Ukraine Live Day 395: Fighting On The Banks Of The Seversky Donets River

March 19, 2015
Bridge near Tryokhizbenka that Russian-backed fighters attempted to cross on night of March 16-17. Photo: Fall, 2014 -

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?

Fighting Outside Mariupol and Reports of Commuter Bus Hit

There is an unconfirmed report of the shelling of a commuter bus in Mariupol as other reports of the resumption of fighting have also been received.

Translation: A commuter bus has been shelled.

Since this comes from a city site, it is more reliable than other reports but we have not found confirmation.

The Novorossiya Militia Dispatches (formerly Strelkov Dispatches) have published a report sourced to “journalists” that there is a firefight near Mariupol. The post on the Russian social media site VKontakate also says that the Azov Regiment has also issued a report that “Ukrainian military from other units are maintaining the position.”

The Interpreter has a translation of an excerpt of the report:

Oleg Sushinsky, the press officer of Sector M says that after calm during the night, fighting has resumed outside Mariupol.

5 shellings have been recorded,” he said. “Firing weapons,
grenade-launchers and 82 mm mortar-launches have bee used in the
battle.” After the night-time lull, clashes in Shirokino with the use of
mortar-launchers resumed. Earlier Roman Sokolov, the head of the
Mariupol Defense Center, said that this morning, Ukrainian armed
formations and the DNR Army opened fire on each other in Shirokino. From
8:20-8:30 there was mortar fire from 82mm-caliber weapons. From
9:15-9:25 gunfire opened as well.

We confirmed that the Azov Regiment did report the firefight in Mariupol.

On its Facebook page, the Azov Battalion wrote 5 hours ago (translation by The Interpreter):

A battle with the use of firing weapons has been under way in Shirokino for about an hour. Azov and its brothers from other sub-divisions are maintaining the position.

– Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

UK Troops Start Training Ukrainian Military; US Mission To Start In April
A group of soldiers, trainers from the UK, have been deployed to Ukraine to assist the Ukrainian military:

BBC reports:

The 35 trainers are working in the southern city of Mykolaiv and will spend about two months in the country.

They will be training forces engaged in battles in eastern Ukraine in medicine and defensive tactics, and supplying non-lethal equipment.

Russia has criticised the deployment saying it does not “strengthen trust”.

The deal was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last month.

It is the first time a Western nation has conducted a long-term military training programme in Ukraine since its war against pro-Russian rebels began last year.

35 trainers may not sound like a lot, especially since the Ukrainian troops are, according to The Guardian’s Alec Luhn, “corrupt, cash-strapped and lacking skill,” However, Prime Minister David Cameron only ordered the start of the mission a few weeks ago.

Yesterday there were reports that a scheduled U.S. training mission was cancelled; however today Stars and Stripes, a defense-centric news agency, reports that the mission is scheduled to start in April — it was only delayed to give the Minsk agreement a chance to work, and it has not:

Approximately 290 U.S. soldiers from the Army’s 173rd “Sky Soldiers” Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, will deploy to western Ukraine to train three battalions of the Ukrainian national guard, Warren said.

When asked why the training was moving forward, Warren said, “As the situation in Ukraine continued to develop and evolve … we put this training event under some review” and “the decision [was] made that conducting this exercise is a good idea.”

At a breakfast with defense reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Hodges said he anticipated that the training would go forward next month, but he had not received any orders to that effect.

James Miller

Ukrainian Military Reports Attacks Near Donetsk and Gorlovka

UNIAN reports that the ATO press centre has announced that Ukrainian forces came under fire 17 times between 20:00 (18:00 GMT) last night and 7 am today.

According to the press centre, the majority of attacks were conducted to the north of Donetsk.

At 20:15, Russian-backed fighters shelled a Ukrainian defensive position near the Dutovka mine with 122 mm artillery and mortars. At 20:35, the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka was shelled with artillery and mortars. 

The militants were also reported to have carried out “armed provocations” with small arms near the villages of Peski and Opytnoye.

Small arms attacks were also reported near Mayorsk and Leninskoye, north of Gorlovka.

Fighting On The Banks Of The Seversky Donets River

The stand-off on the northern bank of the Seversky Donets river near Stanitsa Luganskaya, north-west of Lugansk, continues this morning. In the evening of March 16, Russian-backed fighters crossed a damaged bridge across the river, which divides Ukrainian and separatist-held territory in the area, and began preparing defensive positions.


A failed attempt was also made on the night of March 17-18 to cross the river to the west, near Tryokhizbenka. The advance across the river risks becoming the flashpoint for an escalation in fighting as the river forms the demarcation line in this area for the Minsk ceasefire agreement. 

Ukrainian troops were reported to be prepared to use force to repel the Russian-backed fighters, but afraid of reacting to provocations to break the ceasefire. On March 17, the two sides had reportedly set up positions around 300 metres from each other on the northern banks.

This morning,  the press secretary for the Ukrainian military’s Northern Operational Command, Anatoly Proshin, told Ukrainska Pravda that fighting had broken out. 

The Interpreter translates:

“Our forces are now working to get the militants to withdraw. There is chaotic small arms fire. As of this morning, it was unknown whether they had withdrawn back across the bridge or not,” said Proshin.

Proshin claimed that Ukrainian troops had prevented the Russian-backed fighters from establishing a bridgehead or fortifications.

The press secretary said that the militants, by not abandoning their attempts to advance across the demarcation line into Ukrainian-held territory, were violating the Minsk agreement.

The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that fire-fights with automatic weapons had broken out several times on the outskirts of Stanitsa Luganskaya, near the bridge.

Both Proshin and Moskal’s office reported shelling and attacks across the wider front in northern Lugansk.

Proshin told Ukrainska Pravda that two attacks, with small arms, had been made on Ukrainian defensive positions near separatist-held Slavyanoserbsk. Proshin claimed that both attacks had been repelled by Ukrainian fire.

Moskal’s office reported that there had been shoot-outs with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades between the Ukrainian-held village of Krymskoye and Sokolniki, which is occupied by Russian-backed fighters from the so-called ‘Army of the Don Cossacks.’

In Tryokhizbenka, where Russian-backed fighters had failed to cross the river, there was intermittent fire throughout yesterday from artillery and mortars. Moskal’s office said that the last blasts were heard at 21:00 (19:00 GMT).

To the south, along the Bakhmutka highway, blasts from mortar shells were heard periodically. 

Artillery fire also fell on Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of Troitskoye, north-east of Debaltsevo, and was heard in Popasnaya, to the north.

The governor’s office said that the last weeks had seen a significant increase in attacks from Russian-backed forces in the region.


— Pierre Vaux