Ukraine Liveblog Day 106: Ukrainian Military Moves On Slavyansk

June 3, 2014
A missile either strikes or explodes near a Ukrainian Mi-24 near Slavyansk today. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.


Videos of Fighting, And Damage, In Lugansk

Two videos tell the tale of a city that has once again been rocked by violence. The first video, which appears to be taken from a residence, shows the gunfire and smoke from today’s battle:

The second video shows the damage done to the gate of the border guard’s base and the surrounding areas which came under attack by separatist forces yesterday morning.

Intense Night Fighting Reported In Lugansk
@UkraineConflict has the latest videos, but several sources are reporting intense fighting tonight in Lugansk.
Ukrainian Army Enters Krasny Liman

Novosti Donbassa reports that Ukrainian troops have now entered the outskirts of Krasny Liman following heavy fighting today and have started checking documents. They report that 2 Ukrainian BTR armoured personnel carriers have been seen in the town. 

Pockets of terrorist resistance have been suppressed. The local terrorists quickly laid down their arms and fled, the outsiders put up resistance. The town hospital has now begun to receive wounded terrorists. There have been fatalities in the clashes.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ official YouTube channel uploaded the following video today. It was filmed by a BTR-80 crew member while under attack by separatist fighters near Krasny Liman.

4 Bodies Found in Makeyevka, Donetsk Region

UNN reports that four bodies have been discovered in the town of Makeyevka in the Donetsk Region.

Local police investigated following an anonymous tip-off. A passenger car was found 100 meters from a railway crossing in a forest plantation. Two bodies were found in the rear seats. Another two were found next to the driver’s door, “with gunshot wounds to the fronto-paretal region”.

Two of the bodies had been burnt. The police also reported that the remnants of camouflaged clothing had been found on the bodies.

OSCE Confirms ‘Rockets’ Used In Lugansk Explosion

The latest OSCE report is filled with important information, and we will make a full update and assessment in our next update, but the piece that people are focusing on is their write-up of yesterday’s incidents in Lugansk. The OSCE confirms that based on their own observations the separatists headquarters, inside the Regional Administration Building, was indeed struck by rockets fired from a Ukrainian aircraft:

In Luhansk the situation remained volatile. On 2 June, shortly after 15:00 hrs, rockets hit the occupied regional administration building. Based on the SMM’s limited observation these strikes were the result of non-guided rockets shot from an aircraft. The number of casualties is unknown.

A number of Luhansk city and region inhabitants tried to escape the combat zone. The SMM learned that trains to Kharkiv and Kyiv appeared to be fully booked for the next couple of days.

Interestingly, the report does not mention the fighting in southwest Lugansk, where separatists launched a large offensive yesterday morning.

Besieged Lugansk Border Guards Given Deadline to Surrender

Translation: At the border guards’ base. There are currently around 100 people inside. The LNR [Lugansk People’s Republic] have given an ultimatum to surrender by 18:00 [15:00 GMT]

Ukrainska Pravda reported that the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service had issued a statement saying that the base was once again surrounded by separatist fighters. The statement says:

“A huge number of armed men, including Russian so-called ‘Cossacks’ have gathered around the Lugansk border guard base. They are armed with heavy weapons – mortars, RPGs and heavy machine guns.”

A new assault on this unit could begin at any minute as an act of retaliation, due to the fact that the border guards have not laid down their arms and surrendered, and are continuing to perform their duties.”

Meanwhile Mykola Lytvyn, chief of the State Border Guard Service, said that the border guards are preparing for fresh attacks, but that plans for ground support for the guards were still being decided.

With less than ten minutes until the deadline expires, we will be watching the situation in Lugansk closely. 

Young Ukrainians Want To Stay in Ukraine

In her latest dispatch from Ukraine for The Interpreter, Alina Polyakova writes that despite the chaos, and even the sense among some that Ukraine might be losing its anti-terror operation against the separatists in the east, there is a growing optimism in Kiev, at least among young Ukrainians who came to the country to support the Euromaidan protests:

Kiev is only about an hour flight from Donetsk or Lugansk, but in terms of the mood, it may as well be light years away. The summer weather has brought on a lighthearted vacation feel: couples cuddle on park benches, teenagers celebrate the end of the school year, and hardly a table remains empty in cafes’ outdoor verandas. The city has returned to business as usual.

