Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT: An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlinâs Dirty War in Ukraine
The Donetsk News Agency (DAN), a separatist news outlet, reports that there has been a blast in the centre of Donetsk this evening.
According to the ‘interior ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), an explosive device went off at around 19:20 Moscow time at a bus stop near the Donetsk Iron and Steel Works, a vast, sprawling facility in the Leninsky district.
DAN reports that reports on casualties are yet to be received.
The DNR ‘interior ministry’ claimed that investigators believe the blast may have been the work of a “diversionary group” and that a hunt is now on for the perpetrators.
— Pierre Vaux
The last two weeks have seen repeated claims from Ukrainian officials that Russian-backed fighters had resumed regular use of Grad rockets near both Donetsk and Gorlovka.
On Saturday, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) reported that their monitors had witnessed outbound salvoes of Grad rockets in separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Lugansk on December 18:
The SMM recorded ceasefire violations, including the use of multiple-launch rockets systems (MLRS; BM-21Grad, 122mm) and mortars in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions. From a position at “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk railway station (6km north-west of Donetsk city centre), between 8:02 and 14:00hrs, the SMM heard six explosions, two airbursts and small-arms fire at locations 3-4km north-west of its position. In Staromykhailivka (“DPR”-controlled, 16km west of Donetsk), between 9:09 and 9:18hrs, the SMM heard six undetermined detonations as well as two outgoing salvos of MLRS (BM21 Grad, 122mm) 2-3km west of its position. Whilst in Petrovskyi district (“DPR”-controlled, 12km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM heard three undetermined explosions 8-10km north-north-west of its position (in the direction of Staromykhailivka).
Whilst approximately 4km south of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”)-controlled town of Kalynove (58km west of Luhansk), the SMM heard six MLRS rockets (BM-21 Grad 122mm) being fired approximately 3-5km north from its position. The SMM assessed the location of the firing to be near Kalynove. In Bashtevych (“LPR”-controlled, 39km SW of Luhansk), the SMM heard numerous explosions assessed as live-fire exercise involving the use of artillery and mortars 5-6km north of its position.
This corresponds with the Ukrainian military’s report from December 19, which said that seven Grad rockets had been fired at positions near Troitskoye, around 10 kilometres southwest of Kalinovo (Kalynove):
The Ukrainian report also claimed that Russian-backed fighters had twice used Grad-P single-tube launchers. The OSCE report of “salvoes” suggests that the larger, conventional Grad launchers were in fact used.
— Pierre Vaux
Grani.ru reports that 76-year-old Vladimir Ionov, a regular protester in Moscow who was under prosecution by the Russian authorities for conducting repeated, unsanctioned protests, has fled to Ukraine.
Last month prosecutors requested that Ionov receive a three-year suspended sentence, with sentencing due on December 8.
This was despite the fact that Ionov had usually conducted solo pickets, standing alone with placards, which would not be illegal even under the draconian anti-protest legislation introduced in July, 2014.
However as Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group explains, the authorities regularly use provocateurs to qualify these solo protests as illegal group demonstrations:
Of particular concern here is the way the ‘offences’ are effectively manufactured. Both Ionov and Galperin are accused over single-person pickets which do not require authorization. A standard form of provocation is to have someone go up to the picketers, and refuse to go away. The police immediately turn up and detain both (the provocateur only nominally) for ‘holding an unsanctioned meeting’.
Ionov’s sentencing was deferred until December 23 after he was hospitalised with heart issues on December 7.
Under the terms imposed by the court on November 25, Ionov was barred from leaving Moscow or attending public events.
Having been stripped of his passport, Ionov was forced to enter Ukraine illegally, passing through vegetable gardens on the border, before travelling by car to Kharkiv with his partner, Olga Braun, who had previously legally travelled to Ukraine.
Vladimir Ionov and Olga Braun. Photo: Yuri Timofeyev/Grani.ru
“I don’t think that I have left forever. My motherland is Russia, and I think that there will soon be serious changes here. God grant that these changes take place without bloodshed.”
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military claimed this morning that Russian-backed fighters had violated the ceasefire regime 57 times within the last 24 hours, with more than 35 of the attacks occurring between 18:00 last night and 6:00 today.
According to the ATO Press Centre, Russian-backed fighters twice used 120 mm mortars near Stanitsa Luganskaya, as well as shelling Zaytsevo, outside Gorlovka, and Krasnogorovka, which lies west of Donetsk, with 82 mm mortars. Krasnogorovka also came tank fire.
North of Donetsk, Russian-backed fighters reportedly attacked Peski, Opytnoye and Avdeyevka with small arms, grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
Near Gorlovka, there were automatic grenade launcher attacks on Mayorsk, Luganskoye and Novgorodskoye, where Ukrainian troops also came under fire from infantry fighting vehicles, snipers, small arms and heavy machine guns.
The military claims that Ukrainian troops were engaged in a skirmish with Russian-backed fighters near Troitskoye for around an hour before the attacking troops retreated.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, told reporters today that two Ukrainian servicemen had been wounded in action over the last 24 hours:
In turn, the ‘defence ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed today that Ukrainian forces had violated the ceasefire seven times within 24 hours.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops fired 34 120 and 82 mm mortar shells and moire than ten recoilless rifle rounds over this time period, striking the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka.
Meanwhile this afternoon there are unconfirmed reports of audible fighting on the western fringes of Gorlovka:
Translation: #Gorlovka Shirokaya Balka, 6/7 fighting: small arms and mortar.
— Pierre Vaux