Day 708: Tanks Reportedly Shell Ukrainian Positions Near Peski

January 26, 2016

Both sides report continued fighting around Donetsk and Gorlovka, with Ukraine accusing Russian-backed fighters of using tanks to shell the positions near Peski, and separatists claiming that Ukrainian forces have used heavy mortars.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.

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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: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Kharkiv Schools To Close Indefinitely As Swine Flu Epidemic Spreads Through Ukraine And Russia

Earlier we reported that the Ukrainian military is reporting large problems — not from Russian-backed fighters as much as from the flu epidemic which is spreading like wildfire across the country.

In that report we also noted that according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health the Kharkiv region had the fewest flu cases of all 11 effected regions.

Now authorities in Kharkiv are ordering all schools in the district to close indefinitely as the flu spreads. RFE/RL reports:

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Health Minister Aleksandr Kvitashvili said that since the turn of the year 83 people across Ukraine have been killed by flu, which he added had been officially categorized as an epidemic. He did not specify if the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, was the cause of any of the deaths, as some earlier Ukrainian media reports had said.

According to Kvitashvili, up to 2.6 million people have been treated in Ukraine for flu and other respiratory diseases since January 1.

Kvitashvili also said that an emergency team to tackle the problem has been established within his ministry, adding that its first gathering would be held later on January 26.

Ukraine Today is also carrying a quote which clarifies that 18 regions, not 11, have reached epidemic threshhold:

“The epidemic threshold is exceeded in 18 regions of Ukraine, furthermore in 11 regions the epidemic threshold is exceeded by 50%,” Ukraine’s Healthcare Minister Oleksandr Kvitashvili said at a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday, January 26.

H1N1, or swine flu, is also rapidly spreading through Russia. Swine flu has killed at least 50 people in Russia in the last month, and it is now also affecting Russian-occupied Crimea. AFP reports:

Health authorities in the southern region of Rostov told RIA Novosti state news agency on Monday that an additional two people had succumbed to the virus, bringing the region’s swine flu death toll to eight.

Officials in the nearby Volgograd region meanwhile have said that at least 11 people have died of swine flu.

These latest cases follow the deaths of four adults and one child from the virus in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, and the deaths of two infected patients in Yekaterinburg in the Urals and one in the southern region of Adygea.

A first deadly case of swine flu was also reported this week in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.

James Miller

SBU Claims To Have Arrested Ukrainian Citizen Working With FSB In Dnipropetrovsk

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has announced the arrest of a man who they claim is working with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

According to an statement on the SBU website, the man, a resident of Dnipropetrovsk and had studied with the Ukrainian Interior Ministry , had spent last summer in occupied Crimea and had been arrested there by the Russian authorities.

The charges against him were allegedly dropped in exchange for his cooperation with the FSB. His task was to find law enforcement officers in his home town who were sympathetic to the Russian cause, to recruit them for “intelligence and subversive activities.”

A criminal case has been opened under Article 111 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code – high treason. if convicted, he faces 10 to 15 years in prison.

The SBU uploaded a video of the interrogation of the unnamed man:

— Pierre Vaux
Russian FM Lavrov: Russia Will Not Return Crimea, “There Is Nothing To Return”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could not have been more clear in statements made today: Russia will not return Crimea to Ukraine, nor will it negotiate this point with anyone. TASS reports:

“There is nothing to return, we are in talks with no one on Crimea’s return. Crimea is Russian territory in full conformity with the expression of will of Crimea’s peoples,” he said at a news conference dedicated to the results of 2015. “[It was the expression of will of] all of them, including those who had had no rights under the Ukrainian authorities and who had been granted their rights, including the state language, when Crime reunified with Russia after a referendum, the results of which are well-known.”

“There is nothing to return, we are in talks with no one on Crimea’s return. Crimea is Russian territory in full conformity with the expression of will of Crimea’s peoples,” he said at a news conference dedicated to the results of 2015. “[It was the expression of will of] all of them, including those who had had no rights under the Ukrainian authorities and who had been granted their rights, including the state language, when Crime reunified with Russia after a referendum, the results of which are well-known.”

“And as for Crimea, probably it will be better not to judge the situation based on hearsay but to go there to see,” the Russian foreign minister said, adding that many journalists and a number of European politician had already visited Crimea. “It’s better to see everything with your own eyes.”

