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 latest OSCE report, dated May 14 at 19:30 Kiev time, highlights continued fighting near Donetsk airport and Shirokino (Shyrokyne), as well as the movement of heavy weaponry:
In the area around Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol), the SMM observed a decrease in the intensity of the fighting compared to the previous day; around Donetsk airport (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 11km north-west of Donetsk) the SMM noted that the situation remained tense, with fighting continuing throughout the day, despite attempts made by the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) officers to negotiate a localized ceasefire.
In “DPR”-controlled Debaltseve (45km north-east of Donetsk) the SMM observed movement of military-type transport trucks, in particular Ural and Kamaz. At the railway station, a worker told the SMM that the railway tracks had been repaired between Yasynuvata (“DPR”-controlled, 14km north-east of Donetsk) and Luhansk. The railway track had been damaged during the most intense phase of the conflict around Debaltseve between January and February. He also said that three days a week passenger trains depart to Luhansk, and three days a week trains arrive from there.
Frustratingly, the OSCE does not mention which direction the military hardware arriving by rail is moving.
The OSCE report was more specific, however, when it came to the arrival of “humanitarian aid.”
At a “DPR” distribution centre for humanitarian aid in Makiivka (“DPR”-controlled, 8km north-east of Donetsk) the SMM met with the “DPR” co-ordinator for humanitarian assistance. He told the SMM that more than 100 trucks with about 1,200 tons of Russian Federation humanitarian aid had crossed the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on 14 May.
In an area close to the border crossing point at Uspenka (“DPR”-controlled, 96km south-east of Donetsk), the SMM observed white-painted trucks bearing inscriptions “Humanitarian Aid from the Russian Federation” heading to the Russian Federation, towards the Uspenka/Matveev Kurgan border crossing point, totalling forty-nine trucks plus one recovery truck.
On 14 May, from 09:30 to 09:50hrs, the SMM observed a convoy of 39 trucks, with Russian Federation license plates, and with the inscription “Humanitarian aid from the Russian Federation”. The trucks entered Luhansk city proceeding from the direction of the Russian Federation. Of the 39 trucks, three were sent to the “LPR ministry of emergency and reconstruction”, the remainder drove to three different warehouses in Luhansk city. The SMM saw trucks entering these sites and some of them being unloaded. The SMM was unable to verify the contents of the shipment. Regarding the three trucks that arrived at the “ministry of emergency” an interlocutor, responsible for the warehouse, said that they contained vehicle’s spare parts. An “LPR” interlocutor at one of the warehouses told SMM that the humanitarian aid shipment contained flour, wheat, sunflower oil, and cereals.
The OSCE also witnessed the site of a shelling incident northeast of Mariupol — interestingly, large amounts of Russian journalists were also present:
The SMM visited Sakhanka (“DPR”-controlled, 24km north-east of Mariupol) amid significant presence of press and media representatives from the Russian Federation – approximately 30 individuals – and a group of 20 to 30 local residents, mainly middle aged and elderly women, who said that shelling had occurred on 12 and 13 May. The Russian Federation Armed Forces Colonel-General to the JCCC was also present in Sakhanka. The SMM analysed five craters, four located in fields adjacent to the village and one in the garden of a damaged house. In the SMM’s assessment, in four cases the craters resulted from 120mm mortars, and in one case from an 82mm mortar, all fired from a westerly direction. The SMM also travelled to Shyrokyne and spoke with a number of local residents who reported shelling on 13 May in the late afternoon. In the village, the SMM observed increased destruction of civilian infrastructure and private houses.
In violation of the Minsk agreement, which was supposed to see the return of the border control to the Ukrainian government, the self-declared “Lugansk People’s Republic” says they now control all border crossings between Ukraine and Russia.
On 13 May, the Cossack ataman in “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”)-controlled Sverdlovsk (61km south-east of Luhansk) informed the SMM that all border crossing points between Ukraine and the Russian Federation had been handed over to the “LPR” “border guards”. The SMM discussed with the ataman issues concerning access to the border zone According to the interlocutor, the SMM would be able to travel into the inner border zone (15km from the border) but would not be allowed into the 1-2km area near the “LPR”-controlled segment of the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The OSCE also continues to observe the movement of heavy weaponry:
Despite claims that heavy weapons have been withdrawn, the SMM observed three main battle tanks (MBTs) in government-controlled areas; it also observed one MBT in “DPR”-controlled territory and one MBT in “LPR”-controlled territory.
