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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?
The BBC reports that Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of the Ukrainian State Service for Emergency Situations (GosChS), and his deputy, Vasyl Stoyetsky, may now be released for lack of evidence despite being dramatically arrested before TV cameras during a cabinet meeting two days ago.
Ukrainska Pravda reported earlier that the investigating judge, Irina Litvinova, had announced that the Pechersky District Court in Kiev had refused the arrest of Stoyetsky and Bochkovsky as the prosecutor had requested the revoke the warrant due to insufficient evidence.
However, the BBC’s David Stern writes that the two may in fact remain in detention:
Serhiy Bochkovsky is not yet a free man. Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said new evidence will be examined on Saturday, which could in fact prolong his detention.
But the prospect that law enforcement officials initially provided insufficient evidence is still a worrying sign.
And if Mr Bochkovsky and his first deputy are in fact released, it will deal a heavy blow to the government’s reputation, and to its anti-corruption campaign, which launched with such great fanfare.
Already a number of eyebrows were raised at the high-profile way in which the two men’s arrests were carried out: At a cabinet meeting and on live television, no less.
Many people asked if this was more sound and fury, and questioned the government’s seriousness. If the two men walk free on Saturday, then these questions will grow even louder.
The two officials allegedly purchased fuel from two firms without accepting tenders from other suppliers. 15% of the money for the fuel purchases was then, the investigator said, passed on to accounts outside Ukraine, and from those accounts, back to the GosChS managers, making use of an offshore firm in Jersey and accounts at the Bank of Cyprus.
— Pierre Vaux
The OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine has just sent this tweet:
The report is actually dated yesterday, March 26, at 1800 GMT, and there are many curious aspects to it. First, the report spotlights the terrible living conditions in the town due to the regular shelling:
The SMM entered the village from the north*. Walking through it, the SMM spoke with four women, five men, and a 14-year-old boy who had not been to school since September due to the shelling. Some of them told the SMM about relatives killed and injured from shelling, and family members who had left. An 80-year-old woman wanted to show the SMM her destroyed house at the village’s eastern end, but the escorting “DPR” members did not allow it.* The SMM’s unarmed/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had previously spotted two T64 tanks in that area. All adult interlocutors expressed frustration with the continued shelling of their village and the dire living conditions, such as no electricity for six weeks and no water for more than one month. The SMM also facilitated access for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which delivered blankets, candles, food and hygiene items to 50 families. The SMM saw that 50-60% of all houses in Shyrokyne were destroyed, with the remainder, including the kindergarten, damaged. The relatives of a resident who had stayed in Shyrokyne to take care of livestock had informed the SMM in Mariupol that he had been killed. The SMM recovered the body from the house, which was located in the stretch of land between the “DPR” und Ukraine armed positions to the west of the village, and handed the body over to the ICRC who took the remains to the morgue in Mariupol. The deceased’s family were informed and identified their relative.
Puzzlingly, despite the optimistic tweet, the report goes on to document several ceasefire violations, a fact not lost on other journalists watching this conflict:
The report describes the scene:
In the afternoon the SMM heard intermittent small arms and light weapons (SALW) fire from the south-west and mortar rounds (likely 82mm) outgoing from the north-north-east of Shyrokyne. The SMM could not ascertain the direction of the fire. All along the main road the SMM saw craters, unexploded ordnance (UXO), a burnt-out tank, and infantry fighting vehicles. The SMM assessed that the majority of the impacts had been caused by shelling, originating from a westerly direction. Throughout the foot patrol, the SMM’s UAV was flying over and taking images of destroyed houses and other civilian infrastructure, destroyed military vehicles on the main road, a twin barrelled anti-aircraft gun (ZU-23mm), as well as armed units in the south of the village.
We have just posted news of fresh fighting in the town (see below), so it seems that the ceasefire is not holding.
The OSCE report goes on to detail a substantial amount of artillery fire across multiple areas on the Donbass:
Whilst at the [Donetsk] airport, between 10:00 and 13:35hrs, the SMM heard 133 explosions south, west and north of its position. The SMM could not ascertain the distance, the type of ammunition used, or if it was incoming or outgoing fire. Between 10:00 and 10:30hrs the SMM heard 15 outgoing 120mm mortar rounds from a southerly direction, and 15 incoming artillery rounds in a westerly direction; both incoming and outgoing fire occurred at 1-3km distance from the SMM’s position. Between 10:30 and 11:15hrs the SMM heard 13 incoming explosions, 1-2km north of its position. The SMM could not ascertain the type of ammunition, the weapon used or the origin of fire. At 12:07hrs the SMM saw an explosion 200m north-west of its position, caused by an incoming 40mm grenade from an automatic grenade launcher; the SMM could not ascertain the direction. Between 13:00 and 13:30hrs the SMM witnessed 12 incoming airbursts caused apparently by high explosive shells, 1-3km west of its position, but could not ascertain the direction. At 13:35hrs the SMM left the airport due to outgoing heavy-machine-gun fire 300-400m west of its position.
