Ukraine Live Day 616: With Votes Still Being Counted, Fighting Flares On Edge Of Donetsk

October 26, 2015
Photo: Reuters

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Were More Ukrainian Soldiers Killed and Wounded Today in Battle Near Peski?

When Vladimir Seleznev, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff announced at first that there was no shelling near Peski today (he later corrected his statement and said there was), a Twitter user countered his claim with a screenshot of a ruined home in Peski and a soldier’s Facebook post about shelling of their position.

2015-10-27 01:22:49

A group of Belarusian volunteers fighting alongside the Ukrainian army named Zgurtavanne Partryyotau
reported on their Facebook page that more soldiers may have been killed, using the term “200” which means those killed in battle (translation by The Interpreter):

morning separatist Grads fired on the town of Peski. They fired from the
area of the airport on our “mechanic” and “night-light” position. The
93rd Brigade reports there are 8 200s and numerous wounded. Friggin’

Since as we reported earlier, the ATO had not made any report of killings,
and only Channel 24 had reported the one soldier’s death, readers
doubted the accuracy of the information.

The page’s editors replied later that
their fellow fighter had called from the 93rd Brigade and given this
report, and they had no reason to believe him. “We’re not a news agency
and we don’t have a staff of journalists,” said the editors.

then tried to call him back but the connection was lost. Without his
permission, they don’t want to cite his name as a source. There were
several factors that made them trust the report, as they recounted:

– [Separatist leader Aleksandr] Zakharchenko’s statement about the continuation of combat;

– Wounded people are brought to the hospital every day, but the ATO headquarters give statements about the lack of losses

And finally: on August 10, 2015, there was a failed attempt to storm
two villages near Starognatovka by the forces of the 72nd Brigade and
the 5th Separate Battalion of the Right Sector Volunteer Ukrainian Corps, in which our guys took part. We lost three of our men that day
and one later died in the hospital, and the 72nd Brigade lost 4 men, and a
working tank was abandoned. The operation did not achieve the goals set.
The ATO spokesmen announced the success of the operation and the lost
of one (!) soldier. Do these official lies differ in any way from Since there is no trust in the official information, people
use unofficial sources. Refute it yourself, we’re not Reuters.

On October 23, Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” announced at a meeting with doctors that they should prepare for an influx of wounded, reported.

There will be some very heavy periods of military actions still…In any event, we will take Slavyansk, Kramatorks, Mariupol and so on…Unfortunately, conducting negotiationson the political plane isn’t working out as we had wanted…You yourselves observe how the quiet regime is observerd only by us, but yesterday we began to reply actively…they don’t understand the position of good, they only understand the position of strength. Therefore, we are preparing, military actions most likely will continue.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian-Backed Militants Resume Shelling Near Donetsk Airport; One Ukrainian Soldier Reported Killed

After some days of quiet, Russian-backed militants began firing on Ukrainian positions near the Donetsk Airport, reported, citing the ATO [Anti-Terrorism Operation] Center’s Facebook page. Channel 24 later reported that one Ukrainian soldier had been killed.

Ukrainian army positions near Opytnoye and Peski were shelled. While at first Vladislav Seleznyev, spokesman for the General Staff said there was no shelling in Peski, later he confirmed there had been on his Twitter account.

Translation: Correction! Literally an hour after my report, information came into the staff about shelling near Peski and Opytnoye.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

‘East-West Divide’ Seen in Ukrainian Elections; 90% of Votes Counted

An ‘East-West divide” is being reported in exit polls of the Ukrainian local elections, AP reported.
This morning about 30% of the votes have been counted from all
precincts AP reported, but by 20:00 Kiev time this evening, nearly 90%
were counted, reported, citing the Interior Ministry. Police were guarding the remaining 10% until the tally was finished.

As AP reported:

Four exit polls from Ukraine’s local elections
released Monday indicated the governing coalition would retain its
dominant position in the west and center of the country despite
widespread disappointment with the government of President Petro

In the south and east, voters favored the
Opposition Bloc, formed from the remnants of the party of the former
pro-Russia president, who was overthrown in early 2014 after months of
street protests.

