Ukraine Live Day 473: Heavy Shelling Near Donetsk, Ukraine Attacked In Shirokino & Bakhmutka

June 5, 2015
Damaged police station in Marinka after Wednesday's battle. Photo: Vyacheslav Abroskin

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.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

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?

U.S. Ambassador To UN Says Russians And Separatists Launched Joint Attack On Marinka

The US ambassador to the UN has spoke to the UN Security Council today and did not mince words. According to Ambassador Samantha Power, the June 3 attack on Marinka was launched by both Russian and separatist forces. Power also pointed to the fact that multiple and conflicting statements were published by both the Russians and the separatists, effectively catching themselves in blatant lies. Power also mentioned that the OSCE witnessed the attack as it unfolded:

On June 3rd, combined Russian-separatist forces launched multiple, coordinated attacks west of the Minsk line of contact in Donetsk. The attacks were concentrated on the towns of Marinka and Krasnohorivka.

The Russian Federation and its separatist allies have offered multiple – often conflicting – explanations for these attacks.

In some instances, Russia and the separatists have blamed Ukraine for inciting the attacks. For example, a Russian presidential spokesman attributed the violations of the ceasefire to the “provocative actions by the Ukrainian armed forces,” claiming, “the Ukrainian side has repeatedly taken similar efforts to escalate tensions against the backdrop of international operations.” Similarly, the so-called “Defense Minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic blamed Ukraine for “provocations” and, what he called, “a breach in the Minsk agreements,” which led to the fighting. Exactly what the so-called provocations are was never explained.
This argument, this set of arguments, have been undermined by some of the separatists themselves, who seem to have forgotten to run their tweets and their blog posts by Moscow. During the attacks, one tweeted, “Marinka is ours!” – posting a photo of armed soldiers atop a tank flying the separatists’ flag. A post on a separatist website said, “As a result of a massive attack by [DPR] armed forces, Marinka has been liberated.”

In other instances, Russia has argued that the attacks were justified because the areas that are actually part of the separatist-controlled territory under the Minsk agreements are these areas. They are not. This was the case Russia made about Marinka and Krasnohorivka yesterday, at a meeting of the OSCE. We’ve seen this tactic before; when combined Russian-separatist forces encircled and attacked Debaltseve immediately after signing the package of measures at Minsk on February 12th, 2015. As a separatist commander Eduard Basurin told Reuters on February 15th, “Of course we can open fire [on Debaltseve]…The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting.”

The problem with this line of argument is, quite simply, that it is false. At no point did the Minsk Agreements recognize Marinka and Krasnohorivka as separatist-controlled territory. Nor did they grant the separatists control over Debaltseve or other areas combined Russian-separatist forces have seized, or tried to seize. Yet for Russia and the separatists, it seems the contact line can shift to include the territories that they feel they deserve.

The Kyiv-born surrealist master Mikhail Bulgakov put this problem a different way: “The tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes, never!” In this case, the objective eyes in eastern Ukraine belong to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, the SMM. And what they tell us is that, on the evening of June 2nd and early morning of June 3rd, “SMM observed the movement of a large amount of heavy weapons in DPR-controlled areas – generally in a westerly direction toward the contact line – close to Marinka, preceding and during the fighting.” So, to repeat: according to the SMM, heavy weapons from the Russian-backed separatist side moved westward “preceding as well as during the fighting.”

The SMM tried to contact high-ranking DPR personnel over an hour-and-a-half period on the morning of June 3rd, but reported, “Either they were unavailable or did not wish to speak to the SMM.” The eyes do not conceal the truth. And the truth here is that the recent violence was rooted in a combined Russian-separatist assault.

These and other joint attacks by Russian-separatist forces have deadly consequences. At least 5 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, and 38 wounded, in the assault on the towns. The number of casualties is surely higher, but we do not, unfortunately, have reliable reports from the separatists’ side. That is because, as the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Unit noted in its May 15th report, independent media have been prosecuted, threatened, and otherwise muzzled in separatist-controlled territory.

