Ukraine Live Day 365: Russian-Backed Forces Entering Debaltsevo

February 17, 2015
Smoke rises over Kiev on February 18, 2014, starting a week of revolution which would topple the Yanukovych government

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.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

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?

Putin Tells Ukraine That “Losing Is Always Painful,” Foreign Weapons Won’t Help

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made comments today in Hungary that will prove to be controversial. Putin bragged that Ukraine was losing this war, and suggested that NATO is already sending weapons to Ukraine (there’s no evidence to support this) but that they won’t help change the course of the war.

Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne reports:

James Miller
Blast Damages Office of AutoMaidan Leader In Odessa

Odessa news site reports that there has been an explosion tonight at 85 Bolshaya Arnutskaya street, in the city centre.

150217-odessa-blast-map.png notes that the building houses the Nika-Service Plus service centre, the director of which, Yegeny Rezvushkin, is the leader of of Odessa’s AutoMaidan group. 

A local TV station had photos from the scene:







— Pierre Vaux

UN Security Council Passes Resolution Urging Implementation of Ceasefire; Ambassadors Urge Inclusion of Debaltsevo, Savchenko, and MH17 Perpetrators

The UN Security Council passed a brief 4-point resolution today urging implementation of the Minsk agreements to ensure a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine, and welcoming the formal endorsement of the presidents of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine of the “Minsk package” signed February 12, 2015.

Translation: Full text of the UNSC Resolution on Ukraine

US Amb. Samantha Power said the purpose of the resolution was to have the UNSC “throw its weight behind” the Minsk agreement of September 2014, and to have the further “Minsk package” on implementation “supplement but not supplant” the original September agreement, as Russia has indicated it would like to do.

Amb. Power said “in this upside world,” Russia “signs agreements only to undermine them” in a conflict that it “has manufactured and fueled.”

She said that the “road of life” to bring supplies to the war-torn city of Debaltsevo, surrounded by Russian-backed militants, was now turned into a “road of death littered with the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers.”

She said civilians remained in Debaltsevo “without food, water or basic supplies” and described the plight of an old man who remained in the city with his young grandchildren, who hoped they would not die young.

UK Amb. Mark Lyall-Grant specified that Debaltsevo must be included in the ceasefire, and not excluded as the Russian-backed separatists insisted. He also said the amnesty indicated in the agreement excluded the perpetrators of the downing of MH17.

Lithuanian Amb. Raimonda Murmokaite said her delegation had voted for the resolution “with a heavy heart” because several other resolutions had not been implemented and numerous meetings had already been held on Ukraine.

While other ambassadors spoke of the need for Russia to “use its considerable influence” or “undoubtable influence” with the separatists, Lithuania was unequivocal in calling for the removal of Russian troops and armaments from Ukraine.

She also called for the release of abducted Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, whom Russia has said cannot be included in the agreement as she is not a “hostage” or “unlawfully detained person” but ostensibly properly detained on suspicion of murder of two Russian state journalists.

While the resolution does indeed bring the weight of the larger international community beyond the OSCE members to bear on the Ukrainian situation, the fact that Russia was able to sponsor a resolution that others felt compelled to vote for ended up making it appear falsely once again as a peace-maker.

The Western ambassadors were thus reduced to making commentary and interpretation of agreements already breached which are disputed regarding the very key points they wish to make on the status of Debaltsevo, the release of Savchenko, and the prosecution of the perpetrators of MH17.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Journalist Says Ukrainian Soldiers At Debaltsevo Surrounded and Running Out of Ammo
As we reported earlier, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian military gave an emergency press conference where he said that a group of Ukrainian soldiers have been captured by “militants” near Debaltseve. A few more details from Euromaidan PR:

Now UNIAN reports that some soldiers in Debaltsevo are claiming that they are running out of ammo and may all be overrun:

Soldiers of Ukraine’s Kyivska Rus battalion said on Tuesday they would be able to maintain their positions near Debaltseve for a maximum of 12 hours, and without reinforcements they may all be killed, journalist Olga Germanova has reported on her Facebook page…

Germanova said in her posting, made just before 1400 Kyiv time, that she had received a plea for help from Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Komuna, immediately to the west of the town of Debaltseve.

According to a Facebook posting made on Tuesday by Ukrainian journalist Andriy Tsaplienko, the Russian-backed militants have seized the railway station and the local police department in Debaltseve itself.

The fact that there was fighting at the railway station was confirmed by ATO spokesperson Andriy Lysenko at a briefing in Kyiv on Tuesday.

“The Ukrainian military control the village of Logvinovo, and also partially control the road to Debaltseve. There is fierce fighting on the outskirts of the city now, there is a tense situation in the area of the railway station, but our military are holding their positions,” Lysenko said.

UNIAN notes that the NSDC spokesperson Andriy Lysenko denied that the Ukrainian soldiers had lost Debaltsevo and stressed that the “militants” were also taking heavy casualties.

It is clear, however, that the Ukrainian military situation in Debaltsevo is untenable.

It is also worth noting that The Interpreter published today an eyewitness report from a soldier, Ivan Rodichenko describing the efforts of his volunteer battalion, Kiev Rus, to defend the Chernihiv region against possible Russian invasion this past summer. As Rodichenko notes, that group is now deployed in Debaltsevo, and it is the same unit which UNIAN now says is nearly surrounded and running out of ammunition.

Read the dispatch here:

James Miller
Ukrainian Military Spokesperson Says Ukrainian Soldiers Captured Near Debaltsevo
The spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) has given an emergency press conference among rumors that the Ukrainian military has lost control of Debaltsevo. Lysenko says that Ukraine still holds the town but some Ukrainian soldiers have been captured.

We will continue to monitor these reports.

James Miller

One Year Anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution
We’ve launched a special series of articles covering the anniversary of the Euromaidan crisis. In this first article we are honored today to carry an editorial written by the President of
Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who is alarmed by the amount of
international agreements Russia has broken in just one year:
We have launched a new podcast discussing the lessons we have learned in the last 365 of covering this crisis, a companion piece to the analysis posted yesterday by Matt Sienkiewicz, Assistant Professor of Communication and International Studies at Boston College:
We have also published a reflection on the universality which will be regularly updated with links to our coverage as we roll out more articles, editorials, and analysis:
‘Harder And Harder For Us To Maintain Our Positions’ In Debaltsevo

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov has announced that the ATO base in Debaltsevo is now being assaulted by Russian-backed fighters using artillery and armour. Street fighting continues with part of the town now under separatist control.

Ukrainska Pravda reported that Seleznyov had also announced that a convoy, attempting to reach Debaltsevo, had been knocked out, with Ukrainian servicemen captured.

Yuri Butusov, editor at Censor.NET wrote on his Facebook page that while Ukrainian forces did hold one route into Debaltsevo, bypassing the occupied area of the Artyomovsk highway, it was now impossible to use without taking casualties.

Butusov reported that Russian-backed forces had occupied the commanding heights in the area, at Sanzharovka and also Krasny Pakhar.

Krasny Pakhar lies just north-east of Mironovsky, which raises the threat of Ukrainian troops attempting to old the Artyomovsk highway at the junction with Luganskoye vulnerable to flanking attack.


Ukrainska Pravda cited reports from soldiers and officials on the situation inside the town.

The Interpreter translates:

“We’re encircled, no one has broken through to us,” said a soldier.

“The situation is very bad, we’re in a blockade. There’s no lifeline,” said another fighter.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, Ilya Kiva, confirmed reports that the militants were carrying out a sweep in part of Debaltsevo.

“The militants are deep into the town. They’re conducting a sweep in part of the town. It’s becoming harder and harder for us to maintain our positions. It’s getting worse and worse by the minute,” he said, live on Channel 5 by telephone.”

Semyon Semyonchenko, commander of the Donbass Battalion and a Rada deputy, wrote on his Facebook page that decisive action was needed today, and that simply maintaining position would lead to disaster.

The Donbass Battalion suffered catastrophic losses in August last year, when hundreds of soldiers were encircled in the town of Ilovaisk and, after being subjected to constant bombardment for weeks, were attacked while attempting to leave through what the Russian-backed fighters had offered as a “humanitarian corridor.

Semyonchenko wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

As a battalion commander, MP and the first deputy head of the Verkhovna Rada committee on national security and defence, I am insisting on decisive acts to break the siege on the ATO forces around Debaltsevo and flattening out the front line.

