Ukraine Live Day 291:Ukrainian Military And Civilian Casualties In Donetsk As Fighting Intensifies

December 5, 2014
Shells fall in the Kuybyshevsky district of Donetsk this morning. Screenshot from YouTube video:

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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SBU Reportedly Detains General Connected To Crackdown On Maidan Protesters

LiveUAMap translates a tweet from Hromadske TV saying that according to the current SBU Chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, a former General in the SBU has been arrested:
LiveUAMap translates a tweet from Hromadske TV saying that according to the current SBU Chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, a former General in the SBU has been arrested: also reports that Nalyvaychenko has said that the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, should creat a special tribune to investigate the deaths of the “heavenly hundred,” those killed during the Euomaidan protests:

“The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should create a National Tribunal on this deliberate large-scale crime, which began [during] the Maidan Revolution and moved further to the east of Ukraine,” he said, adding that Ukrainian legislation already has such precedents.

Recently, during the one-year anniversary of the start of Euromaidan protests, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was confronted by angry family members of the Heavenly Hundred” who accused him of protecting the killers.

Ukraine Denies Reports That Donetsk International Airport Partially Overrun By Russian-Backed Fighters
The fight for Donetsk International Airport has been waged for months, but has been escalating significantly this week. Today, after reports carried earlier of intense fighting (see update at 10:41 GMT), the Ukrainian government is reporting that it temporarily withdrew from the airport to avoid artillery fire, but they deny that Russian-backed fighters have captured the terminals. They now insist that they have moved back into the old terminal.

Right now, only the wind can be clearly heard on a live video feed of a camera pointed toward the airport. There does not appear to be heavy fighting at the moment.
James Miller
Ukraine Military Press Release Focuses on Reform, OSCE’s Failures, And Fight For Donetsk Airport

The Foreign Media Unit of Ukraine’s Information and Analysis Center, part of the National Security and Defense Council, has released its weekly press release. This week the focus is on reform, the work of the OSCE, and the battle at Donetsk International Airport. As background, today there are reports that Russian-backed militants have overrun part of the airport after heavy fighting, but those reports are unconfirmed.

The press release is below:

Reforms, expected of the of the government are a condition, put forward by western partners in exchange for financial support. Experts agree that without major financial intervention Ukraine will face a default, but they should be carried out based on clear conditions. These conditions are subject to discussion. The need for financial assistance to Ukraine has also been mentioned by IMF’s Christine Lagarde, negotiations will begin next week, as IMF’s mission was waiting for the final approval of the government. Traditionally, other donors and investors will be waiting to see the results of these negotiations. According to “Financial Times”, Ukraine will need up to 15 bln EUR in financial aid.

Diplomats will also be looking for a way out of the crisis. It is already obvious that this process is likely to take a long time. Vladimir Putin in his address to the Council of Federation has spoken a lot about Ukraine and Crimea, kept insisting on the legal justification for “protecting Russian speaking population”, and mentioned fears of “Yugoslavian scenario” for Russia. At the same time the foreign minsters all other OSCE member countries have reiterated the importance of bringing stability to the continent. “The organization should take more decisive steps in order to identify solutions directed at effective response to existing and emerging challenges. Otherwise there is a risk that OSCE will slip into oblivion as an irrelevant body”, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Mr Klimkin at the OSCE meeting in Switzerland. He knows what he’s talking about: it was during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that theBudapest Memorandum, assuring Ukraine’s sovereignty and security was signed in 1994.

One of the signing parties, Russian Federation, has not been adhering to Memorandum for all these 20 years. In a meantime, the blockade of “Russian” Crimea has been joined by UEFA. The executive committee of the organization banned Crimean football clubs from taking part in Russian league and hold matches without Football Federation of Ukraine approval.

Negotiations are also talked about within the context of the situation in ATO zone. President of Ukrainehas given law enforcement agencies an order to ensure true ceasefire starting with the 9th of December. Joint commission, consisting of Ukrainian, Russian generals and OSCE representatives is working on preventing terrorists groups from opening fire. Possibility of the new round of negotiations in Minsk has also been mentioned by Ukraine’s former President, Leonid Kuchma, who represented Ukraine during Minsk meetings on the 5th and 19th of September. So far no tangible results could be seen, as attacks on Ukrainian positions continue. They have reached its maximum intensity in two to three days after the arrival of the next “humanitarian convoy”. 71 attacks have been reported on Thursday, with some rocket shelling lasting for hours. Ceasefire has been announced again near Donets’k airport, after catastrophic attack of Russian special forces on Ukrainian “cyborgs”, defending it.According to General Headquarters, this week alone some 300 Russian soldiers, including members of elite special regiments, have been killed in a battle for Donets’k airport.

