Ukraine Live Day 282: Heavy Fighting In Lugansk Region

November 26, 2014
First snow in Donetsk today. Photo: Harald Doornbos

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.
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Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Is Germany Softening Its Line On Russian Actions In Ukraine?

Earlier we reported
a story published on Bloomberg that, according to two unnamed German
officials, Chancellor Angela Merkel is alarmed by proposals by Ukraine’s

President Petro Poroshenko to hold a referendum on joining NATO as it
would “inflame tensions with Russia.” The story is supposedly a leak by
tow officials who refuse to be named, but the timing is curious.
Today the Financial Times is running a story, Merkel offers Russia trade talks olive branch, in which Merkel has asked for the EU to hold trade talks with Russia in order to “maintain dialogue.”

are ready for talks between the Eurasian Union and the EU on trade
issues,” Ms Merkel told the German parliament. The German chancellor
floated the idea in a long late-night meeting with Mr Putin during her
recent visit to the G20 summit in Brisbane.

But then the article quotes German officials who suggest that Germany is still holding the line on sanctions against Russia:

of the interesting questions now is whether you can engage with Russia
at all, for example at a political level between the EU and the Eurasian
Economic Union,” said a German official. But he made clear that there
could be no real progress without first calming eastern Ukraine where
pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have continued fighting
despite the ceasefire agreement.

Ms Merkel insisted in her speech
that EU sanctions would remain in place as long as Russia remained
involved in east Ukraine and that nothing justified or excused the
annexation of Crimea or Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. She
said: “Russia’s behaviour puts Europe’s peaceful order into question and
breaks international law.”

Yesterday Spiegel published an interview with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who “warned recently that leaders should tone down their rhetoric on Russia. SPIEGEL asked him whether his comments were directed at Chancellor Merkel and how he believes the conflict with Russia might develop.” Steinmeier dismissed that his comments were designed to cause tension with Merkel. He also said he supported new sanctions for separatists who “are riding roughshod over Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” But a choice quote was noticed by Russia observer James Kirchick:

Are all these statements coming out at the same time just a coincidence? Is Germany holding the line on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or is this a sign that it is softening its stances on sanctions, and perhaps other issues that concern Moscow?
Donetsk Mayor Lukyanchenko Is Prepared To Resign

Novosti Donbassa reports that Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, the mayor of Donetsk, has said that he is prepared to resign.

During in an interview with, Lukyanchenko said (translated by The Interpreter):

“I can apologise before my own countrymen, before my fellow city residents, for the fact that I cannot today solve the problems that have arisen for us in the Donbass and in Donetsk. I am trying to do everything to focus on the issues that are facing the population today and the issues that need solving – pensions, peace, social benefits and humanitarian aid.

If I cannot resolve at least one of those issues, I am prepared to step down from office.”

Donetsk news site reports that Lukyanchenko had said during the interview that the uncontrolled border meant that the conflict would only intensify after separatist forces received fresh arms and reinforcements from Russia.

He seemed pessimistic about the chances of a military solution, his words suggest a belief in a need for a compromise:

“If they want a civilised divorce, then they need to do that – everything is heading in that direction.”

— Pierre Vaux


Merkel Opposes Ukrainian NATO Membership Referendum – German Officials

Bloomberg news reports that two German officials, who asked not to be named, have told them that Chancellor Angela Merkel is alarmed by proposals by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to hold a referendum on joining NATO as it would “inflame tensions with Russia.”

Ukrainian membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not on the table for Merkel, according to one German official, who said that a referendum wouldn’t bring Ukraine closer to NATO since decisions on membership are made by Alliance countries and not voters. Any bid to join NATO can only end badly, a second official said. Both asked not to be named discussing German government strategy.

This is not the first statement from Germany dismissing talk of Ukraine’s possible entry into the military alliance.

As Bloomberg notes, Michale Grosse-Broemer, parliamentary whip for the Christian Democrats, said yesterday that:

“NATO membership for Ukraine isn’t on the agenda at this point.”

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told Speigel Online that he did not foresee NATO membership for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Steinmeier’s French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, told France Inter radio:

“In recent days there have been a number of statements from the Ukraine side that have not helped.”  

However NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has said as recently as November 24, that:

“The ‘open door’ is still open. Ukraine will become a member, that decision still stands providing that Ukraine meets the requirements.” 

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Says 2 Russian Jets Crossed Border Near Stanitsa Luganskaya

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council announced earlier today that two Russian aircraft were detected entering Ukrainian airspace on Tuesday, November 25.

