Ukraine Live Day 392: 1 Ukrainian Soldier Killed As Russian-Backed Fighters Continue Attacks

March 16, 2015
Ukrainian troops near Shirokino. Photo from Azov regiment Facebook page.

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

Crimean Referendum Still A ‘Sham’ One Year Later

Today is the one year anniversary of the referendum in Crimea, and the U.S. government is not holding back in its commentary:

Below is the State Department statement, “One Year Later – Russia’s Occupation of Crimea“:

On this one year anniversary of the sham “referendum” in Crimea, held in clear violation of Ukrainian law and the Ukrainian constitution, the United States reiterates its condemnation of a vote that was not voluntary, transparent, or democratic. We do not, nor will we, recognize Russia’s attempted annexation and call on President Putin to end his country’s occupation of Crimea.

A year ago, as covert Russian military forces took control of key government buildings and infrastructure, the population of Crimea was forced to go to the polls facing a false choice of either joining Russia or calling for Crimea’s independence. Two days later, the Russian Federation attempted to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory, disrupting 70 years of international order and drawing the condemnation of free, democratic societies across the globe.

Over the last year, the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated dramatically, with mounting repression of minority communities and faiths, in particular Crimean Tatars, and systematic denial of fundamental freedoms. Local residents have been detained, interrogated, and disappeared and NGOs and independent media have been driven out of the peninsula. These brutalities are unacceptable and we call on Russia to stop further abuses.

This week, as Russia attempts to validate its cynical and calculated “liberation” of Crimea, we reaffirm that sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues. The United States continues to support Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and right to self-determination.

Last year we covered the referendum (see our coverage here). Some of the highlights: children voting, ballots that were filled out before the voting took place, gun-toting men without uniforms checking IDs, biker gangs from Russia providing security, journalists who were blocked from observing the voting, and clear ballot boxes guarded by “little green men,” the Russian military — just to name a few problems with the process.

James Miller

Poroshenko Says Ceasefire Is Broken, Yatsenyuk Says Army Should Be On Combat Alert

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is maintaining that the Minsk ceasefire is still routinely broken in eastern Ukraine, despite the lower levels of violence. UA Today reports:

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has told German newspaper Bild that the ceasefire in east Ukraine is ‘not working’ and called for more sanctions on Russia. Poroshenko went on to say that the ceasefire was broken 1,100 times by Russian-backed militants since it began last month.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says that Russian troops and Russian-supported fighters are not backing down, and the Ukrainian military should be put on full combat readiness. UNIAN reports:

Yatseniuk was speaking during a meeting of the Government Commission for Emergency Situations.

“The situation is difficult. The Russian terrorists and Russia are not going retreat at this stage, and it requires from all of us responsibility and discipline,” Yatseniuk said.

James Miller

Attack Reported In Shirokino Today

Mariupol news site reports that the press service of the Azov regiment has claimed that their positions in the village of Shirokino, around 10 km east of the port city, came under attack today.

Azov’s press service reported that Russian-backed fighters attacked with small arms at around 13:00 (11:00 GMT).

— Pierre Vaux


Savchenko – The Kremlin Will Return Me To My Homeland. Even If It’s In A Coffin
Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers have confirmed that their client has resumed her hunger strike and released her handwritten statements.

Translation: I confirm. Nadezhda Savchenko has resumed her hunger strike as of today.

Translation: Two statements by Nadezhda Savchenko on the resumption of her hunger strike. To us, her defenders, and everyone else.

Ukrainska Pravda reported on the letter, noting that Savchenko had written that she had suspended her hunger strike for 10 days due to the numerous appeals to her from various “good people.”

The Interpreter translates:

However the Ukrainian no longer considers it possible to compromise with her own conscience: “I can’t do [so] any more, because I will not be able to respect myself otherwise.”

Savchenko noted that she would starve until her return to Ukraine or the “last day of her life.”

“The Kremlin will return me to my homeland. Even if they do so on a cargo 200*, in a coffin, bound up with a ribbon and bow on my birthday, May 11,” wrote the Ukrainian.

* = Soviet military code for fatalities. “Cargo 200” refers to trucks or aircraft ferrying the bodies of soldiers.

— Pierre Vaux

Savchenko Reportedly Resumes Hunger Strike

Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that Nadezhda Savchenko has resumed her hunger strike.

Anton Tsvetkov, head of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax (translated by The Interpreter):

“According to my sources, as I had expected, Nadezhda Savchenko today announced the resumption of her hunger strike.”

Nadezhda Savchenko is a Ukrainian military officer who was captured by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region last summer, interrogated on video and then illegally transported to Russia where she has been put on trial for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists. Since her capture, she has been elected as an MP for the Batkivshchyna party in the Verkhovna Rada.

Savchenko maintained a hunger strike in protest at her illegal detention for 82 days before announcing on March 5 that she would begin to eat enough to stay alive.

On March 13, Savchenko’s lawyers reported that their client was threatening to resume her strike if Ukrainian doctors were refused access to examine her by March 16, today.

One of her lawyers, Ilya Novikov, told Bloomberg that she was developing acute pancreatitis and was at risk of death. 

Interfax reported that Ukrainian doctors were finally allowed access to Savchenko on March 14. 

Earlier today, Tsvetkov told Interfax that he suspected the Ukrainian medics, who had appealed to Savchenko not to resume her hunger strike, and spoke approvingly of the Russian medical team’s approach to dealing with the strike, had provided the prisoner with a political briefing. According to Tsvetkov, the Ukrainian government wished to maintain public focus on Savchenko and use her as a martyr.

One of Savchenko’s lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, reported that the doctors had said that if Savchenko resumed her hunger strike, the negative consequences for her health would come much faster than they did during her first strike.


— Pierre Vaux

1 Ukrainian Soldier Killed As Russian-Backed Fighters Continue Attacks

Ukrainian military spokesmen report that there have been several attacks on the same key fronts that have been targeted daily since the Minsk agreement, and that one Ukrainian soldier was killed near Krasnogorovka (Krasnohorivka in Ukrainian), north of Donetsk.

Novosti Donbassa reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), has told reporters that, while no usage of heavy artillery was recorded, Russian-backed fighters had mounted largely “provocative” attacks on key points of the front line.

Lysenko said that attacks with small arms, armour, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars had been directed at Ukrainian positions east of Mariupol, north of Donetsk and north of both Gorlovka and the Bakhmutka highway.

Ukrainska Pravda reported on more details from the ATO press centre. Notably, the ATO press centre did in fact report the use of heavy, 120 mm mortars, in contrast to the claim by Lysenko that no heavy artillery had been used.

The Interpreter translates:

From 20:00 [18:00 GMT] until 6 in the morning, across the whole demarcation line, the enemy fired 12 times on ATO units, mainly with small arms, reports the ATO press centre.

The largest number of recorded incidents was in the Donetsk area. In particular, at 20:20 illegal armed groups fired from a BMP onto the village of Opytnoye, and at 20:40 militants carried out a strike with 120 mm mortars on that same settlement.

At 1:30 am, criminals opened fire with on a Ukrainian military observation post not far from Avdeyevka with an anti-aircraft gun.

Towards Mariupol, militants used mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms three times over the night near the village of Shirokino.

In the Lugansk region, at around 10 pm, near the village of Sokolniki, the militants used automatic grenade launchers and small arms.

In all, from 20:00 on Sunday until midnight, armed gangs used weapons 9 times and there were another 3 violations of the ceasefire recorded between midnight and 6 am on Monday. 


— Pierre Vaux