We also do not know how many Russian soldiers were killed in recent attacks – or in any of their operations in eastern Ukraine, for that matter. Russia continues – despite incidents such as the recent capture of two special operations Russian soldiers in Schastya last month – to deny any military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

And just last week, President Putin signed a decree classifying any death of Russian soldiers in “special operations” in peacetime a state secret, a policy which previously was limited to wartime only. Not content with denying their military service in life, Russia now denies their loved ones the respect and closure – not to mention social services – for their service in death. And it denies the Russian people knowledge to which they are entitled – of a conflict their government has been fueling with weapons, training, and soldiers. No matter what your opinion of the open secret that is Russia’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea, the dignified recognition of one’s dead should have primacy.

Of course, suffering is hardly limited to those involved in the fighting. Civilians living near and along the front lines continue to endure profound hardship. Approximately 1.3 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting. Small children on the front lines have gotten used to going to school and sleeping in basements. Families live underground for months at a time. The elderly and disabled are trapped with little access to vital medicine and other forms of assistance. A health professional working in Debaltseve said, “I’ve met elderly people who say that they would just like to die. They don’t have depression; they just don’t want to be 80 years old and living in a basement.”

Power went on to suggest that the actions of Russia and the separatists could jeopardize the Minsk peace accord:

By now, the international community is quite familiar with Russia’s playbook when it comes to efforts to occupy the territory of its sovereign neighbors – as it did in Crimea, and before that in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The consensus here, and in the international community, remains that Minsk’s implementation is the only viable way out of this deadly conflict.

The Ukrainian government has made good faith efforts to honor that consensus – notwithstanding the seemingly endless violations by Russia and the separatists – and deliver on the commitments made at Minsk. Ukraine is holding direct dialogue with the separatists, a bitter pill to swallow, but one they have swallowed for the sake of peace and for the sake of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, Ukraine has undertaken critical efforts, with the participation of Ukrainian civil society, to address pervasive problems it inherited from its predecessors, like widespread corruption, as well as to pursue crucial reforms such as decentralization.

Ukraine cooperates with the international monitors and bodies, and has committed to address identified areas of concern. The United States will continue to raise tough issues and these areas of concern, including some raised here today by the briefers, with the Government of Ukraine, and we will support the government and Ukrainian people as they continue their efforts toward meaningful reform.

Yet Russia – and the separatists it trains, arms, fights alongside, and with whom it shares command and control systems in eastern Ukraine – continues to ignore this consensus, flouting the commitments it made at Minsk. It goes right on applying its playbook in new territories – as though this Council and the world are too blind, or too easily deceived to notice.

We must not let ourselves be deceived. The consequences of Russia’s contempt for Minsk and the rules undergirding our international peace and security are too great – both for the integrity of the international system, and for the rights and welfare of the Ukrainian people. We cannot fail to see and fail to act. We must not stop applying pressure until Ukrainians get the stable democracy, the territorial integrity, and sovereignty they yearn for and deserve. Thank you.

James Miller

Ukraine’s President Signals Support For LGBT Rights March
An LGBT parade is scheduled for Saturday, June 6, but it has been the source of a large degree of apprehension among LGBT rights’ advocates and those who have planned on attending. Not only is are anti-LGBT hate crimes not unheard of, a major leader of a well-known ultrarightist group, Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) has threatened the march:

Global Post translated some of Yarosh’s statement:

“This [march] is not only work aimed at the moral decay of the Ukrainian people, but also spitting on the graves of those who died in battle for Ukraine, as well as on the living defenders of the Fatherland,” Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, also a member of parliament, wrote on Facebook Thursday.
He even suggested members of his group might leave their positions in eastern Ukraine to come block the march in Kyiv on Saturday.

Global Post also noted that Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko, while not directly opposing the march, was hardly supportive:

Klitschko is asking organizers of the March for Equality to call off their event scheduled for Saturday, citing security concerns and potential provocations.

“Today, when the war continues in eastern Ukraine, holding public events that also have varied perceptions in society is not in good timing,” he said in a statement.

“We now have one enemy — military aggression in the east. That is why I call on everyone not to play into the hands of the enemy, not to inflame hatred and not to create another confrontation in the center of the capital.”

