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?
The Associated Press has published an article today with clear conclusions; their reporters see significant presence of Russian military soldiers and leadership in eastern Ukraine; strong evidence suggests that at the height of the conflict dozens of Russian military vehicles were crossing the border each day; the Russian military has supplied the separatist militants with most of their clothing, food, ammunition, weapons, and supplies; and Russian troops have spearheaded some of the separatists biggest victories.
The AP has drawn these conclusions based on the observations of their reporters in the field, but also through speaking with many rebels who, unlike their tight-lipped leaders, gladly speak with the press.
But the AP also reports that after significant separatist victories, like the one at Debaltsevo, the Russian troops often withdraw from the front lines. Now, with the tentative and often broken ceasefire having taken hold, Russian troops are increasingly shifting their mission to better train the Russian-backed fighters:
Visits by The Associated Press to training grounds like those near Yenakiyeve and interviews with dozens of rebels reveal that Russian armed forces spearheaded some of the major separatist offensives, then withdrew quickly before they could be widely noticed.
More recently, as a shaky cease-fire has taken hold, Russia has kept fewer troops in Ukraine but has increased its training of rebels to make sure they are capable of operating sophisticated Russian weaponry and defending the territory they control. NATO and an independent London-based Russian scholar estimate that Russia has several hundred military trainers in eastern Ukraine…
Throughout the conflict and often a few days before a new flashpoint of fighting would erupt, AP reporters would see as many as 80 armored vehicles a day, mostly coming from the direction of the Russian border, carrying troops and towing artillery. Their ultimate origin was impossible to establish, and the rebels strongly discouraged reporters from photographing such convoys or following them.
While rebel commanders avoid talking to journalists about Russia’s role in the conflict, separatist fighters routinely confirm that clothing and ammunition are among supplies they receive from Russia.
The AP article features interviews with multiple rebel soldiers, and can be read in its entirety here:
Russia's role in Ukraine seen shifting to training rebels
YENAKIEYEVE, Ukraine (AP) – On a recent spring morning, an important visitor watched Russian-backed rebels conduct infantry maneuvers on the sunlit training grounds outside this town in eastern Ukraine. "The general is very pleased," rebel battalion commander Ostap Cherny told his troops, referring to the figure in camouflage encircled by five armed guards.
Sesegma Batomunkuevna, the mother of Russian tank gunner, Dorzhi, who was severely burnt in battle near Debaltsevo and gave a revelatory interview to Novaya Gazeta‘s Yelena Kostyuchenko last month, has told Novaya Buryatiya‘s Sergei Basayev that the family has received “no help whatsoever” from the army or state.
The Interpreter translates:
When asked by Novaya Buryatiya whether Dorzhi Batomunkuev’s family, as the family of a participant in an armed conflict or, perhaps, as the family of someone wounded during military service, is receiving any kind of help from the Russian Ministry of Defence, the mother’s reaction was thus:
“What help?! Come on! There is no help, nothing of that kind at all!”
Sesegma says that Dorzhi Batomunkuev is still in a “very critical condition” and the paper reports that he is now in hospital in Mogoytuy, Zabaykalsky Krai.
Notably, Batomunkueva denies her son gave an interview to Kostyuchenko, claiming the entire affair was concocted, which may well reflect pressure either from the army or the wider media climate, in which, Novaya Buratiya reports, the interview has been widely portrayed as a fabrication by enemies of the state.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Yelizaveta Glinka, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, has announced that Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer and MP who was captured by separatist fighters and illegally transported to Russia where she is awaiting trial, has suspended her hunger strike.
Glinka told TASS, after visiting Savchenko in pre-trial detention (translated by The Interpreter):
“She is felling better. She is taking food once a day, a little cottage cheese, a little milk, a little pudding. This is her so-called ‘suspended hunger strike.”
Ukrainska Pravda reported that Savchenko’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, had released a handwritten statement by his client.
Savchenko wrote that (translated by The Interpreter):
“In order to last until the trial and attend it, I will not allow myself to die…
Hunger is not just when there is nothing at all to eat, but also when there is not enough food. I will not end my hunger strike.”
She said that she is taking “chemicals” and food once a day, or every other day. The Ukrainian MP and military officer also noted that some of the food substances she is consuming are medically contraindicated for gastric issues, in particular, milk.
She now weighs 56 kg.
Savchenko insisted that she would not end her hunger strike, even in its current, limited form until she returned to Ukraine.
Another statement criticised the investigation of another of her lawyers, Mark Feygin, for “extremism,” which was announced on April 1.
Savchenko said that she was “in shock.”
“Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, you will not break us or tear apart our defence.”
Savchenko maintained her first 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.
