Ukraine Day 788: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Against the backdrop of the most intense fighting seen in the Donbass since August last year, Russian-backed fighters are mounting large-scale military exercises.
In the Lugansk region, forces purportedly belonging to the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), but just as plausibly Russian, conducted an amphibious battle drill yesterday:
The video shows an variety of military vehicles, including BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles and even 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery crossing a body of water, the location of which we have not yet established.
Another vehicle seen in use is the PTS-2 armoured amphibious transport. Several of these were seized from a warehouse by separatist militants on June 3, 2014.
Ukrainian military officer Nadiya Savchenko, who was captured earlier that day, was last month convicted in a show trial by the Russian authorities of spotting for this artillery strike.
According to lostarmor.info, which tracks destroyed military hardware in the conflict, both these PTS-2s were knocked out and abandoned, but at least 10 others were reportedly activated from the stock of 34 found in the store.
Yesterday’s demonstration of river-fording capabilities is a worrying sign given the fact that two key stretches of frontier in the Donbass are defined by rivers – the Seversky Donets in the Lugansk region, along the course of which there have been several attacks in recent weeks; and the River Kalmius in the south of the Donetsk region, which is of great strategic significance for the defence of Mariupol.
This area was the focus of the most intense combat the last time fighting was at the level reached yesterday:
Ukraine's Cold War Gets Hot as Combat Explodes in the Last 24 Hours
Monday morning saw some of the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine since the fall of Debaltsevo, almost a week after the signing of the second Minsk "cease-fire" agreement. According to Ukrainian reports, hundreds of Russian-backed fighters took part in an assault, supported by tanks and artillery fire, on positions near the village of Starognatovka, in the south of the Donetsk region.
Meanwhile, Russian-backed fighters in Donetsk mounted their own exercise, near the town of Ilovaisk – scene of Ukraine’s worst military defeat during the Russian invasion of August, 2014.
Patrick Lancaster, an American associate of notorious pro-Kremlin propagandist Graham Phillips, filmed several videos of the large-scale drill, which involved a full spectrum of military hardware.
In addition to the armour and artillery used, we note the appearance of a Russian 9K35 Strela-10 mobile surface-to-air missile system and what appears to be a mine-clearing rocket.
The Strelas were likely obtained at the time the LNR received military vehicles for their May 9th Victory Day parade last year.
Two civilians were wounded in the Donbass yesterday, Ukrainian officials report.
Novosti Donbassa reports, citing the Donetsk Regional Military-Civil Administration, that a civilian woman, a resident of the front-line town of Avdeyevka, was hospitalised with blast trauma injuries.
Earlier today, the Ministry of Defence announced that another woman, born in 1956, had suffered multiple shrapnel wounds, caused by a tripwire mine laid in the village of Troitskoye, in the west of the Lugansk region.
Мeanwhile, the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claims that four civilians were wounded between April 9 and 15 as a result of Ukrainian fire.
In addition, the DNR reports that six of their fighters were killed and two wounded in this same period.
Today the Ukrainian military claimed that nine Russian-backed fighters were killed and 16 wounded yesterday.
Yesterday saw the highest number of attacks reported by the Ukrainian military so far this year – 104. One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and three wounded.
According to military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko, this is the first time the daily figure has exceeded 100 since August 27 last year.
Attacks were reported across the front line – from the Azov coast to Stanitsa Luganskaya, a village northeast of Lugansk city and less than 20 kilometres from the border with Russia.
It was here that the governor of the Lugansk region, Georgiy Tuka, reports that Russian-backed fighters last night used mortars, automatic grenade launchers and an SPG-9 recoilless rifle to bombard areas near the two remaining crossings over the Seversky Donets river that divides government and separatist-controlled territory.
Tuka said that this was the highest level of enemy activity in the area this year. As a result, civilian transit between the zones of control at the Stanitsa Luganskaya frontier crossing point is barred for the time being.
Further west in the Lugansk region, Ukrainian positions near Zolotoye came under machine gun fire, Tuka reported.
Moving into the Donetsk region, the ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed fighters assaulted Ukrainian troops near the village of Luganskoye, on the highway between Bakhmut (formerly Artyomovsk) and separatist-held Debaltsevo, with BMPs (infantry fighting vehicles), grenade launchers and machine guns.
To the northwest of here, outside Gorlovka, the villages of Zaytsevo and Leninskoye were shelled with mortars.
The bulk of Russian-backed fighters’ attacks were directed at Avdeyevka, a government-controlled town north of Donetsk city which has been the epicentre of fighting for several weeks now.
According to Ukraine’s Information Resistance group, Russian-backed fighters used 82 and 120 mm mortars to bombard Avdeyevka’s industrial park, into which Ukrainian troops moved earlier this year.
Troops at the Butovka mine, an exposed position between Avdeyevka and the separatist-held Donetsk suburb of Spartak, were subjected to what Information Resistance claims was an intensification in fire from 2B9 Vasilyok automatic 82 mm mortar batteries.
The Ukrainian military also reports mortar shelling of the nearby village of Opytnoye, to the west of Avdeyevka.
To the west of Donetsk, the Ukrainian military reports sustained attacks on Marinka.
Some of the most dynamic fighting was seen to the south of the regional capital.
On the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol, Russian-backed fighters reported attempted to break through the Ukrainian lines near Novotroitskoye.
On April 14, at around 19:00, with the aim of taking out our firing positions, the enemy fired on Ukrainian defenders from infantry fighting vehicles. And within 40 minutes several of their infantry detachments, under over from two BMP-1s, went on the offensive against Ukrainian positions near Novotroitskoye.
After a report from the defensive position on the situation and the threat to the life and health of our soldiers, the commander of the battalion took the decision to open fire. Battalion commander Major Bohdan Barda gave the order to the commander of a neighbouring defensive position to provide fire support for the troops under attack with all authorised weaponry. Thus the pro-Russian mercenaries came under targeted crossfire from our soldiers. In panic, the militants lost their direction and withdrew. In addition, during the battle, our infantry knocked out an enemy BMP-1 with an accurate shot from an SPG-9.
Just a few kilometres north along the highway from Novotroitskoye, the Ukrainian State Border Service reports that Russian-backed fighters shelled a checkpoint near the village of Beryozovoye with 82 mm mortars.
To the east, Yaroslav Chepurnoy, press officer for what the Ukrainian military calls ‘Sector M,’ reported that positions near Bogdanovka had been shelled late last night by 122 mm self-propelled artillery.
Chepurnoy also reported an attack on Ukrainian troops in the village of Shirokino, on the coast east of Mariupol.
Pavel Zherbivskiy, governor of the Donetsk region, claimed today that Ukrainian troops are now in complete control of the village, which was abandoned by Russian-backed fighters in February. After weeks of mine clearing and cautious advances, the governor says that troops are now occupying heights in the village allowing them to monitor enemy movements.
— Pierre Vaux