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?
Odessa has a history of corruption, and the resort town may be in desperate need of international investment, but Saakashvili is a controversial figure who has been accused of suppressing his political opposition. He is hated by many who express pro-Russian attitudes, and last summer Odessa was the scene of one of this crisis’ most violent episodes last spring where nearly 50 people were killed in clashes between separatists and pro-Ukrainian activists.
— James Miller
Lugansk News Today has done an English translation of a story from January on the Ukrainian site InformNapalm which purports to prove the presence of a Russian special forces soldier from a Russian military intelligence unit on the side of the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic.
The story has become further relevant this month with the capture of two GRU officers by Ukrainian forces from the same unit.
Lugansk News gave the story the headline “Royal Flush” because the editors believe they have found five points of proof of the fact that the soldier is a member of the Russian regular army fighting in Ukraine:
1. He is Russian citizen.
2. He is a soldier of 3rd Brigade of Special Forces of Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, aka Spetsnaz GRU. He is exactly from the same 3rd Brigade of Special Forces as Russian POW Aleksadr Aleksandrov and Evgeniy Erofeev captured by Ukrainian Army on May 16 2015 near Lugansk. See Aleksandrov’s 1st interview here “I am a soldier of Russian Federation”
3. He was on a training camp inside Ukraine on the territory controlled by so-called Lugansk People’s Republic just 8km away from Lugansk Airport already at end of September 2014.
4. He got AS “Val” assault rifle, manufactured in Russia only and used by Russian Special Forces unit. And he was wounded in a battle against Ukrainian Army near Sanzharivka on Jan 28 2015.
5. He is driving armored personnel carrier BPM-97 “Vystrel” manufactured only in Russia and used only by Russian Special Forces units.
We find the information indeed supports the claim that a Russian citizen associated with the special forces has provided some geolocated photographic evidence that he was in Ukraine, but it’s not definitive that he is currently serving in the RF Armed Forces. As with so many cases of these soldiers, he could have served in the army, then completed his draft term and been turned into a contract soldier, which then enables the Russian military to claim he is not part of the regular army. Or he could have been a volunteer.
Even so, given that he is from the same unit as two soldiers captured by Ukrainians earlier this month, it is possible that the “contract” status is a cover story.
The soldier’s last name is given as “Krivko” at the time of publication on January 31, 2015.
Krivko was said to be wounded near Sanzharovka in Ukraine. He is shown holding an AS Val, which is similar to the Vintorez which is not in Ukraine’s arsenal and is known to be issued only to Russian spetsnaz forces.
For several days, the name on this profile at this exact same address not say “Krivo” but “Shura Osechkin” — we have seen these kind of name changes before after pages like this are outed on InformNapalm, taken down, and restored, often without the “incriminating” pictures. In this case, the pictures remained for a time with the name changed this week, but today the name is changed back again to “GRU Soldier Krivko” and the page is gone — only showing up now as a page once followed by other people. Here’s our browser history so the changes can be seen:
Deleted VKontakte pages are not available in Google cache.
The soldier is identified from his profile as a member of the 3rd Brigade of Special Forces of Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, known by its Russian initials as the GRU. Thus, he is from the same unit as the Russian POWs Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yereofeyev captured by Ukrainian Army on May 16, 2015 near Lugansk.
Evidence of this association is a picture of him standing with his buddies holding up the GRU unit’s flag which we saw on the account before its removal:
Other evidence of the soldier’s affiliation with Russia are pictures of him riding a BPM-97 Vystrel, a border-patrol vehicle made only in Russia, which we tracked into Ukraine at a training camp earlier this year on the basis of photos taken by a source of Lugansk News Today.
“Mirotvorets” (“Peace-Keeper”), the Ukrainian crowd-sourcing web site sponsored by the Interior Ministry to post information about Russian Federation military and Russian-backed fighters has an entry for Krivko/Osechkin where his call sign, “Master Yoda” is given.
Lugansk News also points out that Krivko/Osechkin has the late Aleksei Mozgovoy, the commander of Prizrak Brigade assassinated last weekend, among his friends on VKontakte.
InformNapal found a picture of Krivko/Osechkin which he had made and posted to VKontakte of a sign from Voting Precinct No. 3 in the Ukrianian town of Bryanka, which he would have been unlikely to post unless he was there and took it himself.
Another indirect proof of his presence was a photo of himself with a wounded arm, date and time-stamped January 28, 2015 at 20:40. He then posted a picture of a document written by a doctor in Ukrainian in a hospital in Stakhanov that based on his account, he was wounded in combat on January 28, 2015, at 15:30. The document does not have his name in it.
More definitive are three photos of himself wearing camouflage or in one, a paratroopers’ blue beret, that was geolocated by the VKontakte picture system to the town of Pervozvanovka (Pershozvanivka). The first was in September 22, 2014, where he is shown holding some fish.
The second was on October 2, 2014, where he is wearing a paratroopers’ blue beret. We have verified that the picture was posted on the page earlier this week and has that date and location. The location, 8 km from the Lugansk Airport, is believed to be a training camp used by Russians to train local fighters and was under separatist control.
The third was taken on October 9, and also showed the same geolocation of Pervozvanovka.
There was also a picture of Krivko/Osechkin in a blue beret in front of the Union of Veterans of Airborne Troops and Special Forces” in Samara and then at a meeting in Samara.
Veterans’ unions like this one in Samara have been reported in other citizens such as Yekaterinburg to be involved in recruiting fighters for the war in Ukraine, so it is likely this is how this man was recruited.
There are also some photos posted of Ukrainian and American MREs which seemed likely to be taken only if he were in Ukraine.
Lugansk News Today reports a further interesting update tying Krivko to a video taken by Graham Philips, a stringer for the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda, of a group of paratroopers who admitted they were from Russia and were fighting for the LNR.
Lugansk News Today compares a screenshot of a man in protective goggles with a hat, striped scarf, radio and bag and says it is very similar to the hat and striped scarf worn by Krivo — the way he places his radio and bag is also similar:
The Interpreter covered this same video on September 5 and pointed out that the fighters had accents in Russian consistent with those from the Russian Federation as distinct from the Donbass.
When Wilson asked who among the fighters was from Russia, the soldier in the goggles raised his hand as we pointed out then.
The fighters were also also carrying the VDV flag of the Airborne Troops.
These fighters were involved in the takeover of the Lugansk Airport, a battle that Krivko/Osechkin in this video called “a success for Novorossiya.” He said all of the men were volunteer fighters, and had bought their uniforms and equipment themselves. He said he was an ethnic Belarusian, his ancestors had been “killed by Banderaites,” and he had quit a high-paying job as a computer programmer and business executive to come fight in the war.
If this soldier was in fact positively identified as Krivko/Osechkin, it could prove that the Russian GRU had troops in Ukraine last September.
UPDATE: Krivko/Shura Osechkin is back again, this time at a new address on VKontakte. The third photograph is now verified as posted in his album. He has also added an explanatory post (translated by The Interpreter):
“The secret world government, Illuminati and Zionists are hunting after my personal data. I’m going into the underground.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Key excerpts from the report which is dated yesterday, May 28, at 19:30 Kiev time, show that the number of ceasefire violations are once again on the rise:
From an observation point at the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk central railway station (8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), the SMM noticed an increase in the number of ceasefire violations compared to previous days. Over a nine hour period during the day, the SMM heard 150 explosions from west and north-west, mostly consistent with mortar (82 and 120mm) and tank fire. In Luhansk region the SMM heard explosions in the area of government-controlled Trokhizbenka (33km north of Luhansk) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”)-controlled Frunze (40km north-west of Luhansk). Due to security considerations, the SMM was unable to observe the situation in Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol). However, from its position in Mariupol, the SMM heard several explosions emanating from an easterly direction.
But this next paragraph is the big headline — not only are soldiers with Russian military insignias and Russian license plates operating inside Ukraine, but they are also hindering the OSCE’s mission:
In Petrivske (“DPR”-controlled, 38km south-east of Donetsk) the SMM spoke to a young man who said that the former local holiday camp was currently occupied by an unknown armed group. He could not specify for how long this armed group had been stationed in the village. In the village the SMM spoke to two women, both wearing military uniforms, with caps with Russian Federation Armed Forces insignia. They said that they were from Kramatorsk. During the conversation with the two women a vehicle with Russian Federation number plates stopped next to the OSCE vehicles and two armed men, similarly dressed, exited the car and ordered the women to stop the conversation with the SMM. Behind a tall fence inside the holiday camp, the SMM observed one infantry fighting vehicle.
Buried under this headline is a single line that is also interesting — the spotting of a child soldier in Makiivka, not far from the front line of battle:
At a checkpoint on the outskirts of “DPR”-controlled Makiivka (10km east of Donetsk), the SMM observed a child, approximately 12-14 years old, wearing a camouflage uniform and holding an AK-47 rifle.
Another interesting item from the OSCE report may spark even more speculation about the controversial figure Aleksandr Zakharchenko:
Alexander Zakharchenko, the “prime minister” of the “DPR” told the SMM that he was unavailable to attend meetings outside the country until the end of July due to health reasons.
This is not the first time there have been rumors about Zakharchenko’s health. On May 9, at the Victory Day celebration, video was taken which appeared to show him swaying on his feet. This raised speculation that he was intoxicated, though others suggested that he was still suffering from a leg injury incurred during fighting against the Ukrainian military.
Yet another interesting section of this OSCE article is a segment on the closing of a bridge in Lugansk province. What may not be obvious from the OSCE update, however, is that the Russian-backed separatists have been engaged in active battles in this area, north of Lugansk, in order to secure more territory and, perhaps most importantly, key river crossings — all of which belong to the Ukrainian military under the Minsk agreement. Thus, the closing of the bridge for “security reasons” is both the consequence of these attacks and suspicious in its own right, as it could signal that the bridge may be used for exclusively military purposes here on out:
In government-controlled Stanytsia Luhanska (16km north-east of Luhansk), a male resident told the SMM that on 27 May at around 00:00hrs, he heard heavy artillery fire until 01:30hrs near the bridge. According to the interlocutor, on 27 May there had been a gathering at the village administration building, where people had been informed by a municipal employee that the bridge in town would remain closed for 60 days, based on the decision of Luhansk governor Moskal from 26 May. He said that this announcement had caused bitterness among people present at the gathering.
The SMM met with the Stanytsia Luhanska deputy district head and a representative of the village council. According to the interlocutors, the reason for closing the bridge was the deteriorating security situation. They stated that the district had received EUR 2.1 million from Luhansk regional administration to repair infrastructure damaged by shelling. However, given the resumption of shelling, infrastructure repairs were suspended. The officials explained that the shelling was the reason behind the governor’s decision to close the bridge. The officials acknowledged large queues formed on a daily basis, as people hope to cross the bridge. According to them on 27 May, in order to accommodate people’s wish to cross into “LPR”-controlled areas, the village administration organized free public transportation to transfer people to one of the official crossing points that remain open, such as government-controlled Zolote (60km north-west of Luhansk). Approximately 200 local inhabitants used this service. However, the interlocutors pointed out that their current budget would not enable them to continue this service. According to the officials on 28 May, there were 150 people gathering at the government-controlled side of the bridge demanding access to “LPR”-controlled territory.
While the OSCE has witnessed heavy weaponry belonging to both the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed fighters in areas which are violations of the Minsk ceasefire agreement, there is also a clear pattern — the Russian-backed forces have far more heavy weaponry beyond the line of demarcation. This serves as evidence to support the Ukrainian government’s claims that it is only breaking the Minsk agreement to respond to attacks by the Russian-backed separatists. The newest OSCE report provides more evidence — no Ukrainian vehicles were seen out of compliance with the Minsk agreement, yet 17 vehicles belonging to their opponents were in violation. This latest report focused on the area near Lugansk, mentioned above. It’s also worth noting that the Russian soldiers recently captured by Ukraine were captured near Schastye, north of Lugansk:
The SMM re-visited two Ukrainian Armed Forces and one “LPR” heavy weapon holding areas observing that weapons previously recorded were in situ, and that their locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines.
Despite claims that withdrawal of heavy weapons was complete, the SMM observed 17 tanks in two concentrations in “LPR”-controlled areas north and north-west of Luhansk city.
The OSCE also had this interesting excerpt about activity near the Ukraine-Russia border:
The SMM visited the administrative boundary line in Chonhar (220km south-east of Kherson) and observed about 100 people queuing in front of the Ukrainian Border Guard containers and about 100 private vehicles with Ukrainian registration plates and 25 trucks queuing in front of the crossing point. The SMM also visited the bridge where the last position of the Ukrainian Border Guards is located and observed some 10 vehicles queuing to enter mainland Ukraine. The Ukrainian Border Guard personnel said the situation had been calm with no incidents reported. They said they do not have contact with the Russian Federation Border Guards. The officer in charge of the crossing point said the number of passengers traveling to Crimea for tourism had recently increased. The SMM visited a Ukrainian Border Guard position on Arabat Spit (238km south-east of Kherson) at the administrative boundary line with Crimea. The SMM spoke with the commander and soldiers at the last position of the Ukrainian Border Guards, just before a strip of land that serves as a neutral zone between Ukrainian Border Guards and Russian Federation Border Guards. The SMM observed a military tent some 300 metres away from the Ukrainian Border Guard position, which according to the Ukrainian commander belongs to the Russian Federation Armed Forces.
