Ukraine Live Day 396: Last Bridge To Stanitsa Luganskaya Destroyed During Fighting

March 20, 2015

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?

Behind the Scenes Footage From Donetsk

Nadezhda Savchenko’s Health Reported To Have Worsened, May Be Moved To Hospital

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Nadezhda Savchenko’s sister, Vira, wrote on her Facebook page, at 13:40 GMT, that Nadezhda’s health has seriously worsened and that she is being prepared for transfer to a civilian hospital.

The Interpreter translates:

“Ilya Novikov [one of Savchenko’s lawyers] came out after seeing Nadiya. This was 30 minutes ago. Her liver tests have got worse. They’re preparing to transfer her to a city hospital (with bars and armed guards). To which one, I don’t know,” she reported. 

However at 15:39 GMT, Nikolai Polozov, another of Savchenko’s defence lawyers, tweeted:

Translation: Nadezhda Savchenko is NOT being transferred to a civilian hospital on this current day. She is still in pre-trial detention at Matrosskaya Tishina.
Translation: In the event of Savchenko’s health condition deteriorating further, from her continuing hunger strike, she may be transferred to a civilian hospital.

Translation: The responsibility for Nadezhda Savchenko’s life and health lies with the government of the Russian Federation and personally with President Putin.

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.

However on March 16, Savchenko resumed her hunger strike.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Reports 3 Soldiers Wounded Over Last 24 Hours, Claims Russian-Backed Fighters Using Grads

Andriy Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), has told reporters at a briefing today that 3 Ukrainian soldiers were wounded over the last 24 hours, Ukrainska Pravda reports.

As Novosti Donbassa reports, Lysenko claimed that Russian-backed fighters had used Grad MLRS, which should have been withdrawn from the front line in accordance with the Minsk agreement, in an attack on Ukrainian troops positioned near the separatist-held village of Sokolniki, north of the Bakhmutka highway.

Lysenko said that this was the first time in the last month that Grads had been used against Ukrainian troops. However there have been reports within that time frame of Grad attacks on Shirokino, east of Mariupol, Kodyma, near Debaltsevo, and also of launches from Donetsk.

The NSDC spokesman also reported tank and mortar attacks on Ukrainian positions, counting 4 attacks yesterday and 5 violations of the ceasefire today.

The BBC’s Natalia Antelava reported yesterday from Peski, north-west of Donetsk, where there was constant fire between the separatist and Ukrainian trenches.

— Pierre Vaux
Kyrygz Mercenary Who Fought Alongside Separatists In Ukraine Speaks to RFE/RL

RFE/RL has interviewed a man who says he is a Kyrygz who traveled to Ukraine to fight alongside Russian backed separatists. RFE/RL reports:

A Kyrgyz military reserve officer has told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service about his seven months of service as a mercenary in the ranks of the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Manas Mambetov alleges Russian troops are increasingly replacing local and mercenary fighters in the region — and that Moscow has stepped up the provision of heavy weaponry.

The man describes how he watched Russian State TV and saw the images of fascists and swastikas, and they resonated with him because of his family history, so he traveled to Ukraine to fight alongside the separatists and against the fascists. The problem: once there he never found any fascists to fight:

“We fought against the regular Ukrainian Army. They had some questionable elements — the right Sector and the Donbas battalions, which are composed of volunteers, ultranationalists. Such types are everywhere. But I didn’t see any fascists.”

There are a few interesting distinctions which Mambetov is making. Ultranationalists are a common sight in Russia, and indeed most of Eastern Europe. But though their ideology may be problematic, they aren’t Nazis. Perhaps Mambetov is suggesting that the ultranationalists in some of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions are not so different from those he’s encountered elsewhere?

Mambetov says he went to Lugansk in August, and there were no regular army units there yet, just poorly-outfitted “bands fighting on both sides.” He describes how the Russian media portrayed the reality there and how it was different from what he was seeing.

Then the Russian army came in. He says something “shifted” inside of him. Mambetov describes how battle-hardened Russian soldiers would bring heavy equipment across the border, train the separatist fighters, then leave and later come back.

The Kyrgyz also says that the separatist militias are degrading. He says that since the last Minsk agreement was signed, “they think that Russia — Putin, personally — has abandoned them. After Crimea… they though they too would be recognized like the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. But it turned out that they had simply been cheated.” Mambetov said that many of the fighters believe that they will become targets of the Ukrainian security services after the Donbass is granted “special status” within Ukraine, and so some of them are leaving the country.

The militias are still receiving shipments of heavy weapons, but only “erratically,” since “it is regular Russian forces that are in action. The miners aren’t around anymore.”

So he left. “It turned out that everything was all agitation, propaganda. This was really offensive to me.”

Watch the entire video here:

James Miller
Stand-Off Outside Stanitsa Luganskaya Ends With Only Remaining Road Bridge Destroyed

The last remaining road bridge across the Seversky Donets river near Stanitsa Luganskaya, where the river forms the natural demarcation line between separatist and Ukrainian-held territory, was blown up last night.

The bridge, which was already severely damaged and passable only with light vehicles or on foot, had been the scene of a stand-off over the last three days.

On the night of March 16, Russian-backed fighters crossed the bridge and began establishing defensive positions on the northern bank (in what is considered the Ukrainian side under the Minsk agreement). 


Ukrainian troops were dispatched south to meet them and demand they withdraw. That demand was rejected and the two sides faced off from positions reportedly around 300 meters apart. Gunfire was reported yesterday morning but a Ukrainian military spokesman could not say at the time whether the Russian-backed fighters had withdrawn back across the river. reported that the road bridge was struck by a powerful blast at approximately 18:00 (16:00 GMT) yesterday evening.

According to the report, the shock wave from the blast was so powerful that it was felt in some areas of Lugansk to the south-west.

An update at 20:00 (18:00 GMT) reported that gunfire could be heard in the village.

Ukrainska Pravda reported this morning that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, had confirmed that the bridge was now completely impassable, posting both the photo tweeted by Ambassador Pyatt above, and the one below:


According to the report, the bridge was destroyed during a battle between Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters.

The Interpreter translates:

According to [Moskal], on March 19, at around 18:00, a militant sniper fired on Ukrainian soldiers’ positions near the bridge over the Seversky Donets in Stanitsa Luganskaya.

“After opening fire in response, a shoot-out broke out between the two sides, with assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars being used. During the fighting a powerful explosion went off in the middle of the bridge, as a result of which, the deck crashed down into the water,” said Moskal.

Meanwhile, to the south-west, Twitter users reported blasts in the Bolshaya Vergunka area of north-eastern Lugansk.

Translation: I couldn’t really see the eclipse, but I saw explosions in B. Vergunka

We cannot verify the photos yet, but they do not appear anywhere else on Google Image Search.

Bolshaya Vergunka lies in separatist-held territory:


— Pierre Vaux