Ukraine Day 891: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Around 9,000 people are reported to be taking part in a religious procession in Kiev today that has been dogged by political controversy.
Two processions of Orthodox Christians, which set off earlier this month from monasteries in the east and west of Ukraine, met today on European Square and are holding prayer vigil on Saint Volodymyr Hill.
The procession is being led by the Primate of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy.
Both Onufriy and the wider Moscow Patriarchate are regarded in Ukraine as being firmly aligned towards Russia. As the BBC’s Vitaly Shevchenko reported last summer:
Since his enthronement in August 2014, Metropolitan Onufriy has been critical of the Kiev government’s campaign against the separatists, rejecting Ukraine’s European aspirations as a “tragedy”.
Onufriy refused to stand up when the parliament in Kiev honoured Ukrainian fighters involved in the conflict – prompting the Kiev-based daily Den to say that “he is more afraid of Putin than God”.
Andriy Parubiy, Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, claimed on July 11 that the procession had been organised by the Kremlin to destabilize Ukraine.
“We are witnessing how one religious organization, which has its spiritual center in an aggressor state, is mobilizing a great number of its believers and drawing them to Kiev on July 26 [the original scheduled date], calling this a peaceful procession.”
Parubiy said that he had called on the Interior Ministry and Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to hold meetings with the organizers of the events to make sure no “imperial symbols” were used and “to avoid any provocations.
“According to our information, the Kremlin has already prepared provocative scenarios on the streets of Kiev for July 26. Besides the real, peaceful believers, provocateurs with banned, extremist symbols and symbols of the aggressor state are being drawn in, and we have already seen this in several towns in our country.”
Yesterday a grenade was found near the path of the procession, after police received anonymous calls of explosives in the area. Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko announced that all participants in the processions would have to pass through metal detectors to screen for weapons.
But so far today there has been no sign of violence.
Leviy Bereg reported at 11:40 Kiev time that the head of the National Police, Khatia Dekanoidze, reported no incidents during the procession.
Three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded yesterday as Kiev reports a drop in the level of fighting, albeit with the continued use of heavy artillery.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed forces conducted 39 attacks yesterday, representing a significant reduction in fighting.
The majority of attacks were reported to the west and south of Donetsk, with 120 and 82 mm mortars used to shell Krasnogorovka, while grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms were used in attacks near Maryinka, Novotroitskoye and Shirokino.
Attacks continued in this sector after midnight. Military press officer Vitaliy Kirillov told the 112 television channel that positions near Starognatovka, east of Volnovakha, were sheleld with 82 mm mortars, while small arms were again used near Maryinka.
In the Donetsk area, the ATO Press Center reported that 122 mm artillery, 120 and 82 mm mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns were used in attacks on Ukrainian positions in Avdeyevka, north of the separatist-held city.
Mortar shelling was also reported near Nevelskoye and the Butovka mine, as well as Zaytsevo, north of Gorlovka. Positions near Opytnoye, north of Donetsk, were reportedly fired on with anti-aircraft artillery, while those near Novgorodskoye, Peski and Novoselovka Vtoraya were attacked with heavy machine guns. In the Luganskoye area, east of Gorlovka, Russian-backed fighters used grenade launchers.
In turn the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) accused Ukrainian forces of firing on separatist-held territory 305 times over 24 hours.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops used 152 and 122 mm artillery, as well as mortars and lighter weapons, to attack the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as Dokuchaevsk, on the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol.
The Ukrainian military has received a shipment of US light reconnaissance drones.
Leviy Bereg reports that the Ukrainian General Staff announced the arrival in Kiev today of a large batch of RQ-11B Analog Raven UAVs. According to the report, the total value of the drones delivered will exceed $12 million.
The US Department of Defense approved the export of the unarmed, lightweight drones, which have a range of around 10 kilometers, in September last year.
The leader of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), Igor Plotnitsky, has ordered the creation of a group of LNR delegates to negotiate with Nadiya Savchenko.
Plotnitsky, who was personally involved in Savchenko’s abduction to Russia according to the former captive’s testimony during her show trial, announced that the group of his deputies would be formed in the next two or three days.
“She has written that she is prepared to meet with those with whom she fought. We have a group of deputies amongst us who took part in the battle in which she was captured.”
Plotnitsky also claimed that he would guarantee his former prisoner’s security if she travelled to the separatist-held ‘republic.’
Savchenko was captured while serving with a volunteer unit in June, 2014 near Lugansk and was then illegally transported to Russia where she spent nearly two years in jail, often on hunger strike, before an internationally condemned show trial in which she was convicted of killing two Russian journalists. She was released in a prisoner exchange on May 25 this year.
Earlier this month, now an MP in the Batkivschyna party, she called for direct negotiations between Kiev and the Russian-backed separatists in the east.
— Pierre Vaux