And the report, as usual, has a section dedicated to incidents where the OSCE monitors have had their movements restricted. This time, all the incidents appear to be similar — the Ukrainian military appears to be paying particular attention to members of the SMM who are also Russian nationals:
In Krasne (government-controlled, 47km west of Donetsk) the SMM was approached by Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel who requested from SMM IDs, the red OSCE booklet and passports. The SMM was held for 15 minutes.
In Kramatorsk the SMM was halted at a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint for 15 minutes. The SMM was ordered to park their vehicles, whilst civilian traffic was allowed to proceed. The SMM was informed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel that they were looking for one suspicious person. A member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces asked the patrol if there were any citizens from the Russian Federation in the patrol. Additionally, the SMM was requested to step out of the vehicles. Five SMM members showed their IDs and one SMM monitor with Russian Federation citizenship was requested to hand over his mobile telephone.
At a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint in Volnovakha (55km north of Mariupol, government-controlled), Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers at a checkpoint asked the SMM for the patrol members’ nationalities, names and OSCE ID numbers. The SMM was allowed to proceed after 20 minutes.
— James Miller
Oleh Kuzminykh, a Ukrainian military commander who was captured during the fall of Donetsk Airport, has given an interview to Fakty i Komentarii.
Kuzminykh was the commander of the 90th Assault Battalion of the 81st Brigade. His capture on January 20 was documented on video footage uploaded to a pro-separatist YouTube channel, showing him being abused and pistol-whipped by the commander of the Russian-backed Somalia Battalion, Mikhail Tolstykh, known as Givi.
In the interview published today, Kuzminykh said that, prior to his release, he had been brought to a meeting with Darya Morozova, the ‘human rights ombudsman’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).
Morozova asked Kuzminykh whether he had been beaten during his captivity.
Kuzminykh told Fakty‘s Valentina Sytnik (translated by The Interpreter):
Everyone who was captured with me on the night of January 20 at Donetsk Airport was severely beaten only on the first day, when they took us to the SBU building. Other people lashed out at us on the street while they were filming at a bus stop where many Donetsk residents were killed by an exploding shell.
For 90 of the 124 days of his captivity, Kuzminykh was kept in solitary confinement, in a windowless, two-metre, tiled room. The whole space of the floor was taken up with the mattress. His only knowledge of the time, date or weather came from his guard. Kuzmykhin noted that he only went to the toilet once every 10 days, whenever he had a shower. Problems resulting from a knee injury obtained many years ago reappeared due to his cramped confinement and inactivity. He says that he still limps.
In the days before his release, he was transferred to a larger, shared cell with a barred window. Kyzmykhin said that amongst the other prisoners in his cell were Cossacks, thrown in for disobeying commanders.
One of the most striking things Kuzmykhin says is that his captors threatened prisoners with transportation to Russia, suggesting the possibility of a fate akin to that of Nadezhda (Nadiya) Savchenko.
— Pierre Vaux
A bomb has ripped throw a Roshen candy store, a chain belonging to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The Moscow Times reports:
“The explosion made a hole with a diameter of 0.6 meters in the wall of the shop. It has damaged shelves and some of the goods,” the police said in a statement, adding that the incident happened at around midnight on Thursday.
There was no comment from the company, which operates confectionery factories in Ukraine as well as in Russia, Hungary and Lithuania.
Poroshenko has come under some scrutiny for failing to follow through on a campaign promise to sell his stake in the chocolate chain. Some in the Ukrainian press have also raised eyebrows at the significant jump in profits for the company.
— James Miller
Leviy Bereg‘s Oleksandr Rudomanov reports that three Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded after an attack this morning outside separatist-held Gorlovka.
Rudomanov was told by soldiers in the combat zone that one of the casualties was severely wounded while the other two received light injuries.
The details of the attack were not disclosed.
— Pierre Vaux
Hennadiy Kernes, the mayor of Kharkiv, has claimed that the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, was involved in an assassination attempt upon him last year.
Kernes was shot in the back while jogging in Kharkiv on April 28, 2014. He suffered serious injuries and was flown to Haifa, Israel, for treatment.
He has since been charged by Ukraine with illegal imprisonment, torture, and threatening murder.
Ukrainski Novyny reports that Kernes made the claim of Avakov’s involvement in the shooting at a hearing at the Poltava district court in Kiev.
“Avakov took part in the attempt to take my life.”
Kernes’ lawyers made three appeals, all rejected by the judge, for the case prosecutor, Aleksandr Ganilov, to be removed. According to the defence, Ganilov was not sufficiently familiar with the actual materials of the case, giving incorrect information on details relating to the alleged victims. The defence also claimed that the investigation had failed to comply with rules and regulations.
— Pierre Vaux
Last summer, the Ukrainian military operation to retake territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, the Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), arguably had its most important victory when it retook the town of Slavyansk on July 5, which was both a strategic and a symbolic win. Kostyantynivka and Krasnoarmiyisk were recaptured by Ukrainian forces just days later.
The ATO’s momentum, however, was short lived. Russia responded by flooding eastern Ukraine with new weapons, including advanced anti-aircraft weapons such as the Buk which likely shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. This pattern accelerated until Russian-backed separatists and Russian military units began to retake territory during the “Russian invasion” of mid-to-late August.
Today, the leader of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Aleksandr Zakharchenko, vowed to retake Slavyansk. RFE/RL reports:
Aleksandr Zakharchenko said on May 29 in the rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Donetsk that separatist forces will regain control over Slovyansk, Kostyantynivka, and Krasnoarmiyisk, which were briefly held by the rebels last year.
He said “as soon as we realize” that retaking the towns by political means is not possible, “a decision will be made to liberate these territories.”
— James Miller
Zerkalo Nedeli reports that lawyers for the two captured Russian Spetsnaz soldiers, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, have said that Russia’s official position is that the pair are not Russian servicemen but “mercenaries.”
One of the lawyers, Konstantin Kravchuk, cited statements by Aleksei Gruby, the Russian consul who visited the captives this week.
The Interpreter translates:
“At this moment, the official position of Russia, according to Gruby, is that theses soldiers, whose contract terms expired in December 2014, are mercenaries and have nothing to do with the Russian army,” said Konstantin Kravchuk. On the other hand, the Russian consul was convinced that Russia is doing everything possible to bar such “mercenaries” from leaving the bounds of the so-called LNR and DNR, as it “damages Russia’s image.”
The lawyers said that, after Gruby’s visit, they informed their clients of the consul’s statement on Russia’s position. The captives were reportedly outraged and assured their lawyers (once again) that this was not the case and that they were active soldiers.
In an interview published today, Novaya Gazeta’s Pavel Kanygin spoke again with both prisoners.
Yerofeyev told him that he and his lawyers wanted his charges reclassified from terrorism to espionage.
This follows Kravchuk’s announcement on May 27 that while Aleksandrov would not appeal against his detention, he believed that he should not be charged with terrorism as he had not used his firearm while in Ukraine. Instead, he could only be found guilty of “illegally entering Ukrainian territory with the aim of gathering intelligence.”
“Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova has also interviewed both prisoners. Read her special report, published today, here.
— Pierre Vaux
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in the south-east, has announced today that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and six wounded over the last 24 hours.
Earlier on, Ukrainska Pravda reported that the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry had announced the death of a volunteer.
According to the report, the man, who has not been named, was killed at around 16:00 yesterday by a mortar strike in the village of Opytnoye, north of Donetsk.
Novosti Donbassa reports, citing 5 Channel, that Dmitry Gorbunov, press officer for the Ukrainian military operation in the Mariupol area, has announced that a National Guard serviceman was wounded last night as a result of shelling near Shirokino.
Gorbunov said that there was no threat to the soldier’s life. According to the press officer, Russian-backed conducted 9 shelling attacks on Ukrainian positions in and around Shirokino over the night.
The ATO Press Centre also gave their daily report on last night’s ceasefire violations.
Starting from 1800 on Thursday, the militants fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms on the village of Shirokino. After 2000, it was rather quiet in the direction of Mariupol.
According to the report, in the area of Donetsk, the militants fired 120 mm mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy machine guns on the villages of Peski, Opytnoye, and Marinka. They also used small arms in their attacks.
In the area of Lugansk, the militants fired mainly grenades on the village of Stanitsa Luganskaya, the town of Schastye, the villages of Zolotoye and Tryokhizbenka.
In the direction of Artyomovsk, the militants fired grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms on the village of Kirovo. However, it was rather quiet in the area of Artyomovsk from midnight on.
— Pierre Vaux