Ukraine Live Day 358: Debaltsevo Cut Off From Highway

February 10, 2015

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OSCE Says Kramatorsk Hit By Cluster Munitions From a BM-30 “Smerch” Fired From Direction Of Separatist Positions

The OSCE has finally released a statement today confirming that the Smerch rockets which hit Kramatorsk came from the south-southeast. While the OSCE report does not spell out who fired the rockets, the Russian-backed forces control the area to the south-southeast.

According to the latest update from the regional administration website in Donetsk, at least 12 people have been killed in the strike, including at least 7 civilians. 

Below is the OSCE report:

On 10 February at 11:51hrs, the SMM heard a powerful explosion in Kramatorsk (95km north of Donetsk). From their position at Kramatorsk Boulevard #41, the SMM assessed that the sound of the explosion came from approximately 1.5 kilometres south-east, near Kramatorsk airport (where the Ukrainian authorities have deployed an “Anti-terrorist Operation” (ATO) base). The SMM also observed a white smoke trail in the direction of the explosion. At 12:00hrs, the SMM contacted the “ATO” command, which did not have further information. The SMM did not go to the airport for security reasons.

At 12:33hrs, while at Kramatorsk Boulevard #50, the SMM heard at least four blasts in the surrounding area. For security reasons, the SMM did not check the sites of the explosion. The SMM observed a rocket landing 30 metres from their position behind a building on Kramatorsk Boulevard #50. The rocket landed on the ground in the yard behind the building (at its north-western side) without exploding. The SMM noticed that the windows of the apartment building on Kramatorsk Boulevard #55 (facing north-west) were shattered.

The SMM spotted a second set of unexploded ordnance (UXO) at Lenin Street #45, which landed behind the house on the yard side (facing north-west). The site is located 2.5km north-east of Kramatorsk Boulevard #50. The SMM did not notice damage in the surrounding area. The SMM also observed sub-ammunition bomblets (clusters) in the surroundings of Lenin Street.

The SMM observed a third UXO which landed on the yard side (north-west) on Dvortsova Street #32. The SMM did not notice damage in the surrounding area.

The SMM assessed that the three shells were 300mm ammunition fired from a BM-30 Smerch or Tornado Multiple Rocket Launch System (MRLS). Based on the live observation, the pictures and maps analysis, the SMM assessed that the shelling was coming from the south-south-east direction. The SMM has not yet conducted any crater analysis for security reasons.

At 12:45hrs, at the entrance of a Ukrainian military compound on Lenin Street, the SMM saw a member of uniformed Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel lying on the ground, not moving. At 16:00hrs an official from the Donetsk Region Administration informed the SMM that the shelling in Kramatorsk killed 7 civilians and injured 26, including 5 wounded children. The injured individuals were subsequently transferred to local hospitals in Kramatorsk. The interlocutor added that 32 Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel were injured at Kramatorsk airport. The SMM will follow-up on the shelling and further examine the sites affected by the shelling in Kramatorsk.

James Miller

In Phone Call, President Obama Warns Vladimir Putin Of Rising “Costs” Of Its “Aggressive Actions”

The White House has released a readout of U.S. President Barack Obama’s conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin:

President Obama today called President Vladimir Putin of Russia to address the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing support for the separatists there. President Obama reiterated America’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. President Obama underscored the rising human toll of the fighting and underscored the importance of President Putin seizing the opportunity presented by the ongoing discussions between Russia, France,  Germany, and Ukraine to reach a peaceful resolution. The President emphasized the importance of reaching and implementing a negotiated settlement underpinned by the commitments in the Minsk agreement. However, if Russia continues its aggressive actions in Ukraine, including by sending troops, weapons, and financing to support the separatists, the costs for Russia will rise.

The statement is interesting. For starters, it’s completely one-sided, with no indication of what Putin said during the statement. We have yet to see the Kremlin release a statement on this phone call.

Second, the last line is important and indicates, as we predicted below, that there will be additional “costs,” perhaps new sanctions or even military support for Ukraine, if tomorrow’s peace negotiations do not net results.

