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As we have been reporting for weeks now, fighting continues to intensify by the way. In a recent analysis of the fighting we noted the historic parallels between what is happening in Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, and what happened more than a year ago at Donetsk International Airport:
Donetsk Airport was a trap. Nothing Ukraine could do would be a proper solution. Clearly, the decision in Kiev was made to split the difference and hope for the best. The Cyborgs held their ground against increasingly-impossible odds and the Ukrainian military increased their direct artillery support, returning fire, and, as happens in war, accidentally lobbing some shells into the city. Each day, starting in October, the fighting surrounding the airport increased, even as the ceasefire largely held. Soon, the Russian-backed separatists and Moscow were screaming about Ukraine’s military action and fighting was escalating on other fronts — near Mariupol, near Lugansk, and on the highways that connect all three cities. Once the airport fell, the ceasefire was shattered, more battles quickly followed, and the Russian-backed forces, with support from Russian combat units, were again gaining ground.
As we have seen on multiple occasions, now, Ukraine’s ceasefires are cyclical, and the pattern is always similar. Just like how Donetsk Airport and Debaltsevo were the focal points of the last two breakdowns, today Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk Airport, is in the separatists’ crosshairs. Every day the Ukrainian military reports more and more shelling. Several attempts to “storm” the city have occurred over the last week. Today the Ukrainian military is reporting a record number of attacks against their positions there. In theory, Avdeyevka is more easily defendable than the airport (and much more secure than Debaltsevo), but is Ukraine once again caught in a trap? In order to properly protect the lives of Ukrainian servicemen, the Ukrainian military will have to target those who are targeting Avdeyevka. Such an artillery duel is costly, and risky, but what will the political consequences be if the Russian-backed fighters continue to pound Ukraine’s positions, consequence free? Worse yet, can we really expect that, should the Russian-backed fighters seize Avdeyevka, or Marinka, or any other positions, that they will stop there?
US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt agreed that these questions may be relevant to current events:
The FSB has today announced the detention of a “Ukrainian counter-intelligence officer” in Russia.
Interfax reports that Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Ivanchenko was arrested on March 26 (translation by The Interpreter):
The FSB claimed to the news agency that both the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had attempted to use Ivanchenko to recruit Russian security officers.
“On March 26 an officer of the counter-intelligence department of the central office of the SBU, Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Ivanchenko, was arrested on Russian territory. He arrived in Russia under the pretense of visiting relatives, despite the fact that the Ukrainian security services prohibit their own members from entering Russian territory.
Even before his arrival in Russia the FSB had been forewarned that the SBU and US CIA had prepared Ivanchenko for participation in an operation to set up and recruit FSB officers by means of unsolicited offers of his services.”
The FSB claimed that CIA officers were working in the SBU headquarters in Kiev and are directing all of the Ukrainian intelligence agency’s “operations against Russia.”
According to the FSB, this was not the first time Ivanchenko had attempted to recruit Russian officers, having offered secret information on SBU activity in 2014.
At some stage in the operation, the CIA and SBU were alleged to have attempted to seize an FSB officer, as they met to obtain information from Ivanchenko.
Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, confirmed to Interfax-Ukraine that an officer in the Service had indeed been detained, but claimed that the detainee’s travel to Russia had not been authorized.
Hrytsak said that while the officer’s special pass, granting access to secret information had been annulled in May 2014 and he was relieved of his duties, technically he was still on the books at the SBU.
The detainee had written a report on his plans to travel to Russia, but it had not been approved by superiors.
The SBU had, Hrytsak said, no plans whatsoever to use the man to set up the FSB, and added that he should have been dismissed and will be, in the very near future.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukraine reports another day of heavy shelling by Russian-backed fighters in the Donbass, with an intensification in attacks in the south of the Donetsk region.
Military press officer Aleksandr Kindsfater told Mariupol news site 0629.com.ua that around 90 rounds from 82 and 120 mm mortars had been fired at Ukrainian positions near Talakovka, Shirokino, Gnutovo and Pavlopol between 17:40 and 23:00 yesterday.
Kindsfater claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had recorded a large concentration of heavy mortars located near the separatist-held villages of Kominternovo and Oktyabr.
Meanwhile the separatist-backed head of the Telmanovo district administration, Aleksandr Sursyakov, claimed that Ukrainian troops had shelled three front-line villages on the eastern banks of the River Kalmius – Nikolaevka, Grigoryevka and Tavricheskoye.
To the north, heavy fighting continued near Avdeyevka and Gorlovka, with the Ukrainian military today claiming that 122 mm howitzers were used in addition to the usual mortars. This follows a pattern of regular escalation, with the use of 152 mm guns reported by both the military staff and soldiers on Tuesday night.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Centre report, Avdeyevka was subjected to seven mortar attacks yesterday, with both 82 and 120 mm shells falling on positions near neighbouring Opytnoye and Peski.
One Ukrainian soldier was wounded by enemy fire in Avdeyevka, announced Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration.
The ATO Press Centre published a photo taken by a UAV which does indeed appear to show the howitzers in place near slagheaps on the edge of Makeyevka:
In the Gorlovka area, the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reported that occupied areas of Zaytsevo and Golmovskiy had been shelled by Ukrainian forces.
A separatist-backed local official told DAN that around 30 houses had been damaged in Zaytsevo, most of which is controlled by Ukrainian forces. Three houses, the report said, burnt down last night with two others completely destroyed by direct impacts.
There were reports on social media of exchanges of fire shaking Golmovskiy at 6:00 local time this morning.
According to one user, Russian-backed fighters were firing shells over Golmovskiy from the direction of disused gunpowder stores to the southwest of the village:
Photographs of the aftermath:
The ‘defence ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that Ukrainian forces shelled the area with tanks, mortars and 152 mm artillery, while Kiev accused Russian-backed fighters of firing on territory under their own control so as to discredit the Ukrainian military.
According to the Ukrainian military, Russian-backed fighters used 120 and 82 mm mortars to shell not only the separatist-held outskirts of Gorlovka, but Ukrainian positions near Zaytsevo and Mayorsk.
It was in Zaytsevo that Dmytro Hodzenko, a soldier with Ukraine’s 17th Independent Mechanised Infantry Battalion, was killed at around 6 am today.
Confirming that there had been casualties but declining to specify details until tomorrow, Colonel Motuzyanyk told the 112 television channel that around 200 shells had been fired at Ukrainian positions north of Gorlovka between 6 and 7 this morning.
— Pierre Vaux