The Central Election Committee said it
had received data from only 30 percent of the vote by Monday morning,
reflecting the challenge of calculating the results of elections for
more than 10,700 local councils as well as mayors. More than 130 parties
fielded candidates. Complete results were expected Nov. 4.

party and others in his coalition had hoped to expand their influence
through the local elections, but this proved not so easy to do,
political analyst Vladimir Fesenko said. “The disposition of forces
shows that the country is divided,” he said.

The elections also were seen as a test of strength for oligarchs accustomed to holding sway in their own regions.

Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion who was
elected mayor after the Maidan demonstrations had a “strong lead,” said
AP. Others such as a protoge of Ihor Kolomoisky in Dnipropetrovsk faced a
second round.

Meanwhile, President Petro Poroshenko himself said that most votes went to democratic candidates, reported (translation by The Interpreter):

I perceive this as a step toward support of reform, in
support of decentralization, the increase of responsibility for local
councils, and I’m pleased that the majority of voters confirmed and
supported these approaches.

He said this was the third election providing Ukrainians a chance to “reset” their system, a legacy of the Soviet era.

On Twitter, the Ukrainian leader put it more forcefully:

Translation: The efforts of Russia to create a fifth column have failed. This is the main achievement of the elections!

“East-West divide” is one of the cliches most disliked by Ukrainians,
as they feel it does not explain the complexities of a country where
about 10% of the population lives in the areas of the Donbass controlled
by the Russian-backed separatists, and opinion polls show that even
people who live in the Donbass do not support the separatists who have
brought destruction, poverty, and displacement to their towns.

In the
Russian-speaking areas not involved in the conflict, there are people
who have fought on the side of the Kiev government and support Kiev,
although they are unhappy about continuing corruption and the hold of
oligarchs over the economy and politics.

Some Western reporters
have too casually characterized Ukraine as split down the middle,
although in this election, support by people disaffected by weak reforms
for the Opposition Bloc is a real phenomenon.

Eristavi, a Ukrainian journalist, published a piece on Medium recently
describing the myths about Ukraine which are in part fueled by Russian
propaganda. Eristavi points out that Westerners are schooled to think of
“truth as somewhere in the middle” when they encounter biased situations, but
in fact, there’s a difference between bias and the actual fabrications
of the Russian state media. “The truth is always in between two biases,
but never in between bias and pure lies,” he comments:

Because of
Russian propaganda and Ukrainian media bias, the balkanization of the
news market has reached unbelievably horrible proportions. In one
remarkable study by New York University’s assistant professor Leonid
Peisakhin, he used quasi-random variation in the availability of the
analog Russian television signal along the Ukrainian-Russian border.
Using precinct-level data from the two national elections in 2014, he
found that Russian television significantly increased electoral support
for pro-Russian parties at the expense of pro-Western parties. However,
he also found that Russian television affects different types of voters
very differently: it persuades voters with pre-existing pro-Russian
political preferences, but pushes away those with pro-Western political
preferences. The overall effect of exposure to biased media is therefore
increased voter polarization.

Eristavi also criticized the
self-censorship of Ukrainians and what he saw as “Russian-style tools”
of media warfare by banning foreign journalists and creating a “Ministry
of Information” which evoked Orwell.

The problem of lack of
media diversity directly affected the coverage of campaigns and how
people voted, and was called out by OSCE observers who faulted the
“vested interests” of the oligarchs. Oligarch television isn’t the only
problem, however, as Peisakhin found — Russian TV has a significant
influence. The US government recently gifted Ukraine with radio
to help Kiev reach the Russian speakers in the Donbass who
have become alienated from the capital. As in the past with Central
Asia, a plan for independent Internet-based TV seemed elusive.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

OSCE Says Elections ‘Generally Respected Democratic Process’ But Reform Needed To Counter ‘Vested Interests’

The Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe (OSCE) has released its preliminary assessment of the local elections in Ukraine, noting they “generally respected democratic process, but additional efforts were needed “to enhance public confidence.”

Ukraine’s local elections were competitive and well organized
overall, and the campaign generally showed respect for the democratic
process, international observers concluded in a statement
issued today. Nevertheless, the complexity of the legal framework, the
dominance of powerful economic groups, threats and physical attacks
against candidates, and the fact that virtually all campaign coverage in
the media was paid for all underscore the need for further reform.
Additional efforts are needed to further enhance the integrity of and
public confidence in the electoral process, the observers said.