The SMM Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), operating in a limited area north of Shyrokyne west of the line of contact (above government-controlled area) due to weather conditions, observed one tank north of the government-controlled village of Berdyanske (18km east of Mariupol), two tanks east of the village of Ordzhonikidze (government-controlled, 10km east of Mariupol), one south-west of Hranitne (government-controlled, 50km north-east of Mariupol, and three tanks near Andriivka (government-controlled, 50km north of Mariupol). Three previously-observed artillery pieces (likely towed 152mm cannon) near the government-controlled village of Pionerske (13km east of Mariupol) (http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/157061) were no longer there. Numerous armoured vehicles were observed across the flight areas, and the UAV also observed two burning houses in Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol).
— James Miller
The Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry has announced that four Ukrainian soldiers have been arrested in connection with two separate murder cases in the Donbass.
According to the announcement, officers from the Konstantinovka police department are investgating the killing of a resident of Dzerzhynsk, north of Gorlovka.
The body of the victim, born in 1963, was discovered near the Saint Matrona mine. The victim had been shot in the torso.
During their investigation, the police “established the involvemnt of a serviceman from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, a resident of the Kirovohrad region.” The soldier was arrested on May 12.
Meanwhile the Mariupol police today announced that three Ukrainian soldiers have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the death of a man in the village of Talakovka, just outside the port city.
The body of the man, born in 1977, was discovered on May 8. There were signs of a violent death. The soldiers arrested had been stationed in a nearby village.
The head of the Donetsk regional Interior Ministry, Vyacheslav Abroskin, said (translated by The Interpreter):
“All individuals involved in committing serious criminal offences will get the punishment they deserve. There is one law for everybody, and the Donetsk region’s police will spare no effort in thoroughly documenting the illegal activities of lawbreakers.”
— Pierre Vaux
Mak notes that Savchenko seems in good spirits, having recently written Daily Beast a letter in which she joked about being in solitary confinement. But the reality is that Savchenko is being used by the Kremlin to make an example and save face to those who wish Putin would engage in open war against Ukraine.
Mak notes that according to Savchenko, she is being told that if she continues her hunger strike then she will never get her court appearances:
The Ukrainian pilot spent months engaged in a hunger strike, and even longer in solitary confinement. Her self-imposed famine was originally meant to be an act of protest, she wrote, but quickly became a game of bargaining with prison authorities.
Her doctors threatened not to allow her court if she did not desist, she claims.
“They bargained with me to end my hunger strike in exchange for every trip to court…
The hunger strike was no longer an honest protest, but instead an object of barter,” she said.
— James Miller
The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reports that a civilian has been wounded during a mortar attack on the village of Krymskoye this afternoon.
According to the report, the man, aged 40, received shrapnel wounds when a shell exploded outside his home. He is receiving medical assistance and his condition is not described as severe.
As of 15:30 (12:30 GMT), Moskal’s office reported that close combat was still under way on the eastern outskirts of the village, near the tuberculosis clinic.
The report notes that the attack began as soon as the first batch of aid from an international aid organisation had arrived in the village. The rest of the aid was left on the road leading into Krymskoye and will be recovered as soon as the military situation allows.
— Pierre Vaux
The Donetsk regional branch of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has announced that a civilian woman was wounded today at around 6 am by a mine in Avdeyevka (Avdiivka).
According to the report, the woman, a resident of Avdeyevka born in 1983, was walking home from Donetsk when she set off a tripwire near the Tsarskaya Okhota restaurant, on the southern edge of the town.
She received shrapnel wounds to her upper legs and was taken to a hospital in Dmitrov.
A criminal investigation has been opened.
Last night, the head of the Donetsk Interior Ministry, Vyacheslav Abroskin, claimed that a child had been wounded when a mortar shell fell near a school in Avdeyevka.
