Ukraine Day 791: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Pavlo Petrenko, Ukraine’s justice minister, has posted a letter from jailed Ukrainian military office Nadiya Savchenko on his Facebook page, in which she asks his Ministry to begin proceedings for her return to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange.
Petrenko said that he would “do everything possible under international conventions” to ensure Savchenko’s return. He is due to meet with her sister, Vira, tomorrow.
Earlier this afternoon, Ukrainska Pravda reported that lawyers for both Savchenko and two Russian servicemen convicted of terrorism in Kiev today, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were in talks on an exchange.
Ilya Novikov, a member of Savchenko’s legal team, told journalists in Kiev today that the two groups of lawyers were discussing “possible coordination of defense actions in both cases, so that our defendants, if agreed by Ukraine and Russia, can be exchanged.”
Novikov said that an exchange would only become possible once the verdict on Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev, who both received 14 years in prison, comes into effect.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has already stated that he would be prepared to release both men in a prisoner exchange.
— Pierre Vaux
Judge Mykola Dadyk has sentenced both Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev to 14 years in prison, one year less than requested by prosecutors.
Translation: Yerofeyev – 14 Aleksandrov – 14 Confiscation of assets
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Dadyk ruled that the amount of time both men spent in pre-trial detention will be included in the sentence totals.
— Pierre Vaux
Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, two Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainian troops last year, have been found guilty of terrorism by a Kiev court.
On Friday, military prosecutor Maksim Krym requested that the men be sentenced to 15 years in prison if found guilty.
Anton Naumlyuk, correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda service, reports:
Translation: Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev have been found guilty of terrorism, aiding a terrorist organization, conducting an aggressive war, arms smuggling.
Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev were captured by Ukrainian troops near the Lugansk Region city of Schastye on May 16, 2015.
For the first few months of their captivity, both men, who are Russian citizens, told their Ukrainian captors and journalists, including Maria Tsvetkova of Reuters and Novaya Gazeta’s Pavel Kanygin, that they were serving members of a spetsnaz unit of the Russian Military Intelligence Directorate or GRU.
Later last year, the men changed their story, with Yerofeyev claiming that he had made his previous statements under threat.
The Russian government has formally disavowed both Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov, claiming that they had resigned from their military unit before their capture.
Their trial has been marred by the abduction and murder of Aleksandrov’s lawyer, Yuriy Grabovskiy, and attacks on witnesses and the office of the trial judge.
There are hopes that once the two have been sentenced, a prisoner exchange deal may be arranged with Russia for the return of Nadiya Savchenko.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military reports continued, heavy fighting across the front line in the Donbass yesterday. At least four Ukrainian soldiers and one border guard were wounded by enemy fire and another soldier was killed by a landmine blast.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed fighters conducted 79 attacks yesterday.
All of these casualties occurred in the Lugansk region, where the Regional Administration reported attacks, lasting almost all through the night, on Ukrainian positions near a pedestrian bridge across the Seversky Donets river, outside Stanitsa Luganskaya.
It was here that all of the combat casualties were incurred, with a gas pipeline in the town itself also reportedly severed during the bombardment, which was conducted with automatic grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms.
Moving west along the river, the ATO Press Centre reported mortar shelling of positions near the village of Krymskoye, which lies on the southern bank.
In addition, the Administration reported an attack, conducted with automatic grenade launchers, on the village of Novozvanovka, near the town of Popasnaya, while military press officer Dmitry Gorbunov told the 112 channel that there had been an attack on a frontier checkpoint outside nearby Zolotoye.
In the Donetsk region, to the north of separatist-held Gorlovka, the ATO Press Center reports that Russian-backed fighters fired from BMP infantry fighting vehicles on positions near the village of Mayorsk, while 120 and 82 mm mortars were used to shell Zaytsevo, just to the east. On the nearby highway between Bakhmut and Debaltsevo, the military reports small arms and grenade launcher attacks near Luganskoye.
Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reported, citing a “source in the security agencies of the [self-declared] Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR),” that Ukrainian troops fired 43 mortar shells last night at a separatist-held portion of Zaytsevo and the northern outskirts of Gorlovka itself. In addition, DAN reports a claim that ten 125 mm tank shells were fired.
According to the news site, an administrative building and a school were struck and damaged, in addition to one house. DAN claims that a shell struck the roof of the school last night, which it claimed is in use. However no further details on the school in question were given. Such details are needed for the claim to be validated as the Russian-backed separatists have made similar claims that appear to be false:
West of Avdeyevka, the military reports mortar shelling near Peski and Opytnoye, where BMP infantry fighting vehicles also opened fire. An attack with small arms and grenades was also reported near Verkhnetoretskoye, northeast of Avdeyevka.
To the west of the separatist-held regional capital, the town of Krasnogorovka reported came under mortar fire while troops in Marinka and Nevelskoye were attacked with small arms and grenade launchers.
Southwest of Donetsk, near the highway to Mariupol, the military reported the use of 122 mm artillery and mortars against Ukrainian positions near the village of Taramchuk.
Just south of here, both the military and the State Border Service report heavy shelling of a checkpoint on the highway near Beryozovoye. According to the Border Service, 20 rounds were fired from 152 mm self-propelled artillery, falling close to the Ukrainian lines but not inflicting any casualties. Meanwhile the ATO Press Centre reported that mortars had been used in the attack.
In turn DAN reported, citing another DNR military source, that Ukrainian troops had shelled Dokuchaevsk, a few kilometres east of Beryozovoye, with 82 and 120 mm mortars.
Further south, the military reported that Russian-backed fighters had used anti-tank missiles in an attack near Lebedinskoye, just east of Mariupol. Attacks were also reported near Shirokino, on the coast, as well as Starognatovka, to the north east.
According to the ATO Press Centre, Ukrainian troops returned fire 18 times yesterday.
— Pierre Vaux