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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?
As we have been reporting for many days, Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed forces are locked in a battle for the town of Shirokino (Shyrokyne), east of Mariupol. While gunfire was reported there today, and sporadic gunfire has been witnessed for the last few days, the OSCE seems cautiously optimistic. Here is the latest report, dated yesterday, April 19, at 19:30 Kiev time. We have excerpted all of the parts of the report which relate to Shirokino:
The SMM temporarily withdrew from Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol, 102km south of Donetsk) following skirmishes involving small-arms and machine-gun fire and the use of mortars (on both sides) on 18 April at which point the SMM-brokered ceasefire had been holding for 67 hours. On 19 April, the SMM at observation posts 1.5km and 5km west of Shyrokyne heard small arms fire being exchanged and mortar impacts on the outskirts of Shyrokyne. Fighting continued in and around Donetsk airport and in the nearby government-controlled villages of Opytne and Pisky (between 15-20km north-west of Donetsk city). The SMM, from an observation point at Donetsk railway station, observed a total of 311 incidents involving the use of heavy weapons over two days on 18 and 19 April, representing a significant reduction compared with previous days…
During its overnight observation in Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) from 17-18 April the SMM did not register any ceasefire violations in or around the village (see SMM Spot Report, 18 April). On the morning of the 18 April, the SMM heard small-arms fire from south of its position, and observed impacts from small-arms fire approximately 100 metres from its location. The SMM also heard incoming and outgoing small-arms fire, north and north-west of its position. Between 14:22 and 14:26hrs the SMM heard three outgoing 82mm mortar rounds 1.5 kilometre south-west of its position, and at 14:28hrs, two incoming 82mm mortar rounds one kilometre south-east of its position. From 14:30-14:35hrs the SMM heard an exchange of small-arms and heavy-machine-gun fire 500 metres south-south-west of its position and a grenade explosion, 150 metres from its position. The SMM left the village at 14:35hrs due to the deteriorating security situation and upon instructions from the “DPR”.
Following the SMM pull-out from Shyrokyne, from 14:30 to 17:25hrs the SMM heard and witnessed 215 outgoing mortar (82mm calibre) from south-east of their location on the eastern outskirts of government-controlled Berdianske (1.5km west of Shyrokyne, 20km east of Mariupol) fired in the direction of Shyrokyne. During this period, the SMM also heard small-arms and machine-gun fire north and north-east of its position.
The SMM were shown a Ukrainian Armed Forces draft disengagement plan for Shyrokyne on 19 April. The plan foresees the withdrawal of armed formations from the village as proposed by the SMM Deputy Chief Monitor (DCM) on 9 April. It was shared with the Russian Federation Armed Forces General at the JCCC and requires approval from Kyiv authorities, and consultation with “DPR”. Also on 19 April, the SMM assisted in the recovery of the corpse of a Ukrainian Armed Forces soldier from the west of the village.
Meanwhile, the Facebook page for the Ukrainian ATO reports that the body of one of the Azov Battalion’s fallen soldiers, a volunteer from Georgia, was mined by the Russian-backed separatists so that it would kill the Ukrainian soldiers who tried to retrieve the body. According to the statement, the OSCE monitors assisted in removing the mine, thus avoiding further casualties.
We have not seen official confirmation of this story from the OSCE.
— James Miller
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Aleksandr Zakharchenko has declared his opposition to the proposed demilitarisation of the war-torn village of Shirokino, east of Mariupol.
The pro-separatist dnr-news.com reported today that Zakharchenko had referred to the proposals as “schizophrenia.”
The Interpreter translates:
“The Ukrainian troops have received my response: schizophrenia relapses occur in the spring and autumn, therefore, my dear colleagues, go and get treated. There will be no demilitarisation of this kind. Schizophrenia is a very contagious disease among Ukrainian soldiers, I invited them to visit a psychotherapist.”
Zakharchenko said that the Ukrainians were proposing that the Russian-backed separatists withdraw deep into their own territory while Ukrainian units remain on the front.
As we reported on April 17, the Ukrainian volunteer-based Azov regiment has also declared its opposition to the demilitarisation of Shirokino, arguing in turn that withdrawal from the village would leave Mariupol open to attack.
Zakharchenko also said today that Ukrainian proposals for the re-establishment of Ukrainian banking systems in the occupied areas of the Donetsk region were unacceptable to the DNR as they would require the oversight of the National Bank of Ukraine. Instead, Zakharchenko wants the DNR’s own ‘Centrobank’ to engage with Ukrainian and foreign banks on separatist-held territory.
— Pierre Vaux
The Azov regiment has claimed that Russian-backed fighters have attacked their positions in Shirokino today.
At 14:07 GMT, a post on Azov’s Facebook page read (translated by The Interpreter):
20 minutes ago the terrorists opened fire again on Azov positions with mortars and automatic grenade launchers, trying to provoke a response from our soldiers in front of the OSCE.
At 12:48 GMT, Mariupol news site 0629.com.ua reported that the Azov press office had told the site that snipers were firing on their positions.
The Interpreter translates:
“On April 20 from 11:00 [8:00 GMT] to 14:00 [11:00 GMT], terrorist snipers were operating on our positions in Shirokino, in spite of the presence of the OSCE. There have been no casualties.”
— Pierre Vaux
RFE/RL’s Crimean service reports that Emir-Usein Kuku, spokesman for the Contact Group on Human Rights in the Yalta region, was detained this morning by the occupying Russian authorities.
According to Nariman Dzhelyal, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Russian law enforcement officers were taking Kuku to his home in Yalta, where they planned to conduct a search.
Dzhelyal told RFE/RL that Emir-Usein Kuku’s brother had tried to document the arrest but men in camouflaged uniforms prevented him from doing so. One of the brothers was reportedly injured during the arrest.
Mamet Mambetov, coordinator of the Contact Group, wrote on his Facebook page that Kuku had been arrested at 8:25 this morning while on his way to work.
Around an hour ago, Mambetov posted that Kuku had been informed by the occupying authorities that he was suspected of violating article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: “Incitement of national, racial or religious hatred.”
Two laptops, a phone and seven religious texts (which were, Mambetov says, not banned) have been confiscated from his home.
— Pierre Vaux
Yesterday saw a marked reduction in violence in south-eastern Ukraine, where fighting had been raging in three main areas: Peski, north-west of Donetsk; Shirokino, east of Mariupol; and along the northern front in Lugansk on the Seversky Donets river.
The Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) reported this morning:
As we reported yesterday, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, which has been maintaining a 24-hour presence in Shirokino since April 17, reported that the ceasefire appeared, for the most part, to be holding.
Today, the Mariupol Defence Headquarters claimed that the night had “passed quietly.”
The Headquarters reported only two attacks on Ukrainian positions in Shirokino, at 9:00 and 11:00 yesterday, conducted with small arms, machine guns and grenade launchers. There were no casualties.
7 drone flights were detected over the Mariupol area over the last 24 hours.
Ukrainska Pravda reported that OSCE monitors had successfully negotiated the release of the body of an Azov regiment fighter.
According to Azov’s press secretary, Oleksandr Alferov, who spoke to Hromadske radio, soldier Georgi Dzhanelidze, a Georgian instructor, was killed under fire on the front line, but the Russian-backed fighters had refused to allow Ukrainian troops to retrieve his body, going as far as to place it upon an anti-personnel landmine to prevent removal.
Alferov said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Thanks to the OSCE mission, after almost 10 hours of negotiations, the OSCE monitors were able to a reach an an agreement with the terrorists that we would pick up Georgi’s body. The mine exploded, however the instructor’s body was successfully retrieved.”
Likely as a result of the success in Shirokino, the NSDC reports today that the OSCE has agreed to establish a new monitoring station in Peski under the auspices of the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC), a working group of Ukrainian and Russian military delegations:
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claimed this morning that Russian-backed forces had carried out six violations of the ceasefire along the demarcation line between 18:00 and midnight yesterday.
As the Press Centre noted, this indicates a continued reduction in violence.
However the military claimed that Russian-backed fighters have continued to use 120 mm mortars, weapons that should have been withdrawn in accordance with the Minsk agreement.
According to the report, 120 mm mortars were used four times yesterday evening – three times against a Ukrainian defensive position near Avdeyevka, and once near Peski.
The Press Centre also claim that a sniper fired on a defensive position in the village of Opytnoye, and that Ukrainian positions near Krasnogorovka came under machine gun fire.
Meanwhile both the ATO Press Centre and the press office of Governor Hennadiy Moskal, reported that there had been no reported attacks in the Lugansk region over yesterday and last night.
Censor.NET reported that Moskal’s office had claimed one military incident had occurred, but that there had been no combat.
The Interpreter translates:
In the middle of the night, an enemy reconnaissance and sabotage group, trying to approach our soldiers’ positions, was spotted on the outskirts of Novotoshkovka. However as soon as the militants realised that they had been discovered with the aid of thermal sights, they turned back.
But while the news from the front line gives cause for hope, ATO spokesman Andriy Lysenko has today claimed that Russia is reinforcing its troops in the Donbass.
Interfax-Ukraine reports (translated by The Interpreter):
As A. Lysenko said, according to intelligence reports, 50 Ural military trucks and 20 BMPs with crews have proceeded from the territory of the Russian Federation through the Dolzhansky border crossing in the direction of Debaltsevo over the last few days.
“While a cargo train, made up of around 40 wagons loaded with military hardware, covered with tarpaulins, came from Russia through the Dolzhansky railway station, which is located in the town of Sverdlovsk in the Lugansk region,” said the ATO spokesman.
— Pierre Vaux