Two questions remain: what is the timeline for Russia to change course before new “costs” are implemented, and will the United States arm Ukraine if its European allies do not support the plan?

James Miller

Is This Round Of Negotiations Between Ukraine And Russia the “Last Chance” For the Minsk Deal?

U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken over the phone today with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Here is the readout published on the White House website:

President Obama spoke today with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine regarding the situation in eastern Ukraine and the current talks on a cease-fire and peace deal.  The President expressed his condolences for the continuing loss of life of Ukrainian citizens and his strong support for the current peace negotiations.  Both the President and President Poroshenko praised the contributions of Germany and France in this effort to achieve a sustainable, peaceful resolution to the conflict. They also agreed on the need for Russia to abide by the commitments it made in Minsk in September, which should remain the basis for a negotiated settlement.  The President underlined the commitment of the United States to work with our international partners to provide the financial support Ukraine needs as it continues to undertake essential reforms.

The Ukrainian readout of the conversation was extremely similar:

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has held a phone conversation with President of the United States Barack Obama.

Petro Poroshenko and Barack Obama have discussed the situation in the Donbas and emphasized the need for the ceasefire and peaceful resolution on the basis of the Minsk agreements.

The U.S. President has expressed condolences over the death of Ukrainian citizens and underlined his support towards negotiations on the peaceful resolution.

The parties are hopeful that the progress will be achieved in the course of the meeting in the Normandy format in Minsk. They have also praised the efforts of German and French leaders.

The Presidents of Ukraine and the United States have emphasized the need for Russia to fulfill all its commitments under the Minsk agreements.

President Obama has also assured of the readiness to further support Ukraine in the provision of financial assistance from the international partners and international financial organizations for the implementation of essential reforms.

Petro Poroshenko and Barack Obama have agreed to closely coordinate future steps after the meeting in the Normandy format in Minsk.

Two days ago Ukraine published a readout of a conversation between Poroshenko and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and it is similar to the one above. Yesterday Poroshenko spoke to the President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, stressing many of the same points but adding this:

Petro Poroshenko informed that he insisted on constant and unconditional ceasefire, pullback of the heavy armament, withdrawal of foreign troops from the Ukrainian territory. He has emphasized that it was necessary to close the border for the supply of weapons and mercenaries, ensure monitoring and verification by the OSCE and liberate hostages. Then, it is necessary to conduct local elections under the Ukrainian legislation and international observation.

In other words, for the most part all the readouts sound similar.

A quick analysis: tomorrow we can expect that the United States, Europe, and Ukraine to pursue terms similar, or perhaps exactly the same, as the Minsk agreement from September, with possibly stronger wording considering the closing of the border. In many ways, tomorrow’s meeting in Minsk appears to be designed to continue the status quo — with Ukraine and the West demanding that Russia abide by its end of a ceasefire which so far we have not seen implemented.

There are signs, however, that this may be Russia’s “last chance” before Ukraine and at least the United States begin to implement a new strategy:

There are also signs that the United States is now actively campaigning to arm Ukraine. Bloomberg reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is telling lawmakers that he believes the U.S. should be sending Kiev lethal aid:

Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers during a private reception in Germany that he personally supports sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, even though President Barack Obama has yet to make a decision on whether to say yes to Ukraine’s arms request.

Kerry is the latest top U.S. official to favor arming Ukraine’s armed forces directly, as they struggle against heavily armed Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Vice President Joe Biden this weekend came very close to endorsing military aid for Ukraine when he pledged to continue to support Ukraine’s “security” needs. The top U.S. general in Europe, Philip Breedlove, has for months been advocating internally for greater U.S. support for Ukraine.  Defense secretary nominee Ashton Carter testified last week he was inclined toward sending arms to Kiev.

Two U.S. lawmakers told me that Kerry, in separate conversations Saturday evening at the Munich Security Conference, had told them he was for the lethal aid. Kerry’s position matches that of the State Department writ large, led on this issue by the assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland.