The observers stressed that the elections took place in a challenging
political, economic, humanitarian and security environment,
characterized by the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the
Russian Federation and the temporary control of parts of the territory
of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by illegal armed groups. This made it
impossible for more than 5 million voters in these areas to vote.
Despite resolute efforts by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to
organize elections throughout the country, they could not be held in
parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts or on the Crimean peninsula.

The hold of Ukrainian oligarchs over the political process was of particular concern:

“In most of the country, despite the obscurity of the election law,
polling staff largely managed to ensure voters the right to cast their
ballots,” said Tana de Zulueta, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election
observation mission. “There is an urgent need for harmonized and
consistent election legislation, together with provisions designed to
limit the power of money and vested interests both in the electoral
process and over the media.”

The OSCE praised the Central Elections Commission, saying it operated “collegially” and “met legal deadlines” and did not comment directly about the reasons for the ballot scandal in Mariupol although the statement referred obliquely to “political and business interests controlling the media”:

Despite the lack of clarity in the procedural provisions in the
election law, the voting and counting processes on election day were
transparent and largely well organized in most of the country. Elections
were not held in Mariupol, Krasnoarmiisk and Svavote. The printing and
distribution of ballots proved problematic in many parts of the country.
Tabulation was still ongoing at the time of the statement’s release.

The local elections were seen within the framework of Ukraine’s economic and political reforms, and with reference to “decentralization,” the goals of the Minsk agreement, although elections did not take place in separatist-controlled territory:

“Yesterday’s local elections were the starting points of
decentralization and territorial reform in Ukraine. Despite difficult
circumstances, these elections were organized, by and large, in a
satisfactory manner,” said Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, Head of the
delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the
Council of Europe. “For the next elections, we encourage the authorities
to revise the existing legislation in order to better reflect the
voters’ will at the grassroots level and, in particular, to allow for
independent candidates in all races.”

The full statement is here.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Observers Blame Donetsk Governor as Well as Local Election Officials for Failure to Hold Mariupol Elections

The head of Ukraine’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) said in a meeting with US, UK and Canadian ambassadors today that only the Verkhovna Rada or parliament could create a mechanism for holding local elections in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk, two cities where voting did not take place yesterday due to disputes about ballots, reported.

As we reported, pro-Kiev activists objected to the printing of the ballots at a printing press owned by controversial oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who is backing the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc candidate for mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko.

Mariupol is the largest city that remains under Kiev’s control in the Donbass, largely occupied by Russian-backed separatists. Okhendovsky blamed “systematic unlawful actions by certain members of the Mariupol city and Krasnoarmeysk city electoral commissions” for the failure to run the elections, and specifically their refusal to approve ballots for distribution to 213 and 37 precincts, respectively.

For weeks, the issue of the ballot printing threatened the vote in Mariupol, as the Kiev Post reported:

“I don’t trust them to print ballots here because this place is
owned by Akhmetov,” says one observer from the Power of the People
party. “He owns Metinvest, and members of Metinvest are running for
office. Now we have Metinvest employees printing electoral ballots at a
Metinvest-owned printing press. You can imagine how easy it would be to
manipulate the process.”

The question is how that manipulation would take place if the Territorial Electoral Commission had oversight of the process.

Okhendovsky pointed out that the printing of the ballots in Mariupol had been
approved by the CEC and a court, and their format was the same as in
other Ukrainian precincts and was recognized as such; it was only the
figure of Akhmetov that was at issue. Law-enforcement should determine
whether certain individuals should be charged with obstruction of the
vote, he said.

The Ukrainian voting procedure is somewhat cumbersome but has many of the same elements of voting in Western countries.

Unlike the US and EU, Ukrainians must present their internal passport as identification to vote. The process was cumbersome mainly due to paper ballots and a large number of candidates at different levels.

According to election monitors, voters are given 4 or in some cases more ballots — one for the regional head, or governor; one for the district head, one for village head or city mayor and one for village or city council. Some districts may have only 3 ballots or as many as 6. Each ballot is numbered. The election workers stamp each ballot and there is a counterfoil receipt to each ballot which the voter signs.

A journalist from Hromadske TV followed one voter through the process –– although he was stopped by election workers who told him no filming was allowed near the voting booths.

