Ukrainian LiveBlog Day 189: Is There a Russian Invasion?

August 25, 2014
Gas station on fire this morning 25 August in Novoazovsk, where reports have come saying a Russian convoy has crossed into Ukrainian territory.

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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View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
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.

AP Journalists See Russia Moving Convoys Into Ukraine

The Associate Press reports:

AP reporters say convoys of military weaponry and supplies have been coming from the direction of Russia into rebel-held Ukraine.

Rebel fighters also described how Russian border guards did nothing to stop them.

The report goes on to say that last week AP reporters witnessed this happen three times in Krasnadon.

Note that the crossing which appears to be in question is likely near the Izvarino crossing, and would therefore be unrelated to the claims we’ve been covering today that Russian armor crossed the border near Mariupol.

Ukraine’s Parliament Dissolved Ahead of Schedule

Ukrayinska Pravda has published an article (translated by The Interpreter) detailing the Ukrainian government’s statements on the dissolution of the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. The article summarizes tweets which we have not included in our translation below but which can be seen here.

Petro Poroshenko has dissolved the Verkhovna Rada ahead of schedule.

Svyatoslav Tsegolko, presidential press secretary, wrote on his Twitter
account that it is “the only right and responsible decision.”

also conveyed Poroshenko’s words that the majority of the current
deputies “took part in the dictatorial laws which took the lives of the
Heavenly Hundred.”

The president also believes that dozens of deputies represent the interests not of the people who elected them.

According to the electoral law now in place, early parliamentary elections should take place October 26.

The move to dissolve the Rada was predicted, since this opens the way for new elections, but the move came earlier than some analysts had anticipated, and Ukraine will now go two months with no parliament. That development has surprised some analysts who thought that the time between the dissolution of parliament and the elections would be more like 30 days, not 60. Other analysts have been expecting this for some time.

Reuters notes that according to Ukrainian law elections must be held within 60 days, so the surprise here is not that parliament has been dissolved, but that it was dissolved early and the full 60 days will be used before new elections.

Rada Dissolved And New Elections Scheduled
As expected, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has dissolved the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, to make way for new elections which will take place in 60 days.
OSCE Visits Besieged Rebel Stronghold of Lugansk

The OSCE has released this report on Lugansk, the are where the Ukrainian government delivered humanitarian aid and the area that was the ultimate destination for Russia’s controversial aid convoy:

On its way to the city the SMM [OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine] stopped in the town of Stanytsia-Luhanska (25 km to the northeast), which appeared deserted with signs of battle-damage. Local inhabitants informed the SMM that they had no water and no electricity since 2 August, but that gas was still available. They also stated that the police, the civilian administration and Ukrainian military personnel were not present in the town.

The SMM entered Luhansk from the eastern outskirts. Whilst the area looked generally deserted, the “Eastern Market” appeared to be functioning. As it moved into the city, the SMM observed no civilian traffic. Shell damage and burnt cars were visible on most of the streets. In the city centre, the cathedral and other civilian buildings, including a school, appeared to have been damaged during the fighting.

At the regional administration building the SMM met with new representatives of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”). In particular, the SMM spoke to Hennadiy Mykolaiovych Tsypkalov, self-declared “LPR Prime Minister”, Oleksiy Viacheslavovych Karyakin, self-declared “Chair of LPR Parliament”, who has retained this position despite an earlier media announcement about his departure, and Vasyliy Oleksandrovych Nikitin, self-declared “LPR First Deputy Prime Minister”.

Issues related to the situation in the city and the conditions of the civilian population were discussed. The SMM explained the Mission’s mandate to the new interlocutors and underlined the importance of access to the city. “LPR” representatives informed the SMM that they plan to start the school year on 1 September and expressed concern over the security situation, adding that only schools provided with shelters would be open.

Red Cross Says Ukraine Conflict Is War, MH17 Could Be A War Crime

The International Committee of the Red Cross has made the legal decision that the conflict in Ukraine is officially and international war. This means that crimes committed as part of the conflict could be tried as war crimes — including the downing of flight MH17. Reuters reports:

“Clearly it’s an international conflict and therefore this is most probably a war crime,” one Western diplomat in Geneva told Reuters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions setting down the rules of war, and as such is considered a reference in the United Nations deciding when violence has evolved into an armed conflict.

“Within the U.N. system, it’s the ICRC that makes that determination. They are the gate keepers of international humanitarian law,” said one U.N. source.

The ICRC has not made any public statement – seeking not to offend either Ukraine or Russia by calling it a civil war or a case of foreign aggression – but it has done so privately and informed the parties to the conflict, sources told Reuters.

So Far, No Visual Confirmation Of Russian ‘Invasion’ Near Mariupol

So far there is no confirmation, in the form of videos or pictures, that a Russian convoy crossed into Ukraine near Mariupol today. For instance, this picture was circulating earlier, but actually shows an older battle and was taken more than a month ago:


This video reportedly shows Russian howitzers on the road to Mariupol.

But as the blogger from Ukraine at War points out, the stadium proves that this video was taken in Donetsk.

We did post a picture earlier of a destroyed tank, but the picture does not contain enough context to confirm the reports.

While there may not be confirmation, yet, the people in Mariupol are lining up to get gas and flee the city. That detail has been confirmed.
Picture Reportedly Shows Russian Tank Destroyed Near Mariupol, Ukraine

A member of the Kiev city council, Oleg Lyashko, posts this picture which reportedly shows a Russian tank destroyed by the Azov Battalion near Mariupol today. The image would be the first picture that we are aware of that reportedly shows part of the Russian invasion force which reportedly crossed the border earlier. While we cannot confirm the picture, a reverse-image search shows that this appears to be the first time it has ever been posted to the internet:


According to Lyashko, fighting is still ongoing near Novoazovsk (map).

 This video, reportedly taken today in Mariupol, shows that people are rushing to buy supplies, while long lines of traffic queue for gas. Traffic moving into the city appears to essentially be non-existent:

Panic Reported In Mariupol After Reports of Nearby Russian Invasion

As we’ve been covering today, the Ukrainian government says that a Russian invasion force of some 50 armored vehicles crossed the border near Novoazovsk (map), far south of the fighting in Donetsk and much further West than previous border incursions which have been reported and documented. Such an invasion, if confirmed, would open another front and would severely undercut Ukraine’s military operations.

Now the people in Mariupol are reportedly fleeing out of fear that the war is coming back to the city which was once held by separatists but has since been retaken by Ukrainian forces.

The next two tweets are reportedly pictures of the lines at gas stations in Mariupol:
Reportedly a road leading away from the city where all “run, run, run, run”:
Russia Pledges To Send Another Aid Convoy to Ukraine

Amid reports that as many as 50 Russian armored vehicles have crossed the border and engaged Ukrainian forces in open battle (reports which we are still tracking) Russia’s Foreign Minister has pledged to send a second ‘aid convoy’ after the first illegally crossed the border late last week:

“The fact that the first convoy eventually delivered aid with no excess or incidents gives us reason to hope that the second one will go much more smoothly,” he said.

Mr. Lavrov’s statements came a day before a summit in Minsk, Belarus, where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Mr. Poroshenko will meet for the first time since early June. They will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the Russia-led Customs Union, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus.

By the time the ‘aid convoy’ crossed the border, without inspections and in violation of Russia’s agreements with both Ukraine and the Red Cross, it appeared as though Russia had decided not to outright invade over the weekend. But while we’re tracking news of a possible outright invasion of Russian armor into Ukraine, one wonders whether a second convoy could be used as an excuse to trigger a larger invasion. One also wonders whether these vehicles would be inspected, since the last ones were not.

Russian Foreign Minister Finds Nothing Humiliating About Separatists Parading POWs

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a shocking statement to make today, according to a tweet from the Kremlin’s propaganda arm,

Most people were reviled by the scenes of Russian-backed separatists parading Ukrainian POWs at gunpoint through the streets of Donetsk this weekend on Ukrainian Independence Day.

Did Lavrov really say this?

