Ukraine Live Day 329: Fighting Continues To Intensify Ahead Of Talks In Berlin Today

January 12, 2015
Flames and smoke in northern Donetsk this afternoon. Photo: @666_mancer

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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Does New Video Show The Russian Military Taking Control Of Krasnodon?

A new video has surfaced which may show Russian soldiers and military vehicles moving into Krasnodon in the Lugansk region, where several embattled separatist commanders have been attacked, or even assassinated, by other separatist units in recent weeks.

Weeks ago, a prosecutor for the self-declared ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ (LNR) admitted that an arrest warrant had been issued for a separatist commander, Aleksandr Bednov, known as “Batman,” for operating a torture chamber, and that afterwards he and many of his men were killed in an ambush. Some have speculated that “Batman” and his men had grown too independent, and required more careful “managing” by the Russian military, others, including notorious Batman member Alexei Milchakov, claimed that the Bednov had been killed for having interfered with the activities of drug runners connected to the LNR leadership.

On January 10, the separatist ‘Odessa’ militant unit announced on their VKontakte page that their base in Krasnodon had been surrounded by what they described as private military contractors. They noted that readers ought not to confuse these PMCs with the “polite people,” a popular term for unmarked Russian soldiers as seen in Crimea.

Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala claimed, however, that the forces surrounding the Odessa unit were in fact Russian spetsnaz troops, “allegedly,” he wrote, “Vympel, supported by heavy equipment.”

The unit surrendered without a fight and was disarmed. There there were no reported casualties. 

Crimean blogger Colonel Cassad reported that the ‘Lugansk Guard’ group had announced that Odessa fighters would be integrated into the “army of the LNR,” but that the unit had ceased to exist and the fate of the commander was now unknown.

There have been several claimed reasons for the units defenestration, with allegations from Odessa themselves that Oleg Bugrov, the “commander of the LNR People’s Militia,” was betraying separatist fighters.

Another separatist militant quoted by Colonel Cassad, ‘Sych’ (owl), claimed that the media had exaggerated the situation, denying the presence of spetsnaz or PMCs, claiming that rather than a wave or repressions being under way, the LNR leadership is disarming looters.

A source of Cassad’s in Krasnodon claimed that one of the main causes of the conflict has been miscommunication about humanitarian aid and its ferrying down the line from the border town.

The Ukrainian Sirgis Inform website reported that one member of Odessa, known as Varyag, had said, in a video uploaded to YouTube but now rendered “private,” that his unit had been attacked for disrupting smugglers’ activities on the border.

Video footage, geolocated near the Odessa base in Krasnodon, may in fact show the forces that surrounded the unit.

The first thing we noticed was that Russian BPM-97 armoured vehicles are seen in this footage. These weapons, discussed at length here, are exclusively used by the Russian border guard (the Ukrainian government does not possess these vehicles) and are so new to this fight that a report which is only months old from Armament Research Services (ARES) does not include them on the list of weapons used in this war. The presence of these vehicles suggests either direct Russian intervention in this case or the use of BPM-97s, recently supplied from Russia, by LNR forces. We also know (and ARES confirms) that T-72s, also visible in this video, are not used by Ukrainian forces. To our knowledge, the GAZ Vodnik is also not used by Ukrainian forces and we’re not aware of it being used in this conflict before now. Krasnodon has, of course, regularly seen the arrival of fresh armour and troops from Russia.

The combination of these weapons, all of which had to have been supplied by the Russian military, and the size of this convoy is suspicious and cause for alarm. 

The following is an assessment of this new video by blogger Dajey Petros of Ukraine At War, authorized by The Interpreter: The original video was removed by the user, but Petros uploaded a copy before it was erased.

Petros also notes that this may be proof that the Russians are taking direct control of the situation in Krasnadon. However, as we can see, the narrative is not so clear, and the line between the Russian military and at least some of the groups which they support is blurred, at best.

 — James Miller and Pierre Vaux

A video appeared of a secretly filmed convoy with the newest Russian armor, reported to be in Krasnodon.

