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Translation: Ukraine will fall! The battles are beginning!
Strelkov has not confirmed that this is his Twitter account, though it is often used for his official statements and he has also never renounced it. Many on both sides treat this account as genuine.
Strelkov is also no long an official of the Russian-backed separatists, but he is well regarded as an insider who has deep connections in the separatist leadership — and perhaps even to the Russian government.
These statements are not out of sync with comments being made by separatist supporters on social media outlets, and they underscore the extent of tonight’s shelling.
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
Translation: Signal flares flew up from the direction of Shirokino
Here are those locations on a map:
Translation: Can hear salvoes, but they’re somewhere further away. Yeah, Mariupol has got used to such stress.
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
The Facebook page of the Ukrainian Carpathian Sich volunteer unit, an assault unit within the 93rd Mechanized Brigade which recently lost two members during shelling, has posted an urgent message about heavy fighting north of Donetsk (translated by The Interpreter):
“Urgent report from the front line! The enemy has intensified their artillery fire under the cover of night. Intense battles are under way near Donetsk Airport. The Russians are conducting massive bombardments with Grad MLRS, self-propelled artillery and tanks. Opytnoye and Vodyanoye are also being shelled. At around 21:50, as a result of the shelling of our positions near Donetsk Airport, our fighter ‘York’ received wounds of medium severity. Our fighters are holding out and fending off the occupiers.”
This video reportedly shows outgoing Grad MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) firing from Makeyevka tonight, an eastern suburb of Donetsk controlled by the Russian-backed fighters. In the video, rockets can be seen traveling right to left in the center of the screen. The people in the background say that the time is 23:20, which also matches eyewitness reports.
Due to nightfall, the video cannot be fully verified, however.
Shelling can be heard inside Mariupol tonight, but it seems the reason is shells hitting a few kilometers outside the key port city.
0629.com quotes Yaroslav Chepurnoy, the Ukrainian military press officer for Sector M, as saying that the shelling of positions in Lebedinskoye, by 152 mm artillery, started at around 20:30 and continued for 40 minutes. Residents in the center of Mariupol could hear the blasts (translation by The Interpreter):
“Considering that Lebedinskoye is located 2 km from the outskirts of Mariupol, the explosions of shells can be heard not just on the outskirts but in more central areas. There have been a lot of calls to our sector from various publications, people, startled journalists, calling and asking what is going on.”
As of 22:00, this shelling has already finished, but very heavy shelling continues in Starognatovka. Here, Ukrainian troops are being shelled with 152 mm howitzers and Grad MLRS.”
— Pierre Vaux, James Miller
As we continue to monitor reports of heavy fighting across eastern Ukraine, we are also reading last nights report from the OSCE Special Monitoring Team.
The first alarming detail, an uptick in ceasefire violations near Donetsk — including civilian casualties in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, and heavy military convoys on the move in territory controlled by Russian-backed fighters:
The number of ceasefire violations observed at and around “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk airport (9km north-west of Donetsk) increased in comparison with the previous day. Between 08:00 and 13:00hrs, the SMM, from its position at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation point at “DPR”-controlled Donetsk railway station (8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), heard a total of 46 explosions and 13 rounds of automatic grenade launcher (AGL), as well as multiple bursts of small arms and heavy-machine gun (HMG) fire, at distances ranging between 3 and 15km to the south, south-west, west, north, and north-east of its position.
The SMM followed up on information about shelling around the government-controlled area of Starohnativka (51km south of Donetsk). The SMM was not able to reach this area due to security reasons but monitored the situation in nearby locations. In a “DPR”-controlled area approximately 10km south-west of Starobesheve (“DPR”-controlled, 32km south-east of Donetsk), at 12:00hrs, the SMM saw a convoy of five self-propelled howitzers (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm) accompanied by a covered military-type truck moving south-west towards the line of contact. While following the convoy, the SMM observed two armed men approaching from the south at a distance of approximately 200m and heard multiple bursts of small arms forcing the SMM to withdraw. A representative of the city hospital in Starobesheve, confirmed that two civilian casualties were admitted to the hospital. In government-controlled Mykolaivka (39km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM spoke separately to two men, who informed that they heard sounds of shelling occurring around midnight, until 10:00hrs on 11 August. The Ukrainian Armed Forces commander in Mykolaivka subsequently corroborated the information, adding that self-propelled and rocket artillery calibre 122mm (BM-21 Grad type) had impacted around the government-controlled areas of Starohnativka, Novohnativka (41km south-west of Donetsk) and Bohdanivka (42km south of Donetsk).