From 9:19 to 10:00hrs, whilst in its office in Donetsk city centre, the SMM heard 35 explosions of undetermined type of weapon or calibre, 10-15km north-west of its location. Whilst in Pisky (government-controlled, 11km north-west of Donetsk), the SMM heard five incoming 120mm mortar rounds.
From 12:30 to 12:55hrs in Yelyzaveto-Mykolayivka* (“DPR”-controlled, 45km south-east of Donetsk), the SMM heard 16 explosions, consistent with artillery rounds, 10-15km south-west of its position. The SMM could not determine the calibre or whether the explosions were caused by incoming or outgoing rounds.
Near Sopyne (government-controlled, 99km south of Donetsk, 15km east of Mariupol), from 7:53 to 9:00hrs, the SMM heard intermittent SALW [Small Arms and Light Weapons – The Interpreter] fire and three mortar rounds. At 11:30hrs, the SMM heard ten rounds of heavy-machine-gun fire north-west of its position. In both instances, the SMM could not ascertain directions or distances due to strong wind.
Near government-controlled Berdianske (102km south of Donetsk, 18km east of Mariupol), the SMM observed that its UAV was being targeted by SALW fire from three Ukrainian Armed Forces positions situated 350m, 400m and 500m north of the SMM’s position, on the western edge of Shyrokyne.
This hardly sounds like a ceasefire.
In other OSCE-related news, there are still other unfulfilled portion of the Minsk agreements — including that the border between Ukraine and Russia is still in control of Russian-backed fighters, and that the OSCE is not able to properly inspect the border:
UNIAN reports that the Ukrainian Azov regiment has claimed that there is heavy fighting under way in the village of Shirokino, east of Mariupol.
A post on the regiment’s Facebook page, made at 14:40 GMT, read (translated by The Interpreter):
A battle has been under way for over an hour in Shirokino.
The terrorists are firing on Ukrainian troops’ positions with automatic grenade launchers and heavy machine guns. An 82 mm mortar is also firing at our positions.
The post said that the Ukrainians were putting up “an adequate response.”
There is no news so far of casualties.
Earlier this morning, the ATO press centre claimed that Ukrainian positions in Shirokino had been shelled with 120 mm mortars late last night.
— Pierre Vaux
Rue89Strasbourg reports that French politician Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a member of the European Parliament and Rassemblement bleu Marine, a far-right coalition led by the Front National, who previously endorsed the Ukrainian separatist ‘elections’ in November last year by acting as a ‘monitor’ for the OSCE-imitating Association for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is due to return to Donetsk in May.
Jean-François Gérard writes for Rue89Strasbourg that Schaffhauser plans to organize a forum in the separatist-held city to discuss the political implementation of the Minsk accords.
According to Gérard, the forum will bring together representatives from both separatist-held areas of Ukraine and “members of European institutions, but there is no assurance of the involvement of representatives from the Ukrainian central government. One can therefore question the impartiality of this forum.”
While the full delegation for the trip is not yet known, Schaffhauser will be accompanied by both German and Italian political theorists, as well as a French NGO called Urgence Enfants d’Ukraine (Ukraine’s Children’s Emergency).
Urgence Enfants d’Ukraine was founded, according to their website, in October last year to bring aid to Ukrainians, particularly children, affected by the conflict.
There is a definite tilt towards the Russian-backed separatists in their coverage of the conflict.Their Facebook page regularly stories translated from pro-separatist sources or conspiracy theorist YouTube channels and suggests sites such as novorossia.vision as news sources.
Indeed a page declaring their “Humanitarian Mission,” that is no longer linked to from the main page, makes their position clearer.
Describing the plight of civilians in the region, the statement continues (translated by The Interpreter):
Not only does the Ukrainian government refuse Russian help to cross the border, it is prohibiting international assistance to pass through its territory until the Russian-speakers have laid down their arms.
This is a heavily skewed and misleading statement. Russia’s “humanitarian convoys” have regularly crossed the border. Ukraine has only declared them illegal as Russia has refused to either allow Ukrainian customs officials to inspect their cargo, or for the International Committee of the Red Cross to distribute the aid inside Ukraine, as had been agreed upon before the first convoy crossed over in August last year. Ukrainian officials have since suggested that such un-inspected convoys are being used to ferry military supplies to the area.
Are Urgence Enfants d’Ukraine referring to some hypothetical Russian ‘peacekeeping’ intervention here?