Indeed he is reported by multiple Russian media outlets as making this statement at a press conference today. Here’s TV Rain (translation by The Interpreter)

“As for the humiliating treatment of prisoners-of-war — let the lawyers figure this out,” said Lavrov. He added that he “saw a picture of this parade” and “did not see anything that would be close to reminiscent of humiliation.”

Trying to make sense of the scene, Ukrainian Interior Minister adviser Anton Gerashchenko said that perhaps the parade was staged.

“I do not rule out that there were really people taken prisoner, but I also don’t rule out that there were walk-ons taken from the nearest colony on the principle of ‘if you want to live don’t walk bow-legged.”

Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said his minister was checking whether in fact POWs were in the parade. Some reporters claimed to recognize the prisoners.

Is There a Russian Invasion?

There are conflicting reports this morning of a possible Russian invasion again of Ukraine.

Ukrainska Pravda reported this morning from several sources that about 5:00 am, a column of armored vehicles entered Ukrainian territory from Russia near the villages of Markino and Shcherbaki in the Novoazovsky District of Donetsk Region.

Ukrainian television TSN reported an unidenified Ukrainian border guard as saying the following (translation by The Interpreter)

“We observed how the Russian paratroopers entered through a field from the direction of the border. There were tanks, BTRs and KAMAZes in the convoy. They were situated in the field between the villages of Shcherbaki and Markino, a bit above the Novoazovsky checkpoint. Their scout and several tanks moved toward the area of the village of Roza Luxemburg.”

But Aleksei Dmitrashkovsky, representative of the Anti-Terrorist operation told Ukrainska Pravda that he could not confirm reports.

“I cannot confirm this information. This information is being verified. For now this is all considered disinformation. The border guards are not confirming this information.”

Meanwhile Semyon Semyonenko, leader of the Donbass Battalion, in the hospital with serious battle injuries, made the following post on his Facebook three hours ago (translation by The Interpreter)

The invasion of the Russian occupiers has taken place. For now it is localized and easily eliminated. According to information from the Donetsk border detachment, this morning up to 50 armored vehicles crossed the border from the RF in the area of Novoazovsk. There was also artillery shelling of our territory. Part of the convoy (up to 40 vehicles) moved toward Mariupol, part of the moved toward Kuteynikovo-Amvrosiyevka-Ilovaysk. There were no nightmarish battles in the area of Mariupol as of the situation a half hour ago. Apparently there was gunfire contact with a scouting group. One person was wounded. All the hysterics in this regard are out of place. No epic battles are under way there (I have direct connection with the command of the sector and 7 wounded in the local hospital who are already walking around and seeing everything).

As commander of the battalion located in an area of apparent blocking of a group breaking through to the north, I have made a decision to form mobile groups of destroyer tanks armed with modern anti-missile and anti-aircrat weapons on mobile platforms. These groups are moving out upon communications. We will burn everyone we see.

Regarding Mariupol. Judging from the number of soldiers who were at the Kvartal 95 concert in Mariupol which we couldn’t visit unfortunately due to preparation for the storming of Ilovaysk, there are people to defend the city. And there are no less than 1,000 people there. Moreover, nearby is deployed the Azov Battalion whose command will also take all the necessary decisions and is capable of defending the city. If necessary, we will reinforce the anti-missile systems. I just spoke with the command of the National Guard, they are moving out additional reserves. There are more than enough forces. All invading agressors will find their graves on our land. That is a great honor with which I congratulate them. Glory to Ukraine. 

Several photos and videos from the scene in the last few hours show fires.

Translation: Novoazovsk. On the exit the gas station is burning. That’s how it is.

Translation:  Video from Novoazovsk with poor quality and stupid comments. But exclusive.

This video posted to VKontakte can only be seen there.

The narrator is shooting from a farm across a field, from which gunfire or explosions can be heard and smoke can be seen rising. He says the video was shot today, August 25, in Novazovsk. The video is labelled “advance of the militia on Ukrainian forces” and nothing is said about any Russian tanks — but nothing is visible from where the filming is being done.