The SMM observed eight fresh craters in a residential area of Telmanove (“DPR”-controlled, 67km south-east of Donetsk) and assessed that all of them were caused by a multiple launched rocket system (MLRS) calibre 122mm (BM-21 Grad type) fired from a westerly direction. In the village, the SMM saw the funeral procession for a 62-year old woman from Telmanove, who was hit by shrapnel during shelling on 10 August.
The OSCE teams also witnessed that at several holding areas in Lugansk territory designated for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, no such heavy weapons were present:
The SMM visited for the first time two “LPR” heavy weapons holding areas and revisited one “LPR” and one Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas, whose locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines. At one Ukrainian Armed Forces site, the SMM observed that the same number and type of weapons previously recorded were in situ. At one “ LPR” site visited by the SMM for the first time, the SMM found only food and uniforms. At another “LPR” site visited for the first time, the SMM observed eight empty military trucks and one MTLB armoured personnel carrier. At another “LPR” location, the SMM observed that all previously recorded weapons were in situ. The SMM was escorted by one “LPR” military police vehicle with two “LPR” members during its visits to all three sites*.
It’s not clear whether vehicles are actually missing, or whether these holding areas were always so lightly armed.
Though it’s not directly related to combat, it appears that Ukraine is not meeting its quotas in its military draft:
At a press conference on the mobilization process in Kherson, attended by the SMM, the municipal and regional military enlistment officials informed that the sixth wave of mobilization only reached 32 per cent of 1,843 draftees planned. The officials also said that four cases of mobilization evasion had been filed in court the previous week.
Read the entire report here.
— James Miller
As we have been reporting, the stage appears to be set for another major escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine. But does that mean that heavy shelling, reported tonight in Donetsk, is the start of a more serious escalation?
There are many reports of heavy shelling in Donetsk tonight on social media. Other reporters are noticing the trend:
In the last 30 minutes, liveuamap has recorded shelling in Gorlovka (Horlivka), outgoing shelling in Yasinovata (northeast of Donetsk), incoming shelling in Avdeyevka (Avdiivka, north of Donetsk airport, Ukrainian-held), outgoing rocket fire from Donetsk, a large amount of military vehicles near Donetsk airport, and various other reports of escalation.
They are compiling reports from many sources, and there are many other sources reporting similarly, though we have not confirmed each incident.
There are also reports, still unconfirmed at this point, of shelling in Mariupol.
We will continue to monitor reports.
— James Miller
With the current escalation in fighting, messages from the Kremlin, their separatist proxies and their supporting media today are most disquieting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is broadcasting the message that violence is escalating in eastern Ukraine, but at the hands of the government’s forces. The Kremlin press service announced that Putin will hold an “operative meeting” with the Russian Security Council today in order to address the worsening violence. RFE/RL reports:
The Kremlin said the focus of the meeting was on attacks on pro-Russian separatists as well as residents of eastern Ukraine, implying that the attacks were being carried out by Ukrainian government forces.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on August 11 also complained that the situation on the front line has deteriorated in recent days and urged Kyiv to end what Moscow said were “irresponsible actions.”
Eduard Basurin, the deputy commander of the DNR’s armed forces, told Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency today that Ukraine had moved 12 Grad MLRS and more than twenty armoured units up to within 20 km of the contact line near Kodema, north of Gorlovka.
Denis Pushilin, the DNR’s envoy at the Minsk peace talks, gave a press conference today at which he claimed that Ukrainian forces had conducted 150-180 attacks over the last 24 hours, a dramatic rise over the 30 or so attacks reported daily by the separatists throughout the ‘ceasefire.’
“Therefore,” Pushilin said, “this is a cause for serious concern.”
Pushilin warned ominously that “full-scale fighting could break out at any moment.”
Zvezda TV, which is owned by the Russian Ministry of Defence, reports this afternoon that they have been told by “sources in the defence ministry of the Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR]” that all separatist fighters (including those fighting for the Lugansk ‘People’s Republic’) are being recalled from leave.
The separatist sources claim that a Ukrainian offensive may be imminent, and that their leadership has received “warnings of possible air strikes.”
This, in itself, seems highly unlikely as Ukrainian Air Force operations over the Donbass ground to a halt last year due to the widespread deployment of surface-to-air missile systems in separatist-held territory. Ukrainian military flights over the region would be at great risk of being shot down from portable missile systems (MANPADS), or Strela-10 and Pantsir-S1 systems.
Zvezda cites comments made to Argumenty i Fakty today by Rostislav Ischenko, president of the Centre for Systematic Analysis and Forecasting:
“Sooner or later, real fighting will start because it is impossible to resolve this situation by other means. And both sides are preparing for this. Some experts say that the war will begin in October. I think it will be sooner: at the end of August or the beginning of September.”
Ischenko, who was born in Kiev, left Ukraine after the collapse of the Yanukovych government and was involved in former Kharkiv governor Mikhail Dobkin’s Ukrainian Front anti-Maidan movement.
Pro-separatist blogger Colonel Cassad wrote this afternoon that artillery duels were now raging between both sides in the Donetsk region, with wide-scale use of multiple-launch rocket systems.
Russian-backed fighters, he said, are reinforcing their positions “in anticipation of an offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”
“According to various sources, the beginning of the active phase is expected in the coming days, if leaders aren’t able to slow down the situation by diplomatic means.”
Icorpus, another pro-separatist media outlet, claimed today that a Ukrainian assault could “begin at any minute,” adding that:
“With every passing hour, the Ukrainian armed forces are increasing their numbers of armoured vehicles, artillery and manpower along the contact line.”
Previous periods of escalation in fighting were preceded by increased rhetoric coming out of the Russian government, the Russian media, and statements by the Russian-backed separatists. This pattern, which some believe is orchestrated by the Kremlin, clearly connects the increasing violence in eastern Ukraine with the intentions of Moscow, effectively broadcasting a threat (albeit a veiled one) from the Russian government to Ukraine and its allies.
There are too many coincidences at the minute which suggest that the Russian government and its proxies want everyone to think that a separatist offensive is just over the horizon.
Monday’s escalation in fighting has many Ukraine-Russia watchers paying closer attention. Possible disinformation campaigns put out earlier in the week in pro-separatist outlets and social media accounts indicated that the Russian-backed fighters could launch an offensive as early as today.
Basurin’s statements earlier in the week that Ukraine, not the separatists, launched Monday’s attack, and his statements today that Ukraine is deploying multiple-launch rocket systems to the front, add an urgency and a plausible motive for action by the Russian-backed fighters. That urgency is underscored by Pushilin’s statement about Ukrainian artillery attacks and the report from the DNR defense ministry that DNR and LNR troops are being called up (which was broadcast by the Kremlin’s defense ministry news agency) underscores the extent of the threat that the Russian-backed fighters want the world to think that the Ukrainian military poses.
The claims that Ukraine could resume using airstrikes goes even further in riling up the allies of the Russian-backed fighters. And now Putin’s statements accomplish two goals — they add legitimacy to the claims put out by the Russian-backed fighters, and they simultaneously let the world (via subtext, of course) know that Russia is serious and the next wave of escalation could be a Kremlin directive.
The fighting is real. Ukraine has been warning about increasing violence for weeks. But that the Kremlin is finally noticing and that the Russian-backed fighters are blaming Ukraine indicate that the Kremlin and the separatists at least want everyone to believe that an explosion in fighting is imminent. The heated rhetoric is reminiscent of the period of “Russian invasion” last August, and the period of intensifying separatist offensives in January and February 2015. Both of those ended in Ukraine signing Minsk ceasefire agreements which to some degree froze the conflict but which also gave the Russian-backed fighters major territorial concessions.
— Pierre Vaux, James Miller
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andriy Lysenko, a military spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, has claimed that Russian-backed forces have used BM-27 Uragan MLRS against Ukrainian positions east of Volnovakha.
Speaking at his daily press briefing in Kiev, Lysenko said that four attacks on Ukrainian lines between Bogdanovka and Starognatovka were recorded between 1 and 3 am today.
One of the attacks, he said, was carried out with Uragan rocket artillery.
Uragan rockets are considerably more powerful than the ubiquitous BM-21 Grad MLRS, which themselves have seen far wider use over the last three nights than at any other time since the fall of Debaltsevo.
Uragan systems were filmed in separatist-held Khartsyzsk, east of Donetsk, on February 2:
According to Ukrainian reports, Russian-backed forces continue to shell Ukrainian positions across the front line with heavy artillery and Grad rockets.
Fighting has escalated significantly since Sunday night, when shelling preceded a major assault on Ukrainian positions east of Volnovakha in the early hours of Monday morning.
0629.com.ua reports, citing the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, that Ukrainian forces were attacked six times between 1 and 7 am today.
Three attacks were reported against positions near Bogdanovka, two near Starognatovka and one on Granitnoye, with Grad MLRS, 122 mm self-propelled artillery, 120 mm mortars, tanks and small arms used.
The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre also claims that the village of Novoselovka, south-east of Granitnoye, was shelled with Grad MLRS at around 1 am today.
The Mariupol headquarters reports 15 attacks yesterday, including four uses of Grad MLRS, eight heavy artillery and two 120 mm mortar strikes.
Stargonatovka was attacked six times, Chermalyk twice, as well as individual strikes on Bodanovka, Novogrigoryevka and Viktoriya.
The Donetsk Military-Civil Administration announced today that two civilians were wounded by shelling yesterday, one of them a resident of Volnovakha. They are now in intensive care with blast trauma injuries.
The other civilian casualty occurred in Avdeyevka, to the north of Donetsk. This town was shelled heavily yesterday from 20:00 in the evening.
According to Novosti Donbassa, two residential buildings were struck by shells and a gas mains ruptured, causing a large fire.
Two more rounds of shelling were reported, at 21:30 and from midnight until 3 am today, leaving two more homes damaged and one completely destroyed.
South-west of Avdeyevka, Ukrainian positions in Peski, Vodyanoye and Opytnoye have come under heavy fire.
According to the ATO Press Centre, all three settlements were bombarded with Grad rockets at around 1 am today.
The head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, Vyacheslav Abroskin, reported on Facebook that a civilian woman, born in 1926, received shrapnel wounds last night after Russian-backed forces shelled Krasnogorovka, to the west of Donetsk.
According to Abroskin, the shelling lasted from 22:30 until 2 am today and came from the direction of separatist-held Yakovlevka, north-east of Donetsk. The ATO Press Centre claims that both 152 mm artillery and Grad MLRS were used against Krasnogorovka.
Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency also reports Ukrainian fire on separatist-held areas near Donetsk last night.
Yuri Pokintelitsa, the separatist-backed head of the Makeyevka town administration, told RIA Novosti that the town, immediately to the east of Donetsk, had been shelled for three nights in a row now. He said that fire had come from the direction of Avdeyevka.
According to Pokintelitsa, shells struck both residential areas and a steel plant, rupturing a gas pipeline.
Further to the east, the ATO Press Centre reports 120 mm mortar attacks on Ukrainian positions in Novogorodskoye, to the west of Gorlovka, and Zaytsevo, to the north-east.
In the Lugansk region, Ukrainian troops in Krymskoye came under mortar, RPG and small arms fire at around 20:00 last night.
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation at the Presidential Administration, told reporters today that casualties had been incurred in both Stanitsa Luganskaya and Starognatovka.
Over the last 24 hours, Lysenko said at noon, one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and 3 wounded.
— Pierre Vaux