Ukraine Live Day 682: Fighting Reduced and No Casualties on New Year’s Eve; Militants Pound Opytnoye

December 31, 2015
Ukrainian soldiers at the front on New Year's Eve. Photo by ATO

Today on New Year’s Eve, the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] reported that fighting was significantly reduced, and a Ukrainian presidential spokesman said there were no casualties.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

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.

Though Reduced, Russian-Backed Separatist Attacks on Ukrainian Positions Continue on New Year’s Eve

Today on New Year’s Eve, the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] reported on its Facebook page that fighting was significantly reduced.

According to Unian, there were no casualties today, Andriy Lysenko, presidential administration spokesman on military issues reported.

Russian-backed militants fired on Ukrainian positions at Novgorodskoye and Peski today using heavy machine guns, and on Opytnoye with firearms. There were four episodes of violation of the “quiet regimen” called on December 23 for the holidays.

The self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” press put out a story today claiming “300 Arabic- and Turkish-speaking mercenaries” had landed in Mariupol, but no locals confirmed the reports. 

Fifteen wounded soldiers were brought to a treatment center in Odessa today, a volunteer reported on his Facebook page.

 “We met the ambulances…15 guys, 3 of them severely wounded. That’s the kind of New Year’s it is,” he said.

As with the report of 27 wounded earlier this month brought to the same facility, it was not clear over which period of time these soldiers were wounded, although some were on stretchers and were brought immediately to emergency rooms. Supporters were seeking donations of medicines as they have been in short supply.

The situation in Kominternovo, occupied by militants who have not allowed OSCE observers into the area, remains tense. Ukrainian military intelligence estimates there are 100 Russian-backed fighters in the area, reported December 29.

Today the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate also issued a report saying the OSCE monitors had provided information about Russian-separatist armor that was supposed to be withdrawn under the Minsk agreement still in the areas of Kominternovo, Kalinovka, Perevalsk and Novoamvrosievskoye, Unian reported. These included mortar-launchers, tanks, self-propelled armor and 220-mm Uragans.

The statement said the situation remained “complex” in Donetsk and Lugansk and was trending towards worse. Aside from the issues of the war, there were many crimes committed with numerous weapons available, often by people in a state of intoxication, leading to the deaths of civilians.

“Both rank-and-file as well as commanders of the enmy commit crimes. And take measures to cover them up,” said the statement. Theft at plants also continued to be a problem; recently, the contact wire at the Panteleymonovka-Gorlovka railway hub was stolen.

In a longer dispatch today, the ATO said Opytnoye, not far from the destroyed Donetsk Airport, is one of the “hottest spots” in Donetsk and shell fire and explosions almost never stop there. Almost all the buildings in the town have been damaged. The roads have been turned into a swamp from constant shell fire, and Ukrainian soldiers navigate the hilly terrain in an American Humvee.

This Ukrainian outpost is held by the 81st Separate Air Mobile Brigade of Ukraine’s Airborne Division. The commander there, who goes by the call sign “BTR” and fought both at Ilovaisk and the Donetsk Airport battles, said the militants were constantly firing on them from only 8,000 to 1,000 meters away, mainly with grenade-launchers.  He commented (translation by The Interpreter):

“Fortunately, they don’t shoot at us with Grads and howitzers, but lately the situation has significantly worsened. If at one time, there were only firearms, now they are pounding on us several times a day from various grenade-launchers.”

The separatists were also using SPGs, he said.

He said Ukrainian soldiers return fire just to put up some resistance.

A fighter who went by the name “Kot” said that the separatists repeatedly storm their position from one direction — then try to make another breakthrough unexpectedly in another place.
Nearby is the separatist stronghold of Spartak, which the commander said was reinforced in concrete by engineers from Russia, not local fighters.

Supporters brought the men at Opytnoye a Christmas tree to celebrate New Year’s Eve (which has been the more common winter holiday in the region since the Soviet era). The soldiers said they were decorating it not with garlands and glass ornaments but bullet casings and machine gun belts.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick