Ukraine Live Day 546: Devastating Attack On Village Outside Mariupol Leaves Two Dead, Six Wounded

August 17, 2015
Damage in Sartana after last night's shelling. Photo: Vyacheslav Abroskin

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Civilian Wounded By Shell In Avdeyevka

The Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry has announced this evening that a civilian has been wounded in Avdeyevka.

According to the report, a woman, born in 1978, was taken to hospital in a severe condition with multiple shrapnel wounds after a shell exploded on the outskirts of the town, north of Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux

Donbass Battalion Returning To Man Checkpoints Around Mariupol

Semyon Semyonchenko, founding commander of the Donbass Battalion and now an MP in the Samopomich party, has announced on his Facebook page that the battalion is returning to Mariupol:

“The Donbass Battalion is returning to the ‘ATO zone’ to defend Mariupol.” 

At the end of last month, amidst protests from the battalion and activists in Mariupol, the volunteer unit was withdrawn from Shirokino and replaced by naval infantry.

TSN reports that the battalion is to reinforce checkpoints and maintain the second line of defences outside Mariupol.

While the battalion was originally formed as an assault unit, the National Guard has issued them new roles to fulfil, namely controlling the movement of goods and people through checkpoints.

Anatoly Vinogradsky, the commander of the unit, told TSN that this was a frank disappointment, as the Donbass Battalion has been trained “since day one” for assault tasks.

— Pierre Vaux

Putin Visits Russian-Occupied Crimea, Raising Tension As Fighting Escalates

Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Russian-occupied Crimea today at a time when the fighting in Ukraine looks like it is about to explode.

Ukraine Today reports that, among other things, Putin will be chairing a meeting of the Russian State Council to discuss increasing tourism to the peninsula which was illegally annexed by Russia last March. Tourism has been hindered due to three key factors: sanctions passed by the US and the EU prohibit tourism, Ukrainian citizens are not visiting the peninsula, and the collapse of the Russian economy means that many Russian citizens cannot afford to go on vacation either.

Any visit by Putin to Crimea is seen as a provocation by the Ukrainian government and many in the West, but the timing of this visit has not gone unnoticed by Kiev. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Putin’s trip a “challenge to the civilized world” and stressed that it needed to be viewed in context of events in eastern Ukraine. RFE/RL reports:

“Such trips mean further militarization of the occupied Ukrainian peninsula and lead to its greater isolation,” the presidential spokesman quoted Poroshenko as saying.

Poroshenko said that Crimea has a future only as a part of Ukraine.

Reuters adds:

“This is a challenge to the civilized world and a continuation of the plan to escalate the situation which is being carried out by Russian troops and their mercenaries in the Donbass (east Ukraine),” Poroshenko said in a Facebook post.

The reasons that Poroshenko and the Ukrainian people might be upset by Putin’s visit are obvious — the Russian military seized control of the peninsula at the end of February, 2014, all the while claiming that the gun-wielding “little green men” were local activists (Putin later admitted the obvious — these were Russian troops), and then held an illegal, deeply flawed, and internationally unrecognized referendum on annexation. Russia then directly intervened in the Donbass, culminating in the “Russian invasion” that effectively cut a large part of the Donbass off from the rest of Ukraine.

But is Poroshenko right that Putin’s visit is linked to violence in eastern Ukraine?

Last week a key leader of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Denis Pushilin, warned that “full-scale fighting could break out at any moment.” We noted at the time that his statement was part of a flurry of warnings and heated rhetoric coming out of both the Kremlin (and the Russian state-run media) and the leadership of the Russian-backed separatists, corresponding to an increase in fighting and troop movement in eastern Ukraine. We also noted that this pattern matched what preceded other major escalations in Ukraine such as the “Russian invasion” one year ago, the conclusion of the battle for Donetsk airport, and the run-up to February’s capture of Debaltsevo.

Since we wrote than analysis on August 12, daily fighting has only grown more intense, civilian and military casualties have risen, and the conflict feels even closer to an ignition point.

James Miller

Tanks Seen On The Move In Donetsk

Tanks have been seen on the move in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine today.

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, Radio Svoboda, reports that three T-72 tanks were seen this morning in the Kirovsky district of Donetsk, driving towards the city centre.

Radio Svoboda published a photo of the tanks: 


There was also an unverified report that armour was seen headed towards Donetsk from the east:

Translation: A contact travelled from Lugansk, through Gorlovka to Artyomovsk this morning, they say saw many tanks moving from Lugansk in the direction of Donetsk.

— Pierre Vaux

AFP – Separatists Report Five Civilians Dead, Bringing Total Number Of Fatalities On Both Sides To 10

AFP reports that separatist officials have claimed that five civilians were killed in areas under their control over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of reported fatalities over that period in the Donbass to ten.

As AFP notes, Ukraine has reported that three civilians were killed and two soldiers.

— Pierre Vaux

Gorlovka News Site Reports On Constant, ‘Full-Scale’ Fighting In Zaytsevo

Gorlovka news site reports (translated by The Interpreter):

We can confidently say that full-scale fighting is under way in the village of Zaytsevo. The only thing missing is air combat.

