Ukraine Day 799: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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The incident last weekend was one of a number in Odessa Region and the capital of Odessa that indicate growing tensions between forces loyal to Kiev who identify reform efforts as involving elimination of hated Soviet symbols as well as political figures associated with Russia, and pro-Russian separatists who believe “patriots” are instigating trouble.
Dumskaya.net reported that “a group of 13 unknown persons in military uniforms” arrived by bus to the village of Limanskoye (Lymanske) in the Razdelnyany District of Odessa Region.
At about 16:00 on April 22, which was the 146th anniversay of Lenin’s birthday, the men in army urban camouflage began trying to take down the Lenin statue with a rope tied to a bus. When the bus drove away, the statue toppled and half of it cracked off, but the base remained.
Local residents heard about the attempt to remove the statute and then came to fight the people in uniform, who were said to be fighters from the Azov battalion who were taking part in exercises in nearby Razdelnyansky Region.
Azov was spotted drilling in the region and mention was made on social media.
Azov, originally a volunteer battalion known for the neo-Nazi views and symbols of some of its members, was recently incorporated into the National Guard. The National Guard denied that its members were involved in the Lenin take-down.
The incident was picked up on Storyful in English.
As the comments below the Unian article indicated, the removal of Lenin statues, a goal of the new Ukrainian government supported by many Ukrainian citizens to remove symbols of the oppressive Soviet past, is controversial for some.
A reader named Vladimir Grushenko writes (translation by The Interpreter):
“The war on statues is vandalism. Whether you like a statue or not, that’s the business of the residents of any city. Only they can decide which monuments should stand in their city.”
He commented that people from Limanskoye hadn’t gone to Lviv or other western towns where locals supported monuments of the controversial war hero Stepan Bandera and destroyed their statues.
In fact, not only statues of Bandera have been destroyed or vandalized in other parts of Ukraine, but even those of poet Taras Shevchenko and other Ukrainian figures not associated with any Nazi-era past.
Another Unian reader, Oles Solomko, asked:
“The statute of Lenin in Limanskoye is a memorial FOR WHOM? It’s a reminder of the bloody totalitarian regime, let it stand, we just need to make the appropriate marker!”
Another reader who gave his name as “Uncle Vitya” said the Lenin statue “wasn’t a monument,” but “an element of Soviet ideological propaganda.”
“Into the furnace with it!!!” he urged.
So many hundreds of Lenin statues have been pulled down throughout Ukraine that Ukrainians have given a term to the phenomenon: “Leninfall.”
The question was whether Azov, which is incorporated into the armed forces of Ukraine, was involved in the actual removal of the Lenin statute; the National Guard may have been technically correct when they said its members did not pull down the statute. While the men in the videos are in camouflage, it’s not clear if they are officially on duty or representing the armed forces.
But in a statement printed in the comments section on Dumskaya, a commenter purporting to be from the “Azov Civilian Corps” issued an unsigned statement that in fact Azov members were involved in the Lenin downing in Limanskoye — as security guards of sorts.
The statement said a “group of patriots” had asked them to provide security while they removed the statue “in conformity with Ukraine’s decommunization law” so as to “prevent bloodshed.”
They denied that any Azov members had beaten anyone and said they had done everything so that “a group of defenders of the great leader of communism did not cross the line.” They said they marveled that the Lenin statue “had not got a coat of yellow-and-blue paint” like others in the Maidan revolutionary wave and said the village leaders “should be asked why.” They urged them in fact to restore the two Catholic churches in the region that were destroyed by Lenin’s decree in Limanskoye during the Russian revolution.
Azov also uploaded a video to YouTube that had a more detailed coverage of the incident, in which a group of people are seen arguing vehemently around the broken statue, with some pushing and shoving.
One older man yelled at the Azov soldiers that they had not asked local villagers for permission before tackling the statue. This man persists in trying to explain to the armed Azov soldiers arrayed by the statue that he grew up with Lenin and was used to him. They in turn laughed and urged him to go home.
Some older women stood before the statue, guarding it. Finally a man who seems to be a local official told the angry people surrounding the statue that the patriots are leaving and they shouldn’t throw rocks.
But one young boy picks up a stone and hurls it at the departing van.
Another video uploaded by “Vaska Vaskin” titled “residents of Odessa Region chased out Azov fighters” picks up the story and shows one van departing.
Then some of the older villagers watching the incident begin berating the younger people for “behaving like you’re in a bazaar” and starting a fight. They swear at them and eventually the crowd disperses.
The impression from these videos is that armed soldiers, evidently from Azov, did get involve in guarding other men in army fatigues who may or may not have been their fellow soldiers while they took down a Lenin statute. It’s not clear if their superiors knew of this action or if civilian authorities had consented to it. In any event, as with other Lenins, there was some resistance to the idea of removing this symbol, perhaps because local people were unaware or indifferent to the mass oppression with which Lenin was associated.
A pro-Russian “Novorossiya” supporter on Twitter saw the clash as between “the residents of the Odessian village of Limanskoye” who “chased out the Azov National Guard soldiers who decided to raze the monument to Lenin.”
This was not the first Lenin to be tacked in Limanskoye, as in January, a bust was toppled.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“Unfortunately, the situation in Odess bears all the signs of a political process, and likely it would not be very correct when the National Guard and entire Ukrainian police would be involved in Odessa or separately the Rovensky Region, because we have challenges that the National Guard should be involved with. Its divisions above all are serving in the ATO Zone.”
He said that the head of the Odessa Police should be consulted about whether the number of police in the region should be increased.
Ukrainians are mindful that coming up is May 2, the anniversary of the tragic fire at the Odessa Trade Union building, when 46 pro-Russian protesters died in a fire after clashes between nationalists and separatists. In that situation, too, a protest camp of pro-Russian activists had been organized by a symbolic building, and after some of these activists shot and killed 5 Ukrainian nationalists in a soccer parade earlier in the day, the nationalists came to attack their camp.
Both sides threw Molotov cocktails that set the building on fire, and the nationalists both helped people to escape and beat some of those trying to get out. Local authorities closed an investigation without justice being served; the lead prosecutor had earlier committed suicide.
Many said that day that the police were too slow in responding and did not do their jobs, or worse, were ordered to stand down by shadowy political forces who deliberately allowed the situation to get out of control — that is the context of requests to increase the police presence in Odessa today.
“Instead of dealing with the separatists, in recent months the local SBU has been involved only in one thing: tailing a team of reformers, discrediting them, gathering information on me and on others.”
“Once again, I appeal to the leadership of the SBU and the president to take an interest in the separatists in Odessa, to take an interest in the Russian citizenship and loyalty toward Russia of Trukhanov and his business partners, to take an interest that it turns out he has a multi-million estate in offshores.”
The anti-Trukhanov protests began about 10 days ago, and there was at least one bomb threat before the bank was shot:
Translation: Ex-MP #Firsov : Someone phoned and reported a bomb in one of the tents at the action “For Odess Without Trukhanov.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“Freedom of speech is one of the major achievements of Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity and is a cornerstone of democracy. As guarantor of the Constitution, I have defended and will defend freedom of speech in any of its manifestations.
Therefore I hope that the relevant services will exhaust this incident with the journalist Savik Shuster in the shortest possible time.”
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the situation and guarantee Shuster’s rights.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Russian site Takiedela [Such Matters] has posted a number of eerie photographs from Pripyat, the town in Ukraine near the Chernobyl reactor, taken by photoreporter Viktoriya Ivleva, who was inside the forth reactor from which the deadly explosion emanated. She won a World Press Photo prize for her work — which has mainly not been published in the Soviet or Russian press.
Of course on that fateful day, April 26, 1986, we didn’t know at all the full extent of the nuclear disaster because the Soviet government hid the truth even from those most directly affected.
Soviet Media: Sanitizing Chernobyl
In the days, weeks and months after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, facts were hard to come by. Especially if you were watching Soviet media at the time. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)
Adults and children were sent out for compulsory participation in the annual Soviet ritualistic state parades on May 1 and May 9 without any heed of the nuclear fallout. A state newspaper photo of that day shows smiling people in native costumes waving signs that say “No to War,” a stock propaganda poster of the era when the Kremlin pretended (as it does again today) that only the West was belligerent while Moscow was peaceful.
Chernobyl was a kind of deadly glasnost — the emblematic word of the era which means “openness.” The reality of the radiation, denied by the Kremlin, was picked up by detectors in nearby Scandinavia and Western governments began to sound the alarm about a catastrophe that ultimately the Soviets could not deny. It was one major event in a string of events (the extent of the Stalin massacres, the shooting of the workers in Novocherkassk, the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak, the toll of the Afghan war, all denied for years) which ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“So much was contrived, that I would put it this way: the real catastrophe wasn’t the accident in the 4th block, but the liquidation of the consequences.”
Vyatrovich writes, as other analysts have before him, that Chernobyl was not merely about a specific accident due to particular negligence at the site; it was about the flaws of the entire Soviet system, mainly sub-standard construction in the controlled economcy and the suppression of true information and the free flow of information even for scientific inquiry to address events of this magnitude.
Chernobyl laid bare the often deadly consequences of shoddy construction and lies about quality control that accompanied every project under pressure from Party officials to “reach and exceed targets” in the planned economy. Accidents continue to this day in Russia and other former Soviet republics due to the shoddy Soviet infrastructure and the culture of corruption and hiding of information.
KGB reports from Chernobyl indicate that shoddy materials, theft of equipment, and improperly-deployed materials were all characteristic of this construction as of others — they had to meet the five-year plan. Several minor accidents that had occurred before the major one on April 26, 1986, the first in 1982, were never admitted, let alone publicized.
“In the declassified documents of the KGB, it is clearly visible that goals the government set for itself in the first hours, first days and first weeks after the accident. Thus, the first task was not rescuing people. The Soviet government considered its main task to intercept the dissemination of information, to not allow the tragedy to become known in Ukraine, the Soviet Union much less abroad. That is why the evacuation of the population was delayed (it began only after 36 hours). Therefore in the first hours after the accident, the most important steps were not made that could have eased the consequences. Everything was done, as the leaders of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic said at the time, so as not to sow panic.”
Vyatrovich also comments on the way the Chernobyl disaster’s reality break-through helped bring about the Soviet collapse. To the extent that people supported the Soviet government — after, of course, decades of purges, collectivization and the mass famine-terror known as the Holodomor left few able to resist — it was based on a social contract that came down to this: we will protect you and give you the basics to survive if you don’t challenge us. Chernobyl revealed the extent to which the state could not protect people and how its claims to wrangle the “peaceful atom” were hollow.
“The heart of the sovok [the Soviet man] was splintered — the expectation that the government will do everything for you” and now every man had to save himself,” commented Vyatrovich.
As Ukrainians solemnly commemorated the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident on Tuesday, President Petro Poroshenko said that Russia’s support for separatists in the country’s east posed the threat of a repetition of the atomic catastrophe.
The remarks came at Chernobyl, where an international effort to seal the destroyed remains of the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine 30 years ago is finally close to completion. Remarkably, despite the political revolution and armed conflict that have rocked the country since 2014, it’s close to being on schedule.
On Tuesday, Poroshenko stressed the political importance of nuclear power for Ukraine, saying the country would “neither today, nor tomorrow,” halt nuclear reactors because of the importance of maintaining the country’s energy independence, implying away from Russian gas.
Standing inside a gigantic dome that will soon be installed over the reactor, Poroshenko said that “Russian aggression had undermined the trust of non-nuclear governments in the nonproliferation of these weapons, and threatened the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe in our country.” He noted that fighting had taken place several hundred kilometers from the nuclear power plant in the city of Zaporozhiye.
Some articles on the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl:
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of the Odessa region and former President of Georgia, has called on President Poroshenko to deploy additional National Guard and police units in the regional capital.
Leviy Bereg reports on Saakashvili’s video message:
“Tonight, hire[d] thugs beat up protesters right next to the town hall, with surveillance cameras switched off beforehand,” Saakashvili said in a video address.
He also recalled that on the same night rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the office of one of the banks.
“I call on and I ask the President to deploy in Odessa additional units of the National Guard and police, providing them with everything they need, including food, a place to sleep, and financing,” the governor said.
Saakashvili called on Poroshenko and the Security Service to draw attention to the activities of the separatists and increase vigilance on the eve of the anniversary of the fire in the House of Trade Unions in Odesa on 2 May.
Last night saw unrest in the city, with protesters outside the city hall attacked and a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the office of a bank.
