Ukraine Day 800: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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The SMM released the following statement via Facebook:
In response to media requests regarding the incident in Olenivka:
• The #OSCE SMM arrived at the checkpoint in Olenivka about 10 a.m. to follow-up on media reports about a deadly incident there.
• Monitors conducted analysis on eight-nine craters.
• According to a preliminary assessment, three vehicles were damaged, four civilians were killed, and an unconfirmed number of people were injured.
• The details of SMM’s observations will be included in SMM’s next public report.
Nataliya Vasilyeva, Moscow correspondent for the Associated Press, reported that a stringer for the agency had said that there were signs of a mortar strike:
This is consistent with what the Russian-backed separatists have claimed, however no evidence has been produced so far to confirm the separatist claim that Ukrainian troops were responsible.
Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), said this afternoon that more than ten people had been wounded in what he said had been an attack by Ukrainian forces with 120 and 82 mm mortars. Basurin also added the unborn child of a pregnant woman killed in the attack to the total number of fatalities, announcing that five had died.
Meanwhile Ukrainian military spokesman Anton Mironovich told the 112 channel that there had been no fire, even in return, from Ukrainian troops across the entire front line last night.
Mironovich said that one of the scenarios being reviewed by the military was that Russian-backed fighters were themselves responsible for the incident, either accidentally as a deliberate provocation.
— Pierre Vaux
RBC reports that Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, has denied that National Guard troops are to be deployed to Odessa.
Just after midnight today, Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of the Odessa region and former President of Georgia, announced that President Petro Poroshenko had agreed to dispatch 1,000 National Guard personnel to the regional capital following unrest and violence.
According to Shkiryak, there is “no need at the moment” for further deployments of troops to the city, nor has any order for such been received by the Interior Ministry.
Sniping at Saakashvili, Shkiryak added:
“It is no surprise that certain officials take upon themselves the functions of the supreme commander. Surely someone ought to think not just about politics, but of the problems of the residents of the region.”
Saakashvili has yet to respond.
Meanwhile his opponent in Odessa, the mayor of the city, Gennady Trukhanov, has made a display of force by deploying National Guard and police forces around the city hall, which has been the site of protests against his rule for several days now.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, a large group of men, armed with clubs, attacked the protest camp, trashing it and severely beating some of the gathered activists.
Dumskaya.net reports that the police special battalion that has been deployed is made up of former members of the notorious Berkut riot police force, which was disbanded after the fall of Trukhanov’s ally Viktor Yanukovych due to its role in violently attacking the EuroMaidan protests.
Protesters remained outside, with some allowed into the hall for a session of the city council after searches and document checks.
In another worrying sign, a bus on the outskirts of Odessa was fired on this afternoon with a “traumatic pistol” – a type of less lethal firearm.
Dumskaya.net reports that several shots were fired by an unidentified assailant who then fled. No one was reported to have been wounded.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military reports 30 attacks yesterday in the Donbass, wounding five Ukrainian soldiers.
According to Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, two of the casualties occurred as a result of a clash outside Avdeyevka, while the other three took place near Luganskoye, Novotroitskoye and Pavlopol.
The ATO Press Center claimed this morning that Russian-backed fighters had used mortars in several attacks in the Lugansk region, near Stanitsa Luganskaya, Tryokhizbenka, Popasnaya and Schastye.
The governor of the region, Georgiy Tuka, reported rounds fired from automatic grenade launchers had struck numerous houses in Stanitsa Luganskaya as well as a portacabin used by the State Fiscal Service. No casualties were reported.
In the Donetsk region, the ATO Press Center reports that Ukrainian positions near Luganskoye, on the highway between Bakhmut and Debaltsevo, were attacked with automatic grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
Ukrainian troops near Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk came under intense fire from 120 and 82 mm mortars. To the west of Donetsk city, Russian-backed fighters fired on Krasnogorovka with grenade launchers and small arms.
To the south, anti-tank missiles, heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and small arms were used in attacks near Granitnoye, east of Volnovakha.
Closer to Mariupol, Ukrainian positions near Pavlopol were shelled with 120 mm mortars, while those in the Talakovka area, just outside the port city, came under fire from 82 mm mortars.
In addition, the Press Center reported further attacks this morning near Starognatovka, north of Granitnoye, and Taramchuk, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, in addition to Popasnaya in the Lugansk region.
— Pierre Vaux
Four civilians were killed and eight wounded in the early hours of this morning near a separatist checkpoint on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, near Yelenovka.
The Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Fund reported that the checkpoint was shelled at around 3 am with mortars. One of the dead, the Fund says, was a pregnant woman, and among the wounded was a 16-year-old boy.
Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) told reporters that Ukrainian troops fired on the checkpoint with 120 mm mortars. Basurin claimed that a UAV had been spotted over the area before the attack – evidence he said, that the shelling was deliberated aimed at civilians.
