Russian-Backed DNR Leader Zakharchenko Comes Under Fire; More Fighting in Lugansk Region

July 16, 2016
On July 15, 2016, OSCE SMM and JCCC visited Stanitsa Luganskaya and documented the destruction of homes after shelling by Russian-backed forces. Photo by ATO.

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Russian-Backed DNR Leader Zakharchenko Comes Under Fire; Concern About Religious Procession

Yesterday, July 15, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” came under fire near Donetsk while making an inspection of positions to the north of Donetsk, RBC reported, citing the Donetsk News Agency (DNA) the press agency of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Repoublic (DNR).
At about 15:00 near the Russian-backed troops’ position near the Ukrainian stronghold of Avdeyevka, mortar and artillery fire opened from the Ukrainians’ direction, the DNA said.
There were no injuries. The DNR claimed that 18 rounds of mortars from a 122-mm howitzer and 120-mm artillery were fired.
In April, the DNR reported an assassination attempt on Zakharchenko and claimed they had detained a group of Ukrainians responsible who were carrying disguised explosives and who were said to plan to set off a bomb at a firing range in Donetsk when Zakharchenko was planning to arrive.

Last year, Zakharchenko’s secretary was seriously injured in a car bombing.

Last night, the ATO reported on its Facebook page that Russian-backed forces had fired 65 times in the last 24 hours on Ukrainian positions: 38 on the Donetsk line, including at Nevelskoye with 122-mm artillery; on Avdeyevka with 82- and 120-mm artillery, grenade launchers and firearms. Near Zaytsevo, Opoytnoye, Butkovka mine and Peski, militants used 82-mm artillery.

On the Mariupol line, there were 20 counts of firing. At 23:00, a diversionary and reconnaissance group of about 10 men approached the Ukrainian position at Boganovka and opened fire with firearms from about 250 meters away. At Krasnogorovka, 82-mm and 120-mm artillery were used and grenade-launchers and large-caliber machine guns were used on Shirokono and Gnutovo. In Lugansk region, 7 incidents of shelling were recorded; in Novozvanovka and Novoaleksandrovka; and in Stanitsa Luganskaya, grenade-launchers and firearms were used.
In its report for today, the ATO recorded 27 incidents of shelling by Russian-backed forces on Ukrainian positions. On the Donetsk line, there was shelling with 120-mm and 122-mm artillery on positions in Avdeyevka; 120-mm was also used in Novoselovka Vtoraya. Opytnoye was fired on with 82-mm artillery and in Luganskoye, Verkhnetoretskoye and Zaytsevo from grenade-launchers,.
On the Mariupol line, 82-mm artillery was used on ATO positions in Krasnogorovka; grenade-launchers were used in Novotroitskoye and Talakovka; large-caliber artillery was used in Gnutovo and firearms in Shirokino and Vodyanoye.
In Lugansk Region, there was firing on the village of Lopaskino with large-caliber machine guns and on Ukrainian positions at Novozvanovka. As we noted yesterday, July 15, the OSCE Special Monitoring MIssion has reported increased targeting of Lugansk Region.

Thus for just the period of July 16, there were a total of 77 attacks, Interfax reported. 

Meanwhile, Eduard Basurin, the defense minister of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed Ukrainian military fired 423 times using 120- and 122-mm. Unlike Ukrainian military, which counts each round as one incident, the DNR counts each mortar fired. Ukrainian soldiers were said to fire on Gorlovka, Zaytsevo, Mikhailovka, Yasinovataya and Dokuchayevsk as well as Vasilyevka, Sakhanka and Kominternovo; in Donetsk there was firing on the Petrovsky District, the Donetsk Airport and western and northern outskirts of the city. 

In other news: 

o There has been further reporting on Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on July 15 in Moscow.
Although most of the discussion was on Syria and the coup in Turkey which began that day, White House spokesman John Kirby said Kerry had raised with Putin  “acceleration of negotiations on implementation of the Minsk agreements,  especially on the security elements,” UAToday.TV reported.
Kerry was quoted as saying after his meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“We also talked, obviously, about Ukraine. And I appreciated President Putin’s thoughts. I thought that too was constructive, and I think we have some homework to do, but there is a possibility out of that conversation of actually making some further progress. And I think that would be extremely helpful for all of us.

We still have some gaps, and my hope is that in the course of this conversation and work right now we can close those gaps and find a positive way forward.”

o An Ukrainian military Su-25 caught fire during take-off in Khmelnytskyi Region on July 14 and was totally destroyed, Unian reported.

The military prosecutor is investigating the cause of the crash, which is believed to be due either to pilot error or a technical malfunction.

The pilot was able to eject safely, the General Staff reported on its Facebook page.

o Ukraine has reinforced its southern border in connection with the coup in Turkey, but has not stopped flights to Turkey, a source told Unian. The government has urged Ukrainians not to travel there.
o A religious procession “for peace” which began last week in Ternopol and Donetsk Regions organized by the Ukrainian Russian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate has drawn sharp criticism in Ukraine, Unian reports. Viktor Yelensky, an MP from the Popular Front and deputy chair of the Committee on Culture and Spirituality said:

“If the procession about which so much is said is intended to unite the country, if the procession is obliged and called to prayer for peace, then why doesn’t it appeal to the Kremlin rulers and the walls of the Kremlin, from which the threat to peace comes in Ukraine, Europe and the whole world.”

He said the organizers of the procession have said nothing about those  from the Russian-backed forces. torturing Ukrainian Catholics and other Ukrainians. He denounced the “FSB popes” using such religious projects as cover.
Andriy Parubiy, speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, warned of “possible provocations” from the procession in an interview with 112 Ukraina TV.  He urged law-enforcers to monitor the situation for any “attempts to incite inter-confessional enmity”. He said that in addition to the religious civilians taking part in the march, there were also “young toughs of athletic build” who have been seen in raids and provocations at demonstrations before.  The procession is to come to the historic Pochayiv Monastery in Ternopil Region on July 27.
SBU chief Vasily Gritsak said the procession planned  have a “risk” of being destabilizing, Unian reported.

“Those forces that do not wish Ukraine well need [Archduke] Franz Ferdinand [of Austria] who served as the cause of World War I, but I will not aggravate the situation, since there is an indisputable right of believers in Ukraine to freedom of religious expression.

I want to emphasize that the SBU is doing everything possible to understand the situation related to the events and the ‘procession of the cross’ and follow the situation of those groups or organizations who are interested in destabilizing or in the possible use of the ‘procession of the cross’ for destabilization of the situation in our state.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick