Ukraine Liveblog Day 107: Separatists Take National Guard Barracks in Lugansk

June 4, 2014
Screenshot from video of attack on National Guard base in Lugansk. Image: @Ukroblogger

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.


Both Sides Inflating Casualty Figures?

The Ukrainian government says that two of its soldiers were killed today. Kiev also says that 300 rebels have been killed in the last 24 hours. The rebels, however, say that those numbers are both wrong. The Moscow Times reports:

A spokesman for Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” said more than 300 rebel fighters had been killed and about 500 wounded in fierce fighting in the past 24 hours in and around the city of Slovyansk, a strategically located separatist stronghold.

Government forces used aircraft, helicopters and artillery in a fierce attack to try to root out the separatists who have controlled Slovyansk and surrounding areas since early April.

But the rebels on Wednesday denied the government’s casualty figures. “Reports of 300 dead are not true. Losses to the Ukrainian side were more than ours,” Aleksander Boroday, “prime minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said, Interfax reported.

Describing the fighting as “heavy”, the government forces spokesman, Vladyslav Seleznyov, said two servicemen had been killed and 45 wounded.

We have no way, with the current available information, to asses any of these claims.

However, Ukraine has confirmed that three of its bases have fallen to separatists today. AP reports:

Petro Poroshenko, speaking in Warsaw after meeting with President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, rejected a call from Ukraine’s interim authorities to introduce martial law in the restive east. Poroshenko said he would seek to pacify the region with an offer of amnesty and a promise of early regional elections…

Poroshenko’s offer, expected to be detailed in his inaugural address on Saturday, came as the Ukrainian troops suffered a series of humiliating setbacks on Wednesday.

After hours of fighting in which six militants were killed and three Ukrainian servicemen were injured, the National Guard forces ran out of ammunition and had to leave their base near the eastern city of Luhansk.

Also Wednesday, rebels seized a border guard base on the city’s outskirts following a nearly two-day-long siege and forced guards out of another base in the nearby town of Sverdlovsk on the Russian border. The guards there were granted a safe exit and left with their weapons.

Reports Say Sverdlovsk Border Guard Base Seized by Separatists

Roman Bochkala, a Ukrainian journalist, has been reporting via his Facebook page today on events in the town of Sverdlovsk in the Lugansk region. He says there are local reports of infiltration by a large force from Russia, including 10 BTR armoured personnel carriers. The separatist fighters surrounded the Border Guard base in the town centre and appeared to be preparing an assault. He reports that the border guards surrendered the base without a fight and left an arsenal of weapons behind. 

The surrender of the base, if confirmed, is the third today following the separatist capture of a Border Guard base and a National Guard barracks in the city of Lugansk. There were complaints that the Lugansk border guards, who held out against a sustained assault for two days, received little to no assistance from the Ukrainian military, bar ineffectual air support. Bochkala reports that the border guards in Sverdlovsk were unable to make contact with the Anti-Terrorism Operation headquarters. 

Here are some of Bochkala’s Facebook posts (translated by The Interpreter):

10:42 GMTSeparatists have surrounded a border guard detachment in the centre of Sverdlovsk in the Lugansk region. Snipers and machine gunners have been seen. An assault is expected to begin during the night. 

The border guards’ colleagues from the Dolzhansky checkpoint have rushed to aid them but they cannot get into Sverdlovsk. Local pro-Russian residents have blocked the road. The border guards need help urgently! They are unable to contact the ATO headquarters.

According to the local residents, some 30 covered KamAZ trucks carrying militants were seen in the village of Provalye near Sverdlovsk. In the woods stand 10 Russian BTRs, which illegally, but easily crossed the Ukrainian border during the night.

14:58 GMTWithout a fight. The Ukrainian border guards have withdrawn fom Sverdlovsk. The column his moving towards Kharkov. They’re currently standing at a checkpoint near Krasnodon.

15:53 GMTOn the march. The Ukrainian border guards leave Sverdlovsk ingloriously.  



16:06 GMT: Leaving their base in Sverdlovsk, the border guards abandoned a whole arsenal of weapons, to the delight of the separatists.

Report Says 2 Ukrainian Helicopters Downed Over Slavyansk, 1 Destroyed. reports that Vladislav Seleznev, the spokesman for the government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation, has told them that two Ukrainian helicopter gunships were downed by enemy fire over the separatist-held town of Slavyansk today. They report, (translated by The Interpreter): 

“I can confirm reports of two helicopters being downed over Slavyansk. These were Mi-24s which were on combat duties over Slavyansk. One helicopter was shot down using MANPADS, the other by anti-aircraft artillery”, said Seleznev.

According to the spokesman, the pilots sustained minor wounds and burns. They have received medical treatment. Meanwhile, one of the helicopters sustained minor damage from being shot, it will be returned to combat duties after repairs, the second was completely torched.

Putin Wants Ukraine To Be Like Syria?

Paul Goble, on our Windows on Eurasia column, writes today of the “little answer” — Russian criminal jargon for “retaliation” — for the “big question” of what Putin is trying to achieve in Ukraine — creating a “Near East” out of the “Near Abroad,” as Nikolai Mitrokhin explains. Mitrokhin argues that Putin is creating an analogy to Syria so he can offer a deal to the West involving recognition of the Assad regime and an end of military support for Syrian rebels in exchange for recognition of the Crimean annexation and non-bloc status for Ukraine.

Read Putin Transforming Near Abroad into Near East, Mitrokhin Suggests.

