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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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Ukrainian military has claimed that Russian-backed fighters shelled civilians in the village of Chermalyk, north-east of Mariupol, this afternoon.
According to the ATO press centre, Russian-backed forces shelled Chermalyk with mortars after 14:00 (11:00 GMT) today.
Overall, the report claims, Russian-backed fighters conducted 11 attacks on Ukrainian positions between midnight and 18:00 today, bringing the total number of reported attacks over the last 24 hours to 34.
In the Donetsk region, 120 mm mortars were used 6 times.
The press centre said that Ukrainian positions near Nevelskoye, Shirokino, Avdeyevka and Opytnoye had been shelled with mortars. Furthermore, a Ukrainian defensive position near Nevelskoye, which lies to the west of Donetsk, was shelled by a tank, while positions near Avdeyevka were also attacked with automatic grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles.
Meanwhile, Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the ‘defence ministry’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed earlier today that Ukrainian forces had shelled residential areas of the separatist-held village of Sakhanka, east of Mariupol.
According to Basurin, Ukrainian forces were using heavy weaponry themselves – 152 and 122 mm artillery as well as 120 mm mortars and tanks.
The DNR spokesman said that shells had struck administrative buildings, a school and a housing estate, adding that the incident had been “promptly reported to representatives from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission,” however, “owing to the ongoing shelling, representatives from the Mission are unable to record violations in this area.”
Mariupol news site 0629.com.ua posted photos of destruction in Sakhanka, taken from social media. We cannot verify the images, but they do not produce prior results in Google image search.
The site notes that ATO spokesman Aleksandr Motuzyanik has said that Ukrainian forces have been attacked with artillery deployed in Sakhanka.
0629 also reported that the Ukrainian Dnipro-1 battalion claimed yesterday that their forces had destroyed an ammunition store near Sakhanka.
— Pierre Vaux
A team of German journalists working for regional public broadcasters and a daily newspaper have been investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. According to their latest statements, the German government was aware of the danger in the area where MH17 was shot down days before the crash, but they failed to notify civilian airliners. Deutsche Welle reports:
Two days before the catastrophe, Germany’s Foreign Office wrote that the situation in that area was “very worrying” because the previous day, July 14, a Ukrainian Antonov military cargo plane had been shot down from a height of more than 6,000 meters (19,600 feet). This lent the security situation in Ukraine’s airspace “a new quality,” the report said. The shooting down of a plane at this height was a clear signal to military experts that an aircraft flying at a much higher altitude could also be reached, meaning there was a danger to passenger planes.
According to WDR, NDR and SZ, this information was passed on several times by Germany’s intelligence services to the government – labeled with the government code “VS,” a lower-level secrecy classification only allowing access to verified individuals with a reason to know the information. It was not shared with the country’s airlines before the disaster.
“The fact is, we had no information from the authorities before July 17,” German national carrier Lufthansa told the media outlets. A “Lufthansa insider” quoted by the outlets added that if the airline had received such a warning from the government, it would surely have not flown over eastern Ukraine. The outlets reported that it was pure chance that a Lufthansa plane was not the one shot down. On the day of the tragedy alone, Lufthansa flew three times over eastern Ukraine – once only 20 minutes ahead of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet. Other German airlines had already been avoiding the area as a precaution.
It seems that the dangers of eastern Ukraine were, according to this narrative, not known to civilian airliners. In contrast, many of those who were watching events in Ukraine were not surprised that a plane was shot down in this area — but they were surprised that civilian airliners were still operating over that region of Ukraine, a region where multiple aircraft had been shot down in the days and weeks which preceded the downing of MH17.
— James Miller
Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of Russia’s opposition RPR-PARNAS party, has announced on his Facebook page that a report, based on research into Russia’s role in the Ukrainian conflict by his assassinated colleague Boris Nemtsov, is now complete.
The first press of the report, titled Putin. War will be released over the May holidays (which commemorate the Soviet victory over Germany in the Second World War).
RPR-PARNAS will present the report to media at their offices on May 12.
— Pierre Vaux
Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer and MP who was captured by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region and illegally transported to Russia, where she is on trial for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists, is to be transferred to a civilian hospital tomorrow due to low blood sugar after resuming her hunger strike for the last three days.
Russia’s Interfax reports that Savchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, told the news agency that she will be transferred to the 20th city hospital in Moscow.