The incident with the grenade took place at around 23:25 last night on Krasnov Street, Dumskaya.net reported.
The Odessa police department confirmed that a blast had struck the elevator shaft of an office of the Pivdenny Bank, at around the level of the third floor.
The discarded launch tube of an RPG-26 was found nearby:
Later, in the early hours of this morning, up to 40 men armed with bats attacked a protest camp outside the city council building. The protesters are calling for the resignation of the mayor of Odessa, Gennady Trukhanov.
Activist Alevtina Krotkaya told Dumskaya.net:
“At 3:55 am a minibus pulled up. They raised the barrier for it. Out of the bus came men, armed with sticks with metal tips like maces, and chains, and they started to smash the camp, tearing down posters, throwing everything over the fence, pouring gasoline and spraying gas.”
According to activists, a webcam monitoring the city hall was disabled to conceal the attackers’ identities.
Trukhanov is a former member of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and was revealed, by documents leaked from the Panamanian offshore services firm Mossack Fonseca, to have undeclared business assets and joint Russian citizenship.
As The Moscow Times reports, citing Ukraine’s 112 television channel, protesters have now barricaded the city hall to defend their picket:
Protesters Barricade City Hall in Ukraine's Odessa | News
Protesters in the Ukrainian city of Odessa have barricaded the city hall, Ukrainian news website 112.ua reported Tuesday. Crowds calling for the resignation of city mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov blocked entrances to the building with trash cans, tires and fences, according to media reports.
Meanwhile Oleg Bryndak, an adviser to Trukhanov, accused Saakashvili himself of organising both the violence outside the city hall and the RPG attack.
Bryndak claimed that the regional government, headed by Saakashvili, was attempting to seize power by destabilising the work of the city council.
— Pierre Vaux
Savik Shuster, a Canadian citizen born in Lithuania and one of Ukraine’s most prominent television talk show hosts, has told reporters that he will continue to work in Ukraine despite the annulment of his work permit today.
As the Kyiv Post reports, the Ukrainian State Employment Service annulled Shuster’s work permit today due to his failure “to inform the agency about a criminal case opened by the State Fiscal Service against him” for tax violations.
UPDATE: Critical television host's work permit annulled
Television host Savik Shuster. Ukraine's State Employment Service has annulled the work permit of television journalist Savik Shuster, who has Canadian citizenship, Pavlo Yelizarov, Shuster's business partner, told journalists on April 26. The service reversed its decision to issue a permit to Shuster, which was made earlier this month.
Ukrainski Novyny reports that Shuster dismissed the suggestion that he would stop working, saying that “it won’t be that easy to get rid of me.”
According to Shuster, under Ukrainian law, he has the right to stay in the country for 90 days before leaving and making a fresh entry application.
The Kyiv Post notes that Shuster has accused the Presidential Administration and Roman Nasirov, head of the State Fiscal Service of pressuring him for criticizing the authorities.
A week after Nasirov was grilled over corruption accusations on the Shuster Live show in September, the State Fiscal Service launched an inspection against the Shuster Live studio.
Nasirov’s critics have published documents showing that he has undeclared apartments in London and accused him of reviving the corrupt schemes of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s allies. He denies the accusations.
The State Fiscal Service has been inspecting the Shuster Live Studio since September and opened a criminal investigation against it. The corruption accusations against Nasirov were also discussed on the Shuster Live show on April 22.
In September last year, having already had to move channel several times, his show was cancelled by the 1+1 channel. Shuster then established his own outlet, ‘3S.’
Yuriy Butusov, editor of Censor.NET, wrote on his Facebook page this afternoon that the annulment of Shuster’s work permit was a political move, which he suspected was approved by President Poroshenko as “certain politicians” disapprove of his show.
“As far as I know, not one of the President’s media managers approved this decision. This is not something suggested by advisers, this is the decision of the President himself. Poroshenko hopes that Shuster will have to discuss cooperation, so as to avoid losing his business. This is a direct attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine.
It is shameful that after Maidan the President of Ukraine affords himself the liberty to launch an attack on citizens’ access to information. Meanwhile, Channel 17, which directly runs anti-Ukrainian agitation in Kiev has still not been closed, neither has the free newspaper Vesti, financed from the Russian Federation, been closed. I hope that society’s reaction will be sufficiently harsh enough for this decision to be reversed immediately.”