SBU Claims Russian Cossack Leader Coordinating OSCE Hostage Situation

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“The SBU has found a direct relationship between Russian Cossack structures and the supply of weapons to terrorist organisations operating in eastern Ukraine, as well as the kidnapping of OSCE representatives on May 29”, says the statement on the SBU website.

The SBU also uploaded recordings of telephone conversations between the Ataman of the ‘Great Don Army’, Nikolai Kozitsin, and militants in the Donbass. 

He gives them instructions regarding the detention of the OSCE observers. 

According to Kozitsin, he coordinates all of his actions regarding the hostages with ‘white-stone’ [Moscow]: “This is an order from the top. From a distance, from a distance. Everything has been agreed.

In addition, on these recordings, the Cossack leader gives orders on the shooting of a local businessman.  

Russian Army Pulls Back, But Russian Insurgents Surge Into Ukraine

NATO’s top commander has warned that while many Russian troops have withdrawn from staging areas near the Ukrainian border, some have remained and look like they will be permanently stationed there.

More importantly, however, Russia’s support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine may have made a full-scale overt military intervention unnecessary. RFE/RL reports:

NATO’s top military commander says Russia is pulling back most of its troops from the Ukrainian border but that a portion “looks like it intends to remain.”

However, the Reuters news agency quotes U.S. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, as also saying Russian irregular forces, Russian-backed forces, and Russian financing are very active in eastern Ukraine.

“This has to stop,” he said in Brussels today.

Breedlove said all steps being taken by NATO to reinforce its members in Eastern and Central Europe would comply with a 1997 NATO agreement with Russia.

Russia has made quaint statements about the flood of its citizens moving across the border into Ukraine.

Shooting at Border Checkpoint Last Night

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service has reported a shooting at one of their border checkpoints near Marinovka on the Russian border. 

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

On the night of June 4 unknowns fired shots at the Marinovka border checkpoint in the Donetsk region, reports the State Border Guard Service.

“At around 2:35 [11:35 GMT] a car stopped 300 metres from the checkpoint. Several people got out and began shooting in the direction of the checkpoint”, says the agency’s press service.

“The unknowns managed to fire several bursts with automatic weapons. The border guards immediately returned fire. After that, the attackers rapidly disappeared from the scene”, report the service.

“Later, on inspecting the area, border guards found 5.45mm and 7.62mm calibre casings at the location from where the shooting was conducted. Border guards found bullet holes in the concrete blocks which cover the approaches to the checkpoint”, said the border guards.

Video Shows Ukraine Soldiers Withdrawing In Lugansk After Surrendering National Guard Base

This video, shared to the Open Newsroom, reportedly shows the Ukrainian soldiers withdrawing from the Border Guard base in Lugansk.As we noted in our previous update below, the State Border Guard has announced that it was withdrawing from the base that has been under fierce separatist attack for days.

The problem, however, is that nothing about this video looks like a planned military withdrawal. The men in the video are leaving the facility in civilian clothes and are not carrying weapons. Meanwhile, the separatists we posted video of earlier are in control of the armored vehicles.

These soldiers have surrendered, and are leaving behind their weapons and armored vehicles.

State Border Guard Service Announce Withdrawal From Besieged Lugansk Base

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (SGBS) has issued a statement on its website announcing that their personnel have been withdrawn from their Lugansk base. The base has been under attack by separatists since the early hours of June 2. Militants surrounded the base and have established sniper and RPG firing positions on the roofs of overlooking tower blocks. While air support has been provided there have been no ground reinforcements to break the encirclement.

The SGBS statement reads (translated by The Interpreter):

Due to the lengthy attacks by large groups of well armed militants and the inability to carry out any further duties from their place of permanent deployment, the command of the Lugansk detachment and the Stanychno-Luganske border guard division have been relocated to safer locations to perform tasks for the organisation for the defence of the state’s borders.

Separatists Assault and Capture National Guard Base in Lugansk

While State border guards have been trapped in an ongoing stand-off with separatist fighters surrounding their base in the south-east of Lugansk, a National Guard base in the east of the city has fallen under attack and been captured

Ukrainska Pravda reported:

On Tuesday evening more than 300 unidentified armed criminals surrounded the police patrol-guard service regiment from the Ukrainian National Guard, who are deployed in Lugansk, and opened fire on law enforcement officers.

The National Guard press service announced this.

“Following short-lived negotiations and the refusal of law enforcement officers to follow the ultimatum and lay down their weapons, the criminals opened fire on the servicemen from residential buildings near the base”, said the statement. 

The attack was carried out with heavy weapons: assault rifles, machine guns and mortars. 

At 00:35  (21:35 GMT), Ukrainska Pravda added an update:

The battle continues. The servicemen are continuing to resist the terrorists and are protecting the military base from capture.

The update also noted that a car park at the military base was on fire following heavy bombardment by the separatists.  

The paper also posted this video in the article, showing the fire-fight around the base 

Another video uploaded last night:

OstroV reported, citing a statement from the National Guard:
Over the course of the long stand-off, lasting more than 10 hours, a car park and the headquarters of the military base were completely destroyed by fire. Law enforcement barracks were also damaged in a fire. 

“Law enforcement officers returned fire until they had used up all of their ammunition, the battle was fought until the last bullet. Three law enforcement officers were wounded”, said the press service, noting that among the attackers there were about twenty wounded and six dead.

The personnel from the military base have been moved to a safe location.

Later in the morning PortAll TV, a Ukrainian broadcaster, reported that the separatist militia who had captured the base had allowed the servicemen to return home. The troops were lined up on the parade ground and told they could return to their homes, those who were from the western regions of Ukraine were told that, if they wanted to, they could remain in the city.

This video purportedly shows separatists taking a BTR-70 from the captured military base.