The Interpreter translates:
The lawyer also published a photocopy of a letter from Savchenko on Twitter. “I have begun having an allergic reaction. To what, no one can say, nor can they cure it, they’re just treating it,” says the letter.
Savchenko also reported that she now weighs 50 kg and her body temperature is 35.8 degrees.
“I will be transferred from jail to a civilian hospital, in a prison unit with conditions and agreements that there, I will start to eat something at least,” she wrote.
Earlier on Monday the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, reported that doctors at the detention centre will decide on the question of transferring Savchenko to a civilian hospital.
“In conversation with her, it seems that everything is fine, but objective results give cause for serious concern: weight loss of 8 kg over a week, very alarming low sugar and other worrying test results,” said Fedotov.
The press service of the Federal Penitentiary Service confirmed these reports and explained that Savchenko has been refusing meals for three days.
— Pierre Vaux
The BBC reports that several key European Union officials are in Kiev for a conference about Ukraine’s economy and the war in the east. The talks are the first since Ukraine signed an EU association agreement following the Euromaidan Revolution, which obviously also makes them the first since the EU agreed to delay large parts of Ukraine’s move toward the EU to assuage Russian concerns:
The EU is anxious for Ukraine to enact far-reaching economic reforms to tackle unsustainable debts, inflation and widespread corruption.
Reform of the heavily subsidised energy sector is a priority, BBC economics expert Andrew Walker says, as energy inefficiencies are a big drain on the national budget.
But peace and stability are the short-term priorities for Ukraine, he says.
The heavily armed rebels refuse to recognise Kiev’s authority and the West accuses Russia of arming them and sending in regular soldiers. Russia denies that, insisting that any Russians on the rebel side are “volunteers”.
Mr Poroshenko says EU or UN peacekeepers are needed to ensure proper monitoring of frontline areas and the rebel-controlled border between Russia and Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
But we started the day with reports from both the OSCE and various other sources which agree on two points: the first, that violence in several areas, particularly near Shirokino, northeast of Mariupol, has reached its highest level since fighting started in February; the second, that the Russian-backed separatists are responsible for the escalating violence, and they have moved a significant amount of armored vehicles, tanks, artillery, and other heavy weapons close to the front, and beyond the demarcation line set at the Minsk conference in February.
The Kyiv Post notes that this buildup of armor and violence is occurring at the same time as the Ukraine-EU summit is starting — and perhaps that is not a coincidence:
Combined Russian-separatist forces are at their “highest level” of combat readiness while Ukraine faces mounting pressure to cede more power to regional governments in the east as a summit with the European Union starts in Kyiv.
Citing Western and domestic intelligence, pro-presidential lawmaker Yuriy Lutsenko said that separatist forces are at their “maximum level of readiness to launch an offensive,” according to an interview on Inter TV channel on April 26…
The escalation coincides with news that diplomats from key EU countries are urging Kyiv to transfer more authority to regional governments during the April 27 summit with the 28-nation political bloc.
Officials in the United Kingdom, France and Germany want Kyiv to implement the political clauses of the Feb. 12 cease-fire agreement, in particular, decentralization of power to the regions that include areas controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.
“German officials are talking to both sides, but especially to the Ukrainians because if they don’t do what’s necessary, the Russians will always have the possibility of renewing the conflict,” the Financial Times reported, citing Stefan Meister of Berlin’s DGAP foreign policy think tank.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the demands “perfect hypocrisy,” according to the Financial Times.
At the moment neither prospects for peace nor for a flourishing Ukrainian economy look likely to be brought to fruition any time soon, but Russian interference is a major factor in both of those problems. It remains to be seen whether the EU will take a dramatically different approach with Ukraine and Russia following these talks.
— James Miller
Aleksandr Motuzyanik, a spokesman for the Presidential Administration on ATO issues, has told reporters at a briefing today that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and three wounded over the last 24 hours.
The ATO press centre claimed this morning that Russian-backed forces conducted 23 attacks on Ukrainian positions between 18:00 and midnight yesterday.
The press centre claims that Russian-backed fighters continue to use heavy artillery that should have been withdrawn in accordance with the Minsk agreements signed in February.
The Interpreter translates the Ukrainska Pravda report:
In the Donetsk region, the militants shelled ATO forces near Peski three times with 120 mm mortars, twice near Avdeyevka. In addition, militants twice used 122 mm artillery against positions near Avdeyevka.