The Russian media seemed to struggle to spin the story, since the Russian government likes to demonize both Right Sector and the LGBT rights’ movement:

Hromadske journalist Maxim Eristavi has been tracking this story closely, both as a journalist and as an openly-gay public figure. In particular, Eristavi has noted that while Yarosh, an MP, has threatened the march, other leaders have been hesitant to support it.
However, some Ukrainian politicians have begun to signal support, a major departure for a country with deep roots in Christian Orthodoxy:

And now the Ukrainian President has also expressed his support for the march. Mashable’s Christopher Miller reports:

“I will not participate in it but I don’t see any reason to impede this march because it’s a constitutional right of every citizen of Ukraine,” he said.

It may sound insignificant but it’s not. No president of Ukraine — a post-Soviet state of more than 40 million mostly-conservative Orthodox Christians — has ever voiced support of the country’s LGBT community, activists told Mashable.

Taras Karasiichuk, an organizer of the planned Equality March, said he was shocked by the president’s remarks. “I’m really surprised,” he said. “It’s huge. And it’s important.”

Poroshenko’s remarks came in response to a question by a journalist who asked whether the president could guarantee the security of those participating in Saturday’s march after threats from far-right nationalist groups this week.

Ukraine's President Poroshenko supports pride parade in Kiev

MOSCOW – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday voiced support for LGBT rights, saying he believes an 'Equality March' planned for Saturday in Kiev should take place as planned. "I will not participate in it but I don't see any reason to impede this march because it's a constitutional right of every citizen of Ukraine," he said.

View full page >

Jun 05, 2015 22:16 (GMT)

James Miller
Separatists Report 4-Year-Old Child Killed By Ukrainian Shelling In Telmanovo

The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reports that a four-year-old child was killed yesterday by Ukrainian shelling in Telmanovo, east of Volnovakha.

According to the separatist head of the Telmanovo district administration, Sergei Ivanov, the boy was buried today, at a ceremony attended by around 200 people.

The report says that the boy was playing in a sandpit when a shell struck the garden.

Beyond the tragedy of the boy’s death, if real, this claim could be used as a provocation to justify an offensive in the area.

There has been an escalation in attacks on Ukrainian positions near Granitnoye and Starognatovka in recent days, with the Ukrainian military reporting that both villages were shelled with Grad MLRS last night. Furthermore, with the assault on Marinka and attacks on Ukrainian positions along the Donetsk-Mariupol highway to the west, it seems possible that an offensive could be launched in this area with the aim of pushing Ukrainian forces off the highway, allowing a pincer towards Mariupol.

Reports of tragedies such as this one can, and have been fabricated by Russia and the separatists, as exemplified by the case of a 10-year-old girl reported to have been killed in Donetsk earlier this year. 

The BBC’s Natalia Antelava and Abdujalil Abdurasulov investigated and, having found no evidence of her death, were shockingly told by a Russian state TV reporter, that the girl had never existed at all.

This is not to say that today’s story is a fabrication, but to warn that such incidents are seen as useful propaganda and come at a time where this area is at great risk of a major attack.

— Pierre Vaux

Separatists Present ‘Captured Ukrainian Soldier’ At Press Conference

The ‘deputy defence minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has presented a man, purported to be a captured Ukrainian soldier, at a press conference in Donetsk today.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reports the ‘commander in chief of the republican guard’ of the DNR,’ Ivan Kondratov, told journalists that the captive’s name was Roman Marchenko, a soldier in the Ukrainian army.

Kondratov claimed that Marchenko had been captured when Ukrainian forces attempted to circumnavigate separatist checkpoints but were defeated by DNR fighters.

This is in line with the message being pushed by the separatists since the failure of Wednesday’s assault – that it was Ukraine that attacked rather than the other way round, as indicated by the OSCE report.

Marchenko appears in this video at around 10 minutes in:

He claims that around 200 Ukrainian troops were killed and many wounded.

This is contradicted by Ukrainian official figures, which list five soldiers as killed. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the United Nation, told a meeting of the UN Security Council today that 28 people, including Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters, as well as 9 civilians, had been killed in Marinka.

