Ukraine Live Day 361: Heavy Fighting Near Debaltsevo

February 13, 2015
Smoke rising over Debaltsevo, February 13, 2015. Via @SputnikATO

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?

Did Russia Accidentally Admit That Their Rocket Launchers Are In Ukraine?

The President of Estonia, Toomas Ilves, picks up on a Finnish group which has noted an interesting piece of language in the Minsk agreements, one that admits that an advanced Russian-made rocket launcher is deployed in Ukraine.
One of Estonia’s NATO partners, Canada, also noted the same report:

We took a look at the language of the Minsk agreement and concluded that the document makes a clear distinction between the various different rocket launchers. It specifically differentiates between the “Tornado-S” and the “Smerch,” two similar weapons systems.


The BM-30 Smerch is a 12-barrelled multiple-launch-rocket-system capable of firing 300mm rockets up to 90 kilometers. The 9A52-4 Tornado is a more advanced system only made between 2011 and present. Their presence in Ukraine would be further proof of direct Russian military involvement in this crisis.

However, it should be noted that, as we reported earlier, Putin did not sign the Minsk agreement. The Russian ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov Zurabov, did, as did  the so-called “People’s Republics” leaders Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky.

James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
State Department Says Russian Military Still Moving Weapons Into Ukraine

According to AFP, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki says that Russia is still sending troops and equipment across the border:

“This is clearly not in the spirit of this week’s agreement,” Psaki told reporters.

She said the Russian military had deployed large amounts of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems and was using it to shell Ukrainian positions.

“We are confident that these are Russian military, not separatist systems,” she said, adding that Russian troops along the border were preparing a large shipment of supplies to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

There are more signs that Russia is sending troops in the direction of the Ukrainian border. Several videos released today reportedly show a large convoy of armored vehicles in Crimea moving in the direction of Ukraine.

The Bellingcat blog writes that based on road signs and other markers seen in the video, those vehicles are north of Simferopol, moving northward toward Ukrainian territory.

Another video was geolocated to Dzhankoi, even closer to the border.

James Miller
Two Children Reportedly Killed As Shells Rip Through Artemivsk. Videos Show Shelling
Earlier we reported about shelling in Artemivsk, near Debaltsevo, which reportedly hit a kindergarten. Three people have reportedly been killed, including two children:
James Miller
World Leaders And Experts Express Doubts, Pessimism, and Worry Over Minsk Deal
You may have noticed a certain degree of pessimism (we’d like to call it informed realism) about the prospects of the new Minsk agreement working. Plenty of other experts and journalists are also expressing considerable doubt about the deal:

The Telegraph was highly negative on the statement, writing “Vladimir Putin has been rewarded for his bullying: The precedents for Europe set by Moscow in Ukraine are appalling.”

Some world leaders are also skeptics of the talks:

Also unimpressed: Vytautas Landsbergis, a conservative Lithuanian politician and the first head of state of Lithuania after its independence from the Soviet Union:
And Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former Prime Minister who just finished an 8-year term of office as Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in October:
See The Interpreter’s analysis of the deal here:
James Miller
Artemivsk Hit By Shells, 3 Reportedly Killed, As Battle Rages In Nearby Debaltsevo
The town of Artemivsk, controlled by the Ukrainian military, has played a crucial role in the Ukrainian military’s attempts to preserve the road to Debaltsevo, and in the attempts to defend the now-fallen Donetsk Airport before that. The town has been rocked today by shells which have reportedly killed civilians. The latest report suggests that at least three have been killed:

Below we have posted a screenshot from LiveaUAMap, with Artemivsk highlighted:


As we’ve been reporting, Debaltsevo is under heavy attack today. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mekhed told a brieifing of cabinet ministers today that Russian-supported forces, backed by Russian regular army soldiers, have been ordered to take Debaltsevo before Saturday night’s ceasefire that goes into effect at 22:00 local time. Unian reports:

“Today, having agreement on a ceasefire from 0000, February 15, Russian-backed militants and the Russian armed forces have been ordered to raise the Russian flag over Debaltseve,” he said.

According to Mekhed, the same task has been set for Mariupol.

“However, while there is a fierce fighting for Debaltseve, which has been attacked three times as of this morning, Mariupol is still under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said, according to Ukrainian online newspaper

“According to the latest information, there are more than 10,000 soldiers of the Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine,” Mekhed said.

Read more of Mekhed’s statement here.

This explains why the Ukrainian military has moved significant troops and equipment into Artemivsk in an attempt to provide support for its nearly-surrounded forces in Debaltsevo:

James Miller
Ukrainian POW Nadiya Savchenko Not Included On List of Those To Be Released Under Minsk Amnesty

Nadiya Savcheno — a Ukrainian military pilot who was captured by Russian-backed rebels, kidnapped across the border, and is now facing murder charges in Moscow for the deaths of two Russian journalists whom she almost certainly never encountered — is not on the list of those who will be given amnesty as part of the prisoner exchange agreed upon at Minsk, according to multiple sources.

Earlier today we reported that according to Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson  Dmitry Peskov, the amnesty negotiated at Minsk would not apply to Savchenko because “this point speaks of those people who are on the territory of Ukraine; the amnesty cannot apply to those in other countries.”

The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesperson also tried to clarify this today:

However, Savchenko may be released under some other clause.

In fact, as we reported earlier, there are some clauses in the Minsk accord which could see Savchenko released as a “hostage” instead of a “prisoner of war.”

Still, despite the optimism of some on this issue, Russia has consistently maintained that it is up to the Russian court system, not the political system, to judge Savchenko.RFE/RL says that her “fate is still very unclear.”

And time is of the essence here, since Savchenko has been on hunger strike for more than 60 days and is in poor health. She could easily die while awaiting trial or political negotiations.

James Miller

Many Will Never See The Ceasefire – At Least 18 Killed In Ukraine In 24 Hours

The ceasefire in Ukraine, agreed upon in Minsk, is supposed to start on Sunday, but all signs indicate that the next two days will be very bloody ones. AFP warns that at least 15 people have been killed in the last 24 hours, but as we’ll see that number has risen to 18:

Pro-Moscow rebels and government officials said Friday that seven civilians were killed across the conflict zone during the past 24 hours while Ukraine’s military said eight soldiers lost their lives.

A new report from the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council indicates that three more soldiers have died since the initial AFP report:

11 dead and 40 injured — the numbers indicate a steep escalation. Here is more information from today’s NSDC briefing. Notice two things — the heavy fighting in suburbs of Donetsk, and the reported presence of drones and T-72s — weapons that could only come from Russia:

AFP continues:

In the run-up to the truce, Ukraine’s military said Friday that fighting remained fiercest around the key strategic town of Debaltseve.

Ukraine said rebels had fired missiles at the beleaguered railway hub, mid-way between the main separatist bastions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

An AFP journalist in the rebel capital of Donetsk said that sporadic missile salvos and dozens of artillery bombardments could be heard around the city early Friday morning.

That certainly matches what we’ve been reporting today (see below):

James Miller
Heavy Fighting Near Debaltsevo

The Ukrainian-held town of Debaltsevo is the scene of intense fighting and shelling, with the ceasefire negotiated at Minsk due to come into effect on Sunday, February 15. It appears that Russian-backed forces are making every attempt to encircle the town so as to force the Ukrainians to retreat behind what the Minsk agreement refers to as the “actual line of contact.”

Kommersant‘s Andrei Kolesnikov reported that, out of the 16 hours of negotiations in Minsk, almost half of them were spent debating whether or not Debaltsevo was already encircled. 

According to the report, while the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko insisted the town was not yet encircled, President Putin, who of course argued that it was, was backed up by President Francois Hollande, who said that, according to French intelligence, the town was indeed surrounded.

As far as we are aware, the town is nearly but perhaps not quite encircled. Certainly, the main highway linking Debaltsevo to the rest of the Ukrainian front at Artyomovsk, has been cut, with Russian-backed forces occupying the village of Logvinovo. A parallel road to the east, which bypasses Logvinovo, has also been blocked, report Ukrainian volunteer fighters.

An attempt was made yesterday to re-establish control over this route.

Ievgen Shevchenko, a volunteer fighter in the Donbass Battalion, wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that the battalion, supported by the the 30th brigade of the Ukrainian army, had pushed Russian-backed fighters out of Logvinovo.

He wrote that three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six wounded. Two separatists were taken prisoner, who said, Shevchenko claimed, that they had lost around 50 men in the attack.

However at 9:10 GMT today, an announcement was posted on the official Facebook page of the Donbass Battalion. According to the statement, Logvinovo had, once again, fallen to Russian-backed forces.

The Interpreter translates:

Yesterday units from the 30th brigade of the Ukrainian army were forced to leave the village of Logvinovo. National Guard units (a Donbass platoon), lacking armour support, also retreated to their initial positions. 

The statement complained that the battalion was being rendered ineffective by the decisions of the National Guard and army commanders, with the unit being split into groups and attached to various army units. The Donbass battalion was suffering due to continuing issues regarding a lack of combat hardware and was being denied intelligence data. The statement even alleged that army commanders were passing disinformation to the National Guard. The post concluded that these matters may soon be the subject of a case with the military prosecutor’s office.

Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the battalion, wrote on his Facebook page that there was now fierce fighting north along the highway, between Logvinovo, Mironovskoye and Luganskoye.

The commander also insisted that, while the main route from Debaltsevo to Artyomovsk had been cut, this did not equate with encirclement, as, while resupply had become much harder, Ukrainian forces still controlled “plenty of rural and field roads.”

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the ATO Press Centre has announced that Debaltsevo and its surrounding villages were shelled 25 times this morning with both Uragan and Grad MLRS.

The report says that the first strikes took place at around 8 am, hitting the western outskirts of the town. 

This photo purportedly shows smoke rising over Debaltsevo today:

Translation: Debaltsevo 13.02.15 Very hot today!

— Pierre Vaux