The fighting doesn’t cease, day or night. In contrast to the other areas on the outskirts of Gorlovka, where, for the most part, pro-Russian militants’ artillery operates, evoking a response by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (VSU) on residential areas, in Zaytsevo it is not uncommon for so-called contact fights with small arms to occur.

The VSU are slowly but surely pushing the occupiers back to the borders of Gorlovka itself, or more precisely towards the village and railway station of Nikitovka. Today the 34th territorial defence battalion of the VSU controls one more part of the village, Zhovanka. Thus, they are occupying two thirds of the total area of the village. Realising their powerlessness before the VSU, the militants are shelling homes every night with mortars. By night, from August 13 to 15, five civilian homes were burnt down as a result of the shelling of Zhovanka. And on the night from the 15th to the 16th, after another bombardment, the news arrived that a woman of retirement age had been killed. 

In such a way, the terrorists are trying to turn the local population against the VSU. In spite of this, the residents themselves are asking for the militants to be pushed further back from the village as soon as possible. Some say that, in accordance with the Ukrainian law on decommunisation, they are prepared to rename Manulisky Street as 34th Battalion of the VSU Street.

We recall that the VSU previously took positions in Bakhmutka (Zaytsevo), and the Ukrainian repeatedly stated that, in accordance with the Minsk agreements, the village of Zaytsevo should be fully placed under Ukrainian control.


— Pierre Vaux

Heavy Civilian Casualties After Heavy Shelling In Mariupol And Donetsk Areas

Last night saw some of the worst shelling of residential areas in months, leaving at least five civilians reported dead.

Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and seven wounded over the last 24 hours.

In Sartana, less than 3 kilometres outside Mariupol, two people were killed and six wounded after Russian-backed forces shelled the village with artillery at around 22:00.

According to Yaroslav Chepurnoy, press officer for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, the attack was conducted with 152 mm self-propelled artillery and 120 mm mortars from the direction of occupied Sakhanka and Kominternovo.


These videos, recorded in Mariupol last night, record the sound of shelling: 

Five houses suffered direct strikes and 54 others, across six streets, were damaged. Gas and electricity lines were severed and two streets have been cut off from water supplies.

Two people, a 22-year-old woman and a 34-year-old man, were killed. reports that a 10-year-old girl and her 37-year-old father were among the most seriously wounded. “According to preliminary information,” the girl’s foot required amputation. 

A day of mourning has been declared in Mariupol

Hromadske TV reporters arrived in Sartana to film the aftermath of the attack last night:

A team of observers from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine arrived at the village at 10 am today.

Here are photos from 0629:







Tragically, this is not the first time that civilians have been killed in Sartana.

On October 14, last year, seven civilians were killed and 15 wounded when a funeral procession was shelled.

The Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry reports that another civilian was killed in the Ukrainian-held town of Krasnogorovka, just west of Donetsk.

According to the announcement, a man, born in 1956, died from shrapnel wounds after his home was struck by a shell at around 1 am today.

Meanwhile, the separatist-backed Donetsk City Administration reported this morning that two civilians were killed and seven wounded after Ukrainian forces shelled the Kuybyshevsky, Petrovsky and Kirovsky districts of the city.

Further compounding the already dire humanitarian situation along the front line, the Donetsk Regional Council reported today that four water filtering stations on the Seversky Donets-Donbass water canal had been forced to shut down after shelling disrupted power supplies.

Several settlements, both Ukrainian and separatist-controlled, are currently without water supplies. These include Krasnoarmeysk, Dmitrov, Novogrodovka, Volnovakha, Dokuchaevsk, Ugledar and Avdeyevka. Supplies to Donetsk and Yasinovataya have also been reduced.

Overall, the Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed forces conducted 148 attacks yesterday, 13 of them with MLRS, 17 with heavy artillery and 59 with mortars.

UNIAN translates:

“In the last day, the situation in the Donbass conflict zone deteriorated significantly. From 18:00 to midnight, militant activity sharply increased. The situation was most tense  near the militant stronghold of Donetsk. From 18:00 Kyiv time, the illegal armed groups were firing 120mm mortars on our positions in the towns of Krasnogorovka and Marinka, and the villages of Peski and Pervomayskoye,” the report says.

It is also reported that at 19:50 Kyiv time, the militants were firing Grad multiple rocket launchers, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades and small arms for an hour on a fortified position of ATO forces in the village of Troitskoye.

“From 21:25 to midnight, the Kremlin-backed mercenaries were firing Grad rockets five times on the village of Opytnoye. At about 22:00 Kyiv time, they started firing 152mm artillery systems and mortars on the Ukrainian army positions in the town of Avdeyevka. In addition, during the evening, they were firing Grad rockets twice on Avdeyevka. From 22:00 to midnight, the militants were firing Grads on fortified positions of the Ukrainian armed forces in the villages of Peski, Beryozovoye, Verkhnotoretskoye, and the town of Krasnogorovka,” the press center said.

In the area of the Ukrainian-controlled city of Mariupol, at 21:40 Kyiv time, the militants started firing 122mm artillery systems and mortars on the village of Novogrigoryevka. And at about 22:00 Kyiv time, they started firing 152mm artillery systems on ATO forces in the villages of Granitnoye and Sartana.

“From midnight to 06:00 Kyiv time on August 17, the militant activity decreased slightly,” the press center said.

— Pierre Vaux