Marchenko, who introduced himself as a conscript from the Poltava region, was questioned by reporters at the conference. Microphones from Russia’s RT, LifeNews, 5 Channel, Rossiya24 and Perviy Kanal can be seen.

Marchenko claims that, alongside his unit, the 28th Brigade, was operating a “mercenary army,” consisting of Georgians and Chechens.

He also said that he didn’t want to fight in what he viewed as a fratricidal war.

These lines appear to chime perfectly with Russia’s propaganda aimed at Ukrainian conscript fighters – that they are being used to fight their fellow citizens for foreign powers, supported by mercenaries.

Marchenko’s eye appears bruised and his statements can certainly not be taken for granted as voluntary.


— Pierre Vaux


Donetsk Governor Reports Continued Shelling Of Avdeyevka

Oleksandr Kikhtenko, the governor of the Donetsk region, has written on his Facebook page that Russian-backed forces are shelling the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk.

Kikhtenko wrote at 14:55 GMT that he had spoken with the mayor of Avdeyevka one and half hours earlier. The mayor had said that Russian-backed forces were continuing to shell residential areas of the town.

Fortunately, Kikhtenko writes, there are no casualties. 

— Pierre Vaux

Zakharchenko Claims DNR Could Take Marinka And Encircle Avdeyevka Within 24 Hours

The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reports that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has denied that Russian-backed forces initiated the fighting west of Donetsk on Wednesday and said that his forces could take Marinka and Krasnogorovka in 24 hours.

The Interpreter translates:

“If we wanted to attack the cities of Marinka and Krasnogorovka, and further out to Karlovka and surround the [Ukrainian] group in Avdeyevka, believe me, it would happen within a day. All of Poroshenko’s statements are false.”

This is, of course, contradicted by the report from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, which observed Russian-backed fighters moving heavy weaponry and tanks westwards towards Marinka in the hours before the assault began at around 4:30 on Wednesday morning.

— Pierre Vaux

Poroshenko Says Threat of Russian Invasion Is “Unprecedentedly High”

RFE/RL reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has made more statements today about the threat of a Russian invasion and the need for the international community to remain unified against Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its interference in the Donbass:

Speaking at a news conference on June 5, a day after warning of a “colossal threat” of the resumption of full-scale fighting with Russian-backed rebels in his annual state-of-the-nation address, Poroshenko said that “every day and every moment, we will do everything to return Crimea to Ukraine.”

He vowed to continue working with Western nations to maintain sanctions imposed on Moscow over its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014, which followed Russian troops deployments and a hastily-staged referendum condemned as illegitimate by about 100 UN member states.

“It is important not to give Russia a chance to break the world’s pro-Ukrainian coalition,” Poroshenko said in the televised news conference.

Amid reports of a Russian military buildup near the border with eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists hold parts of two provinces, Poroshenko said that the threat of a Russian invasion is “unprecedentedly high.”

“Such a number of troops has not been near our borders since August last year and it seems to me there must be some very serious reasons for keeping these large groups of troops there,” Poroshenko said.

Yesterday Poroshenko warned that there were 9,000 Russian troops operating in the Donbass, with many more on the other side of the border, and his country needed to continue to prepare for a full-scale invasion:

James Miller
Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis
Gorlovka Hospitals Reportedly Asked By Russian-Backed Fighters To Free Up Beds For The Weekend

Donetsk news site reports that medics in Gorlovka had said that Russian-backed fighters have demanded that hospitals in the separatist-held town must free up as many beds as possible over the weekend.

According to the report, which we have not been able to verify, the separatists are demanding that patients in a more-or-less stable and healthy state be sent home.

The medics reportedly said that the demands were related to a possible escalation in fighting over the next 24 hours.

— Pierre Vaux

OSCE Representative In Charge of Minsk II Negotiations Rumored To Be Looking To Resign
Journalist Lucian Kim reports that his sources are telling him that Heidi Tagliavini, the Swiss diplomat in charge of the OSCE’s efforts to negotiate and facilitate the Minsk Peace Deal, is seeking to resign:

The OSCE reports are often frustratingly balanced, often refusing to provide any assessment as to which side was to blame for certain infractions. In an interesting development, however, the OSCE report on the offensive launched against Marinka by the Russian-backed separatists on June 3 was very clear — the separatists began the fighting, moved their vehicles and troops westward across the demarcation line, and separatist leadership refused to speak to the OSCE.

Tagliavini’s resignation would likely cause a major fight  withing the OSCE as the group which contains both Western and Russian representatives would have to appoint her replacement.  If they can’t agree on a candidate, the entire Minsk process could fall part.

James Miller

After Night Of Heavy Shelling South Of Donetsk, Ukrainian Positions In Shirokino And Near Bakhmutka Highway Attacked This Morning

Ukrainian sources report that Russian-backed forces mounted attacks, supported by heavy shelling, across the front line last night.

UNIAN summarises this morning’s report from the Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre:

According to the report, the most difficult situation was in the area of Donetsk.

“The militants fired artillery and mortars on the villages of Peski, Beryozovoye, Pervomayskoye, Opytnoye, Bogdanovka, the Butovka mine, and Novobakhmutovka,” the report says.

In addition, Russian-backed militants fired tank shells on the villages of Beryozovoye and Vodyanoye, and multiple rocket launchers on the village of Starognatovka.

“The situation remains tense in the area of the town of Marinka. The militants fired grenade launchers and small arms on the positions of the Ukrainian army there,” the press center said.

In the area of Mariupol, the militants fired 122mm artillery on the village of Granitnoye.

In the area of Lugansk, the militants fired 120mm mortars on the village of Novotoshkovskoye.

After midnight, the number of attacks decreased.

“The militants fired 120mm artillery and Grad multiple rocket launchers on the positions of the Ukrainian armed forces near the village of Granitnoye,” the press center said.

“During this period, the Ukrainian army recorded more than 30 reconnaissance overflights by enemy drones,” the ATO headquarters said.

The bombardment, with mortars, artillery and Grad MLRS, of Ukrainian positions south of Donetsk is worrying.

Beryozovoye lies on the strategically important Donetsk-Mariupol highway while Starognatovka and Granitnoye lie to the east of Volnovakha, the key Ukrainian-held settlement on the highway.

The recent offensive action against Beryozovoye and Marinka indicates that the Russians want to push the Ukrainians back from the small northern section of this road that the control. Russian-backed forces control the highway from the south of Beryozovoye, near Dokuchaevsk, down until Novotroitskoye. From there on until Mariupol, the road is in Ukrainian hands. Taking Volnovakha and the highway would allow the Russians to forma pincer to around Mariupol, aiding any future siege or assault.


According to the Donbass Battalion’s Facebook page, Ukrainian positions in Shirokino were subjected to a brief bombardment this morning by self-propelled artillery. The unit reports no losses.

The head of the Marinka district administration, Vladimir Moroz, told Ukraine’s 112 television channel that, following a shoot-out with machine guns and small arms, six Ukrainian soldiers and four civilians had been wounded.

To the north of Donetsk, the commander of the OUN battalion, Mykola Kokhanivskyi, reported on Facebook that Russian-backed forces had begun shelling Ukrainian positions in Peski with mortars at around 22:00 last night. Kokhanivskyi said that Ukrainian artillery had returned fire. 

Meanwhile in the Lugansk region, Ukrainian positions on the Bakhmutka highway are under attack, reported the governor of the region, Hennadiy Moskal.

According to Moskal, shoot-outs were still under way as of 9 am (6:00 GMT) in the area of the 25th and 29th checkpoints on the strategically important road, with automatic grenade launchers, BMPs and small arms in use.

The 29th checkpoint is the foremost Ukrainian position on the highway, near the Russian-occupied village of Zholobok. We are unsure on the exact location of the 25th. The pro-separatist site gives the location of this checkpoint as on the north-eastern edge of Gorskoye:


Meanwhile in Novotoshkovskoye, a 41-year-old Ukrainian sergeant  was lightly wounded after setting off a tripwire grenade yesterday.

Moskal’s office also reported attacks last night on Krymskoye, Troitskoye, Stanitsa Luganskaya and Katerinovka. All of these attacks, the report says, were localised affairs without the use of artillery.

— Pierre Vaux