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?
Yesterday we reported that on April 14 the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine witnessed more than 700 explosions over the course of less than six hours near Donetsk airport alone. The latest report, dated April 15 at 19:30 Kiev time, records continued fighting:
Whilst at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation post in Donetsk railway station (“Donetsk People’s Republic (“DPR”)-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk), the SMM continued to observe intense and protracted fighting in the area surrounding Donetsk airport. Due to their close proximity to the airport and as during the previous days, the government-controlled towns of Avdiivka (17km north-north-west of Donetsk), Opytne (13km north-north-west of Donetsk), Pisky (7km north-west of Donetsk) and the “DPR”-controlled villages of Spartak (14km north-west of Donetsk) and Zhabunki (14km north-west of Donetsk), constituted the main fighting zone. Throughout the day, from the observation post in the railway station, the SMM heard a total number of 532 explosions, both incoming and outgoing. In the SMM’s assessment different types of weapons were used such as anti-aircraft machine gun, heavy machine-gun, small-arms, mortar, artillery and tanks. The SMM observed a lull in the fighting around 11:00hrs as the JCCC brokered a ceasefire, however fighting reignited approximately two hours later and continued, albeit less intensively, throughout the day. The ongoing combat situation around the airport was also witnessed by the SMM at an observation post in Avdiivka and was further confirmed by both Chiefs of Staff of Russian Federation Armed Forces and Ukrainian Armed Forces at JCCC headquarters.
While attempting to install a water cistern for residents of Shirokino (Shyrokyne) east of Mariupol, an explosive device detonated only 50 meters from the OSCE position:
During the second day of the SMM’s Deputy Chief Monitor’s visit to Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol), the SMM observed a decrease in the intensity of the fighting in the area. Also, for the second consecutive day, the SMM accessed the village and moved freely on foot; the SMM walked through Shyrokyne and for the first time reached its southern edge, where the church is located. The SMM observed that the building had shattered windows and saw small marks, presumably of shrapnel, on the walls. While in the centre of Shyrokyne, the SMM met with the Ukrainian Major-General, Head of the Ukrainian side to the JCCC and the Russian Colonel-General, Representative of the Russian Federation Armed Forces to the JCCC and discussed a disengagement plan for Shyrokyne.
Before leaving Shyrokyne, the SMM intended to install a water cistern in the eastern edge of the village, where several residents are still living. Only five SMM team members, including the paramedic were allowed to proceed, by “DPR” members based within the village*. The SMM carried the cistern as well as some small food staples and medicines that a resident had asked for the day before. While the five SMM team members were delivering the items, an explosive device, possibly a grenade, detonated approximately 50 metres from the SMM, behind a house. No casualties were reported.
The SMM reports a deteriorating humanitarian situation in the self-declared ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’:
In the Luhansk region, while travelling from “Lugansk People’s Republic“(”LPR”)-controlled Novosvitlivka (19km east of Luhansk) towards the east, the SMM observed the road to be contaminated with numerous unexploded ordnance (UXO). In “LPR”-controlled Ohulchansk (26km east of Luhansk), several local residents confirmed the existence of UXOs in the area but said that “LPR” has already conducted de-mining in the area of the village and hence it is possible to cultivate the fields.
In “LPR”-controlled Rovenky (55km south of Luhansk) the SMM met with the “head of the local administration” who stated that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating. He said there were shortages of food and medicines. There are 162 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area, mainly from “DPR”-controlled Debaltseve who receive support from the Russian Federation and the Akhmetov Foundation. Likewise, in government-controlled Novoaidar (49km north-west of Luhansk), the SMM was told by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that the humanitarian situation in the area is worrying. He stated that aid is provided by the ICRC and the Akhmetov Foundation. He added that local residents started to sell personal items, such as their own clothing, etc. to buy food; even though, when comparing to the previous months, there was now significantly less food available at the local market.
In the city of Luhansk (“LPR”-controlled), the SMM monitored a press conference held by the “LPR” “president”, Mr. Plotnitskiy. He stated that due to the conflict, in the Luhansk region, 8,000 private houses, 65 hospitals, 37 public buildings and 40 water supply structures, were destroyed. He added that so far, the “LPR” had repaired 22 hospitals, 74 facilities and three orphanages. According to him the “LPR” was also negotiating with the Government to resume electricity supplies from government-controlled Shchastia (20km north of Luhansk), but without success until now. He further recognized that price inflation was a serious problem.
