Ukraine Day 949: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT:
Russia’s Kommersant reports that a new plan for establishing several demilitarized zones in the Donbass may soon be considered by members of the Contact Group in Minsk.
A source familiar with the negotiations in Minsk told the paper that representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the Russia-backed separatists have been familiarizing themselves with a document drawn up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The plan would entail the creation of “demilitarized security zones” around key infrastructure in the conflict zone – most of all water supply systems.
Kommersant cites a section of the document that they have obtained:
“The water supply system in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions is interconnected, i.e. it supplies water to settlements that are not under the control of the Ukrainian government as well as those that are.
Part of the water supply infrastructure has been damaged during military operations, and continues to suffer the consequences of fighting, endangering the supply of water to the population. Therefore several areas with vital water infrastructure facilities would be ideal for the creation of security zones.”
The Kommersant report continues:
Of the five infrastructure sites, around which it is proposed the demilitarized zones be created, two are in territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities: this is the Petrovsky water catchment station and the pipeline running from it to Lugansk, and also the pumping station in the Donetsk town of Kirovo and the pipeline from it to the filtering station in [separatist-held] Gorlovka.
Two sites are located directly on the line of contact – the Donetsk filtering station and the pipeline from it to Donetsk, and the pipelines between Zolotoye and Pervomaysk in the Lugansk region.
Finally, there is one more site located in the territory of the self-declared DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] – this is the Verkhnekalmiusskaya filtering station. Its tanks hold more than 300 tonnes of liquid chlorine, and the document contains a warning that “the pressurized tanks could spring a leak and the liquefied chlorine would at once turn into a very large amount of chlorine gas.”
According to the estimates of ICRC experts, under adverse conditions, up to 400,000 people could be harmed in the event of such an accident.
As we reported on Wednesday, a draft deal between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists proposes the establishment of three areas which will be monitored for ceasefire violations, in addition to the partial withdrawal of troops and weapons from the front line.
Implementation of a demilitarized zone around at least two of the sites named in today’s report could be very difficult. The Verkhnekalmiusskaya filtering station is located about six kilometres from the Yasinovataya highway junction and the Avdeyevka industrial park – one of the most violent areas of the entire front line.
In June, Ukrainian soldiers reported that Russia-backed fighters had dug in around the filtering station and were mounting artillery attacks from the area.
As fighting surges again in Ukraine, an environmental disaster looms
Land mines and sniper fire, tank traps and unexploded shells have shut down Highway 20, the main artery into eastern Ukraine's separatist stronghold of Donetsk. But despite the upheavals caused by two years of war, ordinary life along the route has struggled on. As violence surges again, that could change.
Ukrainian commanders have forbidden their soldiers to return fire from separatists dug in around the plant, recognizing the magnitude of that risk as well as the prospect of a public-relations disaster for Kiev.
“The separatists use the water-filtration plant as cover to launch attacks on us,” said Vlad Yushkevich, 41, a platoon commander in Ukraine’s 58th Mechanized Brigade, which is stationed on the hillside opposite the plant. “We’re banned from firing back. The enemy knows this and uses it to his advantage.”
Similarly, a zone around the pumping station in Kirovo could be objected to by the Ukrainian military if the demilitarized area were to include nearby, front-line villages like Shumy or Leninskoye, just outside separatist-held Gorlovka.
This would not be the first time that an attempt has been made to secure water infrastructure in the Donbass in such a manner.
In the summer of 2015, the OSCE oversaw a semi-successful truce for several days around repairs on the water system near Gorlovka.
— Pierre Vaux