Ukraine Live Day 407: Does Ukraine Still Control Shirokino?

March 31, 2015
Smoke rising above Shirokino on March 9. Photo: Alina Mykhailova (@AMykhailova)

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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Crimean ATR TV And Many Other Tatar News Outlets May Be Shut Down April 1

April 1, tomorrow, could be a dark day for the Crimean Tatars, as all but one of their news networks may be forced to end broadcasting due to a new Russian law. The law requires  organizations to register with Russian authorities, but most Crimean Tatar organizations have had their applications rejected or delayed, meaning that they will miss tomorrow’s deadline.

Amnesty International, which has condemned these developments as censorship, reports:

Whilst all media outlets in Crimea were told to re-register under Russian legislation in April 2014, those broadcasting in the Crimean Tatar language have been repeatedly and arbitrarily denied registration. By contrast, many Russian-language media outlets received licenses soon after applying.

So far, only one Crimean Tatar-language media outlet – the newspaper Yeni Dunya – has successfully re-registered. The rest have fallen foul of the registration authority which has used technicalities and unspecified “irregularities” to delay or deny registration.

The well-established Crimean Tatar-language news agency, QHA, was twice refused re-registration, and has not reapplied. ATR, a TV channel that broadcasts in the Crimean Tatar language, has had three applications for a media licence arbitrarily rejected since October 2014. There has been no response to their fourth application.

Lilya Budzhurova, Deputy Director for Information Policy for ATR told Amnesty International that the channel will pull the plug on their broadcasts at 00:01 on 1 April if a licence is not granted.

Kyiv Post adds that ATR TV station, which is still fighting the law, has no plans on moving operations to another country (perhaps to Kiev):

Budzhurova says they don’t know what they would do after April 1, but if they fail to get the registration their work would be prosecuted by Russian authorities. She adds that there is a chance for them to move to Ukraine to continue their work.

Some other countries have already reached out to ATR managers, according to Budzhurova, offering them to continue their work in exile, but it is not an option for them.

“We’re a Crimean Tatar TV channel, we can’t work separated from our nation,” Budzhurova explains. “It’s impossible for us – neither technically – as we have to move some 200 employees then – nor morally.”

However, the management has no plans to give up. Budzhurova says they will file a lawsuit against Russian regulator, because they want to prove the ATR is not a “seditious” channel.

Rallies in support of ATR and other stations facing shutdown have been held in Kiev for days. Today people are reportedly flooding ATR headquarters in Crimea in solidarity with the station:

James Miller
Former NATO Commander Warns About Impending Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Advocates Sending Arms

Retired US General Wesley Clark, who is the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, gave a speech yesterday to the Atlantic Council after traveling to Ukraine on a fact-finding mission. He echoed warnings from sources in Kiev which suggested that the Minsk ceasefire, which is largely holding but is violated in specific locations each day, could be shattered sometime in later April or early May. UNIAN reports

“What is happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east,” and this could take place following Orthodox Easter, on April 12, and most probably before VE Day on May 8,” Clark said, citing multiple local sources he spoke with on a recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine.

Clark said it was necessary now to send weapons to Ukraine to get it prepared by the time of the next Russian-backed militant offensive.

“It [sending weapons] would not be a provocation, but would have a stabilizing effect, and we must do it now,” Clark said.

However, he warned that “[Putin’s] objectives could be much broader than Ukraine,” and said there was the possibility of a Russian attack on the Baltic countries and Poland.

The US Naval Institute News added that Clark downplayed the potential risks of arming Ukraine with lethal weapons:

“This is the time we should be providing the assistance” before there is any move against the port city of Mariupol and Kharkiv near the Russian border.

“We’re dealing with the Ukrainian military and not the Iraqi army”—which could use the weapons with American training and assistance, Clark said.

“Promise it, promote it”—to deter further Russian aggression and reassure allies and partners in the region. “It would be like a shot of adrenaline when it comes.” He believes “a lot of it would get into the field quickly.”

Clark said building such a package—which would include Javelin anti-tank weapons, night-vision goggles, better intelligence collection and analysis— would be similar to what the United States provided Israel in its October 1973 war.

Clark’s full comments can be seen here:

James Miller
Governor Moskal Appeals To Authorities To Rein In Aidar Battalion

Novosti Donbassa reports that Hennadiy Moskal, the governor of the Lugansk region, has appealed to the Ministry of Defence, the chief of the General Staff, the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General to tackle what he reports is unacceptable behaviour by some members of the Aidar volunteer battalion (which is subordinate to the MOD and funded by the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk, Ihor Kolomoiskiy).

Moskal alleged that members of the battalion were “continuing to commit crimes in the territory of the Lugansk region.”

He cited some examples:

According to Moskal, on March 16, this year, three drunken Aidar fighters broke down the door of an apartment in Lysychansk and attacked a man who was at home with his wife and son. The soldiers struck the father on the head with an assault rifle, causing multiple injuries, before going out into the street and firing off rounds, causing a panic in the neighbourhood.

