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?
In their latest report, dated last night, May 21, at 19:30 Kiev time, the OSCE has once again warned of heavy fighting in the area surrounding Donetsk International Airport.
The SMM observed continuous ceasefire violations in and around Donetsk airport (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 12km north-west of Donetsk). At the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation point at the Donetsk central railway station (“DPR”-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), between 7:30 and 16:30hrs, the SMM heard over one hundred explosions caused by incoming and outgoing artillery, mortar fire and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) as well as bursts of anti-aircraft gun and heavy machine gun. The SMM assessed that the explosions occurred at locations to the west, north-west and north, in areas adjacent to the Donetsk airport including Pisky (government-controlled, 7km west of Donetsk) and Opytne, Zhabunky and Spartak (“DPR”-controlled, 7km, 10km and 14km north-west of Donetsk).
Last week, while preparing an article for the Daily Beast about the escalating violence and the prospect for a summer offensive launched by the Russian-backed fighters, a high-ranking western diplomat told The Interpreter, “don’t overlook the continued fight around the [Donetsk] airport, which points to further territorial ambition there” on the part of the Russian-backed fighters.
The OSCE report also warns of heavy fighting elsewhere:
The area of Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) remained tense. During the morning from its observation post (government-controlled, 4.5km south-west of Shyrokyne, 16km east of Mariupol) the SMM heard multiple bursts consistent with machine-gun and small-arms fire, from 8-10km north-east and north-north-east of its position. Throughout the day, the SMM heard 84 explosions caused by mortar fire (82mm and 120mm) and multiple bursts of heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire.
— James Miller
Ukrainski Novyny reports that the Shevchenkivskyi district court in Kiev has ordered that Aleksandr Aleksandrov, one of two Russian servicemen detained near Schastye on May 17, be placed under arrest.
Judge Valentina Malinovskaya ruled that Aleksandrov be detained for two months, until July 19.
Aleksandrov, who has stated that he is a sergeant in the 3rd separate Special Forces (Spetsnaz) Brigade of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), participated in the hearing via a video link from the hospital in which he is being treated.
Yevgeny Yerofeyev, the other soldier captured in Schastye, is expected to be placed under similar restraint by the court.
On May 18, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, said that the pair will be charged with terrorism.
Earlier today, Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta published interviews with both the captives.
Novaya Gazeta‘s special foreign correspondent, Pavel Kanygin, met both in their hospital rooms. Both denied having withdrawn from military service, despite claims to that effect from the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Aleksandrov told Kanygin that he had not heard that the Russian government had disowned him until told so by the journalist. He became visibly distressed on hearing that his wife had stated at a press conference that he had resigned from the military in December last year.
He has been unable to get in contact with her, saying that her phone connection kept failing whenever he rang.
The sergeant said that he had been treated properly and adequately by the SBU, “as a prisoner of war,” and that he didn’t fear for his life.
He also denied claims by the SBU that he had attempted to blow himself up with a grenade before being captured. Kanygin does note however that Yerofeyev did attempt such.
Aleksandrov denied the charges of terrorism, saying that his only orders were to conduct reconnaissance, not sabotage. He was ordered only to fire in self-defence.
When asked by Kanygin if he had any message for the Russian public, Aleksandrov replied that he wanted to return home and for no one else to be sent to Ukraine.
Yerofeyev, Aleksandrov’s commander, was somewhat more evasive in his description of his unit’s role.
While he did confirm that he was an active reconnaissance officer of the GRU (in contrast to an interview with Ukraine’s TSN on May 18, in which he claimed he was a separatist militiaman), he presented his task as one of monitoring the ceasefire for the Russian military, almost more akin to the roles of the OSCE or JCCC. He acknowledged however that the Ukrainian side were not aware of this purported operation and that it was not in accordance with the Minsk agreements.
Furthermore, Yerofeyev said that while Russian special forces were operating inside Ukraine, there was no wider military deployment, and that the vast amount of military equipment that would come with such a deployment had not been found. This runs contrary to numerous well-documented reports and sightings of troops, tanks and other weaponry over the last year.
In contrast, Aleksandrov, when asked his response to the Kremlin’s claims that the Russian army is not deployed in the Donbass, said (translated by The Interpreter):
“As you can see, it is. It’s simply disadvantageous to admit it.”
Aleksandrov said that he and other Russian troops had been promised double salary for going to Ukraine but that such reward had never materialised.
Neither of the men has been visited by any Russian consular officials since their detention. Yerofeyev said that, by contrast, “everybody” else, from the UN, the OSCE, the Red Cross and the media had visited them.
