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?
One year ago today, The Interpreter verified and geolocated video footage showing Grad rocket launchers in Gukovo, Russia, firing into Ukrainian territory.
This was the first proof that the Russian military was shelling Ukraine across the border.
Today, British blogger Sean Case has updated his extensive documentation of cross-border shelling, based on Google satellite imagery.
He has compiled evidence of around 90 visible shelling occurrences by looking for burn marks, indicative of launch sites, and impact craters in Ukraine. Bear in mind, of course, that there were likely far more incidents than can be seen on those areas scanned by satellites since last summer.
One area in which Case has identified cross-border shelling lies around the Ukrainian village of Zelyonopolye (Zelyenopilya), in the Lugansk region:
The Interpreter translates excerpts of his account:
The heights next to the village of Zelyonopolye.
The 25th Airborne was initially based there, in what we thought at the time was the rear zone, they were redeployed and left for another area, the 24th Mechanised remained. Various units came and went, using it as a staging post, for the replenishment of ammunition, personnel rest, and as a place to bring wounded soldiers from other areas along the border. We would often stop by there, having conducted tasks and fought near Krasnodon, the Izvarino border crossing and the Dovzhansky crossing, reinforced by a group from the 2nd company tactical group and the 1st battalion tactical group of the 79th.
At that time, little by little, artillery from Russia had begun to pound our positions in various areas. It was already no surprise that Russia was firing, as we had seen salvoes from there with our own eyes.
On July 10, at around 20:00, our company tactical group received an order to withdraw from positions near Izvarino and move to Zelyonopolye, to meet up with the main force of the first battalion tactical group of the 79th, which was moving from the Slavyansk and Kramatorsk area.
Zhukov writes that, as his smaller group of soldiers and the larger battalion group, led by a soldier he calls “Mike,” moved towards Zelyonopolye from opposite directions, they were subjected to intense fire from Grad rockets, forcing them to change course to avoid shelling.
At around 4:15 am, Mike and his men arrived at Zelyonopolye while Zhukov’s group was still trying to evade fire on the way from the north-east.
Mike called and reported that the troops in Zelyonopole were not safe and that Zhukov’s group needed to head elsewhere. Zhukov’s company tactical group moved to Dovzhansky, around 20 km east along the road from Zelyonopolye.
A little later we got in contact and found out about the great disaster! Our guys had been flat-out nailed by artillery! Caught by surprise.
Mike arrived at 4:15 and, literally 10 minutes after they stopped, huge blasts rolled out across the whole perimeter of the camp. Grads, following up 152 mm “wild boars.” And, after all that, the ammo began spewing up for 4-6 hours, and shrapnel whizzed off from these shells etc. Those people (who survived) lay under their vehicles…
For most, this was a huge shock! Because this site had never been shelled before, and the people who lived there, due to the circumstances, had simply let their guard down…
And this was not a battle outside Zelyonopolye, as the media reported, this was prepared in advance, a precisely rehearsed, massive and successful artillery bombardment of our soldiers’ base on borders of the Lugansk region from the Russian side. In other words, a knife in the back, cowardly and treacherous, knowing that we would not respond, destroying a host of lads and even more scorched vehicles. Most have developed psychological disorders, it was hell!
On that morning, from the 79th, the following were killed:
Vladimir Yurevich Gnatush
Aleksandr Vasilyevich Ladyzhensky
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Kruk
Aleksei Vitalyevich Volkov
Sergei Segeyevich Platonov
Anatoly Olegovich Novitsky
Ivan Ivanovich Golota
Vikor Mikhailovich Boyko
Mikhail Viktorovch Plyusch
And many boys were left wounded. This is just from the 79th.
But the loss was far greater from the other units, the 24th Mechanised Brigade, the border guards and those from units who had been sent there to replenish their provisions.
A respectable man and real fighting border guard officer of the last four wars died there. We worked together more than once, Colonel Igor Momot. We must never forget those who died for us, so that we could live.
The impact craters around Zelyonopolye are clearly visible on Google satellite images, highlighted by Sean Case:
It would not be until mid-August last year that Ukrainian forces be evacuated from this increasingly squeezed stretch of land against the border dubbed “Sector D.” By that time, Ukrainian forces had been cut off from and trapped in a pocket, shelled almost daily from Russia, to the south and east, and separatist forces to the north and west.
Shelling conducted from the territory of the Russian Federation was a crucial in one of the bloodiest theatres of the conflict.
— Pierre Vaux
David Millward reports for The Telegraph that a law suit has been initiated by families of those killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 against the former separatist military commander, Russian Igor Girkin, known by his nomme de guerre as Strelkov, for $900 million.
The writ has been filed in Chicago on behalf of the families of 18 passengers on board the aircraft, which was shot down on July 17, 2014.
Millward reports on the claims made in the court papers:
“Flight 17 flew over the airspace of the area in which the aforesaid rebel army was waging its war activities and the rebel army under the command responsibility of defendant Girkin shot down the subject Boeing 777-200 aircraft.”
Mr Girkin, it added: “ordered, aided and/or abetted this action and/or conspired with those persons who fired the missile or missiles.”
The writ also alleged that individuals under his command “took responsibility” for shooting down the aircraft.
In addition the writ accused the Kremlin of being complicit in the atrocity.
It said the missile which brought down the aircraft came from Russia to the Ukraine.
“Defendant Girkin acted with the actual or apparent authority of individuals in the Government of Russia,” the lawsuit added.
Myroslava Reginskaya, a spokesman for Girkin, who left Ukraine last summer and returned to Russia, said that the former military leader and Russian intelligence agent, would not be responding to the allegations:
“We have no comment to make and we will not be making a comment in this situation. If these people are idiots then they are idiots,” she said.
On the day of the shoot-down last year, a message was posted by the ‘Dispatches from Igor Ivanovich Strelkov’ VKontakte page, which was, at the time, used as a regular outlet for official statements from the commander. It was subsequently removed but we have saved a screenshot:
The Interpreter translated the statement:
“Report from the Militia 17.07.14 17:50 (Moscow time)
In the area of Torez, we have just shot down an An-26 airplane, it is scattered about somewhere by the Progress coal mine.
We warned them – don’t fly ‘in our sky.’
Here is a video confirmation of the latest ‘bird drop.’
The bird fell beyond the pit refuse heap, it did not damage the residential sector.
Civilians were not hurt.
There is also information about a second downed airplane, apparently an Su[khoi].”
While some pro-Kremlin sources have since attempted to negate the importance of this announcement, claiming that there is no evidence that the post was an official statement by Girkin, the Russian state news agency, ITAR-TASS, ran a report that day as did other state and pro-Kremlin media citing claims from the separatist “militiamen” that they had downed an An-26 transport plane:
DONETSK, July 17. /ITAR-TASS/. Militiamen of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) brought down a military transport Antonov-26 (An-26) plane of the Ukrainian Air Force on the outskirts of the town of Torez, eyewitnesses said.
A missile hit the An-26, it fell on the ground and caught blaze, they said.
It soon emerged that no Ukrainian An-26 had been shot down that day, suggesting that the crew of the Buk surface-to-air missile system used to down MH17 had mistaken the airliner for a military cargo aircraft, several of which had been shot down in the preceding weeks.
Intercepted communications, released by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) also captured separatist commanders, one of them Igor Bezler, known as Bes (Daemon), former commander of the separatist forces in Gorlovka, discussing their successful downing of a high-flying aircraft that day. Another recording purportedly captured their panicked discussion upon realising it was a civilian airliner, not a military flight that had been shot down.
For a breakdown of the events surrounding the downing of MH17, see The Interpreter‘s review of evidence.
Millward noted today that Floyd Wisner, the lawyer instigating the civil suit against Girkin, has used the US Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows foreign nationals to be prosecuted in American courts.
Wisner said that the suit is being pursued at no cost to the familes.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed forces have conducted around 90 attacks over the last 24 hours, as of 6 am today, local time. Around 60 of these took place between 18:00 and midnight.
In particular, the Press Centre reports that the village of Kodema, north-west of Gorlovka, was shelled with 152 mm artillery at 20:50. According to the report, civilians were killed during the attack.
To the west and north of Gorlovka, Ukrainian positions near Novogorodskoye, Kirovo, Leninskoye, Pervoye Maya, Nikolaevka Vtoraya and Mayorsk were shelled.
The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reported that the mayor of separatist-held Gorlovka, Roman Khramenkov, said that blasts could be heard all night across the town. According to the report, the village of Zhovanka was shelled, leaving one civilian woman wounded. She has been taken to hospital, said the mayor.
Khramenkov also claimed that residential areas of the town itself had been shelled, damaging four homes and burning one to the ground. He reported that electricity and gas lines were cut due to the fighting.
Novosti Donbassa reports, citing a residents’ group on Facebook, that communications with the town have gone down. The posts also reported civilian deaths near Kodema and at least 15 wounded. One military vehicle was destroyed and two damaged.
Novosti Donbassa later reported that the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry had confirmed that a civilian man had died on the way to hospital from wounds sustained during the shelling of Kodema last night.
Here is a video which purportedly records the sound of intense fire heard in Gorlovka last night:
In the Donetsk area, positions near Avdeyevka, Verkhnotoretskoye and Opytnoye were attacked.
Translation: #Avdeyevka, Lenin street no7 (1,2) and 11 (3,4), aftermath of shelling 15/07/15 #RussianUkrainianWar
To the south, positions near Starognatovka, east of Volnovakha, were shelled.
According to the ATO Press Centre report, Russian-backed forces used 152 and 122 mm artillery seven times, 120 mm mortars 31 times, and tanks nine times.
Today, as of 6 am, Ukrainian troops near Schastye, in the Lugansk region, and around Donetsk Airport, have come under fire from small arms.
Yaroslav Chepurnoy, press officer for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, told 0629.com.ua that Ukrainian positions in the south of the region had come under attack 13 times yesterday.
At around 12:00, the village of Chermalyk, north-east of Mariuool, was reportedly shelled with 120 mm mortars, striking residential areas. Details on any casualties or destruction are yet to be confirmed.
In other attacks, Russian-backed forces used, Chepurnoy claimed, 122 mm artillery, mortars, guided anti-tank missiles and small arms.
Over the day, the press officer reported that Ukrainian positions near Starognatovka had been attacked six times. In Shirokino there were four attacks and also solitary attacks on Granitnoye, Orlovskoye and Nikolaevka.
During one of the attacks, a serviceman from the Vinnytsia region, born in 1973, was wounded.
So far, Chepurnoy said, there have been no attacks in the Mariupol area today.
The Donetsk regional military-civilian administration reports that 10 Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded and one killed over the last 24 hours. The report added that a civilian woman had been wounded in Marinka, west of Donetsk, and taken to hospital in Kurakhovo.
— Pierre Vaux