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?
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that the Russian Ministry of Defence has called on Ukraine to release the two soldiers captured near Schastye yesterday, despite denying that they are active members of the Russian armed forces.
General-Major Igor Konashenkov, official spokesman for the MOD, said (translated by The Interpreter):
“We have examined the reports from the Ukrainian side: these boys have indeed previously served in one of the units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and have military training. Moreover, I can confirm that we have been approached by the leadership of the Association of Special Forces Veterans with a request to go through official channels to the Ukrainian General Staff to stop the abuse of their comrades by the SBU while beating out their favourable testimonies.”
The Kremlin is therefore claiming that these troops are retired soldiers while still treating them as their own. While one of the captives said (possibly under duress) in their interrogation (which was recorded and uploaded to the internet) that they were still serving soldiers, Russian troops have frequently been discharged before deployment to Ukraine, so as to maintain plausible deniability.
Konashenkov then said:
“I would like to remind you that during the civil war in south-eastern Ukraine dozens, even hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen and fighters from the so-called ‘territorial’ battalions have been repeatedly detained on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The MOD spokesman claimed that the treatment of these prisoners had been fully in accordance with international law and they had been allowed to return to their families. Such a claim seems at odd with the capture in Ukraine and subsquent illegal rendition to Russia of Ukrainian soldiers like Nadezhda Savchenko.
However Konashenkov has been granted license to say that Ukraine is violating international law by the invitation of journalists to interview the captured Russian troops.
Article 27 of the fourth Geneva convention states that prisoners of war must be protected “against public curiosity.”
Ukraine’s TSN television channel interviewed both prisoners, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeniy Yerofeyev, in a hospital in Kiev.
While Aleksandrov stated in the aforementioned interrogation video (which we again note may have been conducted under duress) that he was a soldier from the 3rd Spetsnaz Brigade from Togliatti, his commander, Yerofeyev, told TSN that he was a militia fighter from Lugansk.
Meanwhile, Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Ukrainian General Staff has claimed that Russia was now withdrawing its special forces from the town of Bryanka, near the front line in the Lugansk region.
According to the announcement, made on the Ukrainian MOD website this evening, Russian special forces troops were being withdrawn to their bases of permanent deployment.
The MOD claimed that a transport aircraft had arrived at an airbase in Millerovo, Russia, near the border with Ukraine, which would soon take spetsnaz troops to a base in Samara.
The Interpreter translates:
“It is remarkable that the redeployment of Russian special forces began as soon as the Ukrainian side demonstrated to the whole world the undeniable fact of the presence of Russian servicemen in eastern Ukraine.
By doing so, the Russian Federation is attempting to hide the fact of the presence of their servicemen on the territory of the Donetsk and Lugtansk regions and their participation in military operations against Ukrainian soldiers.”
— Pierre Vaux
Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, is in Moscow to meet with high-ranking members of the Russian government, a trip which follows on the heels of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Nuland said in no uncertain terms that the Minsk ceasefire deal is “being violated on a daily basis,” and blamed the Russian-backed separatists for the fighters. RFE/RL reports:
U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland spoke on May 18 after talks in Moscow with Russian officials.
Nuland said the violations of the Western-brokered agreement signed in February in Minsk by Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels “need to stop.”
Nuland suggested that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the bulk of the violations, which occurred “on the western side of the Minsk line.”
She said her discussions with [Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Sergei Ryabkov and Grigory Karasin] were “very detailed…very pragmatic,” and were centered around ways that the United States might be able to support the implementation of the Minsk deal.
Nuland’s statements here sound tough, and might undercut some of the Kremlin’s spin — that visits from Nuland and Kerry indicate that relations between the U.S. and Russia are warming:
The Ukrainian military has given a press conference in Kiev on the Russian soldiers captured yesterday near Schastye.
During the press conference the defence minister, Viktor Muzhenko, introduced the commander of the 92nd Brigade, Viktor Nikolyuk, who had led the operation that resulted in the soldiers’ capture.
Nikolyuk presented the audience with a weapon that he said had been seized from one of the two captives, Yevgeny Yerofeyev.
Nikolyuk and Muzhenko identified the weapon as a Vintorez sniper rifle. A comparison of these photos with ones of a VSS Vintorez suggest this claim is accurate:
This is significant as, while the Vintorez is not in service with Ukrainian forces, it is issued to Russian Spetsnaz units.
Indeed, unmarked Russian special forces were photographed carrying Vintorez rifles during the invasion of Crimea last year.
A Russian soldier carrying a VSS Vintorez rifle, fitted with a sniper scope, near Belbek airbase in Crimea.
Nikolyuk said that the Russian soldiers had been captured during a battle on the edge of Schastye, at a strategically important bridge over the Seversky Donets river, along which runs the demarcation line.
The commander said that three Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded and one killed.
A man who introduced himself to the audience as a deputy head of the Presidential Administration claimed that Yerofeyev had attempted to shoot his Ukrainian captors but his gun had jammed.
Furthermore, the Ukrainians alleged that Russian troops had fired on the Ukrainians as they removed their wounded prisoners from the battlefield, knowing that they were shooting at their own men. According to the military, their aim was to destroy any evidence of their presence.
Meanwhile LIGABusinessInform reports that Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), has announced that the captured soldiers will be charged with terrorism.
According to Nalyvaichenko, the men “must answer to article 258 of the Criminal Code – terrorist activities and terrorist crimes.”
— Pierre Vaux
Two men, who the Ukrainian government claims are Russian soldiers, captured yesterday by the Aidar battalion near Schastye in the Lugansk region, are being transferred to Kiev today.
Nataliya Vasilyeva reports for AP that Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, said that, having been interrogated by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the men will be brought before the media in Kiev.
Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, has denied that the men are Russian soldiers.
Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported that Peskov said (translated by The Interpreter):
“I, of course, cannot confirm because it is not us who should be asked such questions. We and the Ministry of Defence have repeatedly said that there are no Russian troops in the Donbass whatsoever.”
Peskov said that specialists from the Ministry of Defence should look at the evidence presented by Ukraine to assess its plausibility. He said however, that this was not an issue for the Presidential Administration, reiterating that there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
Vasilyeva reported that a medic from the Aidar battalion had told her that their prisoners feared having their organs harvested by Ukrainian troops:
Grigory Maksimets, a medic of the pro-Kiev volunteer Aidar battalion, told the AP that he attended to the men when they were delivered late Saturday to his hospital in Shchastia, a town less than 20 kilometers north of Luhansk and home to a strategic power station.
One man had been wounded in the shoulder and the other one in the right leg, said Maksimets, who works in intensive care. The men were caught by Ukrainian troops while on a reconnaissance mission around the power station, he said.
The men both introduced themselves as Russian soldiers and were worried that the battalion’s doctors wanted to take their organs for sale, he added.
“They asked not to be sedated because they were afraid we would take their organs,” Maksimets told the AP, adding their Russian commanders had warned them about this.
A video of the interrogation of one of the captives, who identifies himself as Aleksandr Anatolievich Aleksandrov, that was uploaded yesterday, has now been translated into English by several sources.
Here is version with subtitles by InformNapalm:
We must caution that statements by captured prisoners may well be obtained under duress.
Furthermore, their public presentation, at their forthcoming media appearance likely constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Here is a full transcript by Lugansk News Today:
Ukrainian soldier #1: Your last name, first name, patronymic name?
Russian POW: Aleksandrov Aleksandr Anatolievich.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Military rank?
Russian POW: Sergeant.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Unit?
Russian POW: 3rd Brigade.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Louder!
Russian POW: 3rd Brigade of Special Forces
Ukrainian soldier #1: Go on, city?
Russian POW: Togliatti.
Ukrainian soldier #2: 3rd Brigade of Special Forces?
Russian POW: … (nodding “yes” and looks at the Ukrainian soldier #2)
Ukrainian soldier #2: Say it loud.
