Ukraine Live Day 330: 17 Civilians Reportedly Killed As Donetsk Explodes

January 13, 2015
A view of the control tower under fire last year. Photo:

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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For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

OSCE Chair Condemns Shelling of Bus in Volnovakha

Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, the new chair-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), condemned the shelling of the bus yesterday, January 14 in Volnovakha, Ukraine in which 12 civilians were killed and 16 were wounded:

“I condemn in the strongest terms this attack on innocent passengers.
I am appalled by this incident and its tragic outcome, and express my
deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.”

“This incident comes as the situation in the east of the country has
significantly deteriorated and I call on all sides to immediately halt
the use of force, exercise restraint, return to negotiating table and
implementing both the letter and the spirit of the Minsk documents.”

“I am following the situation closely through reports from the OSCE
Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, and I urge all sides to allow for
the safe and unhindered access of OSCE monitors to all areas so that
they can do their job.

Yesterday, Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, OSCE’s chief monitor in Ukraine called upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint in eastern Ukraine in a press statement:.

Over the past 24 hours the situation has significantly deteriorated,
especially near the Donetsk airport; more civilian casualties have been
reported elsewhere.

The OSCE’s Short-Term Monitoring Mission has not yet released the report for yesterday; it’s last report was for January 12.

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‘Alternative’ Theories Have Been Debunked
So far the pro-Kremlin troll brigade has theorized that a Ukrainian Grad rocket strike caused the explosion that has now killed 12 in Volnovakha. That has been debunked below. Some have theorized that gunshots killed the people inside the bus. This makes less sense since evidence of an explosion is everywhere. Now there is a theory that the Ukrainian military put a Claymore land mind on a nearby tree. That theory has been debunked as well:

The bottom line, as we wrote earlier, is that Russian-backed separatists took credit for the attack against the Volnovakha checkpoint, and then recanted when they discovered that so many civilians had been killed by the blast. Now they are all seeking to blame the Ukrainian military for bombing a Ukrainian military checkpoint.

Without significant evidence to the contrary, we see no reason to amend our previous entry.

James Miller

Evidence Strongly Implicates Russian-Backed Separatists In Bus Shelling That Killed 11 Civilians

Earlier we linked to a video [here – WARNING – GRAPHIC]  showing the remains of the bus hit by a shell in Volnovakha, with the bodies still inside. We also posted a screen capture of the impact crater. It is very obvious, looking at the crater, which direction the shell came from (here is a link to the 1:34 mark in the video which shows the impact crater). The videographer says ,”This is the epicenter of the explosion. It literally exploded 7 meters from the bus.”


The Interpreter asked Dajey Petros of Ukraine at War to look at the video for us. He agrees with our assessment that this shell, which landed near the bus here (map), clearly came from the northeast — territory controlled by the Russian-backed separatists:


Zooming out, we see that this shell likely came from somewhere south of Donetsk:


This matches a theory put forth by

As Christopher Miller points out, the Russian-backed rebels have their own accusation, that the Ukrainian military fired long-range and not-particularly accurate Grad rockets at their own checkpoint:

Evidence we’ve posted above suggests that the Russian-backed militants, not the Ukrainian military, fired this shot.

James Miller

The Sound of Grad Rockets And The Tone Of Poroshenko Suggest The Ceasefire May Officially Be Over
The live video feed from a camera facing Donetsk airport is heating up. It sounds like two huge volleys of outgoing Grad rocket fire have been heard in just the last five minutes.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has addressed the nation to speak about the civilians killed in Volnovakha, a story we’ve been following all day. Christopher Miller reports:

Did Poroshenko just announce that the Ukrainian government is about to restart the Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) and launch a counter-offensive?

Poroshenko also took to Twitter, even sending tweets in English from his non-English account:

We will continue to watch and see if any clarifying statements are issued by the Ukrainian government tonight.

Meanwhile, the European Union may be taking steps to also designate the separatist governments  as terrorist organizations:

James Miller
Explosions Continue Deep Into The Night Near Donetsk Airport

We continue to watch the live video stream from a camera pointed toward Donetsk International Airport. Periodic explosions and machinegun fire can be heard in the distance as smoke continues to billow in the foreground.

As we’ve documented below, both incoming and outgoing Grad rocket fire has been witnessed tonight near the airport. This video reportedly shows outgoing Grad rockets fired by the Russian-backed militants toward the Ukrainian military.

As we also reported below, Russian backed separatists appear to have taken credit for a strike which killed 11 civilians (the death toll has increased since our last update), but then they recanted those claims when they realized that a bus filled with civilians was hit instead of a military target. Now, the Ukrainian media outlet is firing back, posting a fact-sheet that they say proves that the separatists fired the rockets.
James Miller
Did Separatists Boast Of Attack On Checkpoint That Killed 10 Civilians Before Trying To Blame Ukraine?

In the aftermath of the shelling earlier today, which sprayed a bus waiting at a Ukrainian checkpoint outside Volnovakha with shrapnel, killing 10 civilians, separatist militants accused Ukrainian forces of responsibility.

RT reported that Eduard Basurin, the deputy commander of the DNR militants, had told Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti that his forces had not fired.

Andrei Purgin, the “speaker of the People’s Soviet of the Donetsk People’s Republic” told the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) that separatist fighters could not have carried out the attack as their nearest artillery was in Telmanovo, north of Novoazovsk, and that Volnovakha was beyond their range. Instead, Purgin blamed the incident on trigger-happy Ukrainian soldiers.

However there is evidence that pro-separatist outlets initially claimed responsibility for the attack on the checkpoint, before news emerged of the civilian casualties.

The headline visible in the screen capture above no longer appears on the site but reads:

Militia: Donetsk shelled with Grads again, perishers [referring to Ukrainian armed forces] checkpoint outside Volnovakha nailed.

The other post screen-capped above comes from the VKontakte page of one Volodya Maksimov, who posts pro-separatist news stories.

His update, made at 14:14 GMT, is still visible here.

It reads:

Operational [report]. 13.01.2015, 16:53 [13:53 GMT]. Volnovakha

Report received: Ukrainian checkpoint on the road out of Volnovakha to Donetsk has been destroyed. 

The text appears to have been copied from another VKontakte page, ‘Novorossiya First operational,’ a screenshot of which was taken by Ukrainska Pravda. This page no longer displays that post.

Translation: So in reality?

The Ukrainian military has, in turn, labelled the attack “a provocation.”

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

The shelling of a passenger bus at an Ukrainian roadblock near Volnovakha, Donetsk region, by militants which killed ten people, was a provocation, representative of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and head of the main command center of the Ukrainian army Bohdan Bondar has said.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday during an evening plenary sitting, he said that the attack was launched from the center of the town of Dokuchayevsk. According to Bondar, they had already established that reporters of local and Russian TV channels were staying in Dokuchayevsk to film how the Ukrainian military will open fire in return to this provocation.

“The strike was carried out by BM-21 (Grad) multiple rocket launchers on the bus carrying civilians. The terrorists have carried out the strike from the center of Dokuchayevsk, killing ten civilians and wounding around 13. When this happened, there were reporters of local and Russian TV channels in Dokuchayevsk… who came there to film how our troops will open a return fire at the center of the city,” he said.

“But given that it was a provocation, we are currently taking other steps to stabilize the situation,” Bondar said.

Thanks to Blue Dragon for supplying one of these tweets

— Pierre Vaux

NATO Powers Warn About Increased Fighting, And Russian Aggression, In Ukraine

NATO’s top general, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied commander for Europe, has expressed concern about increased Russian activity and an “uptick” in fighting in Ukraine, and NATO is considering increasing its activities in response.

Financial Times reports:

There has been an uptick, a fairly important uptick in the fighting across the last couple of days. Yes, there was a lull through both holiday periods. But what there was not a lull in is the continued resupply, continued training, and continued organisation of forces east of the line of contact

These activities continue to provide a concern, and something that [Nato] needs to think about.

There is an optimistic view and a realistic view [on the months ahead]. The optimistic view is that there seems to be now a call for dialogue, and dialogue will speed resolution of the conflict. And I think it would be important for all parties in the dialogue to come to the table.

The pessimistic piece comes back to what I have mentioned. There is continued capacity and increasing capacity in the east [of the front line]. And this will not be constructive in future dialogue.

The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, has repeatedly expressed concern today about the increased violence and the reported civilian casualties, as has Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former Minister of Foreign Affaris:

Meanwhile, Russia has spent today rattling sabers, announcing plans to increase its military presence in Russian-occupied Crimea, in Kaliningrad which is Russia’s westernmost territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, and in the Arctic. RFE/RL reports:

General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, said on January 13 that in 2015 “the Defense Ministry will focus its efforts on increasing the combat capabilities of its units and increasing combat strength in accordance with the military development plans.

“Special attention will be given to the groups in Crimea, the Kaliningrad region and the Arctic,” Gerasimov said.

All three regions are the focus of tension or potential rivalry with the United States and NATO .

Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, underlines the need to protect Russia’s interests in the Arctic.

Like the previous doctrine, it identifies NATO expansion as a threat to Russian security.

James Miller

Outgoing Rockets Indicate Russian-Backed Fighters Still Attacking Ukrainian Military In Donetsk

Just about ten minutes ago a volley of rockets was launched from an area not far from the Ruptly live feed (in separatist territory) and landing somewhere near the western edge of the Donetsk International Airport.



This could indicate that, despite reports from Ruptly and RT, the Ukrainian military still controls part of the airport, or an area just west of it.

A fire is also burning much closer to the cameras, near the spots of where what we believe we Grad rockets hit earlier (see updates below). This picture is about ten minutes old.


And this is just moments old. The fire seems the be growing.


Large explosions can currently be heard in the distance, but it is not clear what is exploding or where.

 — James Miller

Reports Of Shelling On Southern Front

Mariupol news site reports that the Ukrainian volunteer-based Azov regiment has announced that Russian-backed forces have shelled the settlements of Chermalyk, Gnutovo and Nikolaevka, in the south of the Dontesk region, to the north-east of Mariupol. 

There is no data yet on casualties. The attacks were reportedly conducted with Grad rockets and 120 mm mortars.

There were also reports of attacks on Granitnoye:

Translation: Terrorists have begun shelling Granitnoye with Grads, there is also terrorist self-propelled artillery in action

One pro-separatist website claimed that Russian-backed forces had in fact captured Granitnoye., which carries the banner “Save the citizens of the Donbass from the president,” claimed this morning that separatist fighters had pushed the Ukrainian army out of the village during an intense battle during the night.

The site also claimed that the Ukrainian military was shelling the separatist-held settlements of Dokuchaevsk, Starobeshevo and Novotroitskoye with Uragan MLRS and 2S7 Pion self-propelled guns.

The claim by, while disseminated on Twitter, has not been carried by leading other separatist sites such as and

A report from the “ministry of defence of the DNR” was carried today by a number of sites, in which it was claimed that the settlement of Novaya Maryevka had been shelled yesterday afternoon by Ukrainian forces in Granitnoye.


— Pierre Vaux

At Least 10 Civilians Killed By Shelling While On A Bus Near Volnovakha

A very graphic video [WARNING] has emerged which has confirmed two pictures we posted earlier which showed a bus hit by shrapnel, an incident which has reportedly killed at least 10 passengers. The video is too bloody to post since it shows the bodies still inside the bus, but here is a screenshot of the outside of the vehicle which matches our earlier update.


Nearby, the cameraman also confirms our earlier hypothesis that the shell landed nearby and did not directly hit the bus, thus also demonstrating the destructive power of the shells which have been raining down on parts of the greater-Donetsk area for days (and the eastern part of the country, generally, for many months).


As we also reported earlier, 6 other civilians have reportedly been killed in the nearby village of Burgas. Between the two incidents, dozens of civilians are reportedly injured. And with the fighting remaining intense across areas of Donetsk, the death toll could easily rise.