We need to protect the core of the army. We can always retake territory later. 

The ATO forces, the National Guard, the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Donbass Battalion are ready to fulfil their duties to the end. We’re appealing to the Commander-in-Chief with a request to make an immediate decision on carrying out a POWERFUL COUNTER-STRIKE on the Russo-terrorist fighters, the withdrawal of besieged units and the flattening of the front line. The most important thing is to protect the core of our combat-ready units. We are ready to execute any order. We will not permit any panic, but the time as come to act.

–Pierre Vaux

Russian Channel Claims Zakharchenko Wounded In Ankle In Debaltsevo

LifeNews, a Russian television channel long suspected of close ties to the intelligence services, and regular producer of crude propaganda, is carrying a report claiming that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the ‘prime minister’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has been wounded in Debaltsevo.

The Interpreter translates:

According to LifeNews’ information, Zakharchenko was running across the road in one of the central streets during intense gunfire and was wounded in his ankle. The head of the DNR’s bodyguards gave him first aid, binding his foot up. Zakharchenko was then brought to a transfer hospital, from where he was taken to Alchevsk.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Reports 164 Ceasefire Violations And 5 Ukrainian Soldiers Killed
Some highlights from the briefing from the spokesperson for the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), Colonel Andriy Lysenko:
The Ukrainian government is reporting that it is under attack in Debaltsevo, but also at its checkpoints to the east-southeast:
The Ukrainian military continues to report Russian drones and vehicles crossing the border:

According to the NSDC, the Debaltsevo rail station has been attacked, but “Ukrainian forces hold their positions.”

James Miller

If The Minsk Deal Is So Obviously Bad, Why Did Ukraine Sign It?

As we’ve been reporting below, there have been many breaches of the
ceasefire negotiated last week in Minsk, and the fighting shows no signs
of letting up.

Journalists are reporting heavy fighting in and around Debaltsevo. As we’ve reported below, there are reports that the Russian militants are inside the city. AP has this report, though right now we cannot confirm that the city has fallen to Russian-supported forces:

We are not aware of anyone who is surprised by this development.
First, there are the historical trend lines. Every ceasefire in Ukraine
has been broken. In fact, every ceasefire in Syria, a key Russian ally, ended the same way (and this is not a coincidence, as Putin practiced his Ukraine strategy in Syria). But even a quick analysis of the text of the Minsk agreement
and the statements made by Vladimir Putin immediately after their
signing indicated that this ceasefire, too, would fall apart.

We know why Putin might sign such a document — he’ll never let a
ceasefire or an international agreement get in his way — but an obvious
question remains: why would Ukraine sign this deal?

One answer is that the Russian-backed forces were capturing significant territory before this deal was struck. Another ceasefire like September’s was never likely to stop the fighting completely, but it could/can halt or slow some of the fighting, allowing the Ukrainian military to regroup.

Another answer: before the meeting in Minsk last week both the European Union and the United States made it clear that they were unwilling to significantly change course without giving Russia one more chance to stop interfering in Ukraine. Germany, in particular, was hesitant to arm Ukraine and was practically begging U.S. President Barack Obama to stop “considering” his options in this regard. Now that Minsk has been tried, it is up to the United States and the European Union to determine a verdict on whether or not it is working, and plot a new course of action accordingly.

The United States is weighing in already — according to them the Russians have broken the ceasefire. Some statements from the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt:

United States General Phillip, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, has also weighed in:

These are signs that the United States will treat the fighting at Debaltsevo as a breach of the ceasefire and will move on to the next stage of its response to this crisis, which the administration is indicating could include sending Ukraine “lethal aid,” weapons to combat the Russian armor and equipment pushing deeper into Ukraine.

The problem: Ukraine is on the verge of losing a major battle today in Debaltsevo, one that may cost it an important strategic position, a significant amount of firepower, and the lives of many soldiers — to say nothing of the civilians who have been trapped in the nightmare that is the “Debaltsevo Kettle.”

James Miller
Russian-Backed Forces Entering Debaltsevo

There are conflicting claims from the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists this morning as to who is in control of Debaltsevo and the key highway to Artyomovsk. There are, however, reports from both sides that indicate that Russian-backed forces have begun to enter the town.