According to the Council’s spokesman, Andrei Lysenko, two Russian jets crossed the border between the Russian village of Manotskiy and the Ukrainian village of Kolesnikovka. The two penetrated Ukrainian airspace to a depth of 0.5 km and 5 km.

Lysenko claimed that Ukrainian air defence forces were “ready to strike the target” but the Russian planes returned to their own territory.

Here is a map showing the locations of the two villages:


The incident comes amidst an intensification in fighting around Stanitsa Luganskaya, just to the west of Kolesnikovka.

Earlier today it was reported that close combat was under way just to south-east of the town. On November 24, the Ukrainian military reported that their positions in Stanitsa Luganskaya and Verkhnaya OIkhovaya were being shelled from the Russian side of the border.

It is possible that the Russian jets crossing the border were performing reconnaissance or electronic warfare missions to aid ground forces in their attacks on the Ukrainian army.

— Pierre Vaux

Russia Moves Advanced Strike Aircraft To Crimea

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that 14 jet fighters have been relocated to Belbek airbase near Simferopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ten fighter jets Sukhoi Su-27 SM and four fighter jets Su-30 M2 flew to the air regiment from southern Russia’s Krasnodar territory on Wednesday.

The air regiment in Belbek will operate a total of 24 warplanes and six training combat aircraft. First training flights will start on December 1.

The 62nd air regiment of fighter jets, which is incorporated in the 27th combined air squadron, is based at the Belbek airfield.

The Su-27 SM is a recent modification of the Su-27 fighter and the two-seat Su-30 M2 is an advanced long-range strike aircraft which first flew in 2010.


— Pierre Vaux

Revealing Videos Show Moment Russian State Journalist Graham Phillips Was Hit By Shrapnel
This week Graham Phillips, a stringer for the Russian State propaganda network RT and a reporter for the official network of the Russian defense ministry, TV Zvezda, was hit by shrapnel. Phillips was in a base on the front line near Peski, where Russian-backed forces are attempting to push back Ukrainian troops supporting the defenders of the airport. During an exchange of fire, he was hit by shrapnel from a shell. This video was taken by Phillips himself and shows the moment he was hit (not graphic).

This was taken by Phillips not long before he was wounded:

In this video you can clearly see that his uniform is very different than his colleague wearing the blue press outfit. Phillips looks like a soldier, not a reporter. Also interesting — at the end of the video he grabs the camera from whoever was holding it, and we see briefly the person who was using the camera. The man is also wearing a uniform that does not look like the rest of the reporters. Was he a separatist fighter?

Another video is interesting. Posted to Liveleak,
this video, complete with English subtitles, was taken by a Rossiya 24
reporter. It is longer and shows more scenes from inside the base both
before and after Phillips was hit. 

We learn some things from the
video. For starters, the videos effectively rule out any suspicion that
Phillips was deliberately targeted — he was hit inside the base’s
walls, during an exchange of gunfire and shells, likely by a
high-trajectory mortar.

Also interesting, however, is that the
video gives more insight into Phillips’ behavior. In the video, he is
literally inches from the men shooting the guns. Interestingly, at one
point ammunition is delivered to one of the gunners, and soon after that
the militant says “Graham, give me…” though it’s unclear what this
is in reference to.

Another detail — all the reporters in the video except Phillips are wearing the same body armor and press markings. As we pointed out two days ago, Phillips was wearing a camouflaged uniform when he was shot.

is this important? Many of Phillips’ behaviors have been criticized for
endangering the press. Phillips has been seen taking unnecessary risks,
hiding in a freight container that may have been used by snipers, firing a gun with militants, haranguing a severely wounded Ukrainian POW during an “interview” and operating near child soldiers. Apart from his arguably highly-unprofessional journalism, these actions go one step further by blurring the lines between journalist and combatant.

The OSCE has condemned the use of press insignias by other Russian “reporters” who have been seen shooting guns at the Ukrainian military.
Phillips is not exactly doing this, since he is not wearing press
insignia, but his behavior is still associating the press with the

— James Miller

US General Breedlove In Kiev To Find Diplomatic Solution To Crisis

U.S. General Phillip Breedlove, who is the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, is in Kiev today. Breedlove’s spokesperson said that Breedlove would be meeting with Ukraine’s top political and military leaders. Reuters reports:

Breedlove, who is head of U.S. European Command as well as NATO’s top military commander, will be visiting Kiev in his U.S. capacity, the spokesman said.

“He is scheduled to meet with senior political and military leaders … to discuss the security situation in eastern Ukraine, support from the U.S. and reforms planned in the defence sector,” he said.