Right now large explosions can be heard on the live video feed facing  Donetsk airport as fighting has been raging for hours.

— James Miller

Increased Shelling In Donetsk Destroying Civilian Infrastructure
Homes have been destroyed, power cut, roads bombed out, and civilians
have been killed in the fight for Donetsk. In recent days, as shelling
has increased significantly, the damage to civilian infrastructure has
also increased. Yesterday gas lines in Donetsk were severed, creating a
dangerous fire and cutting natural gas supplies for many civilians.

Now, electricity lines have reportedly been cut  to transmission lines which supply power to the water filtering system in Donetsk, according to the Kyiv Post.

James Miller

Map Of Explosions Indicates Ukraine May Be Struggling To Hold Donetsk Airport

Yesterday, in our coverage of the attack on Donetsk airport, we posted a tweet from @Conflict_Report with a map of what the camera at Donetsk airport actually shows. Using that (which matches previous analysis we’ve done) we can determine where the heaviest fighting is at the airport.


Generally speaking, most of the fighting in recent days is within the blue square, near the terminals, and off-camera to the west, near Peski. There appears to be periodic heavy machinegun fire coming from the red star, just southeast of the airport terminals — likely from positions held by the Russian-backed separatists.

Now, dramatic video has surfaced showing the explosions we posted moments ago.

We can see that the explosions are in the foreground, much closer
than we’re used to seeing. These are likely Grad rocket explosions, and
are clearly hitting territory controlled by the Russian-backed

Other observers agree:

Translation: Bright flashes after 17:00 were near the railway station

Earlier we also posted a tweet from the Russian state propaganda network RT suggesting that the separatists had overrun the airport. The intensity of this Grad rocket attack suggests that Ukraine may, at the very least, be desperately trying to hold off the attack by the Russian-backed militants by using this kind of close artillery support.

James Miller

Huge Blasts And Fire Visible At Donetsk Airport

There has just been a series of huge blasts near Donetsk Airport:







Immediately prior to these flashes, a fire was visible on the horizon at the airport:


— Pierre Vaux

With Ultimatum Expired At 15:00 GMT, Heavy Shelling Audible In Donetsk

The ultimatum given to Ukrainian soldiers defending Donetsk Airport to leave by 17:00 (15:00 GMT) or be destroyed has just expired.

Heavy shelling is audible right now on the Ruptly live feed from a camera overlooking the airport.

Ruptly, which is a video news service from Russia’s state-owned propaganda channel RT, claimed around half an hour ago that the airport had fallen to separatist forces:

The intense bombardment audible at the moment suggests however that the battle is still raging.

— Pierre Vaux

16 Civilians Reportedly Killed By Shelling Near Volnovakha

16 civilians have reportedly been killed in two shelling attacks outside Volnovakha, to the south of Donetsk, near a strategically important highway linking Donetsk and Mariupol. 

Novosti Donbassa reports that a marshrutka or fixed-route minibus, was struck by shells at around 14:30 (12:30 GMT), killing 10 of the civilian passengers.

The Donetsk Regional State Administration (OGA) reported that the bus was at a Ukrainian military checkpoint outside Volnovakha when it was struck by shells, fired, the OGA claimed, by Russian-backed fighters near Dokuchaevsk.

According to initial reports, 13 civilians were also wounded in the attack.

The wounded have been taken to the central district hospital in Volnovakha.

Censor.NET published photos from the scene. The damage to bus suggests that it was riddled with shrapnel from a shell rather than suffering a direct strike.



Please note that in our original post we included three images from the Censor.NET article above. One of them, however, has since been revealed as a recycled image from August. The other two clearly show snow, indicating they were taken recently, and produce no returns when entered into Google Image Search.

Meanwhile, the ATO Press Centre announced that six civilians had been killed and another 20 wounded at around the same time in the nearby village of Burgas.

According to the announcement, at around 14:30 (12:30 GMT) Russian-backed fighters fired Grad rockets from the direction of Starobeshevo and Stila, to the north-east. The Ukrainian military said that this was evidence of the direct targeting of civilians.


— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Peace Talks Canceled: ‘Differences In Opinion Made Clear How Difficult It Is To Make Progress’

Over the weekend German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that there would be no peace talks between Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, scheduled to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan, later this week. Plans for the foreign ministers of these countries to meet in Berlin yesterday did go through, but these talks have also now been canceled due to lack of common ground and escalating fighting.

Reuters reports:

“The differences in opinion made it clear how difficult it is to make progress towards a political solution or a summit in Astana, from which much is expected and which must be prepared,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said all had agreed only a strict ceasefire could pave the way for the leaders to meet in Astana.

How’s the ceasefire going? A literally-constant rumble of gunfire and explosions can be heard on the live video feed from a camera facing Donetsk International Airport, the focal point of a new offensive by Russian-backed fighters, launched in the last few days.

James Miller

Donetsk Airport: Before And After
Defenders Of Donetsk Airport Given Ultimatum To Leave Terminal By 15:00 GMT Or Be Destroyed.

Ukraine’s LIGA Novosti reports that they have received news from one of the defenders of Donetsk Airport (popularly known as cyborgs) that Russian-backed forces besieging the site have issued an ultimatum: leave the airports new terminal by 17:00 (15:00 GMT), or be destroyed.

The Interpreter translates:

“They’re smashing us from both sides with tanks 400 metres away and artillery. We have no support from our artillery. The militants have given us until 17:00 to leave the new terminal. If we don’t, the terrorists will simply destroy us here. The terminal is completely shot-through. But we’re not going anywhere. We have no intention of retreating. They’ve been killing us for three days with heavy weapons. There’s nothing left here anymore. We are waiting for support,” said one of the fighters.

Commenting on this report, Roman Turovets, a spokesman for the ATO headquarters, told InfoResist:

“Our position is simple – we have no intention of retreating from there. The airport has long been more than a strategic object. It is a symbol and we simply will not leave it, regardless of the ultimatum.”

He added that there was no question of a tank shoot-out, “according to our information, today at 8 am, there was only one terrorist tank at work.”

The headquarters assured that fire support was being provided.

Meanwhile, fighters told Liga BusinessInform that all the “support” they had received at 13:00 [11:00 GMT] was manifested as additional manpower (less ten people). There was no artillery support.

“In the morning two tanks were pounding us. 27 shots. In response, four mortar shells were thrown at them, and all of them missed,” said the soldiers.

The soldiers reported that the tower, from which they had monitored the militants and corrected fire, had collapsed under Russian artillery fire. “There are wounded and shell-shocked. No dead, thank God,” noted the cyborgs.

— Pierre Vaux

Ruins Of Donetsk Airport Control Tower
Donetsk Airport Control Tower Collapses

The BBC Ukrainian Service reports that Leonid Matyukhin, a Ukrainian military spokesman, has confirmed to them that the control tower at Donetsk Airport has collapsed due to damage from heavy shelling.

Translation: VK [from VKontakte] “Can’t see any fires in Oktyabr or Severny. The tower is no more. Smoke near the new terminal” 10:20 13/01/15

Donetsk news site reported, citing the Donetsk City Administration (now headed by separatist-backed ‘mayor’ Yuri Martynov), that two civilians had been killed and three wounded by shelling over the night. also relayed reports of artillery fire in the Kievsky district of the separatist-held city:

All of Mayak has been shaking since the morning. Uninterrupted booming and shooting. You can’t breath from the smell of gunpowder. It reeks terribly.

Shelling was also reported over night in the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka, to the north-east of Donetsk Airport:

Translation: Avdeyevka, Pobeda street. Aftermath of last night’s shelling. also relayed reports of outbound artillery fire today in the Kievsky district of the separatist-held city:

All of Mayak has been shaking since the morning. Uninterrupted booming and shooting. You can’t breath from the smell of gunpowder. It reeks terribly.

— Pierre Vaux