Ukraine Day 806: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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The Russian-backed separatists in Lugansk and Donetsk have been making preparations for military parades to mark Victory Day on May 9 – the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War 2. As part of this, large convoys of Russian heavy weaponry have been on the move in both cities, in direct violation of the Minsk agreements.
Responding to the OSCE’s reiteration that the parades would violate Minsk, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), told the pro-Kremlin ‘Federal News Agency’ site today:
“…the parade is an internal affair of the republic, having absolutely no relation to the OSCE. I don’t forbid the holding of gay parades in Berlin.”
As we have reported previously, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) noted the deployment of five 9K35 Strela-10 surface-to-air missile systems in Lugansk on April 19.
This was the largest single grouping of such anti-aircraft weapons in one place that we have seen in the conflict so far.
All five Strela-10s, in addition to numerous 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, armoured personnel carriers and towed artillery, were out in Lugansk on May 1, as seen in the video below:
We can verify the location of the video, on Oboronnaya Street, near the junction with Shelkovo Street, by comparing the scene with images from Yandex Panorama:
Meanwhile photos were posted today on a pro-separatist LiveJournal account showing rehearsals for the Donetsk parade.
Once again we can see Strela-10s and Gvozdikas, in addition to T-64 and T-72 tanks and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles:
Meanwhile, although at a vastly reduced pace following the ‘Easter truce’ that came into effect on Sunday, fighting continues in the Donbass.
Claims as to the level of the violence vary depending on the source.
The Ukrainian military’s official report this morning described only five attacks yesterday.
According to the report, grenade launchers and small arms were used in attacks on Ukrainian positions near Zaytsevo and Luganskoye, both near Gorlovka, while RPGs were used to attack positions in Maryinka, west of Donetsk.
But Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukrainian MP and military analyst who heads the Information Resistance group, claimed that Russian-backed fighters had actually used 120 mm mortars at least once, to shell positions near Nevelskoye, northwest of Donetsk.
In the south, Tymchuk said, ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft artillery had been used several times to attack Ukrainian positions near Grantinoye, east of Volnovakha.
In addition, Tymchuk reported machine gun and small arms fire near Rassadki, southeast of Gorlovka, and Shirokino, on the coast.
According to Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, one Ukrainian soldier was wounded yesterday by small arms fire near the Svetlodarsk reservoir, east of Gorlovka.
In addition, the identity of a Ukrainian soldier who was killed on May 1 as a result of a grenade launcher attack in this same area was made public.
Roman Svirzhevskiy was 21 years old. His body is due to be returned to his home in Rivne today.
For their part, the ‘defense ministry’ of the DNR claimed that Ukrainian forces had violated the truce 14 times over 24 hours.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops fired 32 shells from 82 and 120 mm mortars on the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka.
— Pierre Vaux
Yesterday’s anniversary commemorations in Odessa passed without violence, despite high tensions in the port city.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violence in Odessa that led to the deaths of 48 people. Police and National Guard troops cordoned off Kulikovo Pole square, in front of the Trade Union building where 42 pro-Russian activists died as a result of a fire, preventing people from holding a memorial event on the site.
Meanwhile there was a separate event on Grecheska Square, in memory of the pro-Ukrainian activists killed two years earlier in street clashes.
But tensions did flare somewhat in the early evening.
Ukrainian journalist Andrei Santarovich wrote on his Facebook page yesterday evening that:
“Seems like the first serious scuffle in Odessa. Between activists at Kulikovo Pole and two fighters from the Pravyi Sektor Volunteer Corps. The Pravyi guys didn’t start it, but they did promise to return soon. The Pravyi activists have a gathering this evening.”
Local news site Dumskaya.net reported that the fight only lasted for around 15 minutes, after which police pulled the brawlers apart and led the Pravyi Sektor members, including the groups Odessa Region leader Serhiy Stepnenko, away from the area.
In addition Odessa police arrested a man in the Bilyayivka district, just west of the regional capital.
According to a Liga.net report, the police found a pistol and a military grenade in the man’s car.
Meanwhile a railway bridge was closed yesterday evening after police received reports that an explosive device had been planted at the site. No device was found.
Yesterday’s other potential flashpoint was at Odessa airport, where a delegation of MPs from the Opposition Bloc (formed from the remnants of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions), planning on attending memorial events in the city, was prevented from leaving the terminal by activists.
Last night Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of the Odessa region and former President of Georgia, who has been sparring with Odessa mayor Gennady Trukhanov (himself a former member of the Party of Regions), made an address to the city.
Saakashvili not only congratulated the police and security forces for maintaining calm, but Odessans who had “set an example of tolerance, peace and organisation.” In addition, the governor noted that there had been several attempts, including those “by oligarchs from Kiev” – meaning the Opposition Bloc delegation – to undermine the situation in Odessa, but that these had been stopped.
Underlining the sense that the authorities feel that the threat of major unrest in the city, which saw violence last week that was unrelated to yesterday’s anniversary, is receding somewhat, was this morning’s departure of additional police forces brought in from Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk.