Ukraine Day 1087: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has announced that six Ukrainian servicemen were injured yesterday in the Donbass.
According to this morning’s report from the Ukrainian military, Russia-backed forces conducted 89 attacks yesterday.
The report claims that Russia-backed forces used 152 and 122-mm artillery and mortars to shell the village of Luganskoye, near the highway between government-controlled Bakhmut (formerly Artyomovsk) and separatist-held Debaltsevo.
To the north and west of nearby Gorlovka, Ukrainian positions near Zaytsevo, Pivdennoye (formerly Leninskoye) and Novgorodskoye were shelled with mortars.
Mortars were also reportedly used, in addition to grenade launchers and small arms, in attacks to the north of Donetsk, near Nevelskoye, Peski, Opytnoye, Verkhnetoretskoye, Kamenka, Troitskoye and Avdeyevka, where tank fire was also reported.
To the west of Donetsk, the military reported artillery and mortar attacks on Maryinka, where the Ukrainian State Border Service reports that one of their civilian checkpoints came under grenade-launcher fire last night.
In the south, Military press officer Ivan Chmil told Mariupol news site 0629.com.ua that Russia-backed forces had conducted massive artillery strikes on positions near Gnutovo, northeast of the port city.
According to Chmil, more than 70 122-mm artillery shells fell between 15:00 and 17:00 yesterday.
On the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol, positions near Novotroitskoye were reportedly shelled with mortars.
Chmil also reported grenade-launcher and small-arms attacks near Lebedinskoye, Beroyzovoye, Vodyanoye, Shirokino and Pavlopol, where Russia-backed forces also fired from an armored personnel carrier.
Between midnight and 8:00 this morning, Chmil reported three attacks, one with the use of mortars near Shirokino, and grenade-launcher and small-arms attacks near Lebedinskoye and Vodyanoye.
In the Lugansk region, the Ukrainian military reported heavy shelling near Krymskoye – a vulnerable front-line area on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets river. According to the report, Russia-backed forces used mortars and 122-mm artillery in the attacks.
Elsewhere in the region, the military reported mortar shelling near Troitskoye, Popasnaya and Novozvanovka.
On the other side of the front line, Eduard Basurin, military spokesman for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed this afternoon that Ukrainian forces had fired on separatist-held territory 775 times over the past 24 hours.
According to Basurin, 195 mortar rounds and six artillery shells were fired in that time, with most attacks directed at the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as Dokuchaevsk, near Novotroitskoye, and villages east of Mariupol.
This afternoon, there are further reports of shelling to the north of Donetsk:
Translation: Powerful incoming, one at a time. Once every five minutes approximately. Salvos not far away. #Avdeyevka
Translation: #Avdeyevka heavy incoming fire isn’t stopping. Ours are silent.
Translation: 152-mm impact, a Giatsint by the sounds of it.
— Pierre Vaux
Separatist commander Mikhail Tolstykh, known by his nom de guerre of Givi, has been killed in his office in Donetsk.
Tolstykh was one of the most prominent commanders of Russia-backed forces in the conflict, heading the Somali Battalion which fought during the capture of Ilovaisk and Donetsk Airport.
He was presented as a hero by Russian state media and separatist propaganda, but was notorious for his violence and abuse of Ukrainian prisoners of war.
This well-known and highly graphic footage shows Tolstykh abusing Ukrainian prisoners captured during the fall of Donetsk Airport on January 22, 2015:
The Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk claim that Tolstykh’s office was struck by an RPO-A Shmel thermobaric missile this morning, allegedly fired by Ukrainian agents.
The claim is interesting, because the Shmel is not part of the Ukrainian arsenal but has been documented in use by Russian or separatist fighters in the Donbass. This does not, of course, exclude the fact that Ukrainian special forces could have obtained such a weapon through capture or the black market for the sake of plausible deniability.
Video from the scene of the blast shows that the interior of the building has been completely gutted by fire. This could well be consistent with the use of a thermobaric weapon.
Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, has commented on the news:
“Obviously, we are talking about attempts to destabilise the situation in the Donbass. Of course, we hope that there is a certain safety margin, and those who are behind such killings do not succeed in causing further escalation. Because the situation is already, unfortunately, very tense in connection with the aggressive actions undertaken by the Ukrainian side.”
Tolstykh’s assassination follows that of another Russia-backed commander, Oleg Anashchenko, who was killed by a car bomb in Lugansk on Saturday, and Russian Arsen Pavlov, aka Motorola, who was blown up last October in Donetsk.
Many more paramilitary leaders on the Russia-backed side have been assassinated away from the battlefield or died in mysterious circumstances over the last two years, especially in the Lugansk region.
This raises suggestions that Russian overseers or separatist leaders are cleaning up political rivals or independent commanders in order to consolidate power.