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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian Interior Minister, reported on his Facebook page this evening that an arrest had been made of a suspect in the bombing of Kharkiv yesterday January 19 outside of a court house. Thirteen people were injured, some seriously.
The Interpreter has a translation:
I am spending not a pleasant evening in my native Kharkiv. Not everyone will agree that one of the leaders of the so-called Iskhod [Exodus] — a newly-appeared separatist organization — will spend the night in a jail cell along with his KhNR flags… But I think he’s in the right place…I really don’t want Kharkiv to turn into one of the emptied-out cities of the occupied “Russian people’s republic,” nor do the rest of the people of Kharkiv. So, Mr. Novikov, I won’t let you. We won’t let you.
Avakov is likely making a joke here out of the initials “DNR,” which stand for the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” and putting a “Kh,” which is the first letter of the Russian word “dick.”
The rest of his post apparently comes from an official notice.
Law-enforcers have liquidated a separatist cell today, January 20 in Kharkiv Region. As the result of a special operation carried out by police, an organization of pro-Russian activist ceased its existence. During a search of the group’s office, law-enforces removed anti-Ukrainian agitation literature.
The special operation was conducted by field agent divisions of the police and the regional office of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The activity of the so-called “Exodus” group has been ended. The civic movement “Exodus” loudly announced itself on the Internet a month ago. For the first days of its existence, its participants did not conceal their open intent to engage in subversive activity in the peaceful Kharkiv region.
He did not provide further information about the group, but pictures were attached of Novikov wearing the St. George ribbon common to Russian ultranationalists and Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine along with the “Novorossiya” flags seized during the search of his office.
A local news site Vecherniy Kharkiv [Evening Kharkov] reported tonight that searches had been underway in the city related to the terrorist attack, and that the first arrests had been made.
Kharkiv’s Governor Igor Baluta wrote on his Facebook page today just one line: “It’s all over with Iskhod.”
Parliamentarian and former Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko wrote on his Facebook page:
Separatist leader Oleg Novikov, whose underground pseudonym was ‘Joe
Silver’ has been detained. Searches were made of the office, and the
activity of an anti-Ukrainian organization was ended by a joint
operation of the Interior Ministry and the SBU.
The bombing of the court house took place after the trial of a member of a far-right party, Svoboda, who was arrested for carrying a weapon in a voting precinct. It is not know if the Svoboda case was a pretext for the bombing by the group, said to be related to the separatists, or whether it is related.
Translation: Kharkiv. Victims from the explosion yesterday: a 13 screw in the lung and a pierced jacket.
The group’s web site is still viewable here.
The site in the Russian language has a number of news stories about recent attacks in various cities, including the blowing up of a bridge and a train in Zaporozhskaya Region, hacks by the anti-Kiev group CyberBerkut and the explosion at the court house in Kharkiv.
A video explains the group’s purpose:
the groups is Social Christian Civic Movement and that it was registered
in November 2014 with the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. He said the name was inspired by Moses leading the
Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt, and makes an analogy to the Russian
people of Kharkiv who are under the yoke of oligarchs.
He believes that the land where they are located is part of the
“Russian World,” a concept of pan-Russianism espoused by President
Vladimir Putin. Novikov believes they are passing on the genes and
culture of Mother Russia. The group advocates social equality, better labor conditions, low-cost loans and social security.
Novikov speaks in quite, even tones espousing the typical views of
many people in the Donbass regarding the oligarchs, but then soon turns
to rambling about his notions of conspiracy — that “American and
Israeli masters” are instigating war and pulling the strings of events
in Ukraine. While inspired by Moses, the group’s site nevertheless has
antisemitic posters claiming that all the leaders of Ukraine have Jewish
One poster blasts “American democracy” which “comes at a high price” and “has no value,” as it is to blame for instability in Ukraine; such democracy has ostensibly deprived the former Soviet people of Ukraine of free speech and a good standard of living:
The leaders are like serpents destroying the authentic people:
A number of Soviet-style inspirational posters are also provided on
issues like labor, wages, and loans, making the point that life was better
under the Soviet system.
The propaganda stokes people’s fear of violence, which they claim
all emanates from Kiev. One poster refers to the more than 500 Lenin
statutes that have removed around Ukraine, and says “Today a crowd on the street decides to tear down a statue; tomorrow, your house.”