— Pierre Vaux
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and five wounded yesterday as Ukraine reports 42 attacks over the 24 hour period.
The 122nd Independent Airborne Battalion reported that the soldier killed was Serhiy Volodymyrovych Isaev.
In addition, Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, told reporters that a Russian-backed fighter had been captured by Ukrainian troops in the village of Zaytsevo, north of Gorlovka.
Ukrainska Pravda reported earlier today, citing a scout in the 53rd Brigade, that a group of Russian-backed fighters had attacked their position yesterday evening. The Ukrainian troops opened fire and repelled the attack, killing some and wounding one of them, who turned out to be a local from the Donetsk region. The wounded fighter, the scout claimed, gave his captors information on the forces attacking them.
Colonel Motuzyanyk said that he was then handed over to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed fighters used 82-mm mortars in attacks near Avdeyevka and Vodyanoye, north of Donetsk; Krasnogorovka and Novomikhailovka, to the west; Taramchuk to the south; and Novotoshkovskoye in the Lugansk region.
120-mm mortars were used to shell Ukrainian positions near Novotroitskoye, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway near Taramchuk.
Other attacks, with grenade launchers and machine guns, was reported across the front, with fighting near Marinka, Gorlovka, Schastye, Popasnaya, Stanitsa Luganskaya and Shirokino.
Today saw further attacks reported near Avdeyevka and Stanitsa Luganskaya.
Georgiy Tuka, the governor of the Lugansk region, said that a house in Stanitsa Luganskaya had caught fire and that two powerful explosions had been heard, the cause of which has not yet been ascertained. In addition, a State Emergencies Service vehicle was hit by gunfire. No casualties were reported.
Meanwhile, the “defense ministry” of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) accused Ukrainian forces of firing 248 shells during 29 attacks over 24 hours.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian attacks were directed at Yasinovataya, southeast of Avdeyevka; Dokuchaevsk and Yelenovka, near Novotroitskoye; the northern outskirts of Gorlovka; and the village of Sakhanka, east of Mariupol.
We also note the appearance on social media of photos, purportedly taken in separatist-held Donetsk, that show some interesting Russian military hardware.
The photos were culled from VKontakte and posted by two accounts we regard as generally reliable. However we cannot confirm the veracity of the images so far.
This tweet shows both a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer – a ubiquitous weapon but nonetheless one that should be withdrawn far west of the city in accordance with the Minsk agreements – and a 9K33 Osa surface-to-air missile launcher.
There have been occasional reports of such weapons in the Donbass, but they are rare, especially in comparison to the 9K35 Strela-10 that is seen more frequently. In fact, if this image is genuine, then there is an interesting accumulation of anti-aircraft weaponry building up in Donetsk. On April 19, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine saw five Strela-10s in one location in Donetsk. This is the most we have seen in any one place throughout the conflict.
Another photo, reportedly taken near a chemical plant in the north of Donetsk city, shows what appears to be either a T-72BA or BM. Neither version, distinguished by their Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour blocks around the turret, is in Ukrainian arsenals, and therefore can only have come from Russia:
Translation: #Donetsk Chemical Reactives Plant – a tank. The base of the so called “withdrawn” tanks 7 km from Peski and 15 km from Krasnogovorovka @OSCE.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika, has presented a report to the Federation Council, in which he claims that Ukraine’s nationalist Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) group attempted to organise a coup d’état in Russia.
According to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency, the report says that the group had tried to “organize mass disorder and unsanctioned public protests” via the Internet.
It was for this reason that access to VKontakte pages related to Pravyi Sektor was blocked in 2015, the report claims.
The report boasts that “terrorist and extremist content” was removed more than 7,000 “internet resources” on the request of the Prosecutor’s Office in order to counter such plans to overthrow the Russian government.
Chaika, who is suspected of corruption and was the subject of a major investigation by Alexey Navalny and a music video by Pussy Riot, did not provide any further details to follow his dramatic claim.
The Russian government has long used the image of Pravyi Sektor as a fascist bogeyman to stir hostility to post-Maidan Ukraine. During the first year of the conflict, “discoveries” of the then-leader of Pravyi Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh, were a routine occurrence on Russian state television.
— Pierre Vaux