Militants opened fire once with such artillery systems near Shirokino. The ATO forces’ positions near the villages of Zaytsevo and Opytnoye were subjected to attacks with 82 mm mortars, machine guns and small arms.
Donetsk news site 62.ua reported that residents had described shell strikes in the separatist-held city’s Kuybyshevsky district late at night.
Residential buildings on Luzin street and a garage and shed on Avtostradnaya street were struck. There were no reported casualties.
According to 62.ua, residents have reported on social media this morning that loud blasts and cannonades have been heard in the city.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine reported “intense fighting” in Shirokino (Shyrokyne in Ukrainian) yesterday. The SMM’s spot report described not only heavy fighting, but also a notable build-up of Russian-backed forces in the area:
On 26 April, the SMM observed what it assessed to be the most intense shelling in Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) since fighting began in the area in mid-February 2015. For the last 12 hours, and on-going at the time of this report, the SMM has observed sporadic to continuous exchanges of fire involving small arms, machine gun, rocket propelled grenade and automatic grenade launcher.
Throughout the day, from two adjacent observation posts, located 1,5km west and 4,5km north-west of Shyrokyne, the SMM observed 69 outgoing tank shots, originating from 600 metres south-east and 800 metres north of its position, 191 outgoing mortar rounds (82mm) and 153 outgoing mortar rounds (120mm), originating from 600 metres south-east, 300 and 1,500 metres north-west and 800 metres north of the its position.
At 07:20hrs, the SMM heard two loud explosions, most likely caused by 122mm incoming artillery rounds, impacting about 300 metres from the SMM observation post in the eastern outskirts of Berdianske (government-controlled, 18,5km east of Mariupol, 1,5km west of Shyrokyne) and forcing the SMM to relocate to another observation post.
In the early afternoon, between 15:00 and 16:30hrs, the shelling was heard all the way to Mariupol.
On 26 April, the SMM Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) observed 11 tanks and four armoured personnel carriers (APCs), with infantry mounted, moving through Kulykove (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 15km north of Shyrokyne). Additionally, over the last three days, the UAV has sighted seventeen tanks, three self-propelled howitzers and 60 APCs in a “DPR”-controlled area 50 kilometres north of Shyrokyne.
This area, 50 km north of Shirokino, looks likely to be north of Ukrainian-held Granitnoye and separatist-held Telmanovo. Such a large accumulation of armour in this front poses not only a threat to Granitnoye, which has been a repeated target of attacks since the first Minsk agreement in September last year, but also to Volnovakha, along the T0512 road to the west.
Volnovakha, near the front line on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway is a key position for the defence of the port city. Any move on Mariupol would require Russian-backed forces to push Ukrainian troops out of Volnovakha and off the highway, enabling a pincer attack from both the north and east.
Meanwhile the ATO press centre reported attacks in the north of the Lugansk region:
In the Lugansk region, militants fired five times on a Ukrainian army defensive position outside Schastye. Three of the attacks were conducted with anti-aircraft artillery and two with automatic grenade launchers.
ATO forces near the village of Sokolniki [which is held by separatists] were also attacked with an automatic grenade launcher.
Furthermore, illegal armed groups have fired on civilians again. At 22:05 shells fired haphazardly from a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun flew towards the town of Schastye.
Liga Novosti reports that the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has claimed that, as a result of attacks on Schastye, two dachas in the Yagodka cooperative caught fire. A grenade, fired from an automatic launcher, struck a 3-storey apartment building on Gagarin street.
Fortunately, the governor’s office, wrote, there were no civilian casualties.
According to the report, there were skirmishes on the outskirts of Krymskoye, in the area around the tuberculosis clinic. A
Troitskoye, north-east of Debaltsevo, was reportedly attacked three times with mortars and small arms during the night.
The governor’s office reported continued violence this morning, with echoes of blasts coming from the direction of the front line on the Bakhmutka highway heard in Krymskoye after 11:00 today.
Moskal’s office also claimed that, at around 11:30, an enemy tank platoon moved from the occupied village of Kalinovo, which lies less than 10 km along a road from Troitskoye, and drew up opposite a Ukrainian defensive position.
The ATO press centre also reported that 11 drone flights had been detected over the Donbass.
— Pierre Vaux