But aside from the calm vacation-like atmosphere, there is something else different about the mood in Kiev today: wafting through the air, mixed in with the sweet scent of linden trees, is a sense of renewed optimism. “I see the potential in Ukraine,” says Yanna, a Ukrainian-American who spent fourteen years in Boston before returning to Ukraine three years ago. “I have to go back to the U.S. now, but I’d rather stay here,” she says as she takes another sip of coffee…

Read the entire dispatch here: Despite Unrest in the East, Young Educated Ukrainians Are Looking to Stay


Report Claims More Than 50 Separatist Fighters Killed in Operations Today

LIGA Novosti, a Ukrainian news site, reports that a source in the security services has told them that more than 50 separatist fighters have been killed in today’s military operations.

The source says (translated by The Interpreter):

“Assaults are under way on terrorist positions in several directions. The main battles are being fought around Slavyansk. In addition, ATO fores have entered Krasny Liman and other towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

According to provisional data, there are over 50 ‘two hundreds’ [Soviet-era military code for battlefield fatalities] among the terrorists. There have also been losses on our side, but mostly ‘three hundreds’ [wounded].

In Krasny Liman many militants surrendered and were captured. Most of the terrorists are throwing their weapons away and running at the sight of the approaching forces.” 

Their source said that the number of separatist casualties may increase over the day, saying that ATO forces had cleared several roadblocks with both aircraft and heavy vehicles. They added that:

The full operation has not started yet – anti-terrorist forces are only continuing to tighten the circle around the main terrorist positions.

Meanwhile, this video posted earlier today, purportedly shows artillery fire this morning near the town of Severodonetsk, in the Lugansk region to the east of Slavyansk. The town lies on the eastern banks of the Seversky Donets River, a bridge across which was blown up by separatists today.

Russian Officials, But Not Putin, Invited To Poroshenko Inauguration
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Arms Experts Conclude Ukraine Likely Fired Rockets In Lugansk Airstrike

Yesterday The Interpreter showed its evidence to several weapons experts. Based on available evidence, the consensus is that the explosion at the Lugansks Regional Administrative Building was likely the result of a Ukrainian airstrike, a Su-25 fighter firing rocket pods at the building. One such expert was Nic Jenzen-Jones, of ARES research. ARES, having reviewed the evidence, concludes that the most likely suspect is not a cluster bomb, or anything else, but the S-8KOM high explosive anti-tank rocket:

The evidence that has come to light thus far indicates that S-8KOM high explosive anti-tank air-to-surface rockets were fired from a Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25, perhaps in conjunction with strafing fire from its Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-2 30 x 165 mm dual-barrel autocannon. The S-8 rockets were likely launched from B-8M1 rocket pods, each capable of carrying up to 20 rockets.

Besides the analysis of ARES, and The Interpreter, yesterday, the separatists inside the building tweeted this picture — which Nic Jenzen-Jones concludes shows fragments of the S-8KOM rockets (the authenticity of the picture is in question).

The witnesses yesterday said that the explosion was the result of an airstrike. We were able to show that a jet, seen firing rocket pods yesterday, was firing them in the direction of the Regional Administrative Building. If one slows down the video of the explosion, one can actually see at least one rocket (or possibly several) moving across the frame toward the impact site. But upon viewing more videos, one realizes that there are actually multiple impact sites, starting on the road and moving toward the building, until a rocket eventually impacts the fourth floor. It is possible that not all the rockets exploded, as some seem to have buried themselves in deep, fairly evenly paced, linear impact holes. The damage on the ground indicates that a relatively small amount of damage is dispersed across a broad area.

All of these elements indicate that the most likely cause was a Ukrainian aircraft firing rockets.

Ukrainian aircraft were in the area in response to a very large and well-coordinated separatist attack on a border guard camp, culminating in intense fighting in southwest Lugansk. The extremely well-armed separatists, perhaps as many as 500, were attacking a Ukrainian installation not far from residential buildings. The current body of evidence suggests that one of the aircraft sent to repel the separatist attack also attacked the separatist headquarters.