The tragedy has additional importance, as these soldiers were missed in Russia on Thursday, when rebels attacked Grozny the night before Putin’s address to the Council of Federation. Information coming from this city is very scarce, one thing is known for sure: Russian authority instantly brought heavy armor to the center of the city, announced Counter-Terrorist Operation. Russian side has been publicly outraged when Chechen separatists were called “rebels”, and not “terrorists” by the press. By doing that, Kremlin echoes Kiev’s position towards armed militants in the East of Ukraine, as soon as similar processes take place within Federation.

Poroshenko Says Forces At Donetsk Airport Are Defending All Of Ukraine

UNIAN reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said that he believes the defense of Donetsk Airport is critical to holding back Russian-backed forces from gaining more territory.

While the president has announced a ceasefire or “day of silence” due on December 9, he has now clearly indicated that the surrender of the airport is not open to discussion.

The press office of the president quoted Poroshenko, while meeting in Kiev with some of the troops who have been defending the airport, as saying (translated by The Interpreter):

I am certain that we are defending the whole of Ukraine there. If we surrender Donetsk then the enemy will be in Boryspil, or Hostomel or in Lviv.”

At the same meeting, Viktor Muzhenko, the Chief of the General Staff, said that:

“Donetsk Airport is indeed a symbol of courage and fighting spirit, of high moral character and a confirmation of the combat capability of our soldiers.”

All of this does not bode well for the December 9 ceasefire deadline. Yesterday, a key commander of the Russian-backed fighters, Alexander Khodakovsky, said that the surrender of the Donetsk airport is now a key demand of the separatists. “For all combat operations to end, the garrison there should abandon the positions that they hold,” he said.

— Pierre Vaux

Video — Four Months Of War In Eastern Ukraine In One Minute
A Youtube video has been made that has taken each day’s battle map, provided by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, and condensed them into a single 1:22 long video showing, in essence, a timelapse of the entire conflict since August.

Some analysis: for a while our team analyzed these maps and found them to be significantly optimistic. Some areas that Ukraine said they controlled were clearly in dispute, and some areas Ukraine said were in dispute were clearly in control of the Russian-backed rebels. Thus, sometime after the ceasefire was signed in the final day of August the map shows significant gains by the Russian-backed rebels. At least some of that gain, however, is the result of a more accurate map. 

Why is this the case? At the end of August the Ukrainian military seemed to be torn between a desire to look strong while avoiding panic and a need to let the world know that it was being invaded by Russian forces.  As time went on it became clear that the ceasefire was clearly not working, but it also became clear that Ukrainian lines were holding for the most part. Perhaps this is the reason the maps became more accurate, but this is just an educated guess.

Still, the fact remains that since august the separatist fighters, backed by Russian troops, artillery, tanks, and other equipment, have expanded and solidified their control.

Note, though, that so far neither Donetsk airport nor the Ukrainian military position at Debal’tseve, between Donetsk and Lugansk, have fallen to the Russian-backed fighters.

And here is today’s battle map:

James Miller
Six Ukrainian Soldiers Killed Over Past 24 Hours, Russian Convoys Continue To Cross Border

The Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) has announced that six Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and thirteen wounded over the last 24 hours, which has seen intense fighting around Donetsk Airport:

Meanwhile Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the NSDC, has told reporters at a briefing in Kiev today that three columns of Russian military vehicles have entered Ukraine over the same time period.

UNIAN reports:

In particular, on Thursday at 0800, a Russian column of up to 150 trucks was spotted heading through Dubrovka in the direction of Dmitrovka, and at 1210 a second column of 10 fuel tankers and six armored fighting vehicles was seen.

During the night a column of 40 trucks (33 of which were tankers) was observed moving through the settlement of Izvarino in the direction of Luhansk, ” Lysenko said.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian State Weapons Company Signs Deals With France’s Thales And Pakistani MOD

Over the past two days, Ukraine’s state-owned defence industry group, Ukroboronprom, has signed deals with both France’s Thales and the Pakistani Ministry of Defence.

The deal with Pakistan was announced yesterday on the Ukroboronprom website

IHS Jane’s Defence Industry reported:

Ukraine’s state-owned defence industrial group Ukroboronprom has announced the signing of an agreement with Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) to expand military-technical collaboration.