Yesterday Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a joint press conference. When Obama suggested that he is considering sending lethal aid to Kiev, Merkel, who is opposed to the plan, said that it was important to stand together on this issue. In other words, it’s likely that Obama and Merkel have been having private negotiations on this issue with each trying to pressure the other.

However, it seems that the decision to add new sanctions or send lethal aid has not been made. The message the west is trying to send Russia appears to be that if the ceasefire does not come together now, then there will be some sort of new price Moscow will have to pay, be it military or economic.

James Miller

Death Toll In Kramatorsk Rises To 12 After Area Hit By Cluster Munition Rockets
The death toll in Kramatorsk continues to mount. As you can see, more than half of the reported dead are civilians:
Video Reportedly Shows Rockets Falling On The Road In Kramatorsk Today
This video was sent to us by a reader. It’s a clear illustration of the level of danger average civilians in Ukraine often face:

We have not yet confirmed the date or location of this video. It’s also worth noting that the timestamp in the corner is wrong. However it is not unusual for timestamps of amateur video to be wrong if the user has not set the clock.

According to the video’s metadata, it was uploaded approximately two hours after the incident took place today. We have not been able to find another version of this video uploaded before today.

James Miller

Azov Regiment Go On Offensive, Claim Retaking Of Villages East Of Mariupol

Ukraine’s volunteer-based Azov regiment have launched an offensive east of Mariupol today, claiming to have retaken the villages of Shirokino, Kominternovo and Pavlopol.

Azov posted a photo of their fighters standing outside the office of the Pavlopol village council:


Another photo shows the Ukrainian flag, purportedly raised above Kominternovo, though we cannot verify the location here:


A video also purportedly shows the liberation of Shirokino:

LIGA Novosti reported this morning that the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine had announced the offensive, which is being coordinated on by the Council’s secretary, Oleksandr Turchynov, who is now in Mariupol.

Zoryan Shkiryak, adviser to the minister for internal affairs, said (translated by The Interpreter):

“During the liberation of Shirokino, a solider from the special purpose Sokol [falcon] GUBOP [anti-economic crimes] unit was wounded. Our troops are now fighting a fierce battle for Sakhanka and Oktyabr. Over the course of the clashes, a significant amount of the terrorists’ manpower and hardware has been destroyed. The stand-off to the south continues.”

Mariupol news site reports that a member of the Svyataya Maria (Saint Maria) volunteer battalion, named as Kirill or ‘Nemets’ (German) has died after being wounded during the battle for Pavlopol.

Kirill, an ethnic German Russian citizen, had joined the battalion in September last year and lead the National Guard reconnaissance team into Pavlopol.

According to the site, one Azov fighter was killed and another wounded during the battle for Kominternovo.  

Here is a map of the area:


— Pierre Vaux

Residential Neighborhood and Ukrainian Military Headquarters Hit In Kramatorsk

As we’ve been reporting, there are many casualties in Kramatorsk — at least 7 civilians and 2 soldiers have been killed in two different shelling incidents in that town. The Russian-backed separatists deny that they fired rockets towards Kramatorsk, but journalists at the scene say that the rockets came from the south/southeast (see our latest update below).

Kramatorsk is a long way from the fighting:

However, it seems that while the Ukrainian military front lines are far from Kramatorsk, the headquarters for their Anti-Terror Operation (ATO)  was hit by one of the two attacks today. RFE/RL reports:

Poroshenko told parliament on February 10 that the attack hit the headquarters of the “Antiterrorist Operation,” as Kyiv calls the fight against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and several civilian houses.

He said both civilians and military officers were injured.

The Kyiv-controlled Donetsk regional administration said the rockets were fired from the separatist-held area of Horlivka, which is about 50 kilometers from Kramatorsk.

Eduard Basurin, a self-proclaimed separatist defense official, said the rebels “did not strike Kramatorsk” and contended that it was out of their range.