Kiev, however, has denied the report that they conducted an airstrike on the separatist headquarters, and instead they claim that an surface-to-air missile fired at a Ukrainian aircraft turned around and hit the Regional Administrative Building. ABC reports:

“A heat-seeking device was launched but it turned out that it fell on the fighters themselves and destroyed part of the wall of the administration building.”

Separatists had fired the missile from the roof of the state security building they are occupying but it homed in on the main administration building, also held by the rebels, a senior military official, Aleksander Rozmaznin, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Ukraine’s eastern region has been riven with separatist armed rebellion for the past two months which the Kiev government says is fomented by Russia. It says fighters from Russia are fighting alongside rebels against Kiev.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the Luhansk incident an airstrike.

A single missile, which just happens to turn around and hit the fourth floor of the separatist headquarters, does not seem to meet the pattern of evidence, especially since Kiev denies that there were airstrikes at all in Lugansk beyond the fighting in the southwest, but one of their SU-25s was filmed firing rockets very close to the separatist headquarters.

Railway Bridge in Lugansk Region Blown Up

There are reports that separatist fighters have destroyed a railway bridge in the town of Lysychansk, around 58km east of Slavyansk. The bridge crosses the Seversky Donets River towards Severodonetsk. 

The bridge does not appear to be of strategic importance as there are three road bridges and one rail bridge in the same area. A comment left a year ago on the Wikimapia entry for the bridge says that the rails were removed in the spring of 2013 following the demolition of the DonSoda alkaline plant on the eastern banks of the river.

However UNIAN reports that the site is the location of a separatist checkpoint, so the blowing of the bridge may have tactical purposes to defend that particular outpost from attack as the ATO goes on the offensive in the area today.

Reports of Attack on Ukrainian Convoy as Ukrainian Forces Advance on Slavyansk

Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance has posted the following report on his Facebook page:

According to Information Resistance’s operational data, a column of ATO [Anti-Terrorism Operation] forces, en route from Izium to Slavyansk, was attacked by terrorists. 

During the attack a Ukrainian security forces BTR was hit. A battle began.

The attack was repelled over the course of the combat. The security forces have 1 dead and 13 injured.

There is no information on losses on the terrorists’ side.

On his Facebook page, Arseniy Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, said that another BTR, a Ukrainian-made BTR-4E, had been attacked with grenade launchers near the village of Semenovka, to the south of Kramatorsk. Avakov noted that the vehicle had survived despite multiple hits and congratulated the designers. 

He also wrote that the ATO had entered an “active offensive phase” in Slavyansk.

He asked the civilian populations of Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Krasny Liman to remain at home and avoid separatist positions for their own safety.

Activist Yuri Kasyanov reported on events around Slavyansk this morning on his Facebook page:

Intensive gunfire began at about 5:30 in the morning in the eastern outskirts of Slavyansk. Artillery was active for about an hour. Bursts of 30mm cannons (the armament of the BTR-4E) can be heard. Larger calibre shells are going off  heavily and frequently. A reconnaissance aircraft is flying over the combat zone. A factory building is shrouded in smoke. It appears to be the chemical plant opposite our post, 3a, controlling the road to Krasny Liman.

This video purportedly shows a Ukrainian Su-25 jet over Krasny Liman this morning:

All translations by The Interpreter.
Separatists in Slavyansk Fire Missile at Ukrainian Attack Helicopters
Footage has been uploaded to YouTube today showing what appears to be an attack on Ukrainian Mi-24 Hind gunships with a surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The missile can be seen coming in from the right of the shot about 20 seconds into the video. It appears to either strike or explode near one of the helicopters. The helicopter is not shot down but appears to withdraw after taking evasive action and popping flares. The other Hind then returns and opens fire with on-board cannon (around 2 minutes in).

On Thursday last week, a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter was shot down near Slavyansk by separatists using a shoulder-launched SAM, killing 12, including General Volodymyr Kulchitsky.

Two Ukrainian Mi-24s were shot down on May 2 in the same area. Russian-made 9K38 Igla MANPADS (Man-Portable-Air-Defence-Systems) have been seen in separatist hands on a number of occasions, most recently in this photo, taken at the weekend by photographer Yusuf Sayman, of Vostok Battalion fighters with three of these weapons.