Ukroboronprom said the accord was signed in Karachi at the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) 2014, which ended 4 December, and covers defence industrial co-operation, as well as potential “new contracts”.

Roman Romanov, Ukroboronprom’s director general, added that the MoD has agreed to “place orders in virtually all branches of Ukrainian military and technical production”.

Ukroboronprom did not elaborate on intended areas of collaboration, although the agreement follows an announcement by the group at the Eurosatory 2014 defence exhibition in June, in which it said it is looking to expand military industrial ties with Pakistan.

Meanwhile today, the company announced that a deal had been reached with Thales, under which the French company would “supply modern high-tech military equipment” to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The statement did not specify what equipment Thales would supply, but simply stated that (translated by UNIAN):

“[t]he companies that are parts of the Thales Group specialize in manufacturing a full range of military products, including communication systems, electronic warfare equipment, radar systems and much more.” 

— Pierre Vaux

Power Block Restarted At Zaporozhye Nuclear Plant

Intefax-Ukraine reports that technicians at a nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye (Zaporizhia in Ukrainian) have restarted a power block that was shut down on November 28 due to a fault.

The process began at 4:27 (2:27 GMT) this morning and the unit should be reconnected to the power grid by 23:00 (21:00 GMT).

Intefax-Ukraine reports on the explanation for the fault given by the administrators of the plant:

The automatic protection system disconnected the third reactor unit of the Zaporizhia NPP at 19:24 Kyiv time on November 28 due to damage caused to the coil connecting the house load transformer and unit transformer breakers. The automatic protection system responded in strict compliance with the protocol.

“The cold shutdown of the reactor proceeded normally, without radiological consequences,” the NPP administration emphasized.

— Pierre Vaux

Two Civilians Killed As Shelling Continues Incessantly In Donetsk

Regular, heavy shelling is clearly audible right now on the Ruptly live feed from northern Donetsk. According to Donetsk news site, two civilians have been killed as three districts of the city have been subjected to a fierce artillery bombardment.

The areas referred to are the Kievsky, Kuybyshevsky and Leninsky districts.

According to the site, Donetsk residents are describing heavy fighting and shelling on social media. Salvoes of artillery and gunfire have been heard across the city.

The Interpreter translates:

“Artillery is operating from Durnaya Balka.”

“But it fell near Azotniy. Are they firing from Gornyak with vasileks?

“Leninsky [district] – the windows are shuddering, a series of powerful thuds.”

“[Shells] fell somewhere by Freedom Square.”

A husband and wife were reportedly killed when a shell landed in a street in the Kuybyshevsky district.

Earlier, video was uploaded showing shells falling to the east of the Kuybyshevsky district:

— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainian Forces Reportedly Suffer Heavy Losses After Assault

There are reports that Ukrainian forces suffered heavy losses and were forced to temporarily withdraw from the old terminal at Donetsk airport following heavy shelling last night.

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpeter):

Militants heavily shelled Peski and the old terminal at Donetsk Airport last night.

A source in Peski told Hromadske TV that, at around midnight, Ukrainian troops had been forced to withdraw from the old terminal after it was severely damaged.

According to the source, the defenders of the airport had suffered fatalities and many wounded. The exact number is unknown. The body of one soldier killed had been left at the old terminal.

The press secretary of the ATO headquarters, Aleksei Dmitrashkovsky, told Ukrainska Pravda that, according to information received as of 6 am, some of the defenders of the airport had returned to it.

“With regards to fatalities, information will be disclosed by the press secretary of the NSDC [National Security and Defence Council]. With regards to the airport, other than that the bravest fighters returned there in the morning, there is no other news,” he said.

“There were also reports that settlements close to Donetsk Airport were heavily shelled last night. There have been no reports on the airport itself; the ATO headquarters has no information,” said the spokesman for the ATO headquarters.

He specified that Opytnoye, Peski and Tonenkoye had been shelled: “The ATO forces’ positions were shelled, there are reports of losses – this information will be disclosed by the press secretary of the NSDC.”

The Ukrainian minister of defence, Stepan Poltorak told the Ukrinform news agency that the Ukrainian military will not withdraw from the airport, adding (translated by The Interpreter):
“In my opinion, we do not have the right to give up even a metre of land.”

Heavy, regular shelling and sporadic machine gun fire can be heard right now on the Ruptly live stream from a camera overlooking the airport

— Pierre Vaux