While the procedure contains a certain number of checks against fraud — and free media coverage and exit polls can back that up — at the stage of counting of ballots and approving them at a district level to pass on for the region tally, fraud can occur, as it is easy to fake the numbers and stamps.

Halya Cornyash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group asked in a blog post, “So will anybody answer for the non-election fiasco in Mariupol?” and said it had been characterized as a “squalid sabotage”:

The disruption to the elections, both in Mariupol and in
Krasnoarmiysk, had been predicted.  It is less clear whether it could
have been prevented.  The signs of trouble had been present for some
time, yet just a few days ago OPORA stated that it saw no reason for the
elections not to be held. 

Commentator Adrian Karatnycky from the Atlantic Council was scathing about the mess. He wrote
that “weeks of manipulations and scandalously irresponsible behaviour
by affiliates of Ukraine’s ruling parties in the Donbas, has
disenfranchised the voters of Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk.”.  He
attributed a fair share of the blame to the Donetsk governor Pavlo
Zhebrivsky, asserting that he had been trying for weeks to disrupt the

Karatnycky called for Zhebrivsky’s dismissal and feared the scandal could alienate Kiev’s supporters:

The main cheerleader for this has been the carpetbagger governor of Donetsk Pavlo Zhebrivsky, who for weeks has been trying to disrupt the vote. The refusal of the Ukrainian parliament to give 1.2 million internally displaced victims of the Russian aggression the right to vote in local elections further contributes to their alienation. This ill-considered behavior will only serve to drive support of eastern voters to the Opposition bloc, many of whose candidates have questionable loyalty to the Ukrainian state. President Poroshenko should support Ukraine’s Central Election Commission and ensure an early election in Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk. He also should summarily fire Mr. Zhebrivsky for his anti-election cheerleading.

But reported that according to local deputy Yegor Firsov, there was a plan to print two sets of ballots — one to be sent to the CEC and one to be sent to territorial and precinct commission. While the local Territorial Elections Commission (TEC) had a majority of members from democratic parties that were attempting to prevent what they saw as a “machination” by the Opposition Bloc, Okhendovsky was to blame for accepting last-minute changes in the TEC’s membership that enabled the plan to print the two sets of ballots. 

Ultimately the TEC ruled that the ballots were invalid following the objection to Akhmetov’s involvement:

The previous night at the printing company responsible for the ballot papers, the TEC passed a decision to declare the papers invalid and to block them from being delivered to polling stations.

The Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service notes that the scandals over the TEC began two weeks ago, with the members changed three times, and the chair replaced twice.

Members of the TEC worked without the proper documents and candidates were not issued with ID.  Serhiy Zakharov, the Donetsk artist twice held hostage by Kremlin-backed militants and now candidate for mayor of Mariupol, drew his own ID document in order to demonstrate how the law was being infringed even in such details as ID.

There are conflicting stories about 22 ballot papers which either had the same party on the list twice, or had been opened.  Whatever the fault, it was with 22 papers only, yet was was used to block all ballot papers leaving the press.

It is not clear yet when the re-vote will take place in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk, but there is concern that more attention should be addressed to the political factors that caused the fiasco.

Aleksandr Klyuzhev of OPORA called on the Verkhovna Rada to ensure the citizens of Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk their voting rights, reported. He urged that a repetition of all stations of the elections be held in these towns, not just a re-vote.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Two Ukrainian Soldiers Wounded As Both Sides Accuse Each Other Of Attacks

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, has announced that two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded last night near Donetsk.

According to Lysenko, Russian-backed fighters attacked Ukrainian positions in Peski, north-west of Donetsk, with small arms, grenade launchers, anti-aircraft artillery and heavy machine guns.

Lysenko gave no details of the condition of the two soldiers.

Meanwhile the ‘defence ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that Ukrainian forces had violated the ceasefire 12 times over the last 24 hours.

According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops, using 120 mm mortars, anti-aircraft artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and small arms, fired on the Volvo Centre, just to the south-east of Peski, and the Donetsk suburbs of Zhabichevo and Spartak.


In addition, the DNR claims that Ukrainian troops targeted the settlements of Mikhailovka and Aleksandrovкa, to the west of Donetsk.

Today there are unconfirmed reports of further fighting to the north of the city:

Translation: Shoot-out all day at the airport, even hearing 120 mm mortars from time to time.

— Pierre Vaux