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The OSCE continues to see alarming increases in violence in parts of eastern Ukraine. Below are some excerpts from their latest dispatch, dated last night, June 14, at 19:30 Kiev time.
Earlier we reported that there were protests in Donetsk against the status quo, with citizens growing tired of the fighting:
As we see from the OSCE’s report, the citizens have good cause to be concerned:
During the weekend, fighting intensified in Donetsk, with substantially more shelling observed. The level of violence in areas around “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk airport remains high.
Over a period of two days, the SMM at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation point at Donetsk central railway station (“DPR”-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk city centre) observed a total of at least 594 explosions caused by incoming and outgoing artillery and mortar fire, as well as small arms and light weapons (SALW), including heavy machine-gun fire. The SMM concluded that the explosions occurred at locations to the north, north-west, north-east, west, and south-west and at distances ranging between 2 and 10km from its position.
At the JCCC headquarters in government-controlled Soledar (77km north-north-east of Donetsk) the SMM was presented with separate ceasefire log files covering 11 June by representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and representatives of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. The Ukrainian Armed Forces had logged 99 violations and reported six Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers killed and eleven wounded in action, and the Russian Federation Armed Forces had logged 103 violations. While the majority of violations in the Ukrainian Armed Forces log targeted Ukrainian positions in and around Donetsk airport, violations were also recorded in Horlivka (“DPR”-controlled, 37km north-east of Donetsk) and in the Luhansk region.
But it’s not just Donetsk which is impacted by escalating violence:
From observation points located 1.5 and 3.5km west of Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol), over two days the SMM observed a total of 180 explosions caused by 82mm and 120mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers and artillery, as well as small arms, including heavy machine-gun fire. An SMM unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) spotted six mortar positions in Shyrokyne on 13 June.
During the weekend, the overall situation in Luhansk remained calm. On 14 June, while stationary in government-controlled Toshkivka (60km north-west of Luhansk) the SMM heard a series of 10 to 12 incoming and outgoing explosions from a south-easterly direction 10km from its position.
On 14 June, five kilometres north of government-controlled Troitske (69km west of Luhansk) the SMM observed four impact craters, each with a diameter of 3-5m and a depth of 1 to 1.5m. The SMM observed the remains of a rocket and identified it as having been fired from a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) (BM-21 “Grad”, 120mm). The positioning indicated that the rocket was likely fired from an east-north-easterly direction.
On 14 June, in government-controlled Trokhizbenka (33km north-west of Luhansk), the SMM was told by residents about early morning grenade and Grad rocket explosions. The SMM observed a hole in the roof of an abandoned building. On the ground near the building the SMM observed metal pieces from the rockets. Five metres south of the village’s main road, the SMM located a crater with a Grad rocket casing. Another crater was observed approximately 30m from the road in the area of the local tuberculosis hospital. The SMM observed several metal pieces around the crater. Based on analysis at the scene, the fire had been incoming from the south-west. No casualties were reported.
The Minsk agreement may effectively be dead — the separatist leadership has said that it does not want reunification with Ukraine and the Ukrainian military says it has been forced to move its heavy weaponry within the line of demarcation in order to respond to threats — but the OSCE still operates as if Minsk is in operation, and their observations can tell us something about the movement of forces close to the front lines.
During a two-day period, the SMM revisited seven “DPR” weapons holding areas, whose locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines. At five of them, all weapons previously observed were in situ. Two of them, each of which had previously stored six 122mm howitzers, were abandoned. At one of the sites, only one SMM patrol member was permitted to enter the venue.
On 14 June, the SMM was not granted access to a Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding area as the commander was not present nor reachable via phone despite several attempts. The SMM revisited three Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas in the vicinity of Soledar, whose locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines. At the first site the SMM was initially denied entry. Following intercession by the JCCC, the SMM was granted access and observed only two self-propelled howitzers (2S1 “Gvozdika”, 122mm) and two self-propelled howitzers (2S3 “Akatsiya”, 152mm) at the site, where nine 2S1 and eight 2S3 systems were previously recorded. Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel stated that the missing weapons were used for training in the area. The SMM also noted that two anti-aircraft missile systems (9K35 “Strela-10”) previously present at the position were now absent. The SMM visited another Ukrainian Armed Forces holding area where twelve anti-tank guns (MT-12, 100mm) had previously been present. This site was found to be unoccupied. At a third holding area, the SMM confirmed that five MT-12 guns remained in place in accordance with SMM records.
Despite claims that the withdrawal of heavy weapons was complete, the SMM observed weapons in areas that are in violation of Minsk withdrawal lines. On 13 June, the SMM observed two MBTs (one T-64, the other unidentified) being transported southward from Luhansk city on trailers. On 13 June, on the outskirts of Amrosiivka (“DPR”-controlled, 53km north-east of Donetsk), the SMM observed six self-propelled howitzers (122mm, 2S1) heading south. In Ternove (60km south-east of Donetsk, “DPR” controlled), the SMM observed a shooting range used by the “DPR” on both 13 and 14 June and on both occasions saw 18 stationary main battle tanks (MBT) (T-64s and T-72s), and other military vehicles.
On 14 June, the SMM observed ten self-propelled howitzers (2S3 “Akatsiya”, 152mm) moving away from the line of contact along the road from Soledar to Sloviansk (government-controlled, 95km north of Donetsk). On 14 June, an SMM UAV observed a concentration of 53 MBTs (unknown type), six towed howitzers (D30, 122mm) and ten military trucks in Torez (“DPR”-controlled, 60km east of Donetsk); seven MBTs (unknown type), 23 armoured personnel carriers (APC) and at least nine trucks and other vehicles in Komsomolske (“DPR”-controlled, 43km south of Donetsk); four self-propelled howitzers in Vasylivka (“DPR”-controlled, 50km south-east of Donetsk); one MBT (unknown type), 14 APCs, and six military trucks in Bezimenne (“DPR”-controlled, 28km east of Mariupol). In addition, an SMM UAV observed six covered artillery pieces in Paraskoviivka (government-controlled, 29km south-west of Donetsk) and additional surface-to-air missile systems in the region.
Note the large amount of armor and artillery spotted south of Donetsk within territory controlled by the Russian-backed fighters, including T-72 Main Battle Tanks which have almost certainly been supplied by the Russian military. The observations of the OSCE continue to provide evidence to the theory that the area south of Donetsk and north of Mariupol is a new objective for the Russian-backed fighters.
While it may not have a significant impact on the escalating violence, the OSCE observed a parade in Mariupol, led by the volunteer Azov Battalion, which is none-the-less noteworthy:
On 13 June, the SMM observed a military parade held in Mariupol (government-controlled, 103km south of Donetsk). The parade was organized by the Azov volunteer battalion within the Ministry of Internal Affairs to mark the first anniversary of what the Ukrainian authorities refer to as the liberation of the city of Mariupol from “DPR” forces, and was attended by the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council and the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as well as other high-ranking government officials. There were some 100 regular Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel and Azov battalion members present. The parade consisted of three trucks pulling artillery pieces (one 100mm 2A29 “Rapira” and two 122mm D30 howitzers), present in violation of Minsk withdrawal lines; one armoured personnel vehicle (BTR); one “Spartan” armoured vehicle; and twelve pick-ups with “Azov” insignia. Four vehicles were pulling mortars (2B11 “Sani”, 122mm). The military parade was followed by a concert attended by up to 1,000 people.
— James Miller
The office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reports that two Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded over the last 24 hours in the region.
One received shrapnel wounds during a mortar attack against Ukrainian positions on the Bakhmutka highway. The mortar fire, Moskal’s office reports, came from the direction of Russian-occupied Zholobok.
The other was wounded in Schastye after an attack with automatic grenade launchers. Both have been hospitalised.
The report claims that Russian-backed forces shelled the village of Toshkova, north-west of Zholobok, with mortars. Some shells exploded near a bus stop but there are no reports so far of casualties.
Novotoshkovka, which lies even closer to the Ukrainian front line on the highway, was shelled last night with howitzers.
As reported earlier, forest was set alight near Tryokhizbenka after shelling. Artillery shells also exploded near residential buildings.
In Zolotoye, shells fired from the direction of separatist-held Pervomaysk, struck two houses. A woman and small child reportedly survived by hiding in the cellar of one of the houses, the other was empty.
— Pierre Vaux
Nearly one month ago, a Russian news outlet ran the headline, “Novorossiya Projects Closed,” and the rumor spread that Russia was cutting off its support for its expansionist vision to create a “New Russia” beyond the borders of the current Russian Federation, starting in eastern Ukraine.
At the time the statement was widely adopted by certain Western writers who tend to give Putin the benefit of the doubt/
But the facts on the ground simply did not match the statement; since the supposed death of “Novorossiya” there has been an escalation in violence and movement of heavy weapons inside territory held by the Russian-backed fighters.
