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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
Fighters from the Donbass Battalion left the war-torn village of Shirokino (Shyrokyne), east of Mariupol last night:
The Donbass Battalion, along with other volunteer units and local activists, has vigorously opposed the demilitarisation of Shirokino, arguing that withdrawal from the villages heights would leave Mariupol vulnerable to artillery bombardment from the east.
On July 24, the Élysée Palace announced that the Normandy Quartet (formed of the French, German, Ukrainian and Russian leaders) had agreed that Ukrainian forces would indeed withdraw from Shirokino.
TSN’s Andriy Tsaplienko reported in the early hours of this morning that naval infantry had rotated with Donbass fighters on their way back from Shirokino.
Tsaplienko said that the naval infantry were now manning both checkpoints and positions in Shirokino.
However Andriy Biletsky, MP and founder of the Azov Battalion (now a regiment), told Ukraine’s 112 television channel today that the naval infantry were not in Shirokino itself but rear positions around Berdyanskoye, just to the west.
Mariupol news site 0629.com.ua reported that Azov Regiment fighters are to remain in the city.
Later today, the Ukrainian military announced that all military hardware would be withdrawn from Mariupol itself, leaving only infantry and small arms.
While the withdrawal of forces from Shirokino has been discussed for several weeks now, this announcement is much more surprising.
UNIAN reports that Colonel Dmitry Gutslyak, a press officer for the ATO headquarters, announced at a briefing today that all heavy weaponry, including “armoured vehicles, tanks, mortars, and field guns” were being removed from Mariupol.
The aim of the move is compliance with the Minsk agreement, which stipulates the creation of a 30-kilometre buffer zone, free of heavy weaponry, along the front line. Since the signing of the agreement in February, there has been no such buffer zone in the Mariupol area. Fighting, including the use of heavy weaponry, has continued along most of the front on a daily basis.
Poroshenko announced on July 22 that the tripartite contact group in Minsk had agreed on renewed efforts to create such a buffer zone, this time including tanks, which were not subject to the original Minsk agreement.
Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, said today that the military expected an agreement to be signed on the withdrawal of weaponry with a calibre less than 100 mm, and that the armed forces had pre-emptively complied with the decision.
Lysenko said that troops would remain in Mariupol, but that they would be armed only with small arms and machine guns.
Both military spokesmen claimed that a rapid-reaction reserve force, armed with heavy weaponry, was being created to respond in the event of an offensive by Russian-backed forces.
The decision to withdraw all armour, which serves a primarily defensive purporse, from Mariupol comes as the OSCE observes Russian armour and artillery concentrating near Bezymyannoye, around 7 kilometres east by road from Shirokino.
Furthermore, large groups of armour have been spotted on regular occasions over the last few months along the eastern banks of the river Kalmius, east of Volnovakha – a town which would be a crucial target for any genuine offensive on Mariupol.
Meanwhile, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw has told 112 that, following the wounding of an OSCE observer yesterday, the organisation will not be stationing monitoring teams in Shirokino itself today.
— Pierre Vaux
The OSCE has announced that a patrol from their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) came under fire yesterday morning in the village of Shirokino (Shyrokyne), east of Mariupol. According to the report, the SMM patrol leader was injured after an explosion occurred 5 metres from their position.
Here is the OSCE spot report, published this morning:
At 11:15hrs on 27 July, an SMM patrol comprised of two vehicles entered Shyrokyne (100km south of Donetsk, 20km east of Mariupol) and found the village to be calm. The SMM established two separate observation points, some 120m apart.
At 11:25hrs, the SMM heard one shot of automatic grenade fire, outgoing from a north-easterly direction, impacting to the west of the SMM’s position on the western side of the village. Moments later, the SMM recorded a burst of small-arms fire outgoing from the north-west. After a period of silence, another burst of small-arms fire was heard outgoing from the north-west. The two separate firing instances seemed to be located some 300m away from the position of the SMM. At 11:45hrs, the SMM recorded small-arms fire which was assessed to be outgoing 200m from the south and directed to the south-west of Shyrokyne. At 12:05 and 12:32hrs, the SMM recorded two more separate series of small-arms fire outgoing from the north-east.
While the first section of the report describes an exchange of fire between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces, the report then says that fighters (from which side is not said) much closer to the SMM position and that fire was heard from them just before the explosion.
Right after this, the SMM heard in the air the sound of sniper rounds outgoing from the south, at which point the patrol leader instructed the patrol via radio to depart immediately. At the same time, the SMM saw three men behind a building 50m north of SMM’s position. A rifle shot was heard outgoing from there. Seconds later, an explosion occurred 5m from the SMM patrol leader, who was knocked down as a result. He was struck by concrete debris caused by the impact and his helmet was pierced.
If the fire did come from the three men 50 metres away, then they would certainly have been able to visually recognise the SMM vehicles and personnel as such. This would then be a targeted attack. The OSCE, however, described the incident as the SMM team being “caught in [a] fire exchange.”
The SMM left the area few minutes later and en route to Mariupol (government-controlled, 102km south of Donetsk) the paramedic in the team provided medical care to the injured SMM member. He was then taken to the hospital in Mariupol. He suffered a mild concussion and a bruise of the right leg. He has been released from hospital.
Only two days ago, the OSCE announced that one of their SMM patrols had come under fire near Schastye in the Lugansk region.
Based on the range of the weapons reported to have been used in the attack, it appears likely that the SMM were fired-on by Russian-backed forces. No one was injured.
On July 23, OSCE vehicles were “disabled” during what Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the SMM, called “organised vandalism” in separatist-held Donetsk.
Last night Russia’s Gazeta.ru reported that two Spetsnaz soldiers – Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev – who were captured in Ukraine on May 16, had been released as part of a prisoner exchange.
The news site cited both an unnamed source in Russian law enforcement and Aleksandrov’s lawyer in Kiev, Konstantin Kravchuk.
Today however, both the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and Yerofeyev’s lawyer, Oksana Sokolovskaya, deny that the the captives have been released.
Yelena Gitlyanskaya, press secretary of the SBU, wrote on her Facebook page this morning that the story was “another fake.”
“We have not exchanged any GRU fighters. They’re in Ukraine, awaiting the completion of the investigation and the trial.”
Meanwhile Sokolovskaya wrote that the Gazeta.ru report had “no relation whatsoever to real events.”
She added that, “judging by everything, no one has given any comments to the media whatsoever, necessity is the mother of invention.”
Mark Feygin, a lawyer for Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer and MP detained by the Russian authorities, suggested on Twitter that the report was disinformation aimed to distract attention on the eve of his client’s trial in the Rostov region.
— Pierre Vaux