Lavrov insinuated that Ukraine has not carried through with its part of the Minsk accords. However, the Russian-backed fighters continue to violate the ceasefire, they have not released Ukrainian POWs, nor have they held elections according to Ukrainian law or returned the control of the border to Ukraine — all key provisions of the Minsk agreement. Just this week, Ukraine’s top negotiator at the Minsk process, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, said that he believed the Russian-backed fighters had executed the POWs in their custody:

Ukraine is currently working on constitutional amendments that will grant “special status” — great autonomy — to eastern Ukraine, which we discussed at length throughout yesterday’s live coverage.

Day 707: Kiev And Separatists On Collision Course Over Local Election Plans

President Poroshenko and DNR leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko have reiterated their positions on holding local elections in the occupied territories. There seems little sign of a possible compromise.

View full page →

Jan 26, 2016 20:02 (GMT)

As for Lavrov’s point that people should “see everything with your own eyes” before passing judgement on the state of Crimea, he was likely referencing a series of human rights abuse allegations which have emerged from Crimea’s Tatar population and others. This week, for the first time in over a year, the Council of Europe is sending a delegation to the illegally-annexed peninsula for the first time in over a year. The delegation will focus solely on the human rights status of the peninsula and will ignore the issue of territorial integrity.
James Miller
Non-Combat Losses, Including Suicide And Disease, Make Up Most Ukrainian Military Casualties While Flu Reaches Epidemic Levels

Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, who served as a military press officer throughout last year, has told the 112 television channel that most Ukrainian military casualties in the conflict zone are from non-combat incidents.

Last night, Dmytrashkivsky said that the non-combat causes of losses included suicide, illness — notably pneumonia — and accidents around deployment bases in the Donbass.

Disease in the combat zone has become more and more of a problem, with a flu epidemic currently under way across Ukraine.

So far 83 people are confirmed to have died from flu in Ukraine this winter, with the Ministry of Health reporting infections in 18 regions

But the Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) at the Ministry of Defence claimed on January 24 that around 300 people had died from flu or other acute respiratory viral infections in the occupied regions of the Donbass.

According to the GUR, the separatist authorities are unable to provide the necessary health services to deal with the outbreak.

The self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) is reporting fatal cases of flu, but at much lower rates.

According to a press release from DNR ‘health ministry’ on January 22, 26 people within the separatist-held territory had died after contracting the H1N1 variant of flu.

As of January 21, 2,419 people living under DNR control had turned to doctors with complaints of viral respiratory infections since the beginning of the year. 

Meanwhile the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) is reporting even higher rates of infection, with their ‘health ministry’ reporting on the 22nd that “more than 10 thousand residents of the Republic have fallen sick with flu over the week.”

691 of those were reported to have been hospitalised. Quarantines have been imposed in several districts, including Pervomaysk and Krasnodon.  

Of course propagandists have not missed the opportunity. On Friday the deputy commander of the armed forces of the DNR, a regular spokesman for the separatists, claimed that the epidemic had begun after the accidental release of a flu strain being tested at a “private laboratory” run by US military experts near Kharkiv. Basurin dubbed this the “California flu.” More than 20 Ukrainian soldiers, he claimed, had been hospitalised as a result.

The lurid nature of the claims aside, it is worth pointing out that, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, the Kharkiv region has actually had the lowest number of recorded infections amongst the 11 regions affected.

— Pierre Vaux

Tanks Reportedly Shell Ukrainian Positions Near Peski

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, has told reporters that Russian-backed forces conducted 44 attacks over the previous 24 hours, wounding one Ukrainian soldier.

According to Motuzyanyk, the casualty was incurred near Peski, northwest of Donetsk, where Russian-backed fighters shelled Ukrainian positions with tanks.

MP and military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk also reports the use of mortars, automatic grenade launchers, anti-aircraft artillery and armoured personnel carriers.

The Ukrainian military claims that fighting was focused around Donetsk and Gorlovka, with no reports of shelling on the coast or in the Lugansk region. 

It was in these same two areas that the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) reported 75 Ukrainian attacks over the same period.

According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops used heavy mortars, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifles in attacks on the northern and western outskirts of Donetsk and villages outside Gorlovka.

— Pierre Vaux