Ukraine Live Day 287: OSCE Report Fuel Trucks Part of Russian ‘Aid’ Convoy

December 1, 2014
Russian convoy yesterday in Donetsk. Photo: Kristina Jovanovski.

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.

Civilians Film Grad Rocket Launch Across The Street From Their Apartments

Earlier today we posted two videos which showed Russian-backed militants firing Grad rockets from a residential neighborhood, a neighborhood filled with children. Another video shows just how close this launcher is to the apartment complexes.

The description in this video says that it was taken in the same district as the others (Shirokiy) but from building 47, not 41. Sure enough, this matches precisely Google satellite images.  Google street view shows that the Grad launcher is approximately positioned where the man selling something, possible kvass, in a happier time. Below we’ve put the map next to a screenshot from the video, with a few landmarks pointed out:


The video starts slow, but the shooting starts after 50 seconds:

The residents watching are entertained, like it is a spectacle. Perhaps they are used to this — as we’ve been pointing out, other videos prove that the separatists have used this location to launch artillery strikes in the past. Regardless, it’s easy to see why the Ukrainian military has been so hesitant to return fire — the nearby apartments are 9-10 stories high, and provide an excellent shield which would make the launch site very hard to hit without causing many civilian casualties.

— James Miller

Truce In Donetsk? Shelling Continues
Canadian freelance journalist Kristina Jovanovski reports from Donetsk, where despite the ceasefire signed months ago and the truce signed today (see below) outgoing rocket fire could be heard tonight:


— James Miller

Truce Announced At Donetsk Airport

A truce has been reached which could relieve those affected by the fighting around Donetsk airport. RFE/RL reports:

The Ukrainian military says its forces and Russian representatives have agreed to a temporary cease-fire at the airport in rebel-held Donetsk.

The military’s press service said on December 1 the truce was agreed after talks near the airport between officials from Ukraine and Russia.

Note the interesting phraseology: “Russian representatives” were part of the negotiations? Also note that earlier today Ukraine was reporting that Russian special forces were engaged in the increasingly-intense fight at the airport. Also, as previous ceasefires have not provided any relief for the Ukrainian soldiers defending the airport and the civilians who leave near it, it’s unclear what makes this “truce” different than the “ceasefire” which is already supposed to be in place.

Shells Which Burned Out Residential Area of Donetsk Came From The West

A video uploaded to YouTube on November 25 showed the aftermath of shelling in a residential area in the west of Donetsk.

The blogger @djp3tros of Ukraine@War has geolocated the scene in the video here on Google Maps.

The garages, apartment building, and red-and-white striped tower seen in the video are located on Google Maps as follows:


At 0:33, the green garages can be seen next to burning buildings, with the red-and-white striped tower just visible in the distance through the trees on the right.


This can be seen on Shakhtarskoy Slavy Street on Google Street View here:


At 0:10 a resident points to a shell and a crater in the road, and the cameraman comes closer to it, focusing on the crater at 0:20. This is one of several such craters shown in the video.


Working backwards, The Interpreter has been able to confirm Ukraine at War’s claim which these came from the West:


This matches @djp3tros‘s conclusion that the rockets appear to come from the west.

But who fired the shells? Some Ukrainian activists are maintaining that the Russian-backed separatists are advancing into the no-man’s land between rebel and Ukrainian forces and are firing back toward Donetsk. Some have even questioned whether the separatists could be targeting residential neighborhoods just to frame the Ukrainian government. One theory is that the damage done in videos above were from 120mm mortars which have a range of anywhere between about .5 and 7 km. One theory advanced by @djp3tros is that they were fired from a field 4km west of this street.


The same day this incident occurred, this picture was posted to Twitter which allegedly shows an unexploded mortar on the same street.

Translation: Donetsk. Shakhtyorskoy Slavy Street.

@djp3tros has also forwarded to us this Vkontakte page which shows people moving and digging out mortar shells. It is possible that these shells could be used by the separatists to fire into Donetsk as they have a range of between .5km and 7+km. The theory that these are mortars fired close to Donetsk is bolstered by the pictures posted on VK.

Another theory: multiple impacts near the same location could indicate a weapon with multiple-launch capability, like Grad rockets. Both sides have Grad rockets, but these weapons are much larger and harder to secretly move than mortars and would be operating very close to the front line of battle. A common munition fired by Grads is the 9M22U 122mm unguided rocket, for instance. That weapon has a minimum range of 5km and a maximum reach of 20.4km, which means that if these are separatist Grad rockets then that would require them to be fired dangerously close to Ukraine’s forward positions.

The projectile fired by Grad rockets, however, are different than the projectiles shown on the Vkontakte page linked above.

In the end, we cannot definitively say who fired these shells, but it’s another sign that civilians are in the line of battle.

— James Miller and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Video Reportedly Shows Children Playing Near Grad Rocket Launch Area

Earlier today we posted and analyzed a video which was geolocated to the  Shirokiy area of Donetsk. The video shows Grad rockets being fired near a residential building. Children’s voices could be heard on the video. The launches were very close to residential buildings, and also matched previous videos of positions used by Russian-backed militants to fire artillery.

This video, taken from a different angle but from the same building complex, shows more Grad rockets. Disturbingly, the video starts of by filming children playing below. Then the video cuts and shows the Grad launches. However, at the end of the video, the camera pans from where the children were playing to the building, confirming that this was all taken from the same location.

The video appears to show a different firing pattern than the first, indicating that there may have been multiple rounds of firing. Also note that car alarms were set off by the firing.

First, a note on location. This video appears to have been taken just one set of buildings further north than the last one. The approximate location of where we believe the last camera was location is marked by a yellow star, where this is marked by a red star. Also notice we’ve put a red box around the buildings in the foreground and on the same buildings on the map:


One question remains — were the children playing while the Grad rockets were firing? We can’t definitively say one way or the other because the children playing and the rocket fire are never in the same “take,” as there is an edit in between. However, there is snow on the ground in all the videos, and the sky looks the same. This certainly proves that many children live in this set of buildings, and the Russian-backed militants are firing Grad rockets within this residential neighborhood.

— James Miller

Ukraine’s Crowd-Sourced War Effort

As the interim government began to take control last February and March, it quickly became apparent that Ukraine’s military, to say nothing of its economy, was in disrepair after years of neglect. The government has struggled to get the military fully supplied. Faced with decreasing budgets, devalued currency, the mandate to cut spending as part of the IMF loan requirement, and a war against a super power, soldiers on the front lines often rely on donations, solicited on the internet and on the streets of Ukraine’s cities, in order to fund the war effort.

While no war tax has gone into place, every major Ukrainian newspaper has pages of advertisements on how one can donate goods to soldiers on the front lines. Journalist David Patrikarakos is back in Ukraine, and has seen this first hand:


— James Miller

Video Shows Militants Firing Grads From Residential Area Of Donetsk

The following video was uploaded this afternoon, it appears to show Grad rockets being launched from a residential area:

The description of the video states that it was filmed today at 15:50 local time (12:50 GMT) in the Shirokiy area of Donetsk.

The blocks of flats seen in the video are recognisable on Google maps, here.

Note the arrangement of buildings and the tree opposite the camera.
There are two set further back and then another to the right that is
closer to the camera.

Considering that the sun would be setting to the west at this time,
it is likely that the buildings on the left side of the screen, the
tops of which are illuminated by sunlight, are facing west.

This means that the camera is looking south and the rockets are being fired westwards.

Here is a tweet illustrating this from @djp3tros who writes the Ukraine@War blog:

This means that the rockets are likely aimed at Marinka, a suburb of Donetsk controlled by Ukrainian forces.

This is not the first time Russian-backed fighters have been recorded firing from this area.

On September 30, @djp3tros geolocated two other videos showing Grad launches from the same immediate area, in the fields to the east of the block.

The video published today appears to show the Grads firing from an even closer position to the housing blocks.

The video published today appears to show the Grads firing from an even closer position to the housing blocks.

A child’s voice is also clearly audible on the video. By using such residential areas for launch positions, the separatists are endangering civilian lives by opening them up to the threat of counter-bombardments from the Ukrainians in Marinka and the south-west.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller and Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Says Russian Special Forces Involved In Intensifying Attacks On Donetsk Airport
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council is reporting that at least 3 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours. They’re also claiming that attacks have increased over the last 24 hours, corresponding to the arrival of the “humanitarian aid” from Russia:

Reuters reports that, according to Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko, Russian special forces have been involved in the intensifying attacks against Donetsk airport in the last few days:

“These are Russian special forces. It’s already the third day that they’ve been trying to do something,” he told Reuters by telephone…

Lysenko said three Ukrainian servicemen had been killed in the past 24 hours in intensified artillery strikes from the rebels that he linked to the arrival of another large aid convoy from Russia on Sunday.

“The new humanitarian convoy arrived and the terrorists received ammunition for heavy artillery … therefore they are able to increase the intensity (of attacks),” he said.

The ATO has also changed the rules for how the press can access the warzone. Journalists have been complaining that there are too many government checkpoints which have impacted their ability to cover the crisis:


— James Miller and Pierre Vaux

Has Dmitry Soin, Transnistrian Political Leader And ‘Vice-Premier’ Of DNR, Escaped SBU Custody?

In the early hours of this morning a post appeared on the Facebook page of Dmitry Soin, the leader of the Proriv party in Transnistria and now the ‘vice-premier’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. According to the post, Soin had escaped Ukrainian custody in the Kharkiv region and was now in Russia.

Soin who has been accused of being a member of the Russian security services, was arrested by Ukrainian police on August 23 while disembarking a train from Moscow in Kiev. He is wanted in Moldova for murder. The Financial Times reported in 2011:

According to the UN’s human rights watchdog, the former officer of the Transdniestrian security services is alleged to have shot and fatally wounded a hitchhiker in 1994, and committed another killing the following year.

Photo: Henry Langston and Alex Hoban / Vice

Soin was also interviewed by Vice in 2011

The post on his Facebook page, published today at 2:56 Moscow time, read (translated by The Interpreter):

Dear friends! It’s me again. On November 30 I managed to escape from a convoy of the Kharkiv branch of the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU]. This was, accordingly, in Kharkiv. Please do not punish the young officers. I simply lulled them into a false sense of security, picked my locks and went out across the rooftops. In the same way, I managed to cross over the border.

As trophies, the SBU got my Patrick Hellmann suit, laptop, two phones and documents. There’ll be more details soon. Now I am safe in Russia. Thanks to everyone who believed in me and fought for me. This is my family, friends and simply good people. November 30 is now my second birthday. Best to all!

However later today, at 11:56 (9:56 GMT), Ukrainska Pravda reported that they had been told by the SBU’s press secretary, Yelena Gitlyanskaya, that the Facebook post was fake.

She said that Soin was not, in fact, being held by the SBU, and therefore he could not have escaped from one of their convoys. 

So far, Ukrainska Pravda have not been able to obtain any comment from the Kharkiv branches of the SBU and interior ministry. The online paper reports that neither office is answering their phone calls.

— Pierre Vaux

OSCE Reports Fuel Tankers In Russian ‘Aid’ Convoy

A spot report from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, published yesterday, says that the organisation’s monitors observed 18 fuel trucks amongst the Russian ‘humanitarian convoy’ that reached Donetsk yesterday.

The fuel trucks reportedly made up almost half the convoy, raising fears that the fuel was bound for Russian and separatist military forces in the Donetsk region.

UNIAN notes that there was no comment in the OSCE report on the purpose of the fuel tankers, nor on the contents of the cargo trucks in the convoy.

Here is the full OSCE report:

On 30 November 2014 at 09:42 hrs, the Observer Team witnessed the arrival of a Russian convoy at the gate of the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. The convoy consisted of 21 cargo trucks, 18 fuel trucks, and four support vehicles. All cargo trucks bore the inscription “Humanitarian help from the Russian Federation”. The convoy arrived two hours later than expected due to a snowstorm commencing during the second half of the night.

The vehicles stopped at the customs control area. The tail gates of the cargo trucks were opened, and Russian border guards and customs officers briefly inspected the trucks. The Observer Team saw that Ukrainian officers were present on the site during the inspection process. At 10:44 hrs, the last vehicle of the convoy left the Border Crossing Point towards Ukraine.

On the same day at 20:38 hrs, all vehicles of the convoy returned to the Donetsk Border Crossing Point and were briefly inspected by the Russian officials. No Ukrainian officers were present on the site during the inspection, but the Observer Team saw Ukrainian officials stationed across the fence from the Border Crossing Point observing the process and taking pictures from there. At 21:16 hrs, the last vehicle of the convoy had left the Border Crossing Point towards the Russian Federation. 

— Pierre Vaux