NewsFront, a pro-separatist video channel, had graphic footage of the aftermath:
Observers from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) were filmed on the scene, in addition to DNR leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko:
Zakharchenko said that the incident was a
“monstrous confirmation of the fact that Kiev doesn’t need peace in the Donbass. And this is not just a violation of the Minsk agreements – this is a demonstration of the ‘strength’ of Western leaders, who have stood up as the guarantors of the peace process and recently began to insist on Kiev’s implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
Zakharchenko went on to suggest that the alleged attack was a response to American pressure on Ukraine from Ukrainian nationalists. According to the DNR leader, volunteer fighters from the Aidar battalion, not the Ukrainian army, are deployed in the area.
This may not be true. As recently as March 24, the 72nd Guards Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian army was indeed deployed near Novotroitskoye, just south along the highway from Yelenovka:
Meanwhile Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, has denied responsibility for the incident, saying that Ukrainian troops had not shelled the checkpoint.
Anatoly Kotsyurba, an officer in the Ukrainian State Border Service told OstroV that the cars had been blown up, presumably by a landmine or other explosive device, in no-man’s land between government and separatist-controlled territory.
“According to the information I have, this was not shelling, but the car was blown up. We have received such preliminary information.
The car was in the grey zone. We don’t control it and we don’t monitor it visually… The blast took place on uncontrolled territory. Two cars were damaged, four people were killed.”
The OSCE is yet to make any report on their findings at the scene.
— Pierre Vaux
Odessa Region Governor Mikheil Saakashvili announced in a videotaped address to 112 TV published on his Facebook page last night April 26 that President Petro Poroshenko had authorized sending 1,000 additional National Guard troops and police to Odessa to help quell violence there on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the tragic fire at the Trade Union Building.
As we reported, yesterday Saakashvili requested the additional forces following an attack on the evening of April 25 on a protesters’ tent village outside city hall in which 15 people were injured. The camp-out was organized against Odessa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov, a former member of the Party of Regions led by deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.
That same day, a rocket-propelled grenade was also fired at the Pivdenny Bank, damaging the elevator shaft.
Odessa has been the site of more than a dozen bomb blasts in recent years since the Russian-backed militant take-over of administrative buildings in southeast Ukraine. On May 2, 2014, clashes between nationalists and separatists led to the shooting deaths of 5 pro-Kiev marchers and 46 deaths of pro-Russian activists in the Trade Union Building.
Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, was brought in by Poroshenko to clean-up corruption in Odessa Region, famous for the port town of Odessa through which a significant portion of Russia’s arms trade has passed.
Saakashvili’s call to deploy the National Guard prompted Oleg Bryndak, an advister to Mayor Trukhanov to claim Saakhashvili himself was to blame for the violence. Saakashvili for his part responded that the RPG attack on the bank and the thugs’ attack on the camp became possible because the Ukrainian Security Service “wasn’t doing its job” and instead was tailing him and his colleagues
“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.”
There was some indication that the Ukrainian government may be split on the question of deploying the National Guard as Ivan Varchenko, advisor to the Interior Ministry, said the troops should not interfere in the “political process” in Odessa and were better deployed fighting the Russian-backed militants.
According to Gordonua.com, Trukhanov was able to win in the first round of the elections in Odessa in 2015, with the support of 52.9% of the electorate or 139,000 voters. Second place was taken by Oleksandr Borovik from the Poroshenko Bloc with 25.7% of the votes or 66,500 people. Borovik, an international lawyer who has worked for Microsoft and other foreign companies now serves as an adviser to Saakashvili.
Trukhanov, who has Russian citizensihp, was found to have involvement in an offshore exposed in the Panama Papers. In the first days of the Panama exposure, Poroshenko was also said to have a deal that ran through a Panama offshore, although it was found the account contained less than $3,000 and Poroshenko said it was set up for liquidation of his chocolate factory Roshen, the Washington Post and other media concluded that there was likely no wrong-doing. The case is still being investigated. Meanwhile, Odessa Talk said Trukhanov would likely have a far harder time than Poroshenko extricating himself from the claims made about his affairs in the Panama Papers.
Nikolai Holmov, known as the “Odessa Blogger,” has a post explaining the local politics behind this critical situation and the brewing trouble in recent weeks as a titushky–type “City Watch” guard from the mayor’s office was deployed against the demonstrators on the street outside.
Holmov also explains “why Pivdenny Bank”:
Firstly there is now a very close association between somebody in the City Hall treasury and the board of Pivdenniya Bank that appears to be questionable in its nature. Secondly the OCCRP are looking at Pivvdenyi Bank too, although as yet they have published nothing. The bank is very well run – but neither the OCCRP nor the interest of the Governor’s team is peaked [sic] by its daily operations. There are other reasons. For now, that is all that will be written regarding Pivdennyi Bank.
Since the protesters were scattered and at least five of the attackers have been arrested, the scene has been calmer but Saakashvili’s insistence in calling in the National Guard ahead of May 2 memorial actions indications tensions are still high.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick