Ukraine Live Day 518: Heavy Fighting Across Front With Civilian Casualties

July 20, 2015
Smoke rises near Luganskoye early this morning. Screenshot from ATO Press Centre video.

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?

Video Shows Destruction of Residential High-Rise Hit By Direct Shelling In Avdeyevka

Earlier today we posted a harrowing video showing heavy artillery pounding a residential high-rise in Avdeyevka. In our analysis we stated that the video was taken inside an apartment in a neighboring building, and the men, whom we believed to be Russian-backed fighters, could be heard using a radio to direct the artillery fire.

The men even laughed when their artillery continued to pound the residential building instead of the intended target beyond:

Now another video shows the extent of the damage to the residential building, home to many interviewed by Current Time TV.

The narrator says that the Ukrainian military position was beyond the buildings, but most of the fire hit the civilian building. At one point a Ukrainian soldier says he was sorry that he could not save a disabled boy who was killed in the attack.

One resident puts it bluntly — he has not left this area because he has no where else to go.

James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Proposes UNSC Resolution Blocking Creation of a Tribunal To Investigate MH17
Friday, July 17, was the one-year anniversary of the shooting down of MH17, and the evidence overwhelming implicates Russia and its proxies in the deaths of nearly 300 civilians, 80- of whom were children:

Russia-Ukraine conflict: Proof of MH17 tragedy's real culprits grows

One year ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over the war zone in eastern Ukraine, and one year later we are closer than ever to proving who is ultimately responsible for this tragic act.

View full page >

Jul 20, 2015 23:15 (GMT)

The United Nations Security Council is set to debate the creation of an international tribunal to investigate the incident — and perhaps ultimately prosecute those who are responsible. Russia first threatened to veto such a tribunal, but then decided to take a different approach and create its own UNSC resolution which would block such a resolution. AFP reports:

Russia opposes the establishment of a tribunal. Its ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters on Monday that Moscow had drafted an alternative resolution.

“We have introduced our own draft,” Churkin said. Russia would begin consultations behind closed-doors on the resolution on Monday, he said.

“We believe it is not in the UN charter. The UN Security Council is not supposed to deal with issues like this,” he added.

“Our suggestion is a different kind of suggestion,” Churkin said, giving no further details about the Russian text.

This legal maneuver could force countries that want a tribunal to veto Russia’s resolution, rather than the other way around.

On Friday I appeared on RFE/RL’s Power Vertical Podcast  where I discussed the implications of Russia’s veto with  Andreas Umland, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and editor of the academic book series Soviet And Post-Soviet Politics And Society, with additional comments from Han ten Broeke, a member of the Dutch parliament who chairs its Defense Committee and the Netherlands’ delegation to the NATO Assembly. Broeke in particular iterated that if Russia blocked a tribunal, then his country may be preparing new sanctions against the Russian government. 

Listen to it here:

Podcast: When Putin's Ukraine War Went Global

One year after the downing of Flight MH17 killed 298 people from 10 countries on four continents, the evidence continues to mount that pro-Moscow seperatists in Ukraine — and perhaps Russia itself — were responsible. And as the evidence piles up, pressure is building for an international tribunal to prosecute the guilty parties — pressure Russia is strenuously trying to resist.

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Jul 20, 2015 23:26 (GMT)

James Miller
Ukrainian and NATO Start ‘Rapid Trident’ Drills Near Polish Border

Soldiers from the United States and Ukraine are holding a joint military drill, “Rapid Trident,” an annual drill involving more 1,800 soldiers from 18 different countries. RFE/RL reports:

Their immediate aim is to build resolve and cohesion within the ex-Soviet state’s outdated and woefully underfunded armed forces — caught in a 15-month east Ukrainian quagmire against pro-Russia militias that has claimed more than 6,500 lives.

But they also deliver a transparent message to the Kremlin about Washington and its allies’ determination to thwart any expansionist ambitions Russian President Vladimir Putin may have.

“These joint manoeuvres… display a broad support for Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Ukrainian forces commander Oleksandr Syvak told the festive flag-raising ceremony.

His US counterpart Alfred Renzi said the participating countries — most of them NATO member but also such former Soviet nations as Moldova and Azerbaijan — “will prove an ability to cooperate as one unified force for stability”.

According to the US Army website, the nations participating in this years drills include: “Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Turkey and the U.S. The Rapid Trident exercise comes at the explicit request of the Ukrainian government and military.”

James Miller
Video Shows Spotters Directing Shelling Of Apartment Buildings In Avdeyevka
The following video titled “Shelling of Avdeyevka By DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] Terrorists” was uploaded to YouTube on July 18, it shows the shelling of an apartment block in the Ukrainian-held town of Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk:

The location of the building can be found here, on Google Maps on Vorobyov street:


Another video, taken from security camera footage, as reported by Ukraine@War shows the view from another part of the same building, further verifying that the shelling came from the south, towards separatist-held Donetsk Airport: 



Here’s how we confirmed the location of the apartment building from the video, using Google Maps:


 A picture of the same building taken by Razukrashka is on Panoramio:


Avdeyevka has been constantly shelled by the Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces themselves shell from positions in this stronghold.

But what is most significant about the first piece of video footage is the conversation recorded in the background.

While a security guard is panning their remote camera around on the roof, the men filming a few floors below are actually spotting for the separatists’ artillery team, adjusting fire upon apartment block number 20.

The Interpreter has translated excerpts of the conversation heard, which some lines in bold for emphasis:

 First voice: Let me congratulate you…

Second voice: …with my baptism by fire.

[Shell fire]

Voice: You can upload this video later.

Third voice: Does that mean a direct hit on Avdeyevka or not yet?

Second voice: It’s direct, shit.

Fourth voice: That’s called “we don’t shoot on the civilian population.”

Voice: Where? Shit.

[Shell in distance]

Voice: Direct…

Voice: Hear the news.

Voice: My mother heard on the news that Kiev surrendered.

Voice: No, you should tell your mother [inaudible] that it’s f**ked.


Second voice: It hit the building.

First voice: Well, how is it. Napkin heaven. [A phrase like “house of cards” referring to the flimsy construction–The Interpreter] Once again, higher, shit.

Voice: Napkins…

Voice: Are you filming me?

Second Voice: No, no, no. 

Voice: Don’t. Are you filming? Don’t.

Voice: No, the faces won’t be shown.

Voice: We’re punters [inaudible] [laughter]

Voice, No, the faces won’t be shown.


Voice: Say hi to mom, see how our guys are shooting.

Voice: So forward? Here we go again. Boom

Voice: Again, shit.


Voice: Is that ours?

Second voice: Yes, ours.


Second voice (2:05): That was ours too.

Voice (on phone or walkie-talkie): 502nd, 502nd


Voice (2:45):  [Replies after voice from walkie-talkie]. There are three tanks shooting on us, at once… I can’t go outside…You didn’t hit it, but the building is hit 100%.



Second Voice: Let them go further.

[Voice on Walkie-Talkie] Urgent, urgent…[inaudible]. Don’t wait for us [inaudible].


Voice: Good morning, junta!

Voice (on walkie-talkie) The shells didn’t hit…


Voice (4:04). A miss.

Voice: They overshot?

Voice (on walkie-talkie) – Roger.

Voice: The plaster is falling.


Second voice (4:56) That was the 7th floor, no, over there, lower, shit. Not the seventh floor. The napkins were flying. 

Voice: [sarcastically] There’s [probably] an old lady praying there, shit. 



Voice (5:29) Fifth floor.

Second voice: That’s our ball. Oh, what a hole there is there, shit, on the roof. F**k.


Voice: Ours?

Voice: Second floor. Further, further.


The next door apartment, shit, the fourth, fifth, shit.


Voice: It’s going to fall, it’s going to fall.

Voice: It’s Kiev.

Voice: That’s not right. You want it further?


Voice: Is that it? F**k.

Second Voice: Yes, yes. It fell somewhere…the bastards..beyond our building .


Voice: There’s another.


Voice: Was that yours?

Second voice: It exploded, but the second didn’t explode.

Voice: The sappers can get it.

[Voice reading coordinates]: 2, 3, 8, 3 zeroes…and…74, 2, 9, 3 zeroes… there’s a gate…


The second voice in the video dialogue makes a reference to “our ball,” i.e. shell hitting the roof, although it is not visible in the video with the smoke. Yet the security video clearly shows damage to the roof of the building.