RFE/RL reports that he is there to work toward a political and diplomatic solution to this crisis:

The U.S. general who is NATO’s senior commander in Europe has said that there is a large number of Russians providing “backbone guidance and training” to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, and promised that the United States will support Ukraine in the face of an “immediate threat from Russia” to its sovereignty.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv today, U.S. General Philp Breedlove said the United States would help Ukraine pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict with pro-Russian separatists that would respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But RFE/RL also reports that Breedlove warned that Russia is militarizing Crimea and actively militarily supporting the Russian-backed separatist militants in the Donbass. One has to wonder how Breedlove thinks a diplomatic solution will be achieved if Russia continues to openly support the militants, but to our knowledge this has not been addressed.

Shelling Heard In Donetsk, Reports Of Heavy Fighting At Airport

Up until a few minutes ago, regular shelling has been audible on the Ruptly live feed overlooking Donetsk Airport.

Donetsk news site writes that there are a number of reports on social media of fierce fighting to the north of the city.

The Interpreter translates:

A tank battle is under way near the 21st mine in Donetsk, there is also fighting in the village of Opytnoye. The militants are trying to cut the airport off from Peski and Avdeyevka. This is reported by local residents on social networks:

“A battle is under way between the airport, Avdeyevka and Peski. They’re pounding with everything they have. We’re doing the same. It’s dangerous now in the Kuybyshevsky, Kievsky and Petrovsky districts, and in Chervonogvardeysky in Makeyevka.”


Meanwhile the pro-separatist Russkaya Vesna (Russian Spring) site claimed this afternoon that a column of Ukrainian forces was headed, escorted by helicopters, towards Donetsk from Slavyansk.

According to the report, a “huge column of Ukrainian armoured vehicles” was spotted heading towards Donetsk on the Kharkiv-Donetsk highway, just past Slavyansk. The report claims that the convoy was accompanied by two Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Interestingly, it was reported on the evening of November 24 that an overnight curfew had been established on this very stretch of highway, running between Izium and Debaltsevo. 


— Pierre Vaux

Lysenko – 2 Columns Of Russian Military Vehicles Entered Ukraine Yesterday

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence council, has told reporters at a briefing today in Kiev that two columns of Russian military vehicles were detected crossing the Ukrainian border yesterday.

The vehicles reportedly passed through the captured Izvarino and Dolzhansky checkpoints.


According to Lysenko, the column that passed through Izvarino was made up of around 40 tarpaulin-covered trucks, half of which towing artillery pieces, accompanied by 2 armoured vehicles.

Meanwhile around a dozen military trucks reportedly passed through the Dolzhansky crossing.

Lysenko said (translated by The Interpreter):

“We will stress that it is at these very border crossings that Russia has blocked the work of the OSCE monitoring mission.”

— Pierre Vaux

Heavy Shelling In Lugansk Region, Close Combat Reported In Stanitsa Luganksaya

The office of the governor of the Lugansk region Hennadiy Moskal has announced that there is a battle is under way on the outskirts of the town of Stanitsa Luganskaya.

UNIAN reports that the press office had written on Moskal’s official site that Russian-backed forces shelled numerous Ukrainian-held settlements in the north of the Lugansk region yesterday, continuing through the night.

The primary targets of this shelling were Schastye, Krymske, Artyoma, Tryokhizbenka, Chernukhino and Verkhnaya Olkhovaya. 


In Schastye, heating and hot water were cut off after mortars damaged a distribution header. All water had to be evacuated from the town central heating system so as to prevent it freezing in the pipes. 

Moskal said that repair teams had begun to carry out repairs when another round of shelling damaged a heating pipe. Maintenance crews are at work again today, but the entire town is still without heat or hot water.

To compound residents’ problems, today saw the first snow of the year in the south-east. 

On the eastern fringes of Stanitsa Luganskaya, near a large fish farm, continuous shelling is reported. A power transformer and several pylons have been damaged. Grad salvoes were fired towards the town during the night.

The governor’s office reports that “close combat between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the militants is under way right now” near the Dubrava recreation camp, just to the south of the fish farm.


On November 24, the Ukrainian military reported the first cross-border shelling from Russia since September. Here is a map from Euromaidan PR illustrating both the reported launch sites inside Russia and the targets: Stanitsa Luganskaya and Verkhnaya Olkhovaya (Stanychno-Luhanske and Verkhyna Vilkhova in Ukrainian).

— Pierre Vaux