At 8:33 GMT, Andriy Tsaplienko, a journalist for Ukraine’s TSN, wrote on his Facebook page (translated by The Interpreter):

From Debaltevo. Fifteen minutes ago the warriors of the ‘Russian world,’ with cries of “Allahu Akbar,” captured the local police department. An hour ago, the railway station.

However the head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, Vyacheslav Abroskin, claimed that the story of the capture of the police station was a misrepresentation. 

Writing on his Facebook page, Abroskin claimed that the police department building had been heavily damaged by shelling and, as a result, had been abandoned, with police officers moved to a better fortified site.

On February 10, Yevgeny Yukhanov, chief of police in Debaltsevo, was killed while defending the police station from a small group of separatist fighters.

While the status of the police station is uncertain, and we note that Abroskin has not commented on whether the abandoned site is now in separatist hands, no denial has been put out with regards to the loss of the railway station.

On February 9, Pyotr Shkulinov, a reporter for Ukraine’s LIGA BuisnessInform, wrote that Russian-backed forces had overrun the switching yard on the tracks to the north-east of the station.

The police department and the trains station certainly lie near to each other:


The Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council tweeted that there was indeed fighting near the station:

In addition, the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal,reported intense fighting near Chernukhino, just to the south-east of Debaltsevo. 

Meanwhile, Russian state media report that the separatists have claimed control of some areas of the town and that around 120 Ukrainian servicemen have been captured.

Eduard Basurin, the deputy military commander of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR), told RIA Novosti (translated by The Interpreter):

“The street fighting in Debaltsevo continues. Our units have partially taken control of the town. Recognising this, several groups of[Ukrainian] servicemen, numbering around 120 people, have surrended.”

Disturbingly, Denis Pushilin, a senior figure in the early days of the DNR and now a representative at negotiations, told Reuters today that the separatists could not stop fighting for Debaltsevo for “moral reasons.”

“We do not have the right (to stop fighting for Debaltseve). It’s even a moral thing. It’s internal territory,” Pushilin said in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux

Day 365 of The Interpreter’s Live Coverage Of The Ukrainian Crisis

One year ago today, after enduring months of protest, Viktor Yanukovych, then-President of Ukraine, offered the people of Ukraine a deal: the government would give the protesters amnesty if they would abandon their positions in Maidan Square and elsewhere across Kiev. The protesters saw the deal as a way to subvert the protest movement and scatter the protesters who had nearly frozen in the months spent in the cold city squares. They did not leave. The government, believing that they had given the protesters a final chance to avoid bloodshed, deployed its infamous Berkut riot police to the streets. Chaos erupted, and instead of ending the crisis, the actions of the Yanukovych government on February 17-18 shook the regime to its knees.

365 days ago today, seeing the chaos in the street, I made a decision — to launch a liveblog on the events in Kiev (read it here). I had substantial experience liveblogging events in the Middle East, and believed (and believe) that it is a method of covering a crisis which brings with it many benefits. I had no idea, however, that 365 consecutive days later the live coverage would still be going strong.

Ukraine was an important story for the world then not because the West would gain an ally or an economic partner. The fact is that Ukraine is a strategic liability, a country with a weak military and a powerful adversary, which is why NATO will not likely accept it into the alliance at the present time. And Western stock markets, both a year ago and now, barely flinch (if they react at all) upon news, good or bad, emerging from Ukraine. But the story was important because the actions of the Yanukovych government were heavily influenced by the desires of Moscow, which was bullying friends and opponents alike across eastern Europe, not just in Kiev. The crisis has continued for 365 days not because of political instability in Ukraine but because of the revanchist imperialism of Putin, as demonstrated first in Crimea and then in the Donbass. Unfortunately, the crisis will continue for as long as those factors remain unchanged, but our coverage will also continue.

With three full-time writers and a small budget, The Interpreter has covered this story, and many others, relentlessly. With your continued support we will continue to do so.

In the meantime, we will be marking the one year anniversary of the Euromaidan revolution and our own coverage throughout the week with a series of reflections, analysis, and editorials, written by colleagues, experts, soldiers, activists, and other distinguished guests. Our first article in this series is a media analysis, written by Matt Sienkiewicz, Assistant Professor of Communication and International Studies at Boston College, on the importance of our “Ukraine Live” coverage and liveblogging in general. Read it here:

James Miller