Screenshots of the video show GAZ Vodnik, BPM-97, T-72B1, about 30 vehicles in total with lots of infantry.





These GAZ-3937 have been spotted in Ukraine several other times already.

The video is reported to be in Krasnodon, but unfortunately there is no Google streetview available in Krasnodon. Nevertheless we can still safely conclude it was there:

There are only a few cities in East-Ukraine with trolleybus lines (Donetsk, Alchevsk, Lugansk and Krasnodon).

  1. Also, this blog already geolocated another video with BPM-97 in Krasnodon. This video may be related to that event, and it also shows that the streets are either similar or the same.
  2. All elements in the video indicated in the pictures below can indeed be found in Krasnodon:


This Panoramio photo shows that Krasnodon indeed has similar trolleybus line, lanterns and the white paint on the bottom of the poles, matching the picture above:


This Panoramio photo shows that there are also big billboards and some perpendicular poles for the trolleybus lines:


Matching this screenshot from the video:


Now we can try to find a billboard at the side of the road and see if we can match everything with a screenshot.

This location gives a perfect match:


On the map that looks like this:


They are driving towards the base of the ‘Odessa’ unit.

— Dajey Petros 

Shelling Targeting Donetsk Airport Increasing Right Now
We’re watching the live video feed pointed towards the Donetsk International Airport, which has been under intense attack all day (see previous updates below), In the last half hour or so, the shelling targeting the airport has intensified significantly.

Following a particularly-large volley of outgoing rockets which appear to have hit the airport or areas nearby, a series of incendiary flares have also been fired toward the Ukrainian military position, perhaps illuminating the base for another ground offensive.



RFE/RL has this video, posted earlier today — a behind-the-scenes tour of both parts of the airport controlled by the Ukrainian military, and areas of the old terminal controlled by the Russian-backed separatists. If you look carefully, you can see that some of the terminal controlled by the insurgents looks like video we posted earlier showing the fighting.

James Miller
Identifying Russian Tanks In Ukraine

The Interpreter has been establishing the presence of Russian equipment in Ukraine for some time. One excellent resource on this topic, however, is a report by Armament Research Services (ARES) which released a 100-page report (discussed here) detailing weapons used by the Ukrainian military and the Russian-backed separatists. Some of the weapons used by the separatists ARES has called “red flags” since either Ukraine has not deployed the weapons to the front lines, or because Ukraine has never had possession of the weapons in the first place — meaning they almost certainly came from Russian military stockpiles. 

Another helpful guide, however, is this document just made by the Ukraine At War blog, which helps identify the difference between tanks used by the Ukrainian military as well as the separatist, and vehicles that Ukraine does not use but which have shown up on the front lines anyway.

James Miller
Ukrainian POW Facing Murder Charges In Russia Will Not End Hunger Strike After 30+ Days

Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian airforce pilot who was kidnapped by Russian-backed separatists, dragged across the border into Russia, and is now facing murder charges in the deaths of two journalists whom she almost certainly never encountered, has released a letter stating that despite the insistence of many people in Ukraine, she will not end her hunger strike because it is the only weapon she has against this injustice:

Yulya Tymoshenko wrote me a letter in which she asks me to suspend my hunger strike and preserve my strength since “the enemy needs us to be weak”.  These are very wise words. Thank you, Yulya Volodymyrovna.

But I want to reassure you that I have never been weak and never will be! They cannot break my spirit, and I’m not going to get into battle with the prison guards!  The main thing is to hold out in spirit, and my physical strength will recover. .. And if God has need for something else, then so be it … the loss of one fighter is a very great loss, but it is in no way a lost war!  Ukraine will win!”

Well, a person who was born free and not a slave in captivity, cannot live in prison. Especially if he or she is innocent.

Through my protest – my hunger – I wish to achieve common sense from the Russian authorities and an awakening of conscience from the Russian Investigative Committee. There is irrefutable evidence of my lack of involvement and innocence of the crimes they accuse me of.  What else do they need?

I have taken the decision to go on hunger strike myself and nobody pushed me into it. I have given my word that “Until the day I return to Ukraine, or until the last day of my life in Russia!” and I will not back down, otherwise what value would my words have?!

Read the entire letter here

On January 9 we reported that Savchenko was on the 28th day of her hunger strike and had reportedly lost 10 kg [22 pounds], but insisted that any forced-feeding would be considered torture. 

James Miller

Hungary To Restore Flow of Gas To Ukraine

After unexpectedly stopping reverse natural gas flow to Ukraine three months ago, Hungary is now set to restart reverse flows. The Hungarian news agency reports:

Hungarian gas transmission company FGSZ Ltd. interrupted reverse gas transmission to Ukraine through the separate pipeline from Testvériség (Brotherhood) pipeline on 25 September 2014 for an indefinite period, saying it needed its pipeline capacities for raised gas imports as storage facilities were being filled up for the winter. 

Previously it was delivering 3-4 mcm of natural gas per day to Ukraine, instead of the maximum capacity of 16.8 mcm. Then FGSZ said that up to 6,1 billion cubic metres of gas per year – 16.8 mcm per day – ha been delivered to Ukraine since March 2013. The company added, though that the capacity is not guaranteed, as it is “dependent on prevailing technical and commercial conditions.” 

Naftogaz Ukraine linked the suspension with a visit to Budapest of Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, and “gas talks” between Ukraine and Russia with the participation of the EU. 

James Miller

Even Babushkas Are Ready To Defend Ukraine
Fighting Continues In Donetsk

Video footage uploaded yesterday purportedly shows members of the separatist Sparta battalion, which is headed by Arsen Pavlov or ‘Motorola,’ engaged in fighting at Donetsk Airport this month:

The ruins of the new terminal, occupied by Ukrainian soldiers, are visible at the end of the video, suggesting this is filmed inside the old terminal building, which has been captured by Russian-backed fighters:


While we cannot verify the date of this footage we have no reason to doubt its veracity, given the dramatic escalation in fighting in the area in recent days. Several of the fighters have flak jackets bearing the legend: “Donetsk Airport.”

The troops are seen firing machine guns, assault rifles and RPO-A Shmel thermobaric rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades (to a call of “Allahu Akbar”) out of their ruined building.

What we think may be some sort of anti-materiel rifle is also seen in use:


Meanwhile EuroMaidan PR has published video which purportedly shows the rotation of Ukrainian troops at the airport. However the title (Rotation Of UA Cyborgs From Donetsk Airport Under Control Of DNR And RU Militants, Jan 12 2015) may also suggest withdrawal from areas of the site.

Regular shelling is still audible on the Ruptly live feed from Donetsk, with large flashes visible:


Shells were also reported striking residential areas of north-eastern Donetsk.

Translation: Donetsk. garage burning on the fields of School no. 58.

Translation: Car burnt outside multi-storey apartment block in Putilovka, Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux
Gas Line Explodes As Heavy Shelling Rocks Donetsk

A Ruptly live video feed facing Donetsk International Airport reveals that there is almost constant shelling today. The position has been controlled by the Ukrainian military for many months, and has been under siege that entire time. While it is regularly attacked, today and last night a significant escalation in fighting was reported as the Russian-backed militants, reportedly with the aid of Russian soldiers, launched a significant attack on the position. 

Meanwhile, there are reports that a gas line has been hit, causing a dangerous fire but also cutting the only supply of heat to many civilians who are struggling to survive in Ukraine’s cold winter. 

Journalist Harald Doornbos reports:
The Ukraine Crisis Media Center, which runs daily press briefings from the Ukrainian military, reports:
James Miller
Yanukovych And Azarov Placed On Interpol Wanted List

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

A special Interpol commission has decided to put Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych on the international wanted persons list, his son Oleksandr Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and other high-ranking officials, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.

“The following people have been put on the Internal international wanted persons list (red card – detention for extradition to Ukraine): Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, Oleksandr Viktorovych Yanukovych, Mykola Yanovych Azarov, Raisa Vasylyivna Bohatyriova, Y.V. [Yuriy Volodymyrovych] Kolobov (former finance minister of Ukraine), G.B. [Heorhiy Borysovych] Dzekon (former head of Ukrtelecom),” Avakov said on Facebook on Monday.

Screenshot of Interpol notice

However Maxim Tucker, writing for the Kyiv Post, notes that a number of other former Yanukovych government officials sought by Kiev are not on Interpol’s wanted list:

However, while former President Yanukovych appeared on Interpol’s website this morning, some of the other fugitives listed by Avakov did not appear alongside him, including Yanukovych’s son Olexander, former Health Minister Raisa Bagatyreva and former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

An Interpol spokeswoman declined to say whether a red notice had been issued for the former Prime Minister or the others, but told the Kyiv Post that there were only two reasons they would not be listed:

“When we issue a red notice it is either made public or restricted to law enforcement agencies,” she said. “Either there is no red notice for that person, or the country has requested that the red notice not be made public.“

Given Avakov’s facebook post and the intense pressure on the government to bring its former officials to justice, it seems incredibly unlikely that Ukraine has requested the names be restricted to law enforcement.

Notably, even the charges listed on Yanukovych’s Interpol red notice are limited to his alleged pilfering of state funds, although Ukraine’s new government has accused him of ordering security forces to fire live rounds at protesters, causing more than a hundred deaths in February 2014. The limited charges suggest Ukraine’s office has so far failed to build a convincing case against former regime officials for the slaughter.

— Pierre Vaux

Heavy Shelling Right Now In Donetsk

Constant shelling is clearly audible right now on the Ruptly live feed overlooking Donetsk Airport. Salvoes of Grad rockets and small arms fire are also audible.

Earlier this morning, artillery fire was close enough to the camera to visibly shake it:

Translation: Donetsk, Abakumova [area of south-western Donetsk],aftermath of shelling 12/01/15


Translation: Donetsk, at around 152 Sobinova Street. Gas pipeline burning? 15:09 12/01/15

The Ukrainian military ATO Press Centre announced at 7:11 GMT that Russian-backed forces had attacked Ukrainian positions 63 times over the last 24 hours.

UNIAN summarised the ATO Press Centre announcement in English:

According to the report, the worst situation is at Donetsk airport and villages close to it. Last night there was a clash between Russian-backed insurgents and Ukrainian defenders at the new airport terminal.

In addition, from the direction of Donetsk militants fired mortars at the meteorological tower of Donetsk airport and the village of Avdiivka. The villages of Tonenke, Pisky and Opytne were attacked with mortars, artillery and Grad multiple rocket launcher, and the village of Hranitne was attacked with antitank guided missiles.

In other areas, illegal armed groups fired mortars at the villages of Vuhlehirsk, Leninske and Hnutove, the neighborhoods of the village of Nikishyne was attacked by artillery, and the villages of Otradivka and Hnutove were attacked twice with Grad multiple rocket launchers.

“Our soldiers control the situation and strike blows in response if necessary, suppressing the most active terrorist firing points. The enemy is suffering losses,” the report reads.

The BBC Russian Service reports meanwhile that representatives of the separatist ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ have, in turn, accused the Ukrainian military of violating the ceasefire with artillery fire on 82 occasions over the same period, causing civilian casualties. 

UNIAN also reports that the office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced that Russian-backed forces have shelled the area around the Luganskaya power station in Schastye, seriously wounding a 38-year-old woman working on duty in a switch box directing coal trains to the plant.

According to the report, mortars were fired at Schastye from Vesyolaya Gora at around 2 am (00:00 GMT). Five others suffered shrapnel wounds and have been taken to hospital.

The plant itself was not reportedly damaged and power has not been disrupted.

Novosti Donbassa reports that one civilian was killed by shelling in the separatist-held Grigorevka district, between Donetsk and Makeyevka. Several civilians were also reportedly severely wounded and several a number of homes destroyed. 


— Pierre Vaux