The BM-30 Smerch is capable of firing a 9m55k cluster munition cargo rocket between 20 and 70 kilometers, meaning that a Smerch launched from territory controlled by the Russian-backed fighters could easily reach Kramatorsk. 

James Miller

Ukrainian-Controlled Kramatorsk Hit By Cluster Munitions Reportedly Fired By Russian-Supported Fighters
A terrified mother in Kramatorsk, her babies crying in the background, points a camera outside her window today as a series of explosions rip through the town:

Kramatorsk, controlled by the Ukrainian military, is at least 25 kilometers from the closest position held by Russian-backed rebels. In other words, it’s hard to see how this town could have been hit by accident since it is so far from the fighting.

The images of the damage in Kramatorsk suggest widespread damage. This report is from Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Ariev.

Mashable’s Christopher Miller has pictures of the remnants of one of the explosives. According to arms expert Nic Jenzen-Jones, the weapon pictured is a 9m55k series cluster munition, a weapon fired by the 9K58 Smerch (Смерч; ‘Tornado’) 300 mm multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS).
This matches the assessment of the Ukrainian military:
As is becoming apparent from the pictures, the area hit is a residential neighborhood:

According to the official website of the Donetsk Regional State Administration (the administration that is recognized by Kiev), in a statement posted at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) ,at least 7 civilians have been killed in the attack that included Grad and “Tornado” [Smerch] multiple-launch-rocket-systems (translated by The Interpreter):

26 civilians were wounded, amongst them five children. The Administration reported 32 servicemen wounded at Kramatorsk airfield, bringing the total wounded to 58.

While the Regional State Administration could not comment on military fatalities at that point, Ukrainska Pravda reported that presidential representative Iryna Herashchenko had confirmed the deaths of four servicemen while speaking in the Verkhovna Rada.

According to Herashchenko, a drone was detected flying over the area before the shelling began.

Mashable has this report:

The attack happened midday and as residents here returned to offices from lunch. At a café where Mashable was dining, about one mile away from the scene of the attack, the rumbling of a series of violent explosions shook its very foundation, and sent a dozen patrons screaming out the door and under their tables.

The Donetsk regional government reported seven civilians were killed, with another 16 civilians, including two children, suffering injuries of varying degrees of severity. Additionally, two soldiers were killed and at least nine more were injured by a separate barrage of rockets that exploded on their sprawling military base at the nearby airfield.

The regional administration said the powerful “Tornado” rockets had been fired from the rebel-held Horlivka area about 35 miles southeast of Kramatorsk. After examining half a dozen impact craters, Mashable also concluded the rockets had come from a south/southeasterly direction. The long-range Tornado rockets have a range of around 50 miles.

James Miller, Pierre Vaux, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Nadezhda Savchenko’s Defence Team To Appeal Against Extended Detention

Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers, Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov, have announced that they are to appeal against the Moscow court decision today to extend her pre-trial detention until May 13, despite her ongoing hunger strike, which entered its 60th day today.

Translation: Needless to say, the defence will appeal against the extension of Nadezhda Savchenko’s detention.

Polozov and Feygin reported that Savchenko’s guards had been verbally abusive towards her, and they had withheld water.

Translation: Nadezhda said that her escort insulted her: “don’t speak in your blockhead language.” From the gutter, of course.

Translation: The badge number of the the head of the escort, senior police lieutenant Alyokhin, is 007719. He insulted Savchenko on the grounds of her nationality and language.

Translation: The escort deliberately did not pass water to starving Savchenko throughout her time in the court. These scoundrels must be brought to justice.

Polozov also reported that Judge Karpov had made use of the court’s time to list alleged atrocities committed by the Ukrainian forces in the Donbass, making clear the nature of this case as a show trial for domestic propaganda value.

Translation: Judge Kaprov is, at length, listing every instance of a criminal case, amongst them the deaths at the bus stop in Donetsk, more than six months after Nadiya’s arrest.

