Ukraine Live Day 499: Further Evidence Of Military Activity Near Recently Discovered Russian Base

July 1, 2015
A group of fighters in the Russian-backed separatist Vikings Battalion near the bus shelter in Vasilovka in June 2015. Photo by Gennady Dubovoy.

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.

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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?

Russian Fighters Driving Armor Lost on Their Way into Donetsk

InfoReistance published a video uploaded yesterday June 30 by ActionTube titled “Russians Get Lost in Donetsk.”

The video features two fighters driving armor into Donetsk and then stopping at a crossroads. The video has not appeared before, according to a search in Google.

One of the fighters has an accent in Russian that indicates he is from Russia, and not southeastern Ukraine, and the other sounds like he could be a local, but one not familiar with the area.

The first one starts swearing as he fiddles with the engine.

The second one then gets out and speaks on his cell phone (translation by The Interpreter):

“So, briefly, where the first turn-off is. Well…should we have gone to the right or straight?”

The second one then interrupts:

“We should have gone left, not right.”

The first one continues:

“So, straight then, briefly,  yes? So now all the way to the end. Straight, and you pass the school, right?”

He then begins to get exasperated. “Well, the pensioners’ place…Well, where is that, what do you call it, roundabout [inaudible]….?”

The second one swears:

“F***. We’re lost.”

The first one says to the cameraman:

“Why are you filming? This is a joke.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian State Journalist Deported for “Anti-Ukrainian Activity”
Ukraine has passed laws regulating foreign (read Russian) journalists who create anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Last August, Ukraine issued a blacklist of 49 Russian journalists who were denied entry into Ukraine. Now they have deported another Russian state TV journalist, Aleksandra Cherepnina.

UNIAN reports:

Cherepnina will be denied entry to Ukraine for the next three years, according to the SBU press service.

The SBU officials add that the journalist has been filming anti-Ukrainian videos and even used schoolchildren in her clips.

Read more on UNIAN.

James Miller

Ukraine And Separatists Exchange Blame For Shelling Of Occupied Village Near Mariupol

The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reports that the deputy commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Eduard Basurin, has announced that seven homes have been destroyed by shelling over the last 24 hours in the village of Sakhanka, 24 kilometres north-west of Mariupol.

The head of the administration in the separatist-held village, Aleksandr Pelipas, said that the shelling had cut lines of communication to the village and severed gas mains.

Last night Pelipas claimed that over one hundred Ukrainian shells had fallen on the village over the course of four hours, wounding one resident.

Mariupol news site reports that Yaroslav Chepurnoy, a Ukrainian military press officer, had confirmed that the shelling did indeed take place, but blamed the attack on Russian-backed forces.

Chepurnoy claimed that the shelling was conducted from separatist-held Oktyabr and was a provocation by Russian-backed forces.


0629 reported that OSCE representatives had said that the sound of blasts had been noted, correlating with the reports of the shelling. Experts will visit the site to investigate the attack.

DAN sent a photographer to the village and published images of the aftermath:





— Pierre Vaux

Moscow Court Disregards Nadezhda Savchenko’s Diplomatic Immunity For Second Time

Interfax reports that the Basmanny court in Moscow has rejected complaints made by lawyers for Nadezhda Savchenko — a Ukrainian military officer captured by separatists last year and illegal transported to Russia, where she awaits a murder trial — who argued that her extended detention is illegal.

On May 6, the court extended Savchenko’s pre-trial detention period until June 30. Her lawyers argue that her detention is illegal as not only was she illegally rendered into Russian custody from separatist-held territory in Ukraine, but she has since been elected as an MP and is a member of the Parliamentary Association of the Council of Europe (PACE) and therefore has diplomatic immunity.

While the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed in April that PACE immunity only applied to representatives elected before their prosecutions, Savchenko’s defence team argues that such an interpretation has no bases in law.

Ilya Novikov, one of the defence lawyers, said today (translated by The Interpreter):

“This immunity is granted unconditionally, regardless of when it was received, before or after arrest.” 

On May 6, the court rejected her lawyers’ complaints and denied her PACE immunity for the first time.

— Pierre Vaux

Azov Regiment Reports Battle Under Way In Shirokino

Stepan Bayda, a spokesman for the Azov regiment, has told Ukraine’s 112 television channel that there is a battle under way in Shirokino today.

At 15:24 (12:24 GMT) Bayda said (translated by The Interpreter):

“The battle is still under way now. It’s all progressing according to the standard script. Artillery is at work, cannons, mortars and rockets. At the moment there is only one wounded Ukrainian soldier. There are still civilians there, no-one has taken them out.”

While Bayda says some remain, the OSCE reported on June 29 that all civilians had left the village.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Halts Gas Imports From Russia, Threatens to Cut Power To Russian-Occupied Crimea

Ukraine says it is not buying (and the Russian energy giant Gazprom says it is not selling) Russian natural gas, as talks in Vienna have failed to resolve key differences about Russia’s gas supplies to its neighbor. Reuters reports:

Russia had proposed keeping prices unchanged from the second quarter at $247 per 1,000 cubic metres with a discount of around $40 per 1,000 cubic metres. Kiev wants better terms.

A particularly divisive issue is Gazprom’s take-or-pay clause that requires Ukraine to buy a certain amount of gas regardless of its needs. Other sticking points are the length of any agreement and the legal form it takes.

Russian gas supplies to the rest of Europe, through Ukraine, are not affected.

In theory, Ukraine can get its supplies of natural gas through reverse-flow from Europe, however, this practice is frowned upon by Russia which has previously threatened to punish any country which supplies gas to Ukraine.

Ukraine does not appear to be wasting any time in its response, however. Earlier Sky News reported that Ukraine had threatened to cut electricity to Russian-occupied Crimea, which is still supplied by Ukrainian utilities despite having been illegally annexed by Russia last spring. This fact is perhaps the perfect illustration of how these two countries depend on each other: Russia needs Ukraine as a transit hub for its gas and to supply Crimea, which Ukraine says Russia stole; Ukraine needs the Russian gas, and can’t cut supplies to Crimea or the Donbass for fear of full-scale Russian invasion.

Sky reports:

Ahead of the shutoff, Ukraine’s national power company, Ukrenergo, threatened to, in turn, cut off electricity to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine last year – to international outcry.

Russian media reported on Wednesday morning that Ukraine was still supplying electricity to Crimea as usual, and that Ukraine was obligated to do so under contracts signed late last year.

However there are reports, which we have not yet verified, that suggest Ukraine has already cut electricity to Crimea. According to the latest news from Interfax, posted at 9:27 Moscow time (GMT+3), electricity supplies to Crimea have not been altered.

James Miller

Ukraine Reports 1 Soldier Killed, 10 Wounded Over Last 24 Hours

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in the south-east, told reporters at a briefing this afternoon that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and 10 wounded over the last 24 hours.

Lysenko said that the losses were suffered in the Donetsk region, with the worst fighting seen in Peski and Marinka – suburbs of Donetsk city.

Earlier this morning, the ATO Press Centre claimed that Russian-backed forces had attacked Ukrainian positions 53 times over the past 24 hours.

According to the report, Ukrainian positions near Peski and Novgorodskoye, west of Gorlovka, were shelled overnight with 82 and 120 mm mortars. The Ukrainian military also claims that Russian-backed forces used incendiary rounds.

To the north and north-east of Gorlovka, the villages of Leninskoye, Kirovo, Mayorsk, Lozovoye and Luganskoye were attacked with heavy mortars and grenade launchers.

To the east, in the Lugansk region, Ukrainian positions near Stanitsa Luganskaya and Novotoshkovskoye were shelled with 120 mm mortars. Stanitsa Luganskaya was also attacked with anti-aircraft artillery.

A report from the office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, described the last day in the region as “relatively quiet,” with only one area of “active combat.”

At around 10 pm Ukrainian forces near the bridge across the Seversky Donets river to Stanitsa Luganskaya were engaged by Russian-backed troops in a fire-fight with automatic weapons, mortars and grenade launchers. This attack continued until 2 am today.

Moskal’s office reported that the 120 mm mortar shells fired into Stanitsa Luganskaya damaged several metres of gas pipeline but supplies were restored once the shoot-out ended and repair teams could get to work. Electricity is still down in the town and surrounding villages. Water supplies are being powered by generators.

Moskal’s office reported other, smaller skirmishes elsewhere in the region, near Krymskoye, Katerinovka, Schastye and at the 29th checkpoint on the Bakhmutka highway.

In the south of the Donetsk region, the Press Centre reported that Russian-backed forces had conducted intense bombardments of Ukrainian positions in Shirokino.

At around midnight, the village of Berdyanskoye, just west of Shirokino, was shelled with 122 mm howitzers and Grad MLRS.

The Ukrainian military claimed that the “timely and professional actions” of their troops had prevented the Russian-backed fighters from making a breakthrough and that firing points had been located and suppressed.

— Pierre Vaux

Further Evidence Of Military Activity Near Recently Discovered Russian Base

An album  of photos published on the popular Russian social network
VKontakte  by the pro-separatist photographer Gennady Dubovoy appears to
contain scenes that match the area where The Interpreter has confirmed the presence of Russian bases near Sontsevo (Solntsevo) and near Razdolnoye and also shows some interaction between them.

The Ukrainian Dnipro-1 Battalion recently uploaded drone footage showing the Sontsevo camps, and other pictures taken by local photographers as well as soldiers themselves have helped confirm the Russian presence in the region.

(See Drones Find Russian Base Inside Ukraine by Pierre Vaux.)

The photos are posted in the community group for the Vikings, a battalion in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.  Dubovoy has been embedded with this unit and has extensively interviewed and photographed the fighters, some of whom are from Russia and some are local separatists.

These photos likely depict the Russian-backed fighters engaging in training maneuvers near the area of their bases.

A photo of a group of fighters sitting on armor including one with the call-sign “Kirpich” (Brick) was posed June 23, 2015 near the bus shelter in Vasilovka (Vasylivka), which is just south of Razdolnoye.


Razdolnoye is where we documented a training camp for Russian and local fighters, which appears to be under the command of Aleksey Milchakov, head of Rusich Diversionary and Reconnaisance Group (DRG). Milchakov is a Russian from St. Petersburg notorious for his sadism and for having been one of the few members of Rusich to survive the assassination of battalion leader Aleksandr “Batman” Mozgovoy in January.

One of the photos in the Vikings’ album shows a fighter with a long blonde pony-tail who has been seen in photos at Razdolnoye, and in this photo he can be seen wearing the insignia of the Rusich DRG.



There is also a green car in this picture and others near a stack of white sandbags which may match the car seen in the drone video, although it would have to have been moved because here it is by brick buildings and in the video it is by tents. Here is a screen shot from the drone video:


In this picture from one of the Vikings’ albums, the fighters are near a body of water, which is likely here on Google Maps near Vasilovka. Although it is not geotagged, it comes in the same sequence on the same date as the Vasilovka bus shelter photo.


In this photo, a communications tower can be seen in the distance on the horizon near a town.


This appears to match the same tower in Sontsevo, as photographed and uploaded to Panoramio by gor677, the same local photographer who took pictures of the armor at Razdolnoye which we published.


It is on Panoramio’s Google Map here.


Another album in the group called “Vikings at Positions” shows a number of scenes where fighters are camouflaging armor in dug-outs, similar to the scenes in the Dnipro-1 drone. These photos were taken in May, however, so it may be a different location than Sontsevo, as the Dnipro-1 report says the construction occurred in the last two weeks.


— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and Pierre Vaux