It is not clear from the videos or the articles or forum how the
group came to justify committing acts of violence themselves within their Orthodox socialist ideology which claims to seek justice and welcomes people of all faiths. It is also not known whether there are
more people in the movement besides Novikov (police have spoke of multiple arrests), and whether he is taking
responsibility for the explosions in Kharkiv and other cities.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
As we noted, however, the location had not been confirmed. We showed the video to Ukraine at War‘s Dajey Petros who says he believes that these vehicles are near Ryasnoye, in the Bryanskaya Region of Russia (map).
He notes that the convoy may have been dispatched from a very large base located in Golovinka (a massive Russian military base discussed in a previous investigation by The Interpreter, the yellow area highlighted in the southeast on this map) and the convoy is most likely going to Amvrosiivka, since it is the shortest route to Donetsk and surroundings.
To determine this location, Dajey Petros first identified several key features across multiple frames of the video:
The yellow markers are buildings, the green markers are trees or treelines. There are some road signs, which often are visible in Google Maps. This could match the location given in the map above, as we see from the picture, as found by @5urpher:
An enlarged picture of one of the buildings:
Still, this is inconclusive. However, further examining the pattern of trees provides a clue. The car is driving south, so the trees on the opposite side of the street are on the east side of the road. As we can see, the pattern of trees matches the Google map:
This is evidence that the vehicles in the video are indeed north of Ryasnoye, headed north toward the Ukrainian border.
Of course, whether they will cross the border and join the offensive against Ukraine is still unknown.
— James Miller
Now, a video head emerged which reportedly shows Russian-backed militants firing a mortar from a narrow residential alley in Gorlivka. The men are filmed from either a window or balcony of a residential home, and looks almost directly down at the fighters. Another house is also in very close proximity.
The people taking the video appear to be either residents who are supportive of the Russian-backed militants, or Russian-backed militants themselves, since they are making supportive comments about how the weapon is not working well, at one point saying “the visibility is poor.”
But if the Ukrainian military returned fire on these fighters, there is a good chance that perhaps several of the houses would receive damage.
It’s worth noting that we have not confirmed the location of this video, nor have we confirmed that these are Russian-backed fighters who are firing the mortar, but that is the narrative which has been attached to the video.
— James Miller
This video, dated today, shows some of the fighting at the airport. It appears to have been taken by Russian-backed militants. The militants appear to be mainly focusing their fire (and receiving returning fire) from the second floor.
It’s not exactly clear whether there are still Russian-backed fighters in the building. In the first few frames of the video, the separatists taking the video say “that’s coming from us,” regarding the firing, but then they say “from the first floor” and then say “the Ukrainians” but you can’t hear them over the roar of the artillery shots (perhaps a mortar, which appears to be operated by the Russian-backed fighters just out of frame to the left).
Our two thoughts on the video: it proves that the Russian-backed fighters do not control the airport and appear to have been pushed back much further than they were at this time last week. It also proves that despite Ukraine’s counter-attack, the Russian-backed fighters are still on the doorstop of Ukrainian military positions at the airport, meaning that the battle is far from over and the tide could easily turn once again.
— James Miller/ Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Earlier we carried a report that the Ukrainian military had lost control of checkpoint 31, on the Bakhmutka highway leading west of Lugansk. However, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian military ATO says the checkpoint is embattled but has not been overrun by Russian-backed forces:
Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a special news briefing in Kyiv, “Heavy fighting is continuing near the [Ukrainian army] checkpoints 29 and 31,” referring to a part of Luhansk region near the border with Russia.
“Ukrainian forces have stopped the advance of Russian troops…. The situation in the conflict zone is serious but under our control,” said Lysenko.
Whether that position has fallen remains unclear. What is clear is that there has been an intense attack on Ukrainian positions in this region. Ukraine also continues to say that Russia has sent troops and tanks across the border in the last few days, so the coincidence of those reports and reports of heavy fighting is fueling speculation of a significant mobilization of Russian and separatist forces.
In the video, one person says, “Tanks, BTRs, all the armor, rushing toward the khokhly border,” using a pejorative term for Ukrainians. Another person repeats that it is moving toward the Ukrainian border.