There are plenty of signs that ‘Novorossiya’ is alive, however. In statements published in the Donetsk News Agency (DAN), a key separatist spokesman discussed the unification of the self- declared “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk” — a key feature of the “Novorossiya” concept (translated by The Interpreter):
The Speaker of the People’s Soviet of the DNR, Andrei Purgin, has not excluded the unification of the two Donbass Republics. According to his press office, he stated this live on radio Krym [Crimea].
“On the unification of the DNR and LNR, in principle, one can say it’s possible. I think that work needs to be done on this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian-backed separatists are more defiant than ever. As the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Telegraph notes, it’s the Minsk peace process that appears to be dead.
Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the self-declared “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic,” has made yet another statement which openly states that his government has no interest in unifying with Ukraine, a key element of the Minsk accord (translation by The Interpreter):
“No matter what happens in Minsk, the DNR is an independent state and will never become part of Ukraine, blood has come between us,” said Zakharchenko at a meeting with residents of the village of Oktyabrsky, which is regularly shelled by the security forces.
Zakharchenko’s defiant statements, in line with what he has been saying for months, certainly do not betray any sense that his major ally (Russia) has abandoned his cause.
Beyond this, there is fighting reported across the front today — part of a trend of increased fighting which has been observed over the last month:
There is another possible sign that Russia may have supplied a new weapon to the separatists. Over the weekend the Ukrainian representatives of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination of ceasefire issues (JCCC) said that they witnessed two Tor-m2 anti-aircraft missile systems (SA-15 “Gauntlets”). It’s not clear if Ukraine even has these weapons systems, we are not aware of any evidence that either side has used this weapon in this conflict, and in their comprehensive catalog of the weapons used in eastern Ukraine, ARES (Armament Research Services) makes no mention of the Tor missile system.
See yesterday’s report for details.
RBK-Ukraina reports that more than 100 hectares of land is ablaze in the Lugansk region as a result of Grad MLRS fire.
According to the report, the chairman of the State Forestry Resources Agency, Oleksandr Kovalchuk, said (translated by The Interpreter):
“As of 8:00 today, reports have been received from the Lugansk regional administration of the outbreak of two fires as a result of shelling of the territory by Grad multiple-launch rocket systems. According to preliminary data, fire was recorded across an area of more than 100 hectares near Tryokhizbenka. It has not yet been possible to localise the fire due to the active military operations in this region.”
Tryokhizbenka lies on the northern banks of the Seversky Donets river, west of Schastye:
To the immediate north of the village lies a large nature reserve on the site of a former tank proving ground.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in the south-east, has told journalists that two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed over the last 24 hours, confirming our earlier report.
Lysenko said that 20 Ukrainian servicemen had been wounded over the same period.
— Pierre Vaux
Journalist Andrey Borodulin reports from Donetsk on a protest outside the Regional State Administration (OGA) building on Artyoma street in separatist-held Donetsk:
Translation: Spontaneous gathering of residents of the village of Oktyabrsky, in the combat zone to the north, outside the Regional Administration building right now.
Oktyabrsky lies just south of Donetsk Airport, on the front line near Peski. It has been subjected to regular shelling by Ukrainian forces.
Borodulin notes that 10 civilians were wounded there yesterday and at least two were killed over the last week.
Here is footage of the aftermath of shelling on Marshal Zhukov Prospekt earlier this month:
Translation: There is no single leader or overall demand. Someone demands that [military] equipment be withdrawn from residential areas, others call for an attack on the Ukrainian army.
Russian-backed forces have been repeatedly documented firing heavy weaponry from residential areas of Donetsk, most recently during the June 3 assault on Marinka.
This video records the sound of artillery fire from a residential area of the Petrovsky district of Donetsk that day:
This, of course, provokes return fire from Ukrainian forces, often with inaccurate artillery weapons, resulting in strikes on residential buildings.
Translation: Residents of the village of Oktyabrsky in Donetsk have closed off Artyoma street opposite the Regional Administration (House of the DNR government)
Translation: Around 200 people: they’re being admonished by megaphone from a DNR car. The assembled have no clear position, nor have the representatives of the DNR. No chanting or clashes.
Translation: A couple of passers-by to the women blocking the road: “Let the cars through.” Response: “Well first give us somewhere to sleep that’s not under fire!!”