Russian POW: 3rd Brigade of Special Forces, Tol city.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Starting from what date you are in the “zone” (means Anti-Terrorist Operation zone)?
Russian POW: Since March 26.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Surname of your commander?
Russian POW: Yarofeev Yevgeniy Vladimirovich.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Military rank?
Russian POW: Captain.
Ukrainian soldier #1: What area were you operating in?
Russian POW: Area of Shchastye, town of Shchastye.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Group structure? Number of people?
Russian POW: 14 men.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Last names?
Russian POW: … (makes deep breath and closes his eyes)
Ukrainian soldier #1: Military rank and last name?
Ukrainian soldier #2: Tasks and under what circumstances you were captured?
Russian POW: Commander of the group, captain Yarofeev. Deputy commander of the group, praporshchik Azimov (“praporshchik” is a rank in the Russian military). Commander of 1st squad… I don’t know… don’t remember his name…
Ukrainian soldier #1: Think, think, concentrate, remember.
Russian POW: Yefreitor Kutul-Akhmetov (“yefreitor” is a rank in the Russian military). Machine gunner, yefreitor Konovalov, senior gunner. Sniper, junior sergeant Nemov.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Callsigns? You know everybody communicates with each other by callsigns.
Russian POW: Wait… wait…
Ukrainian soldier #1: He is naming the group now (addressing Ukrainian soldier #2 who interjects in the conversation). Name the group until the end (addressing to Russian POW).
Russian POW: Scout…(couple of words not clear) Grigoriev, sergeant Grigoriev.
Ukrainian soldier #1: uh huh…
Russian POW: Sapper, yefreitor Spiridonov. Commander of 2nd squad, senior sergeant Yevlaev. Sniper, Kulmukhametov, yefreitor.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Sasha (Sasha is short for Aleksandr in Russian), has physical force been used towards you?
Russian POW: No, it hasn’t.
Ukrainian soldier #2: No. Say this directly.
Russian POW: Physical force hasn’t been used towards me.
Ukrainian soldier #2: You are a soldier of Russian Federation or you are transferred to the reserve?
Russian POW: I am a soldier of Russian Federation.
Ukrainian soldier #1: You are on military service, starting from what date you are on military service?
Russian POW: Starting from December 12, 2012.
Ukrainian soldier #2: You are a contract soldier now, yes?
Russian POW: Yes, I am a contract soldier.
Ukrainian soldier #2: What is the motto of special forces, the motto of your regiment?
Russian POW: At any time, in any place – any task.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Clear. Number of groups that you know that work in this area?
Russian POW: 4.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Those that consist of servicemen of Russian Federation.
Russian POW: Those that I know…
Ukrainian soldier #1: 4 groups…
Russian POW: In the area of Shchastye…
Ukrainian soldier #1: In the area of Shchastye operate…
Ukrainian soldier #2: Do not prompt him, let him say it himself…
Ukrainian soldier #1: How many men, how many groups are operating in the area of Shchastye?
Russian POW: In the Schastye area we rotate with one group all the time.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Are there some other groups operating in this area?
Russian POW: In neighbouring areas.
Ukrainian soldier #1: In which neighbouring areas?
Russian POW: Raivka.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Next.
Russian POW: Stanytsia Luhanska area.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Next.
Russian POW: I don’t know more, I don’t know other groups.
Ukrainian soldier #1: You don’t know their tasks?
Russian POW: No… observation…
Ukrainian soldier #2: Your tasks?
Ukrainian soldier #1: What orders were you getting from your command, orders the group got when moved forward?
Russian POW: Get to the point… (the rest is not clear).
Ukrainian soldier #2: Under what circumstances you were wounded? What is the task of your group?
Russian POW: Get to the point… make observations…
Ukrainian soldier #2: Say louder, please.
Russian POW: Get to the bridge and make observations.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Next. What happened?
Russian POW: … (phrase not clear)… we were detected… when we were retreating I was wounded in the leg.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Did you cross the territory…?
Ukrainian soldier #1: Did you cross the territory that borders?
Russian POW: No, we didn’t cross the river. (Means Seversky Donets River, the demarcation line between territory controlled by so-called Lugansk People’s Republic and Ukraine controlled territory).
Ukrainian soldier #2: You task was observation? Or no? Ok, we won’t prompt you, tell us clearly your task, your group movement.
Russian POW: Our task was observation… if there was some result of observation, then…
Ukrainian soldier #2: Getting to the specified point, I understand…
Ukrainian soldier #1: Group members, how many men?
Russian POW: 14 men.
Ukrainian soldier #1: 14 men. For what period of time you did come here, you rotate, or you are permanently deployed here?
Russian POW: For 4-5 days.
Ukrainian soldier #1: After that you depart to your permanent place of deployment?
Russian POW: Yes, to Lugansk city.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Lugansk city… How did you get to Lugansk city initially?
Ukrainian soldier #1: You are located here, you arrive on vehicles?
Russian POW: Yes, we arrive on vehicles.
Ukrainian soldier #1: What kind of vehicles?
Russian POW: “URAL” truck.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Armored vehicles like BMD, BMP?
Russian POW: Just on “URAL” trucks.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Who comes with armored vehicles?
Ukrainian soldier #1: Last name of commander of your brigade?
Russian POW: Gennadiy Shchepin.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Shchepin?
Russian POW: Yes.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Say his military rank and last name.
Russian POW: Colonel Shchepin.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Company commander?
Russian POW: … (the name is not clear in the video)
Ukrainian soldier #1: Permanent brigade deployment location?
Russian POW: Togliatti city.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Can you say it again louder?
Russian POW: Togliatti city.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Togliatti city…
Ukrainian soldier #2: How do you communicate with local population on that side of the river?
Russian POW: Just communicate.
Ukrainian soldier #2: Get information?
Russian POW: We don’t get information. We ask militia.
Ukrainian soldier #2: How do you communicate with so-called militia?
Russian POW: Just…
Ukrainian soldier #2: Joint operations?
Russian POW: No joint operations.
Ukrainian soldier #2: You have an order not to get in contact with them or what?
Russian POW: No, we communicate, but no joint operations, we don’t discuss tasks.
Ukrainian soldier #2: So you don’t communicate…
Ukrainian soldier #1: So units are working without co-operation, autonomously, correct?
Russian POW: Yes…
Ukrainian soldier #1: Number of groups that you know that operate based in Lugansk city.
Russian POW: 6-8.
Ukrainian soldier #1: 6-8 groups. Who do you know from other groups? Last names?
Russian POW: …(thinking, not clear what he says, can’t say last names).
Ukrainian soldier #1: Callsigns?
Russian POW: Sergeant…(name is not clear), sergeant Aleksandrov.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Another sergeant Aleksandrov? He also works in a separate group?
Russian POW: Yes… squad commander.
Ukrainian soldier #1: Where does that group work… now?
Russian POW: It’s located in Lugansk city now.
Ukrainian soldier #1: And where did it operate?
Russian POW: Stanitsa Luhanska area.
InformNapalm published photos of the two captives’ ID cards, issued by the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic:
Sergeant Aleksandr Anatolievich Aleksandrov, from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, born January 7, 1987
Captain Yevgeny Vladimirovich Erofeyeyev, from Kuybyshev, born Janurary 18, 1985
The Ukrainian General Staff are now due to hold a press conference, scheduled to start at 16:00 Kiev time (13:00 GMT).
— Pierre Vaux
UNIAN reports that the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine (SBGS) has announced that fighting is under way between SBGS personnel and Russian-backed fighters near Troitskoye, north-east of Debaltsevo.
According to the report, a Ukrainian serviceman have been wounded in the battle with an enemy sabotage and reconnaissance group.
The SBGS claims that their personnel have, in turn, inflicted significant losses on the Russian-backed fighters, forcing them to withdraw.
— Pierre Vaux
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential Administration on the military operation in the Donbass, has announced today that two soldiers have been killed and four wounded over the last 24 hours.
According to Lysenko, the soldiers who were killed were members of the National Guard.
Casualty rates appear to be on the rise, with Lysenko having announced the deaths of three soldiers at yesterday’s briefing.
Heavy fighting was reported at several locations along the front line over the last day.
The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, claimed that there had been a sharp escalation in attacks by Russian-backed fighters on Ukrainian positions.
Two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded during fighting on the front line near occupied Kalinovo. According to the governor’s office, Russian-backed fighters from the village had come within 600 metres of the Ukrainian lines before opening fire with automatic grenade launchers.
Moskal’s office reported that the settlements of Schastye and Tryokhizbenka were shelled yesterday and that today, at around 8 am, Russian-backed fighters had shelled the outskirts of the village of Katerinovka, near Zolotoye, from occupied Molodezhnoye.
The ATO Press Centre announced this morning that Peski, Avdeyevka and Opytnoye, all to the north of Donetsk, had been shelled yesterday evening with mortars, grenade launchers and heavy-calibre machine guns.
To the south-west of the separatist-held city, there was an armed confrontation near Novomikhailovka.
To the east, outside separatist-held Gorlovka, the village of Leninskoye came under machine gun attack.
— Pierre Vaux
Today marks the 71st anniversary of Stalin’s mass deportation of the Crimean Tatar people from their homeland on the Crimean peninsula to closed settlements in Central Asia. More than 200,000 people were rousted from their homes at night to be packed into cattle cars for the trip, in which some 100,000 died of suffocation, exposure or starvation.
It was only after independence in 1991 that the Crimean people under the leadership of former political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev (Cemilev) were able to begin to return to the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, a process that even after 23 years was still fraught with difficulties in gaining land titles and residence permits for this Muslim people.
Today, since the forcible annexation and Russian occupation last March, which was accompanied by numerous arrests and some kidnappings and killing of Crimean Tatar activists as well as closure of their TV station ATR, some 21,000 Crimean Tatars have been forced to flee Crimea and resettle in other parts of Ukraine.
Dzhemilev, a member of the Verkhovna Rada or Ukrainian parliament and past head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or assembly; Refat Chubarov, the current head of the Mejlis; and other leaders have been banished from the peninsula and have been forced to take refuge in Kiev or other cities.
The self-proclaimed government of Crimea has forbidden gatherings to commemorate the deportation, or tried to coopt Crimean Tatars to their own events.
commemorate the deportation, or tried to coopt Crimean Tatars to their
As Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group has an account:
As reported here, the claims of a ‘mass provocation’ came just hours after threats from the prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya
that Ukrainian ‘nationalists and radicals’ could expect to be jailed in
Russian-occupied Crimea. The ‘provocation’ was supposedly being
planned by Ukrainian politicians and the leaders of the Mejlis. It was
also reported, without any detail, that a “group of Ukrainian
nationalists” had been arrested and were in custody.
occupation authorities both in 2014 and this year have shown total
inability to coordinate their excuses for bans. The head of the
Simferopol city administration announced
at the same time that they would not be allowing the traditional
remembrance gathering, but claimed that the square was not suited, and
that repair work was planned.
Two members of the Mejlis have received formal warnings that meetings are unacceptable.
whether this constitutes a ban on all meetings, Mustafa Dzhemiliev
answered that, effectively, yes it does. He has just had a call from
Sudak, he adds, where the authorities are trying to get Crimean Tatars
to lay flowers together with them at the Deportation memorial. He
believes that Crimean Tatars, certainly the Mejlis, will refuse to take
part in any commemorate acts together with the occupation authorities,
though adds that the latter have a few collaborators they can turn to.
fact it would be possible, not taking into account bans or restrictions
to just come out, and that probably is what will happen. However I’m
afraid of any provocation. Because if they, say, send a person with a
Russian flag into a place where a lot of people are gathered, it will be
impossible to avoid confrontation. In short the situation is pretty worrying. I don’t know how it will develop. “
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick