Ukraine Day 1079: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Today’s use of Grad multiple-launch rocket systems in Donetsk city marked a return to the worst days of 2014 and 2015, and now appears to have set a trend, with reports of Grad use on the southern front now coming in on social media.
Translation: A half-packet of Grads fell near Sartana. Artillery at work from both sides. #Mariupol
The humanitarian situation in Avdeyevka remains grim as shelling continues into the night.
Pavel Zhebrivskiy, the governor of the Donetsk region, said this afternoon that engineers had been unable to restore electricity in the town due to the ongoing shelling, leaving residents to face another night in freezing darkness.
The International Committee for the Red Cross in Ukraine reports:
Ukraine’s Hromadske reports that the town’s hospital was targeted by shelling today, prompting the evacuation of ten patients.
Translation: Can even hear the sounds of war outside Donetsk-Avdeyevka from my place in Gorlovka
— Pierre Vaux
The Donetsk News Agency (DAN), a semi-official outlet for the Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk, claims that a group of Russian military officers came under fire in Donetsk this morning.
According to the report, the officers were part of the Russian delegation to the Joint Center for Control and Coordination, a body set up with the Ukrainian military to coordinate ceasefire attempts. No one was reported to have been wounded.
In addition, Russian media outlets report that two groups of Russian journalists came under fire while reporting in Donetsk today.
This is the second such alleged incident in 48 hours, as a crew from the pro-Kremlin NTV filmed what they claimed was a Ukrainian artillery strike near their location on Sunday:
LifeNews, a channel suspected of close ties to Russia’s intelligence services, reports this evening that their cameraman, Pavel Chuprin, suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs and was taken to hospital after Ukrainian shells exploded near the position in Donetsk.
While attention is focused today on Avdeyevka, where the fighting that flared up on Sunday has now entered it’s third day with massed salvos of Grad rockets fired by Russia-backed forces, there are also reports today of intense fighting over 100 kilometres away, near Mariupol, on the Azov coast.
Translation: Heavy outside Mariupol, incoming. Shirokino.
Translation: Pounding the whole day outside Mariupol, soon it’ll grow dark and it’ll get hot again.
The shelling can even be heard in this video posted by the Danish foreign minister, Andres Samuelsen, who has been visiting Mariupol today with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin:
The mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko, today announced that the city was prepared to accept 700 displaced civilians from Avdeyevka if an evacuation goes ahead.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian military has moved to deny reports circulating on social media that their troops had made advances near the village of Kominternovo, east of Mariupol.
Military press officer Ivan Chmil told Ukrainski Novyny this afternoon that the story was disinformation propagated by separatist websites.
Russia’s LifeNews channel, long suspected of close ties to that country’s security services, had reported earlier today that Ukrainian troops had launched an offensive east of Shirokino, on the Azov coast.
— Pierre Vaux
In a disturbing echo of the battle for Debaltsevo two years ago, there are reports that SMS text messages are being broadcast to Ukrainian soldiers and residents in Avdeyevka, containing threats and warnings.
Translation: #Avdeyevka look what SMS messages are coming in:
“Ukrainian soldier, you’re all just meat for your own commanders.”
Another pair of messages via Pyotr Dudnik on Facebook:
“Soldier of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they will find you when the snow melts.”
“ATO fighter, this winter will be for you like the one for the Germans outside Stalingrad.”
As some have already noted on Twitter, the broadcasting of such messages is likely performed by Russian electronic warfare units.
During the battle for Debaltsevo, which ended with Russian regular forces taking the city on February 18, 2015, Ukrainian servicemen received numerous SMS messages aimed at undermining their morale.
Viktor Kovalenko, an officer in Ukraine’s 40th Infantry Battalion at the time, described their use:
During daily attacks in January–February, the Russian-sponsored terrorists used portable cell transmitters to deliver fake and provocative text messages to our mobiles, in order to instigate anger or panic among our troops and destabilize order in our units. For example, on 12 February – on the very day the Minsk-2 peace agreement was signed – many of our servicemen received the same SMS, composed in a Russian criminal-jargon style, declaring that President Poroshenko “betrayed us, thus he should be killed”. Another fake message, received at the beginning of February, was addressed to ordinary soldiers, saying that their commander (with no name given) had fled to the city of Kramatorsk, thus “all of us were going to flee tonight as well”.
Indeed, the terrorists had been taking control of our cell phones for up to 5–10 minutes, in order to deliver their propaganda messages. Sure, the SMS texts were anonymous and false. And not one of us fled, not one of us left our positions. Many times our unit commanders banned the use of cell phones in the battle zone, but our servicemen’s wish to reach relatives was so strong that they often ignored the ban and tried to catch any signal as best they could.
Russian RB-314V Leer-3 electronic warfare systems have been documented in Donetsk and, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, working in conjunction with Orlan-10 drones, are able to jam GSM mobile communications and broadcast SMS messages.
— Pierre Vaux