— Pierre Vaux
Facebook has angered many in the pro-Ukrainian activist community, and now members of the Ukrainian government. Recently, many pro-Ukrainian Facebook accounts and pages which are also critical of Russia and its war in Ukraine have been shut down by Facebook censors after pages were flagged by large amounts of users — presumably pro-Russian users.
The existence of the Kremlin “troll army” has now been documented by Russian and foreign journalists (and written about extensively on The Interpreter). But AFP provides an example of the troll army hard at work:
Observers in Russia say that Russian Internet “trolls” monitor content critical of the Kremlin and manipulate the Facebook system to instigate a wave of complaints against any user, leading to account blockages.
“In Russia, the battles on social networks are especially acute, and the government uses the services of an online army,” said Sergei Parkhomenko, a blogger and journalist.
He recently wrote a post about Russia’s alleged involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last July.
After the post became popular, Facebook blocked it, Parkhomenko said.
“The topic led to a (troll) attack,” he said.
Administrators later apologised and unblocked the post, but the same text, reposted by his wife, was blocked again the next day, he said.
Now Dmytro Shymkiv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration and himself a former Microsoft executive, says that Facebook moderators have a clear pro-Russian bias, and has suggested that Facebook is under pressure from Russia.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to the controversy by denying that his company bends to the will of Russian trolls. UNIAN reports:
Zuckerberg stood by his company’s decision to ban some postings, mentioning that a few posts may have tripped the rule of not posting overtly hateful content or that containing ethnic slurs or inciting violence, Ukraine Today reports.
Facebook founder also stressed that there is no such thing as the “Russian office” which moderates Ukrainian content, adding that such work is done out of an office in Dublin, Ireland, by native speakers.
It makes sense that Facebook might centralize their offices to work on certain languages, but is there ideology at play here? Who are the native Russian speakers who are in Ireland? RT, the Russian state-run propaganda network, has several famous pro-Russian employees who were born in Ireland, so just because the office is in Ireland, not Moscow, does not mean that they are objective.
Ukraine is not the only country that has gone up against the pro-Russian troll army and lost. World wide, activists often take to Facebook because it is universal, self-hosted, and it can provide a semi-anonymous, more secure, and less hackable method of disseminating information. Activists in Syria often told me that they use Facebook because if they were to host their own websites their servers could be shut down or hacked, their pages could suffer DDoS attacks, or their identities could more easily be revealed to authorities. However, activists who use Facebook are vulnerable because they often post politically charged, controversial, and sometimes graphic material. As a result, they can easily fall victim to Facebook moderators if their posts or their pages are flagged multiple times by a concerted effort from those who disagree with their politics.
On activist group which uses Facebook is the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. The LCC is an organization with a presence in nearly every town and city in Syria, and so its users in individual towns can easily share information on the social network which then gets compiled and confirmed by the larger organization. It is the arguably the most complete and important history of the day-to-day developments across Syria. The page has been shut down by Facebook moderators multiple times, and international activists, journalists, and this author himself, have had to contact Facebook to get the pages restored.
It’s easy to see, then, how organizations and activists like the LCC are vulnerable to concerted trolling campaigns, especially ones organized by a state actor. In my interactions with Facebook, which has responded promptly every time I have contacted them about this issue, there has never been an acknowledgement that activist organizations are offered any protection by Facebook from these sorts of attacks which have been going on, as Facebook is aware, for many years. In the latest statements by Zuckerberg he denied any wrong doing, but also made no indication that any efforts are being made to fix the problem (he did raise the possibility, however, of opening an office in Ukraine, something Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for Facebook to do).
One thing is clear — Facebook accounts like LCC’s generate a tremendous amount of web traffic for the American social network, regardless of whether Facebook treats them any differently than any other user.
— James Miller
Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Interfax, that a court in Simferopol, occupied Crimea, has sentenced Oleksandr Kostenko, a Ukrainian activist, to four years and two months in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer during the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev last year.
The Russian-appointed Prosecutor-General, Natalia Poklonskaya had requested a sentence of four years and three months, as well as an 80,000 ruble fine.
According to the occupying Russian authorities, Kostenko threw a brick at an officer, Vitaly Poliyenko, from a Crimean Berkut riot police unit in Kiev on February 18, 2014 the day snipers opened fire on protesters. The alleged incident took place in Marinsky Park, outside the Verkovna Rada or parliament.
Poklonskaya claimed that Kostenko had been arrested in Crimea. He was charged with “causing bodily harm motivated by ideological hatred or hostility.”
Kostenko’s lawyer claimed in court that his client did not participate in clashes with Berkut officers and was engaged in providing medical help to the injured, including police officers. He also said that Kostenko was not involved in Svoboda party activities.
Furthermore the defence argued that the Russian authorities had no jurisdiction to try Kostenko for alleged crimes that took place in Ukraine.
AFP reports that the Prosecutor’s office claimed that Kostenko had also been found guilty of storing firearms at his home in Crimea after the incident in Kiev.
Poklonskaya used language reminiscent of Soviet-era show trials, claiming it was not only Kostenko on trial, but Ukrainian ‘fascism and Nazism.’
Crimea’s Moscow-loyal prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya accused Kostenko of yelling Nazi slogans, doing the Hitler salute and participating in “Gestapo” torture during the Maidan protests in Kiev as she turned his trial into a condemnation of the authorities in Kiev.
“Today we are judging, in the face of the accused, not just him, but the very idea of fascism and Nazism, which are trying to raise their head once again,” Poklonskaya said in her final argument Thursday.
Kostenko’s lawyer, Dmitry Sotnikov, has accused the occupying authorities of starving and torturing his client.
Sotnikov said Russia’s federal security service (FSB) operatives broke Kostenko’s arm during interrogation after snatching him from the street outside his house on February 5 and denying him hospital treatment.
The first time he saw his client, Kostenko “came out covered in bruises and blood and asked: ‘Take me away from here’,” the lawyer said.
“There are fabricated cases in Russia, but rarely such humiliation and physical harm,” he said. “A living person is being tortured for a political idea, to be able to boast winning over fascism.”
— Pierre Vaux
Andriy Lysenko, press secretary for the Presidential Administration on the Ukrainian military operation in the south-east, has announced that two soldiers have been wounded over the last 24 hours.
According to Lysenko, the soldiers were wounded near Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk.
Last night, Vyacheslav Abroskin, chief of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, announced that a schoolchild, born in 2002, had been wounded after a mortar shell fell near School number 2 on Koroleva street at 17:20.
According to Abroskin’s Facebook post, the boy received shrapnel received shrapnel wounds and was being taken to a hospital in Dmitrov.
Novosti Donbassa reports that the ATO press centre claimed this morning that Avdeyevka was directly targeted with anti-aircraft guns, artillery, mortars and grenade launchers last night.
This video, uploaded yesterday, purportedly shows Avdeyevka being shelled:
In the same area, Opytnoye, Peski, Karlovla and the Butovka mine were fired on with artillery, mortars and machine guns.
In Shirokino, on the Azov coast, Ukrainian positions were reportedly fired on with small arms, grenade launchers and sniper rifles. To the north of Mariupol and west of Volnovakha, the Ukrainian military reported artillery attacks on Starognatovka.
The report claims that the Ukrainian-held villages of Kirovo and Leninskoye, outside separatist-held Gorlovka, were fired on with heavy-calibre machine guns.
Meanwhile in the Lugansk region, there were grenade launcher and small arms attacks reported on Schastye, Tryokhizbenka, Sokolniki and Stanitsa Luganskaya.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the governor of the region, Hennadiy Moskal, claimed today that another two soldiers had been wounded.
One received non-life-threatening wounds when they came under mortar and automatic gunfire at the 29th checkpoint (the foremost Ukrainian position) on the Bakhmutka highway.
The other was hospitalised after being wounded during sniper and automatic gunfire attacks on Tryokhizbenka.
Moskal also claimed that a house in Gorskoye had been severely damaged after a mortar shell struck at around 19:30. The owner was in the home when it was struck but she was not wounded.
The governor said that the intensity of attacks along the contact line in the region had markedly increased.
— Pierre Vaux