In the rest of the report the SMM highlighted, among other things, that progress — or lack thereof — of a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the demarcation line. As has consistently been the case, the Russian-backed fighters are the primary violators of the withdrawal terms, though Ukraine is also out of compliance in several areas, perhaps as a reaction to the separatists’ movements:
The SMM revisited four Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas and was able to monitor that three 152mm towed artillery guns remained missing from one of the sites. As during SMM visits on previous days (see SMM Daily Report 13 April), the unit commander stated that the guns had been removed for training purposes. The SMM confirmed that all the other weapons were in situ and that their locations comply with respective withdrawal lines.
Despite the claims that withdrawal of heavy weapons was completed, the SMM observed the following weapons’ movements in areas non-compliant with the withdrawal lines: (i) in “DPR”-controlled areas, a military convoy of six 100mm anti-tank guns and respective ammunition; (ii) in government-controlled areas, two tanks (T-64); (iii) in “LPR”-controlled areas, 12 tanks and 15 armoured personnel carriers. In addition, the SMM’s unarmed/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provided imagery of heavy weaponry in the Shyrokyne area, such as two main battle tanks (MBT) in government-controlled Sopyne (15km west of Shyrokyne) and one in government-controlled Berdianske (2km west of Shyrokyne). Additionally, two infantry fighting vehicles, two armoured personnel carriers (BTR) and three main battle tanks (MBT) were seen within Shyrokyne.
In Kyiv, a representative of the “Union of Kyiv City Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) Veterans”, a civil society organization (CSO) that provides support to demobilized soldiers, told the SMM that females constitute approximately five per cent of the military personnel. All women join the Ukrainian Armed Forces on a voluntary basis as the law states only men can be drafted. In spite of the voluntary nature of their assignments, women are entitled to the same benefits as men. The representative of the CSO also informed that the Kyiv City Council had recently allocated 11 hectares of land to relatives of Kyiv citizens who have died while fighting with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
In Kharkiv the SMM observed that the Orders of Lenin, Red Banner of Labour and October Revolution, had been removed from the façade of the building of the Turbatom plant. The SMM spoke to employees of the factory who claimed that this occurred when the building was renovated on 14 April.
The SMM met with a law enforcement agent in Kharkiv who confirmed reports of the detention of 11 individuals during the previous weekend. According to him, these individuals, all Ukrainian citizens and male, were detained on grounds of terrorism. He also stated that they are suspected of having masterminded and conducted subversive acts in the region during the past months, including the explosion that had occurred on the rail tracks on 30 March (see SMM Daily Report 31 March). Different types of weapons and ammunition namely rockets, grenade launchers, pistols, etc. were seized from the individuals.
The SMM report also includes this note about the freedom of their movement within the inspection zones:
While trying to access the eastern area of Shyrokyne,”DPR” members based within the village, were reluctant in allowing the SMM to proceed. After some discussion only five SMM team members were permitted to reach that area of Shyrokyne.
— James Miller
As we reported earlier today, Oles Buzyna, a prominent journalist in Ukraine, has been found murdered at his home in Kiev. Last night another journalist, Sergei Sukhobok, was also killed. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, has released a statement on the killings of Buzyna and Sukhobok:
“This appalling act is yet another reminder about the dangers associated with journalism as a profession. This killing must be immediately and fully investigated by the competent authorities,” Mijatović said. “My sincere condolences go out to Buzina’s family and colleagues.”
According to reports, on 16 April, Buzina was shot and killed by assailants close to his home in Kyiv. He was known for his critical views.
“I reiterate my call on the authorities to allocate all necessary resources to investigate all attacks on journalists,” Mijatović said. “There must be no impunity for the perpetrators and the masterminds behind any violence against members of the media.”
Mijatović also noted with regret reports about another recent killing of a journalist in Ukraine. Sergei Sukhobok, co-founder of several online news portals and contributor to several Ukrainian media outlets, was killed on 13 April in Kyiv. The killing is being investigated by the authorities.
The two journalists were not the only apparent assassination in the last day. Last night, Oleh Kalashnikov, a former member of parliament for the Party of Regions, the party of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, was also killed. Business Insider reports:
An interior ministry adviser to President Petro Poroshenko linked the deaths since both victims played a part in the “Anti-Maidan” movement, which opposed pro-Western protests that ousted Yanukovich in 2014.
“It seems the shooting of witnesses of the Anti-Maidan affair continues,” the adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, said in a Facebook post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a televised call-in show, referred specifically to Buzina’s death saying it had been politically motivated.
“This is not the first political assassination. Ukraine is dealing with a whole string of such murders,” Putin said during his annual call-in in Moscow, when asked about the killing.
Putin, here, may be referring to a string of suspected suicides of former Yanukovych officials. At least 6 former Yanukovych officials died in the first three months of 2015, a story which has been examined by RFE/RL.
Both journalists and the former MP were often critical of the post-Euromaidan Ukrainian government. NPR reports:
Oles Buzyna, 45, had recently resigned as editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Sevodnya. Ukraine’s interior ministry said in a statement that he was killed Thursday afternoon by two masked gunmen shooting from a passing car, according to The Associated Press.
Buzyna was largely perceived as more of an activist than a journalist, the news service says. He ran for a seat in Ukraine’s parliament on the Russian Bloc ticket but was not elected.
His killing comes one day after Oleh Kalashnikov, a former member of parliament loyal to ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych was found dead with a gunshot wound at his home in Kiev. Police have not said whether they believe Kalashnikov was murdered or committed suicide.
Kyiv Post reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has condemned the killings and has called for an investigation into the murders of Buzynaand Kalashnikov:
“These crimes are obviously events of the same sort. Their nature and political sense are clear: this is deliberate provocation that brings grist to our enemy’s mill. It is aimed at destabilizing the internal political situation in Ukraine and discrediting the Ukrainian people’s political choice,” Poroshenko said.
— James Miller
Translation: an investigative operations group is at the site of the murder of Oles Buzyna. Photo by Anna Demis.
Last night, Sergei Sukhobok, another Ukrainian journalist was also shot dead.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Mariupol Defence Headquarters reports that Ukrainian positions in Shirokino were attacked 7 times yesterday.
The report claims that there were no attacks earlier in the day due to a visit by OSCE monitors.
However, after the departure of the monitors, there were six attacks between 16:30 and 19:30. Amongst the weapons used were heavily artillery which should have been withdrawn in accordance with the Minsk agreement, including both 152 mm self-propelled guns and 120 mm mortars.
According to the report, after the self-propelled artillery opened fire at 17:00, Ukrainian troops returned fire with 82 mm mortars on the Russian-backed fighters’ firing positions.
The Headquarters claimed (translated by The Interpreter):
At 17:30 the enemy proposed a ceasefire. The Ukrainian side accepted this proposal. But as soon as 18:00, the enemy began shelling ATO positions again, violating the prior agreement themselves.
The night passed quietly, without attacks.
— Pierre Vaux
Heavy fighting is once again reported today in Peski, on the north-western outskirts of Donetsk.
Leviy Bereg‘s Oleksandr Rudomanov reports that, as of 9 today (6 GMT), Russian-backed fighters were shelling Peski with mortars and tanks. Snipers and machine gunners are also firing at Ukrainian positions.
Rudomanov reported that the tanks had entered the “village of Zhabyache” before opening fire. We noted yesterday, when he reported fighting in this same area, that we could not find this location, he may mean the suburb of Zhabunki – Zhobunki in Russian – where heavy fighting was also reported on Sunday.
According to Ukrainian volunteer fighter Myroslav Mysla, Ukrainian forces are having difficulty returning fire as Russian-backed fighters shift their positions after each bombardment, retreating into cover.
Еarlier, Oleh Kutsyn, chairman of the Donetsk regional branch of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, announced that a fighter, with the call-sign Pioneer, had been killed yesterday in Peski.
According to Kutsyn, Pioneer, a squad leader from the Carpathian Sich volunteer battalion, died from shrapnel wounds to his heart after an artillery shell struck a medical centre.
Rudomanov also noted reports that Peski had been shelled with 152 mm self-propelled artillery yesterday.
The ATO press centre reported this morning on attacks in the same area last night.
The press center also said that around the Ukrainian-held village of Peski the militants used automatic grenade launchers, small arms and 120-millimeter mortars. At around 2000 the militants attacked with automatic grenade launchers not far from Avdeyevka, and after 2100 they shelled Ukrainian forces with 120-millimeter mortars.
— Pierre Vaux
Today the Ukrainian Constitutional Court will review the constitutionality of the “Law on Lustration,” Radio Svoboda reported.
Yesterday, the Court issued a press statement saying that a rally to support the law to be held outside the building today was undue pressure. But Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said there was a conflict of interest in the Constitutional Court’s review.
The Ukrainian Supreme Court as well as 47 members of parliament appealed to the court to determine whether the law was in compliance with the constitution. Under the law, top officials who served under deposed president Viktor Yanukovych will be barred from public office for 10 years.
Translation: Lyashko has also come to the Constitutional Court to support lustration.
Translation: Lyashko is the only people’s deputy who has come with his personal security to the Constitutional Court.
Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party and a member of parliament, has been a controversial figure due to his group’s vigilantism. Last year he claimed responsibility for the storming of the government building in Torez, in which one pro-Russian separatist was killed and another wounded.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick