass Battalion Commander Received Call Telling Him Captives Killed

LIGABusinessInform, a Ukrainian news site, reports that a correspondent of theirs has spoken to Semyon Semyonchenko, commander of the Donbass Battalion, who were attacked in an ambush today. They report (translated by The Interpreter):

In conversation with a LIGABusinessInform correspondent, Semyon Semyonchenko, answering a question about an exchange of prisoners, said that Igor Bezler, a Russian GRU colonel, had called him and said that all of the prisoners had been killed. 

Semyonchenko declined to give the exact number of dead Ukrainian soldiers, noting that the losses on the enemy side exceeded theirs “by three times”. The commander of the Donbass Battalion also said that one of his wounded soldiers had died in hospital. 

“They have an overwhelming advantage in terms of force. They had heavy machine guns on their side. I suspect that we stumbled into a second Slavyansk, which was being prepared for the elections”, said Semyonchenko.

Тhere is no mention of this as yet on Semyonchenko’s Facebook page, which is currently being updated by volunteers. Separatist fighters have previously tortured and murdered abductees in Slavyansk, such as Volodymyr Rybak. But, if the report is confirmed, and Bezler (who is claimed to be either GRU or a local crime boss) was telling the truth (which he may well not be), then the mass execution of prisoners following combat would be a horrific escalation of the conflict into the territory of the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia. We note however, that separatists have prior form on false declarations of executions, for example the post the Novorossiya news page announcing the hanging of the Mariupol police chief, which, thankfully, turned out to be untrue.

Video Shows Ukrainian BMPs Reportedly Destroyed in Yesterday’s Battle in Rubezhnoye
This YouTube video shows 2 burnt out BMP-2 IFVs and a truck that were reportedly destroyed by separatist fighters in a battle yesterday in Rubezhnoye, in the Lugansk oblast. The destruction of such heavily armoured vehicles would suggest the use of heavy weaponry, such as the 9K115 Metis anti-tank missiles we have seen the separatists using.

Another video uploaded today claims to show Ukrainian conscript soldiers who have defected to the separatist side in Rubezhnoye. Armed soldiers in Ukrainian uniforms are visible in the video. At 2:42, a solider quite clearly has Ukrainian insignia on his uniform. As the men are armed, they are unlikely to be prisoners. The report that they defected is, as yet, unconfirmed. It is possible that the uniforms were looted from seized military bases.

Interviews With Ukraine’s National Guard Near Slavyansk
Simon Ostrovsky has returned to the front lines, where he has interviewed a group of National Guard stationed near Slavyansk earlier in the month. All of the men in the unit were once peaceful protesters in Maidan, and have moved up the ranks from the self-assembled defense units of Maidan to the Ukrainian National Guard.

Slavyansk Once Again Shelled

Heavy fighting and shelling have reportedly taken place in Slavyansk again today. Both sides there have been engaged in an artillery duel for the last week. The video below, reminiscent of the early days of Syria’s civil war, was taken from what appears to be a residential high-rise and shows shells landing at alarming intervals and more alarming proximity.  

Unlike the early days of Syria’s civil war, it’s not clear who is firing the shells.

Kyiv Post has interviewed a group of Ukrainian soldiers who are stationed at a checkpoint between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk:

“Our commander, when checking the checkpoints, never comes here as it is too dangerous,” said army soldier Maxim with a bitter smile, not giving his name because of fears for his safety if identified publicly.

Maxim, a tank man, showed the Kyiv Post a big hole in the ground caused when a shell exploded only 50 meters from his tank. In yet more bitter irony, the gun that fired the shell was a Ukrainian one. It belonged to a group of soldiers from the Dnipropetrovsk airborne brigade, who defected from the Ukrainian army and are now fighting on the side of Sloviansk separatists against their former comrades.

Maxim said that the traitors initially called their former colleagues trying to entice them to defect with stories of getting good salaries for siding with the Kremlin-backed insurgents, officially considered to as terrorists by the Ukrainian government and many other Ukrainians.
Wearing shorts he made from military pants and a khaki bandana, sporting a tattoo in the shape of a paratrooper on his shoulder, Maxim said he is not sure why he stands there day and night, suffering from heat and dodging shells.

Read more soldiers interviewed here. 

Deadly Ambush in Village of Karlovka, Near Donetsk

Members of the volunteer Donbass Battalion were ambushed by snipers early this morning near the village of Karlovka. At least two people have been killed and many wounded.

Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the battalion, reported, with increasing desperation, on events via his Facebook page. His first update, posted by phone at 4:37 local time [1:37 GMT] (translated by The Interpreter) reads:

The Donbass Battalion has just been ambushed near the village of Karlovka in the Donetsk oblast. They’ve taken to battle.

The battalion is coming under fire from machine gunners, snipers and RPGs.

There are wounded.

We can’t move out because some of our people are encircled.

We’re asking for reinforcements from nearby military units.

A second update at 5:37 [2:37 GMT] read:

A separatist BTR [APC] has come up to the battlefield in Karlovka, Donetsk oblast, they’ve taken up heavy machine guns and are throwing grenades. There’s  a Ukrainian army checkpoint 15 km towards Krasnoarmeysk with 4 BTRs. Give us a BTR you sons of bitches!

We can’t get to our own comrades due to a sniper.

None of my phone calls to the army command, asking for reinforcements, have been heeded.

9 wounded have been taken off to hospital. 

A third update, at 7:13 [4:13]:

The bulk of the Donbass battalion has broken through. 50% of our personnel are wounded, many have lot a lot of blood. The wounded have been taken to an army checkpoint in Krasnoarmeysk. 

Telephone contact has been maintained up until this minute with the surrounded group, who are stuck in a building. It has just been reported that the connection has been lost. The soldiers are running out of ammunition. It’s impossible to get to them due to the sniper. We need a BTR to drive up to the building and get the boys out. We can’t get any further than the petrol station.

A guard has been posted outside the hospital with the wounded. The rest of the survivors are coming back. Almost everyone in the surrounded group is wounded.

I’m certain that the terrorists knew the route of our movement in advance, since such a concentration of separatists isn’t usually seen at normal checkpoints. We’re up against highly trained Chechen forces. 

The Anti-Terrorism Operation leadership and the Ukrainian armed forces command know about our situation. 

We’re pleading for reinforcements and a BTR!

At 7:53 [4: 53 GMT], Semyonchenko made an appeal on his Facebook page to separatist fighters from the Vostok [east] battalion to agree to a truce so that prisoners could be exchanged. He posted his phone number and asked any separatists reading to to spread the message.

There have been no further updates as of yet from Semyonchenko. 

Olga Ivshina of the BBC Russian Service has been tweeting from Karlovka:

Translation: A BMP and two trucks of militia have driven off from Karlovka to Donetsk. It looks like the battle of Karlovka is over…

She reported that the Vostok battalion separatists she saw travelling looked pleased. The locals told her that the battle had gone on for over an hour.

Translation: The shot-out checkpoint in Karlovka. I see two dead. 1 of them clearly a civilian.

Here is a video from showing separatist fighters in Karlovka following the battle. The blue truck bearing the words “Donbass Battalion” now has a St. George’s ribbon tied to it. The video shows at least two bodies. One of the corpses wears camouflaged trousers but also a black t-shirt. On his chest, Nazi symbols including a swastika and sig runes are clearly visible.


140523-corpse-karlovka-gunman.jpg reports that the separatists claim that this man was a member of Praviy Sektor. The website also claims that “militants of Caucasian appearance are clearly visible the video”. Note that Semyonchenko reported that they were fighting “highly trained Chechen forces”. A comment on the YouTube video also claims that the accent at 18 seconds in is Caucasian.

The fighters appear to be extremely well armed, at least one fighter can be seen carrying a silenced AK-74, while what looks like a Dragunov sniper rifle is visible in both the upper screenshot and the following still image from