— Pierre Vaux
The National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC) has announced that three Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded over the last 24 hours.
The governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that attacks had continued along the front line along the Bakhmutka highway and Seversky Donets river, albeit at a reduced level compared to previous days.
According to Moskal, there were skirmishes near several settlements, in particular, on the outskirts of Krymskoye, where shoot-outs with automatic weapons between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed fighters periodically broke out.
After 21:00 last night, there was a fire-fight near Kryakovka, to the north-east, on the other side of the river. Both automatic weapons and grenade launchers were used.
In Stanitsa Luganskaya, a Ukrainian defensive position was fired on from the direction of a monument to Prince Igor, on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets.
Moskal said that the last two days have seen the absence of artillery fire in the area, with only minor skirmishes breaking out. No casualties have been reported in the region.
The Mariupol Defence Headquarters also reported a decrease in the number of attacks on Ukrainian positions on the Azov coast:
For the third day now, the situation on the outskirts of Mariupol has been settling and showing signs of improvement. Compared with the end of March, the number of attacks on Ukrainian positions has markedly decreased.
The Headquarters did report six attacks on Ukrainian positions in Shirokino however:
During the daytime shelling, 82 mm mortars were used; at night there were 4 attacks with rocket-propelled grenades. The attacks have been more erratic in nature…
At night, 2 enemy UAV flights over the settlements of Chermalyk and Talakovka were detected btween the hours of 3 and 4 am.
This morning at 6:00, the enemy fired on ATO forces’ positions located near the village of Nikolaevka.
There were no casualties as a result of the attack.
According to Sector M [the Mariupol military zone] reports, some participants in the armed conflict, who are fighting on the opposite side, are expressing their discontent at having not been paid salaries for several months. Owing to this, they are moving on to other illegal armed groups.
Meanwhile, this video, uploaded today, purportedly shows Russian-backed fighters in a BTR (armoured personnel carrier) firing on the front lines at Shirokino with a heavy machine gun. We cannot verify the location of this footage.
Meanwhile, Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance claimed on his Facebook page today that Russian-backed fighters had attacked Ukrainian positions near Opytnoye and Avdeyevka (north of Donetsk) with small arms and grenade launchers. Three attacks had been repelled by Ukrainian troops, he wrote.
To the east, Russian-backed forces had, Tymchuk claimed, attacked Ukrainian positions near Mayorsk, Leninskoye and Luganskoye with grenade laucnhers, small arms and both 82 and 120 mm mortars.
UNIAN reports that the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (SBGS) announced this morning that their servicemen had been engaged in an armed clash with Russian-backed fighters near Mayorsk yesterday at around noon.
According to the report, the Border Guards had been conducting a patrol near the Mayorsk railway depot when they came across a group of around 10 saboteurs, who had been attempting make their way discretely from Gorlovka to the Ukrainian lines.
After a skirmish, the Russian-backed fighters retreated. The SBGS claimed they had suffered no casualties.
— Pierre Vaux
Interfax-Ukraine reports that Valentyn Fedychev, deputy commander of the Ukrainian military’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), has claimed that Russian-backed fighters are concentrating forces and preparing for a renewed offensive.
The Interpreter translates:
“In defiance of all the terms of the Minsk agreements, ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ militants are continuing to prepare for offensive operations. For this purpose, 3 tanks, 5 Grad MLRS and 7 trucks with ammunition proceeded from the town of Antratsyt to Debaltsevo on April 1,” says V. Fedychev.
The deputy commander of the ATO also notes that on March 31, a column of military vehicles, consisting of 8 trucks carrying ammunition and military equipment, drove from Russia, though the Izvarino border station, towards Lugansk.
V. Fedychev stressed that, among the cargo delivered in the regular Russian ‘humanitarian convoy’ on March 26, that was unloaded in Ilovaisk, were radio-electronic equipment, tank and personal radios, “but no flour, butter or medicine.”
The following video, noted by Lugansk News Today, was uploaded today and shows a convoy of military trucks in Lugansk’s Gaegovo area:
We can verify the location by comparing still images with this location on Yandex Panorama:
This means that the trucks are approaching the roundabout from the south, on Pavlovskaya street and then heading west down the M04 highway, which would take them towards Donetsk via Debaltsevo.
Interfax-Ukraine also reported that Fedychev had claimed that Russian-backed militants were preparing “a full-scale bloody provocation.”
According to him, militants have planned to mine busses that will go from the occupied areas of Donetsk to Mariupol and Berdiansk, and blame ATO forces for killing passengers.
He also said that provocations might happen near churches during the celebration of Easter.
“On April 12, festive prayers and marches might be shelled,” Fedychev said.
— Pierre Vaux