Secondly the Ukrainian government has not only allowed foreign aid to pass through their territory (as even the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets have reported), they have called for UN peacekeepers to be deployed — a move Russia fiercely opposes.
Finally, the characterization of the Russian-backed separatist fighters as “the Russian-speakers” is based on a purported clear-cut divide between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east. This is completely false – many of the Ukrainian troops and volunteer commanders fighting in the area, let alone members of government, both national and regional, are Russian-speakers.
Urgence Enfants d’Ukraine was officially declared as a non-profit organisation on September 27, 2014 and is registered at an address in Le Cannet, southern France. While no names are mentioned anywhere on their published material, their website is registered to one Alain Fragny.
This suggests yet another strand of involvement between the French far-right and Russia.
Meanwhile, the return of Schaffhauser himself presents a rebuttal to suggestions that the Front National was distancing itself from the Kremlin after FN representatives failed to appear at a far-right conference in Saint Petersburg last weekend.
Rue89Strasbourg has since published a response from Alain Fragny, in which he claims that he is no-longer a member of Bloc Identitaire:
“In profound disagreement with this movement, I resigned in 2013 and am no longer sympathetic to it. Free of all political engagements, I have decided to devote myself to purely humanitarian work.”
We would suggest that the involvement of a recent member of such a extreme group as Bloc Identitaire with the pro-separatist ‘charity’ and Schaffhauser is still describable as collaboration between the French far-right and the Russian-backed separatists.
— Pierre Vaux
Roman Voznik, commander of the separatist Mirage battalion and a member of the ‘People’s Soviet’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), was killed in the centre of Donetsk yesterday evening.
The pro-separatist Novorosinform.org new site reports that Voznik’s death had been announced by the DNR ‘minister for foreign affairs,’ Aleksandr Kofman.
Voznik was shot in his car at the intersection of Chelyuskintsev street and Vatutina prospect between 23:00 and 23:15. There were reports that the shots were fired from a blue Chevrolet Lacetti.
Voznik’s wife and child were in the car with him, but were unharmed. He was also escorted by two bodyguards.
Donetsk news site 62.ua claimed that one of Voznik’s bodyguards had also been killed
Voznik, who went by the call sign Tsygan (gypsy), was, 62 notes, the initiator of an attack on the conductor of a Ukrainian military band on May 1 last year.
While many administrative buildings had been seized by separatist fighters at the time, the city was not yet the stronghold it is now, as Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Gorlovka still remained the centres of separatist military strength.
When the military band performed a rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem before the monument “to the Liberators of the Donbass” in the city centre, Voznik, and several others began to attack the conductor of the band until officials from the mayor’s office intervened.
— Pierre Vaux
Fighting has continued along key areas of the front line in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, with the use of heavy-calibre mortars reported.
In Shirokino, east of Mariupol, where Russian-backed fighters are attempting to push Ukrainian troops out of the village, a civilian has been killed.
The Mariupol police report they received notice from doctors today at 10:00 that a dead man, aged between 40 and 45, had been brought to the Mariupol morgue from Shirokino by Red Cross workers. On preliminary examination, he appears to have died from shrapnel wounds.
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, announced that one Ukrainian soldier had been wounded during the last 24 hours.
Interestingly, while Lysenko claimed there had been no recorded use of heavy artillery by Russian-backed fighters in that period, describing attacks as only “armed provocations,” the military’s ATO press centre reported the use of 120 mm mortars against Ukrainian positions in Shirokino and near Slavnoye, north of Donetsk.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the press centre claimed that there were 8 attacks on Ukrainian positions last night, a reduction from the night before.
In addition to the mortar attack on Slavnoye, Russian-backed fighters also reportedly attacked nearby Peski with small arms and grenade launchers.
The ATO press centre also reported a small arms attack on a Ukrainian defensive position near separatist-held Sokolniki, east of Krymskyoe, near the Bakhmutka highway in the Lugansk region.
Novosti Donbassa reports that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, had announced that the situation in the area had “deteriorated again.”
The governor’s office reported that there had been repeated skirmishes in Stanitsa Luganskaya, with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades used.
There was constant fire from machine guns and assault rifles in Krymskoye, near a tuberculosis dispensary. Artillery and mortar shells struck the outskirts of Troitskoye and distant artillery fire was heard on the Bakhmutka highway and in Popasnaya.
Meanwhile in Zolotoye, a gas main was damaged after being struck with a rocket-propelled grenade, reportedly fired by Russian-backed fighters. According to Moskal’s office, four thousand customers were now without gas as a result. Repair teams are attempting to bring supplies back online by the end of the day.
— Pierre Vaux