On March 29, Moskal wrote, a soldier got out of a car with Aidar battalion markings and fired several shots at a police car, damaging it, before leaving the scene.

On March 1, Aidar fighters engaged in a shoot-out in Lysychansk with members of another Ukrainian volunteer battalion, Ternopil, in which automatic weapons were used. 

Moskal wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

“These, and other, similar cases, indicate that Aidar soldiers are not behaving as representatives of a military unit reporting to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, but as automatic weapon carrying brawlers, robbers and outlaws. 

The behaviour of the unit discredits the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as the Ukrainian authorities in general, in the eyes of the local population. 

The lack of response to these crimes provokes their proliferation and engenders a sense of impunity in those who commit them.

Once again, I ask for the criminals to be dealt with by decisive and tough means, as stipulated by legislation. Only by such means can such outrages finally be stopped.”

— Pierre Vaux

Volunteer Shot In Odessa Last Night

Leviy Bereg reports that the Odessa police have announced that a 35-year-old volunteer activist was shot last night in Odessa.

According to the report, the man was fired on in the entrance to an apartment block on Cosmonauts’ Street. 

He was struck by five bullets but survived and is now in intensive care. 

— Pierre Vaux

Two Ukrainian Police Officers Wanted For Deadly Crackdown On EuroMaidan Protests

We’ve just published a summary of a report from the International Advisory Panel of the Council of Europe, released today, which found that the Ukrainian government has been negligent in investigating the crackdown on the EuroMaidan protests that led to the deaths of the “Heavenly Hundred.” 

Now, RFE/RL reports that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office has added the names of two police officers wanted in connection with the crackdown:

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office said on March 31 that former acting Kyiv police chief Valeriy Mazan and his deputy, Petro Fedchuk, are suspected of organizing the dispersal of protesters on Kyiv’s Independence Square on February 18-19, 2014.

It said that 13 people were killed and 130 injured on those dates as a result of the “unlawful” use of force.

The whereabouts of Mazan and Fedchuk are unknown.

Is the timing a coincidence? These are two high-ranking police officers, not members of the rank and file, so it’s not clear why the names were added to the list now. It’s also highly unlikely that Mazan and Fedchuk are still in the country, more than 13 months after the violent crackdown took place.

James Miller


Council of Europe Report Says Maidan Investigation Has Been Hindered By Interior Ministry And SBU; Condemns Amnesties For Security Forces Involved In Violence

The International Advisory Panel of the Council of Europe has published a report on the Ukrainian investigation into the violence during the Maidan protests.

In their press release, the International Advisory Panel criticised the investigation, stating that, “in many respects,” the investigations had “failed to satisfy the requirements of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The first problem the investigation has faced is that, of course, the Yanukovych government had failed to sufficiently investigate crimes committed against protesters.

The Panel recognised this, and the adverse conditions faced by the post-Maidan government, but noted that there were still major issues with the investigation. Most notably: a lack of independence from the government, and interference from the Interior Ministry and SBU.

After 22 February 2014, the Panel acknowledged that the investigations faced significant challenges, which, however, “cannot excuse any failings which did not inevitably flow from them”. The authorities of the present government clearly were, and are under, an obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the investigations comply with Article 2 (Right to life) and Article 3 (Prohibition of torture) of the Convention.

The Panel considered that the investigations lacked practical independence. The investigations were also ineffective or a number of reasons: the resources of the Prosecutor’s General Office (PGO) allocated to the Maidan investigations were “wholly inadequate”; there was a lack of continuity in the leadership of the PGO investigations and the allocation of investigative work was inefficient. Moreover, the unco-operative attitude on the part of the Ministry of Interior and of the State Security Service of Ukraine had a negative impact on the investigation. The Panel cites the example of the investigation of the alleged involvement of Berkut officers as illustrating a lack of co-operation and obstruction by the Ministry of Interior, “which seriously impeded progress in this key investigation”.

The Panel also found that the decisions of the Pecherskyi District Court failed to comply with the requirements of the European Convention; it advised against the granting of amnesties or pardons to law enforcement officers in relation to unlawful killings or ill-treatment, and concluded that a coordinated communication policy should have been, but was not, put in place to ensure adequate public scrutiny of the investigation. 

The Panel concluded that, as a result of these investigative deficiencies, substantial progress had not been made in the Maidan investigations.

The full report, cites the apparent impunity of Berkut officers (who operated as part of the Interior Ministry):

In the view of the Panel, the events in April 2014 demonstrated an alarming sense of impunity on the part of the Berkut officers and, an incapacity or unwillingness on the part of their MoI [Ministry of the Interior] superiors to ensure that those officers co-operated with a lawful investigation. The Berkut officers failed to answer the PGO [Prosecutor General’s Office] summons. A Berkut commander considered that he could negotiate with the PGO over which officer would answer a PGO summons and then subsequently interfered with the questioning of the officers. Berkut officers went so far as to try to obtain the release of the arrested Berkut officers through the physical intimidation of PGO staff, by surrounding the building in which they were being questioned. Equally disturbing is the allegation that phone records of a Berkut officer, who was willing to speak to the PGO, had been tampered with to exclude a phone call which would have compromised his MoI superiors.

— Pierre Vaux

Bombing In Kharkiv Railway Station

The Kharkiv regional Prosecutor’s Office has announced that a bomb went off on the railway line in the Osnova station in the regional capital in the early hours of this morning.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“An explosive device was detonated under a moving train at around 0300. Five meters of rail tracks were damaged and two empty carriages derailed. No one was hurt,” reads to the press release.

The authorities are tentatively investigating the incident as an act of sabotage, it said.

It was the second blast at Kharkiv’s Osnova railway station in the past two days. A cistern carrying diesel fuel for the Ukrainian Armed Forces was blown up at this train station early on March 30. This incident is also being investigated as an act of sabotage.

Another Ukrainian Soldier Wounded In Tryokhizbenka

Yesterday, the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, announced that two Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded, one of them severely, when Russian-backed fighters fired on their position across the Seversky Donets river outside Tryokhizbenka.

Today, Novosti Donbassa reports that Moskal’s office has announced that another soldier was wounded later that day in an attack in the same area.

According to the report, at around 22:00, Russian-backed militants climbed up onto the wrecked bridge across the river (as they had earlier) and fired on Ukrainian troops with mortars, grenade launchers and automatic weapons.

The Russian-backed fighters reportedly withdrew after half-an-hour of fighting.

The governor’s office also reported that there had been an intensification in attacks on Ukrainian positions elsewhere in the region.

Skirmishes were reported on the outskirts of Krymskoye (south-east of Tryokhizbenka), where Ukrainian troops were attacked by militants from Sokolniki with grenade launchers.

Earlier today, the ATO press centre claimed that 82 mm mortars had been used an attack on a Ukrainian defensive position near Sokolniki at 18:00 last night. A checkpoint in Krymskoye was reportedly attacked 20 minutes later.

According to Moskal’s office, shelling was heard on the Bakhmutka highway while skirmishes broke out on the outskirts of Troitskoye and Stanitsa Luganskaya.


The National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) reported attacks elsewhere, not only north of Donetsk, near the airport, which has been the scene of regular fighting, but also Granitnoye (Hranitne in Ukrainian), a settlement north-east of Mariupol and an important strategic objective for any push to cut off the port city from the north as it lies on the road to Volnovakha.


— Pierre Vaux

Does Ukraine Still Control Shirokino?

Yesterday, InfoResist reported that Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, had told UNN that the village was now completely controlled by Russian-backed fighters.

Bociurkiw says that the SMM is writing in its next report (which has not yet been published) that the village is “fully under the control of the DNR.”

The Interpreter translates:

“If this wasn’t the case, then they wouldn’t have escorted us to the village. There are only DNR fighters in the settlement itself. There are also Ukrainian troops in the immediate vicinity of Shirokino, but they are not in the village itself. It should also be noted that the demarcation line runs right along the boundary with the village.”

However Oleg Sushinsky, press officer for the Mariupol Defence Headquarters, told LIGABusinessInform today that Ukrainian troops had not left and were holding their positions in the village.

The spokesman had earlier told Ukraine’s 5 Channel that Ukrainian troops in Shirokino had been fired on 6 times with both small arms and grenade launchers, before Russian-backed troops had mounted an infantry assault.

The Ukrainian troops had, he claimed, repelled the attack. 

Later this morning, the Mariupol Defence Headquarters released a briefing on its Facebook page in which it was reported that Russian-backed fighters had attacked Ukrainian positions in Shirokino a total of 9 times over the last 24 hours.

According to the briefing, The following attacks were made (local time used):

15:07-17:16 – small arms fire

16:53-16:57 – fire from a tank and an 82 mm mortar

17:11-17:16 – 120 mm mortar fire

19:22 – shot from a 82 mm mortar

19:37 – shot from a grenade launcher

19:18-19:52 – 82 mm mortar fire

21:18-23:17 – small arms fire

22:05-23:17 – 82 and 120 mm mortar fire

00:31 – 82 mm mortar fire

Meanwhile, Semyon Semyonchenko, Rada deputy in the Samopomich party and former commander of the Donbass volunteer battalion, wrote on his Facebook page that his former unit had indeed been ordered to withdraw from Shirokino, but only as part of a rotation.

According to Donbass member Anatoly Vinogrodsky, whose post Semyonchenko had shared, the battalion was exchanging places at the front with the Azov regiment.

Vinogrodsky wrote that reconnaissance had reported that the Russian-backed fighters were accumulating manpower and hardware in the area.

Both he and Semyonchenko were critical of the unit’s orders to return to Kiev for “combat training and reformatting.”

Semyonchenko reported that the battalion’s members were “outraged” at the order to leave Mariupol while Russian-backed fighters were pressing their attacks.

He said that he would, in his capacity as first deputy head of the committee on national security and defence, “convince [his] colleagues from the National Guard [of which Donbass is a part] to account for the cost.”

— Pierre Vaux