— Pierre Vaux

Judge Rules To Extend Savchenko’s Detention Until May 13
Nadezhda Savchenko, On Day 60 Of Hunger Strike, Is In Court

Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer who was captured by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region last summer and then illegally rendered into Russian captivity, is in court today in Moscow, on the 60th day of her hunger strike.

This is the first time Savchenko has appeared in public since she began her hunger strike in December in protest at her continued prosecution on charges of killing two Russian journalists as, she and her lawyers argue, the case must be dropped in order to comply with the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. The Russian authorities refuse to recognise Savchenko as a POW.

Novaya Gazeta‘s Yevgeny Feldman has photos from the courtroom:

RFE/RL reports that Savchenko was defiant when addressed by the judge, who is ruling on whether to extend her pre-trial detention until May 13, as requested by the Russian Investigative Committee (Sledkom).

Asked by the judge about her health, Savchenko said, “You’ll wait in vain” — a retort by which she meant that the Russian authorities are hoping for her death but that she will not die soon.

After her lawyers requested the replacement of the judge, Savchenko said she supported the motion but used an earthy quip to suggest it would make little difference whether a new judge is assigned to the case.

Savchenko, looking pale and gaunt and wearing a T-shirt with a Ukrainian trident design, spoke from behind the bars of a courtroom cage.

She cried out “Glory to Ukraine!” as she was led to the court by armed guards with a large dog.  

Savchenko’s lawyers are demanding that her detention not be extended as such an act would effectively constitute a death sentence should she not end her hunger strike.

Translation: Lawyer Ilya Novikov laments that Savhcneko simply cannot survive until the next hearing if she continues to hunger strike.

Translation: Lawyer Feygin asks that Savchenko be placed under house arrest given her hunger strike, he conveyed a guarantee to the judge from the Ukrainian embassy.

The hearing continues.

— Pierre Vaux

Debaltsevo Cut Off From Highway

Russian-backed fighters appear to remain in control of the village of Logvinovo, on the highway connecting besieged Debaltsevo with Artyomovsk, effectively cutting the primary line of supply to the town.

Semyon Semyonchenko, MP and commander of the Donbass Battalion, units of which are deployed in the area, wrote on his Facebook page that the route was cut off. Furthermore, he reported that a parallel road, to the east, which would allow a bypass of Logvinovo, was also blocked, with Russian-backed forces occupying the village of Nizhne Lozovoye.

This was confirmed by Hennadiy Moskal, the governor of the Lugansk region. Moskal’s press office reported that the governor had set out towards Debaltsevo from the north early this morning only to find that they could not proceed further than the junction between Mironovsky, Svetlodarsk and Debaltsevo.

This was the location, the report said, of the last Ukrainian-controlled checkpoint on the highway.



Semyonchenko reported that the roads were now mined, and that no attempt at clearing the highway was being made by Ukrainian forces.

The capture of Logvinovo by Russian-backed forces was attested to by graphic video footage uploaded to YouTube.

A bus stop bearing the name of the village is clearly visible:


The video, typical of recent footage distributed by separatist sources, which is likely a form of psychological warfare, contains lingering shots of dead Ukrainian soldiers, and the abuse, including kicking, of severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers lying defenceless on the ground.

As a result of the roads being blocked, the settlements of Troitskoye and Chernukhino were, Moskal’s office reported, completely cut off from Ukrainian lines, making evacuation of civilians from these sites impossible.

In another announcement from the governor’s office, it was reported that part of Chernukhino was now under the control of Russian-backed forces. Back on February 4, we reported on video footage that showed Russian-backed forces moving with tanks between Chernukhino and Debaltsevo, making it clear the area was not under secure Ukrainian control.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence claimed that the situation around Debaltevo remains under control, with Ukrainian armed forces moving to clear the highway. This, of course, is directly contradicted by Semyonchenko.

LIGA Novosti reports that the ministry claimed that all assaults by Russian-backed forces have been successfully repelled and that a regrouping of armour was being conducted.

However reports from the front line, including those of Governor Moskal himself, suggest this is an optimistic assessment.

–Pierre Vaux