Translation: Having arrived outside the Donetsk OGA, Zakharchenko has pulled the residents back from the roadway. He’s speaking with the civilians, his bodyguards alongside him. They’re listening, but frequently interrupting.
Translation: Zakharchenko has more or less placated the residents. Some are beginning to disperse, others continue to ask questions.
Translation: Zakharchenko is standing on crutches. He’s promised the residents of shelled areas of Donetsk, and with destroyed homes, living quarters in safe areas. Everyone is calming down.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, announced on his Facebook page last night that gas supplies to Mariupol and Berdyansk had been restored after repairs to a gas pipeline, ruptured by shelling on June 12.
Yatseniuk wrote at 19:00 GMT that supplies had “just been restored.”
Steel plants in Mariupol were forced to shut down production with settlements south of the rupture, north of Avdeyevka, left with only hours of gas supply.
On that day, Yatseniuk claimed that the pipeline had been deliberately targeted by Russian-backed forces in order to create panic in Mariupol:
Russian terrorists intentionally blew up the gas pipeline with heavy artillery with the aim of cutting supplies to Mariupol and shutting down the factories operating in Mariupol. They are doing this intentionally to create panic in Mariupol, to shut down the factories so that people don’t get paid. This is part of the Russian plan.”
His comments were echoed by the head of Naftogaz, Andrei Kobolev, who said that the pipeline had been buried at such a depth that only a direct strike with heavy munitions could sever it.
— Pierre Vaux
At least two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two civilians wounded as a result of shelling by Russian-backed forces yesterday.
In the village of Krymskoye, on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets river, a Ukrainian soldier received severe shrapnel wounds after a mortar attack. According to the office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, the 36-year-old soldier died several hours later in hospital.
Moskal’s office reported that the last mortar bombardment of Krymskoye had taken place at 3 am today.
While no residential areas were hit, power lines were damaged, leaving part of the village without electricity.
Moskal’s office also reported that a civilian repair worker was wounded near Popasnaya yesterday.
According to the report, the repair crew was working on a damaged water canal between Popasnaya and Zolotoye when they came under mortar fire, despite wearing high visibility clothing.
The foreman was wounded, but, Moskal’s office reported, his wounds are not life threatening.
Last week we reported on an apparent shift in tactics from Russian-backed forces, targeting water, gas and power infrastructure on the front lines:
Novosti Donbassa reports that Igor Kanakov, a fighter from the Dnipro-1 regiment, was killed in Peski, north-west of Donetsk, after a mortar attack yesterday.
Kanakov was the chairman of a local branch of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party in the Leninsky district of Donetsk.
Yuriy Beryoza, former commander of Dnipro-1 and a Rada deputy, wrote on his Facebook page this morning that shells were still striking Peski at the time of his writing.
At around 3 am today, a diversionary group of Russian fighters approached Dnipro-1 positions in Peski, but were, Beryoza said, quickly repelled by Ukrainian forces.
Beryoza claimed that Marinka, to the south of Peski, had been attacked twice with Grad MLRS.
One civilian was reported to have been wounded in Marinka.
The Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry claimed that the man, born in 1956, received shrapnel wounds while outside his home yesterday. He has been taken to a hospital in Kurakhovo.
The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claimed this morning that Russian-backed forces had conducted almost 100 attacks over the last 24 hours.
“Starting from 1800 last night and until this time, Russian-backed militants attacked Ukrainian troops more than 40 times,” the report says.
According to the press center, the militants fired mortars and howitzers of calibers over 100mm (weapons that were supposed to be withdrawn out of range of the front line according to the Minsk peace agreements) until midnight on the villages of Opytnoye, Taramchuk, Beryozovoye, Peski, the towns of Marinka and Krasnogorovka.
In the area of Artyomovsk, they fired 120mm mortars on the town of Zolotoye and the village of Kamyshevakha, and in the area of Lugansk they fired on the village of Sokolniki.*
The militants fired the same systems on the positions of the Ukrainian armed forces near the village of Stepne in Luhansk region, and twice on the village of Novotoshkovskoye near Artyomovsk.
“An enemy tank fired on the positions of the Ukrainian troops near the villages of Opytnoye and Peski,” the press-center said.
The night was rather quiet in the area of Mariupol, except for isolated cases of the use of small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
*: This is somewhat confusing, as Sokolniki is held by Russian-backed forces. The western outskirts of the village lie only one kilometre from the nearest Ukrainian positions near the tuberculosis clinic on the eastern fringes of Krymskoye, where one soldier was reported killed.
— Pierre Vaux