The video does not appear in Google image search but may not be new. There is little snow in the picture on the road, although the weather in Rostov today and in recent days has been reported as a light rain and fog consistent with the video.
It looks like many such videos taken on highways in Rostov, the
Russian region near the Ukrainian border, but the time and location
could not be verified.
If this were a convoy headed to Ukraine, it would be a good one for fighting, as it contains artillery, tanks, troop transports and recovery.
Translation: Kuybyshevsky District of Rostov Region today. Convoy of Russky armor.
Russian commenters on YouTube point out that no license plates are visible.
There have also been some reports of icy roads.
Translation: A total of 70 Rostov residents complained about ice around their homes.
— Pierre Vaux and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Earlier we saw reports that journalists had been fired on in Donetsk, but no details were available. Now RFE/RL has filed this report along with a dramatic video:
Several journalists from the Russia-24 news channel came under fire in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk on January 20. According to reports, there were multiple television crews on Kiev Avenue covering an earlier attack that left one person dead when the incident occurred.
Despite earlier reports, it’s not clear whether the journalists were specifically targeted. Russian state journalists have been known to embed with Russian-backed separatists, and it’s possible that they may have gotten too close to the fighting this time.
— James Miller
Ukrainian soldiers and journalists have reported that the 31st checkpoint on the Bakhmutka highway, the foremost Ukrainian position in the area since the 32nd checkpoint, near Smile, was evacuated on October 28 last year after a lengthy stand-off, has fallen to Russian forces.
At 12:34 GMT, Ukrainian blogger Sergii Ivanov wrote on his Facebook page that “Russian tanks have destroyed the 31st checkpoint.”
UNIAN translated his post:
“After six hours of shelling, launched from all possible weapons, tanks were deployed. Ukrainian soldiers burnt out one of them, but it is still not clear how many forces and equipment are involved in the operation, which aims to surround the village of Krymske, encircling the 24th brigade of Armed Forces of Ukraine stationed there. The Russian military have entered the settlement of Zholobok – not the separatists, not Cossacks, but the Russians themselves.”
At 12:47, Yevhen Shevchenko, a volunteer fighter in the Ukrainian Donbass Battalion, confirmed the report (also translated by UNIAN):
The tanks broke through on Bakhmutka and the Russians have already entered Zholobok.
The 24th brigade, our neighbors, are suffering losses under heavy fire from all kinds of artillery weapons, and have left checkpoint No. 31. Fighting is going on for checkpoint No. 29!
At the time UNIAN published the above translations, Roman Bochkala, a journalist for Ukraine’s Inter television channel, had dismissed the reports of the taking of checkpoint 31 as panic, claiming instead that Ukrainian soldiers had regrouped.
However at 16:16 GMT, Bochkala posted another update (translated by The Interpreter):
Unfortunately yes, the 31st post is lost. Completely. Given that the post was on the heights, while Krymskoye is in the lowlands, there is a high likelihood that the settlement will be lost. And this is very painful. Before my eyes, I have the faces of people who, only yesterday, told me “Krymskoye is Ukraine.”
Another report from Sergii Ivanov read (translated by The Interpreter):
The soldiers from the 31st retreated to pre-prepared positions are have been preparing for a counter-attack. Allegedly, one was killed and seven wounded, but those are yet to be confirmed.
At the moment, intelligence has located 8 tanks, however, two hours ago a report was received that a column of armoured vehicles had set off from Lugansk in said direction.
The 24th [post] is ready to wipe out the Russian ***** and is awaiting reinforcements, who are already near.
Ivanov also noted that Ukrainian artillery crews had been running low on ammunition and were asking for resupply. He also relayed requests for a tank unit to be deployed.
There’s nowhere to withdraw to from Krymskoye, but the river.
Here is a map of the locations referred to
— Pierre Vaux
Marianna Piskunova, spokeswoman for the Zaporozhye regional prosecutor, told the news agency:
“Prosecutor of Zaporizhzhia region Oleksandr Shatsky immediately went to Rozivka district, where at 15:20 [13:20 GMT] near the village of Kuznetsovka a freight train, travelling in Volnovakha direction, was blown up on the bridge.”
Ukrinform reports that 30 cars of the freight train were derailed but there were no reported casualties.