Yerofeyev: “I understand that I have been abandoned as a serviceman, to hell with that. But I’m still a citizen of my country. And I would like to see some kind of representative here.
Kanygin: “From the Russian embassy?”
Yerofeyev: “Yes the Russian embassy, or anyone at all. The consulate, the embassy! Everyone has been here except for them. To hell with them, that they abandoned me as a soldier. But I am still a citizen. Still… (After a long pause – P.K.) Pavel! Can you go to them and ask them to visit me?
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in south-eastern Ukraine, has announced that three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and twelve wounded over the last 24 hours. According to Lysenko, most of the casualties were incurred in the Donetsk area. The spokesman said that fighting had intensified on the western outskirts of the separatist-held city yesterday afternoon.
Furthermore, one civilian was killed and two wounded when residential areas of the Ukrainian-held settlements of Avdeyevka, Opytnoye and Vodyanoye were shelled with, Lysenko claimed, 122 mm artillery.
According to the ATO Press Centre, the Avdeyevka Coke and Chemical Plant, a vast industrial complex to the north of the town, was shelled with mortars.
Leviy Bereg‘s Oleksandr Rudomanov reported today that four Ukrainian soldiers were wounded yesterday in Avdeyevka.
Some of the soldiers, from the 2nd battalion of the 95th Brigade, were wounded by shrapnel, the others during sniper attacks.
According to the ATO Press Centre, the western Donetsk suburb of Marinka, as well as Peski, Severnoye and the Butovka mine, to the north, were shelled with 120 mm mortars and 122 mm artillery.
To the south of Donetsk, there were attacks on the Ukrainian front line in the Telmanovo district, east of Volnovakha.
According to the Press Centre, Russian-backed forces fired Grad rockets at the village of Novolaspa and shelled Granitnoye with mortars and artillery.
In Shirokino, Lysenko and the ATO Press Centre reported a wide range of weaponry, including 122 mm artillery, being used against Ukrainian positions.
To the north-east of Donetsk, heavy fighting continued around Gorlovka.
Lysenko said that Russian-backed fighters had made intense use of 120 mm mortars and other heavy weaponry in attacks both to the east and west of the separatist-held town.
The ATO Press Centre reported that the Ukrainian-held settlements of Novogrodskoye, Leninskoye, Shirokaya Balka and Kirovo had all been shelled, with the last two being targeted by self-propelled guns.
Further east, the Ukrainian military reported attacks on Troitskoye and Zolotoye.
In the Lugansk region, there was a major attack on the town of Schastye.
UNIAN reports on a statement by the office of the governor of the region, Hennadiy Moskal:
“Last night and tonight the militants fired mortars and grenade launchers intensively on the village of Schastye. They attacked from the militant-controlled village of Vesyolaya Gora near the bridge over the Seversky Donets River, where the fortified positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were located,” the report says.
“According to preliminary reports, at least one armoured personnel carrier was hit as a result of the shelling, and one soldier was seriously wounded. Several houses were burned in a dacha cooperative area, from direct hits by missiles and grenades. The power line is damaged, so electricity is supplied by backup [generators]. One of the missiles damaged a pipeline, but it had already been repaired by the morning,” the report reads.
Most of the residential areas of the village of Schastye are not within the area of active combat, and all essential utilities are working, according to the report.
According to the ATO Press Centre, tanks and artillery were also used in the attack.
Moskal’s office also reported that there had been a close-quarters battle last night in Stanitsa Luganskaya, east along the Seversky Donets from Schastye.
According to the report, the town was shelled several times from 22:00, with mortar rounds falling in residential areas. After midnight a group of Russian-backed fighters made their way across a partially destroyed bridge onto the Ukrainian-controlled side of the Seversky Donets. Fighting broke out, during which one Ukrainian soldier was wounded. The Russian-backed fighters withdrew.
As a result of both last night’s incident, and numerous previous attacks, the governor announced today that Ukrainian troops would now bar any passage across the remains of the bridge.
Crimea’s pro-separatist Golos Sevastopolya reports, citing the press office of the ‘people’s police’ of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, that more than a thousand people had gathered at the crossing this morning. The report claims that Ukrainian troops are periodically firing above the civilians’ heads.
The bridge, although damaged, remains the only passable crossing for pedestrians between the two sides of the river in this area.
According to the Golos Sevastopolya report, OSCE monitors are on their way to the scene.
— Pierre Vaux