Ukraine Day 973: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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One Ukrainian soldier was killed and seven wounded yesterday, as Kiev reports 61 attacks by Russia-backed forces.
Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko told reporters today that one Ukrainian soldier had been killed and three wounded by an explosive device in the village of Novozvanovka, in the Lugansk region.
To the east, another soldier was wounded by enemy fire in the village of Krymskoye, while to the north of Donetsk city, two were wounded in Verkhnetoretskoye and another in Avdeyevka.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russia-backed forces used 122 mm artillery as well as mortars to shell Ukrainian positions in Maryinka, west of Donetsk. The nearby suburb of Krasnogorovka was shelled with 120 mm mortars.
To the north, mortars were used to shell positions in Verkhnetoretskoye and Troitskoye, where artillery fire was also reported.
To the east of Gorlovka, 120 mm mortar shells fell on positions near Luganskoye.
In the Lugansk region, 82 and 120 mm mortars were reportedly used, in addition to grenade launchers and machine guns, in attacks on the outskirts of Novoaleksandrovka, Krymskoye, Boguslavskoye, Novozvanovka and Orekhovo. Furthermore, the outskirts of Popasnaya were shelled with 122 mm artillery.
The OSCE reports that a team from their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) came under fire near Zolotoye, northeast of Popasnaya, yesterday morning.
At 11:52 from the SMM’s position within the perimeter of an observation post of Zolote, the patrol heard whistling past them, less than one second apart, what were assessed to be two heavy-machine-gun bullets, approximately 2m east of the patrol’s position. The SMM heard the bullets impact, at least one on the concrete observation post structure, but did not see the impacts. After hearing the impacts, the SMM took cover behind the west-facing wall of and inside the observation post structure. SMM vehicles were parked nearby. The patrol members were wearing clearly marked OSCE clothing (helmets and jackets with OSCE logos) and were accompanied by two Ukrainian Armed Forces officers at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC), who also took cover. The SMM patrol members then retreated to their vehicles and at 11:57 left the spot. The SMM could not determine the direction of fire.
The heaviest shelling was again reported in the south of the Donetsk region, near Mariupol on the Azov coast.
According to the Ukrainian military’s report, Russian-backed fighters used 152 mm artillery to shell Vodyanoye and Lebedinskoye, east of the port city.
The ATO Press Center reported that an entire street in Vodyanoye has now been devastated. The village has been under heavy fire for most of the last week.
A woman, born in 1938, was reportedly wounded during the shelling.
The military also reports that positions in the nearby village of Shirokino came under 120 mm mortar fire.
Meanwhile the Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk claimed today that one of their fighters had been killed and three wounded within the last 24 hours.
According to Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Ukrainian forces fired on separatist-held territory 398 times yesterday, using artillery and mortars to shell the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as villages to the east of Mariupol.
— Pierre Vaux
The leader of the Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk has accused Ukrainian agents of the killing of Russian militant Arsen Pavlov, aka Motorola, and vowed that there will be a “proportionate response.”
Aleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), told Russia’s LifeNews last night:
“As I understand it, Poroshenko has broken off the ceasefire? Now wait. Enough of it, we have gone through so much suffering, we have made promises. And who used this murder? Well, I want now to turn to the Ukrainian soldiers, to the Ukrainian security service, the head of the intelligence directorate: My esteemed friends, comrades, bastards, scumbags, go now and be afraid, because for us death – this is no normal challenge, this a challenge to our whole republic.”
Zakharchenko claimed this morning that his security forces had already established the responsible party for the bomb blast that killed Pavlov in an elevator in his apartment building.
“There will be no mercy for you, believe it.”
LifeNews, which has long been suspected of close ties to the Russian security services, has published video footage from the scene of the blast:
Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister,denied that Ukrainian security agents had conducted the assassination, instead suggesting that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) may have been behind the killing.
Meanwhile a video was uploaded to a pro-separatist YouTube account at 19:55 GMT (21:55 Kiev time) last night, showing three masked men boasting about the assassination of Pavlov.
The men stand before the flag of the Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi organization, some of whose members have fought on the Ukrainian side in the war. The group also participated in Friday’s torchlight procession in Kiev organized by the Azov National Corps.
One of the men says:
“This video was recorded in Donetsk, where our guys just liquidated the famous terrorist Motorola. Zakharchenko, Plotnitsky, you’re next!”
The three then give a Nazi salute.
The description of the video claims that it was copied from a VKontakte account belonging to one Alexander Khausser, purportedly a 21-year-old neo-Nazi from Kiev and part of a group calling itself the Phoenix Jugend.
But no such video can be seen on the page, if it was uploaded there, it has subsequently been deleted.
Misanthropic Division’s leader, calling himself Sergei, told Ukraine’s 112 news channel today that his organization was not involved in the killing.
Instead, he said that Phoenix were a tiny organization of little influence who were “just poseurs” trying to attract attention.
Videos of this nature have appeared before, many of them apparently faked to portray Ukrainian ultra-nationalists boasting of war crimes or threatening terror attacks in western Europe.
Pavlov, a Russian from Ukhta in the northern Komi Republic, was the commander of the Sparta Battalion and one of the most notorious fighters of the war. He fought in several of the most intense battles of the war, including Ilovaisk and Donetsk Airport.
While celebrated by Russian and pro-separatist media, Pavlov was accused by returning Ukrainian prisoners of war of having summarily executed captured Ukrainian soldiers after the fall of Donetsk Airport.
Yuriy Sova, a Ukrainian paratrooper captured at the airport and held prisoner by the Sparta Battalion, said on his release that he had witnessed Pavlov executing another POW – Ihor Branovytsky.
In April last year, the Kyiv Post reported that Pavlov had told them by phone that he had shot 15 POWs dead.
“I’ve shot 15 prisoners. I don’t give a shit. No comment. I kill whoever I want.”
In this video, Pavlov can be seen mocking a Ukrainian commander captured during the fall of the airport shortly after he was abused and pistol-whipped by another militant commander, Mikhail Tolstykh, aka Givi.
As we reported yesterday, Pavlov survived several previous attempts on his life over the last two years, as has Zakharchenko. While he was the first high profile Russian or separatist figure to be assassinated in the Donetsk region, there has been a long string of militant leaders killed in the Lugansk region, most of them suspected to have been disposed of by forces loyal to the Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR).
Interestingly, it was Pavlov’s own battalion, Sparta, that was deployed by Zakharchenko to the Lugansk region last month, ostensibly to ensure security after Plotnitsky claimed that a “coup” against his leadership had been foiled.