The location of the bridge is highlighted below:
— Pierre Vaux
Yesterday Amnesty International released a statement condemning the Russian-backed fighters for firing from civilian areas, and the Ukrainian government for firing back. However, as we noted, several of the largest and most well-known incidents of civilian deaths in the last week and a half have been the result of Russian-backed separatists firing Grad rockets. Since we’ve documented the widespread use of human shields by Russian-backed fighters, and since Ukraine has nothing in the way of precision weaponry or even drones to better target the weapons that they have, civilian casualties continue to increase, as the result of fire from both sides.
See our discussion of these issues here:
To see another example we need not look further than today’s news. Earlier today we reported that a bus depot in the Kuybyshevsky district of Donetsk was reportedly hit by a shell, killing one civilian. Since that location is near where Russian-backed fighters have been attacking from, it’s possible that the location was hit by a Ukrainian shell. We also reported that a multi-story apartment building in Avdeyevka was hit, injuring one. That shell likely came from Russian-backed separatists, since Ukraine is in control of the town and the area has been used by the Ukrainian military to shell the Russian-backed fighters who have been attacking Donetsk Airport.
Now we know what the Russian-backed fighters meant this past summer when they said that Ukraine would never achieve victory because the militants would “burrow” into the civilian populace in Donetsk:
Novosti Donbassa reports that the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, and Mariya Matyus, a Rada deputy from President Poroshenko’s party, came under fire from Russian-backed Cossack fighters while visiting the town of Tryokhizbenka, a regular target for shelling.
The Interpreter translates:
“During the inspection of damaged homes, a new Grad bombardment began. Evidently, the Cossacks on the other bank [of the Seversky Donets river] had noticed that several vehicles with military escorts had driven to the village, and decided to fire on them. Several shells exploded 300-400 metres away from Moskal and Matyus’ cars. No one was wounded by the shelling,” reports Moska;’s press office.
Earlier today, Interfax-Ukraine had reported that Moskal had announced that Russian-backed forces had shelled a residential area in Schastye:
The attack damaged several buildings and people were injured, he said
“Mortar attacks carried out on Tuesday morning caused direct hits in an apartment building in Schastia. Some thirty apartments were damaged. The number of casualties is now being determined,” Moskal told Interfax-Ukraine.
He said that the militants shelled a block of building near Vesela Hora “where there is even no position of the Ukrainian Armed Forces or police.”
— Pierre Vaux
Vyacheslav Abroskin, the head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, has written on his Facebook page that the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka, to the north of Donetsk Airport, has been shelled this morning.
The Interpreter translates:
The terrorists have begun shelling Avdeyevka.
A multi-storey apartment block on Molodezhnaya street was struck.
An injured woman has been taken to hospital.
An investigative operational team from the Avdeyevka town police is working on the scene.
Translation: #Avdeyevka very loud, impact within the city limits! Outbound throughout the morning without interruption, small-arms [fire] in the Opytnoye area.
Translation: #Avdeyevka it’s started, we’ve got it really loud again!
— Pierre Vaux
The separatist-backed leader of the Kievsky and Kuybyshevsky district administrations announced that the shell had struck the Kievsky Executive Committee bus stop, seriously wounding six and killing one.
The bus stop and a shop were destroyed, he said.
Graphic photos show the scene:
The pro-separatist dnr-news.com site claimed that the shelling was carried out by Ukrainian security forces.
The site also carried video from the scene taken the pro-separatist British freelancer and propagandist for the Russian Defence Ministry’s Zvezda television channel, Graham Phillips.
Here is a map indicating the location of the bus stop:
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainskie Novosti news agency, that President Petro Poroshenko’s mobilisation decree has, having been approved by the Verkhovna Rada and published in the parliamentary gazette, Golos Ukrainy, come into effect.
The first of three waves of military mobilisation began today. The mobilisation will last for 210 days across Ukraine.
The decree provides for a rotation in personnel, with those conscripts mobilised following the March 17, 2014 order placed into reserve from March 18 to May 1.
The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers is obliged to ensure the national economy can guarantee uninterrupted supplies for the military, and to bring “certain industries, enterprises, institutions and organisations to a level of ‘full readiness.'”
— Pierre Vaux