This is clear evidence that spotters for Russian-backed forces are directing artillery from well within Ukrainian-held territory. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Pierre Vaux, James Miller

3 Civilians Wounded After Their Car Was Shelled On Highway South Of Marinka

Novosti Donbassa reports that the Donetsk Region branch of the Interior Ministry announced today that three civilians were wounded this morning when their car was fired on in the Marinka area, west of Donetsk.

According to the report, the car had left separatist-held territory and was shelled at around 11:30, while on the approach to the first Ukrainian checkpoint on Donetsk-Zaporozhye highway, south of Marinka itself.

According to the police, there were two men and a woman inside the car, born in 1967, 1989 and 1995. All have been hospitalised with shrapnel wounds.

— Pierre Vaux

OSCE Has Witnessed 20,021 Men In Military Uniform Crossing Border Between Russia and Ukraine In Either Direction

Russia is no longer trying to hide its bases on the border of Ukraine. At least, this is the assessment of New York Times journalist Andrew Kramer, who reports on a town near Ukraine where a massive Russian military base near the Ukraine border has been steadily growing for some time.

Last year, the Russian Defense Ministry described the military buildup along the border as a military exercise, and it periodically announced pullbacks after exercises were completed. However, the large army presence, which cannot easily be disguised, seems now to have become permanent.

Ukrainian and Western governments say Kuzminka is a staging ground for Russian soldiers and weapons headed into the war zone in southeastern Ukraine, where Kiev says 9,000 Russian soldiers are now stationed for a possible attack this summer on the city of Mariupol.

The United States has released satellite images of self-propelled howitzers on one side of the border, and then on the other, and European monitors say they see nightly evidence of heavy weapons streaming into southeastern Ukraine from Russia.

Kramer also cites statements by Paul Picard, the French diplomat heading the OSCE’s monitoring mission in this area, who says that since September 1, 2014, a massive amount of men in military uniforms have been seen moving across the border in one direction or the other:

On the ground, though, the gap between the propaganda and the reality is almost comical. Since counting began on Sept. 1 last year until June 1 this year, the European monitoring mission on the Russian side of the border has recorded 20,021 men in military uniforms crossing to and from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.

That is an average of about 500 people who appear to be soldiers crossing the border per week. The men wear a variety of identifying patches, but not those of the Russian Army, or they have none at all.

It’s worth noting that the first Minsk agreement was signed on September 5, 2014, just 4 days after the OSCE began the count referenced above. In other words, though the organization won’t come straight out and say it, it is perfectly obvious to the OSCE that Russia continues to blatantly break the Minsk agreements.

Read the article here:

Russian Town Near Ukraine, Once Quiet, Now Buzzes With Military Activity

GOLOVINKA, Russia – The southern Russian steppe in summertime typically offers a soul-lifting panorama of wheat fields and sunflowers, swaying in the breezes, and vast empty spaces. It is Russia 's big sky country, rural and calm. Normally, that is.

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Jul 20, 2015 18:51 (GMT)

The base near Golovinka and Kuzminka are not new observations. The Interpreter profiled the base in January:
Also, as early as April 2014, NATO released satellite images of a Russian military buildup at this and other bases on Ukraine’s border:

In pictures: Russian military build-up near Ukraine – BBC News

Nato's decision to release over 20 satellite images and associated maps of the Russian military build-up on Ukraine's eastern frontier is a signal of the concern among the alliance's commanders that a Russian military option against Ukraine is very much on the table, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus reports.

View full page >

Jul 20, 2015 19:05 (GMT)

But what’s important in Kramer’s report is that these bases show no signs of going anywhere, and cross-border military movement continues, realities which are in sharp contrast to reports that have sprung from the Russian media that “Novorossiya,” the project to expand Russia’s influence beyond its borders, no longer has direct support from Moscow.

It’s also important to note that in recent days there has been a heightened escalation in fighting. The conflict may once again be heating, and if it does escalate, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers and countless tanks and armored vehicles are just minutes from Ukraine’s border.

James Miller

Man, Shot In Head During Mukachevo Shoot-Out, Dies In Hospital

Ukrainian news outlets report that a man, shot in the head during the fighting in Mukachevo on July 11, has died in hospital this morning.

Ukrinform reports Vasiliy Skrip, head of the Zarkarpattia public health department, told the agency that the man died in a hospital in Uzhgorod at 8:25 today after his temperature soared sharply last night.

The deceased’s name has not been released but Ukrinform reports that law enforcement officials have said that he was not a participant in the stand-off between members of Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) and MP Mikhail Lanio’s security guards. Instead, they say, he was shot by accident. reports that MP Mikhail Pri has said that the victim had been visiting the Antares sports club, where the shoot-out took place, to swim or use the gym.

But the news site reports that locals insist that the dead man was a member of Lanio’s security detail and was shot in the head by a Pravyi Sektor fighter.

— Pierre Vaux

Bomb Blast At Gay Nightclub In Odessa Wounds Bouncer

A blast occurred at a club in Odessa in the early hours of this morning, wounding a bouncer, the city police report.

According to the police, an explosive device, placed outside the door of the Libertin nightclub on Rishelevskaya street, detonated at 4 am.

The bouncer, born in 1994, has been taken to hospital with shrapnel wounds to their upper legs.

The police have released a video of their investigation of the crime scene: 

Fragments of a RGD-5 grenade have been found at the scene and sent for analysis. 

Odessa news site reports that Libertin is known locally as a gay club.

The damage from the bomb blast appears to be limited to the entrance and door. Dumskaya reports that there is no significant damage to the interior.

Anna Marchenko, press secretary of the Odessa regional branch of the Interior Ministry, announced that a criminal case on charges of attempted murder as been opened.

Interestingly, despite the long list of bombings carried out in Odessa since the winter, all of which have been qualified as terrorist attacks, Marchenko said that the police do not, at this time, consider the attack on Libertin as such.

— Pierre Vaux

Heavy Fighting Across Front With Civilian Casualties

The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claims that Ukrainian positions were attacked 75 times yesterday, with 25 of the attacks occurring between 18:00 and midnight.

There were attacks reported across the front:

In the Donetsk area, Ukrainian positions near Peski and Krasnogorovka were shelled. To the south-west of the separatist-held city, Ukrainian troops near Marinka were attacked almost 30 times, the Press Centre claims. 

In the Gorlovka area, positions near Mayorsk, Zaytsevo and Kirovo came under fire.

To the south, towards Mariupol, Ukrainian forces near Granitnoye, Nikolaevka and Lebedinskoye were attacked.

In the Lugansk region, Schastye and Stanitsa Luganskaya were shelled.

Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press office of the Lugansk Military-Civil Administration that residential areas of Stanitsa Luganskaya had been fired-on last night with automatic grenade launchers and anti-aircraft artillery. 

As a result, three houses caught fire. One was burnt to the ground and another destroyed. In addition, a gas pipeline was severed and power lines knocked out. As of 9:20 this morning, there was no gas or electricity in the centre of the town. No casualties were reported.

While Russian state media reported this weekend that separatist fighters were withdrawing tanks and small-calibre artillery from the front line, the Ukrainians claim that even heavy artillery, which should have been withdrawn after the signing of the Minsk agreement in February, has been used extensively over the last 24 hours.

The ATO Press Centre says that 152 mm and 122 mm artillery were used six times, and 120 mm mortars, 18 times.

Attacks with heavy weapons were reported to have continued into this morning, with 120 mm mortars in use. 

According to the report, Ukrainian positions near Peski were attacked at 00:25 and those near Novotroitskoye, south of Donetsk, at 3:30. At 4:30, Russian-backed forces began to shell Ukrainian positions near Luganskoye, Rassadky, Sanzharovka and Lozovoye, all south-east of Artyomovsk, near the highway to separatist-held Debaltsevo.

A later update by the ATO Press Centre reported that the Ukrainian delegation to the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC), working with their Russian military counterparts, had succeeded in stopping the shelling in the Luganskoye area by 10:15 am.

According to the Press Centre, 152 and 122 mm artillery, as well as 120 mm mortars had been used in these attacks.

At noon today, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the Ukrainian military operation in the south-east, announced that five servicemen had been wounded over the last 24 hours:

Meanwhile, Novosti Donbassa reports that the Donetsk Military-Civil Administration has announced that two civilians have been killed and six wounded over the same period in the region.

According to the report, the fatalities occurred in the village of Zaytsevo, north of Gorlovka, and Vodyanoye, north of Donetsk. 

— Pierre Vaux