Ukraine Liveblog Day 113: Ukrainian Forces Repel Attacks in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk

June 10, 2014
Photo: AP via

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

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Russia Says It’s Stopped Two Terrorist Attacks – In Moscow And Crimea

Russia says that it stopped two terrorist attacks, one in Moscow and the other in Crimea, that were set to disrupt “Victory Day,” May 9th, the holiday commemorating the defeat of the Nazis during World War II. Reuters reports:

Itar-Tass news agency quoted the FSB as saying it was investigating a number of Russian citizens suspected of preparing an attack on May 9, the Victory Day holiday, using a home-made bomb packed with bolts, screws and nails.

The group were arrested two days before the planned attack, it said.

In a separate speech to the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov said the alleged Crimean plot – which the security service first made public last month – had targeted the Eternal Flame war memorial and a monument to Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the regional capital Simferopol. He said two home-made bombs were found.

The FSB, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB which Putin used to work for, said on May 30 it had arrested four men it said were members of a far-right Ukrainian nationalist group.

The group, Right Sector, said at the time it had never engaged in terrorism and called the allegation an FSB provocation. Supporters of the four men, who include a well known film maker, have protested their innocence.

Reuters reports that the FSB has yet to release any details or evidence that corroborate the claims.

Russian Trucks And Artillery Spotted In Separatist Hands In Gorlivka?
This is a serious allegation:
While we have not yet verified the location or date of this video, the architecture and street layout is at least consistent with areas of Gorlivka. Taking a closer look at the video, we also see that the Kamaz vehicles are towing either small artillery pieces or anti-aircraft guns:

What we do know is that these vehicles and guns match descriptions of equipment that reportedly crossed the border this week.

But without a closer look at the arms it’s not possible to tell the origin of the weapons. Are these vehicles and guns originally from Russia, or is Russia just allowing the separatists to cross the border whenever they it suits them? There are many indications that at the very least the second scenario is already playing out across eastern Ukraine. But there are plenty of allegations that at least some of this equipment came from Russia in the first place.

Separatists Reportedly Block National Guard Troops At Lugansk Airport

ITAR-TASS reports that separatists have confronted Ukrainian National Guard troops at the Lugansk International Airport:

The self-defense forces of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic on Tuesday blocked Ukraine’s National Guard units stationed at the Luhansk international airport, the republic’s spokesperson Vladimir Inogorodsky told ITAR-TASS.

“We confirm this information. Negotiations are currently underway,” Inogorodsky said refusing to comment on conditions put up by the parties.

The Luhansk International Airport stopped dispatching and receiving passenger and charter flights on June 3 because of the need to repair the runway, Vasily Tatarinov, the hub’s Director General, said.

The strength of the rebel assault is unknown, but another Russian media report suggests that 2000 National Guard troops are surrounded and they have been unable to break out of the airport:

According to RIA Novosti, about two thousand servicemen of the National Guard and a large number of armored vehicles are staying on the territory of the airport. [Head of the Lugansk People’s Republic, Valery Bolotov] noted that the militiamen were ready to let their opponents leave the airport only in case they laid down their arms.

“If they lay down arms, we will give them an opportunity to leave without weapons,” said Bolotov.

Yesterday Ukrainian forces reported that the power and water lines to the airport had been cut, but there’s little indication from pro-government sources of the scale of that rebel attack.

With No Sign Of Rebel Defeat, Slavyansk Civilians Brace For War

Slavyansk, a town which has been a key base for the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, is increasingly at the heart of the fight that threatens to destabilize the country. Reuters reports on the city which looks more like a war zone each day:

Dozens of charred bicycles stand upright in the rubble of a burnt-out sports shop in Slaviansk, a strategic stronghold for pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

After a week of intensified shelling by government forces, windows of buildings on the outskirts of the city have been blown out, fires have gutted stores and the hulks of damaged Soviet-era cars lie abandoned in the road.

A few stores are still operating in the leafy town center, where the muffled sound of mortar fire drifts in from areas around the city edges, but life has been transformed even there.

The real problem, though, is that the separatist militants show no sign of backing down, and militarily they  are stronger than even, and even before recent gains they proved that they were militarily able to resist what the Ukrainian government has thrown at them so far. So if Slavyansk is in trouble now, its troubles have only begun.

Russia to Deploy 20 Su-27 Fighters to Belbek in Occupied Crimea

RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency, reports that a “source in the Russian Ministry of Defence” has informed them that twenty Sukhoi Su-27 fighters will be deployed to the airfield at Belbek, north of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.

“By the end of the year about twenty SU-27 fighter jets will be based at Belbek airbase serving the Russian air defense unit,” said the source.

Earlier, more than 50 aircraft were based at Belbek, including MIG-29 Ukrainian Air Force fighter jets. Currently, the process of transferring the fighters to Ukraine is near its completion.

According to the source, Russian pilots are to fly these planes, while pilots who quit the Ukrainian army are being trained as well. “The training will take half a year,” said the source. 

The Yanukovych Leaks – The Mission To Save The Ousted President’s Dirty History

In the last few months a lot of stories have been lost amid the world-shattering headlines of revolution, regime change, the deaths of civilians, the intervention of outside powers, a Russian invasion, the annexation of Crimea, and the growing war in the east. One of those stories is the documents that were recovered by Ukrainian journalists and citizens, documents that were dumped into the river by Ukraine’s fleeing president, Victor Yanukovych. Those journalists and citizens sent divers into the water to rescue the documents — more than 25,000 of them — then they separated them, dried them, sorted them… and read them.

The true impact of their efforts is just beginning to be felt, as the secrets of the outgoing administration, secrets that Yanukovych wanted to destroy. The “Yanukovych Leaks” contain evidence of widespread government fraud, the scale of which is just starting to be understood. 

This video captures the mission to save the documents. It has English subtitles.

Ukrainian Border Service: Russia Not Cooperating on Border Crossing Closures

UNIAN reports that the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (SBGS) is publicly expressing its confusion and frustration with their Russian counterparts, the Russian Border Service of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

As UNIAN notes, the SBGS has been forced to close a number of border stations in both the Donetsk and Lugansk regions due to frequent attacks by separatist fighters, who appear to be able to move across the border with impunity.  

The news agency was informed by the press department of the SBGS that, despite official notice being given of the closure of these crossing points, their Russian counterparts had continued to allow traffic to continue across the border into Ukraine: 

Notice of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s decision was given to the Russian side through diplomatic channels on June 5. This information was also passed on through border commissioners. Therefore the SBGS does not understand why the Russian FSB continues to allow passage over the border at the Novoshakhtinsk border checkpoint, violating bilateral agreements and thus aiding illegal movement across the state border.  

Translation by The Interpreter.

Slavyansk More Like a Battlefield Every Day
This video says it all:
The sign visible in this video, reportedly taken yesterday, says Slavyansk.
As we reported earlier, two children were reportedly killed in yesterday’s shelling in Slavyansk. The questions are who is doing the shelling, and is it having any direct military benefit?
Gas Talks Fail To Meet Key Deadline

After a late-night marathon meeting to find a solution to the current gas crisis, a deal has not been reached between Ukraine and Russia. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The marathon talks ended without a definite breakthrough at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, the deadline which Moscow had set Kiev to pay off its gas debts.

Russia said that failure to do so could result in disruptions of gas supplies to Ukraine, a move that could also hit supplies to some EU countries. The 28-country block gets more than one-third of its gas imports from Russia, almost half of which is sent via Ukraine.

“All sides will now meet again either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning,” said a European Commission spokeswoman. No further details were immediately available.

The deal hinges on several sticking points, including not only the future cost of gas but the price that Ukraine needs to pay for gas it has already bought, and whether Ukraine needs to pay off its debt before it can get new gas.

Today it is 81°F (27 °C), but the reality is that if this dispute is not resolved soon then Ukraine, and perhaps Europe, will have to find a new way to heat their homes this winter.

Was The Separatist Mayor of Slavyansk Arrested?

Voice of Russia reports that the separatist mayor in Slavyansk has been deposed by the ‘self-defence forces.’

People’s mayor of the east-Ukrainian city of Slavyansk Vyacheslav Ponomaryov has been dismissed from his post and arrested, a representative of self-defense forces confirmed to ITAR-TASS on Tuesday.

RFE/RL reports that the media reports have varied, some saying he has stepped down or was deposed while others saying he was arrested. But RFE/RL also reports that a representative from the self-declares “Donetsk People’s Republic” has denied that Ponomaryov has been arrested, calling that report a “lie”:

“I do not rule out that, under martial-law conditions, Igor Strelkov (the DPR  defense minister) may have made a decision on some staff reshuffling, not least on the replacement of the people’s mayor of Slovyansk. However, the leaders of the republic in Donetsk have yet to be notified of this decision,” DPR first deputy prime minister ndrei [sic] Purgin said in response to an Interfax request to comment on the contradicting reports about the fate of Ponomaryov.

Putin Adviser Glazyev Calls For No-Fly Zone

Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reports that Sergei Glazyev, a prominent and often outspoken adviser to Vladimir Putin, has called for a no-fly zone to be imposed on Ukraine and warned of full scale war against Russia.

Glazyev, who is on US, EU and Canadian sanctions lists, warned that Russia would “be legally entitled to support” Russian speakers in Ukraine who would not support closer integration with Europe as long ago as September 2013, foreshadowing Russia’s support for separatism this year.

“I want to remind you of Churchill’s words*: “Those, who have to choose between shame and war, and choose shame, get war and shame at the same time”. This is a modern war. This does not mean that we need to move our tanks on Kiev, but, at the least, we are entitled to stop the genocide of the population.

For this it’d be enough to close the skies and use the same mechanism for the neutralisation of military hardware that the Americans used in Libya, who initially closed the skies, then shot up armoured vehicles, artillery and aircraft from the air, and so rendered the regime they were fighting unfit for combat. We still have the capability to do this, there will be no such possibility within six months.”

UNIAN writes that Glazyev then accused Ukraine of militarisation and mobilising its population against Russia. He said:
“Look at the trend – if in December, the Nazis had 2 thousand people in Kiev; in February – 20 thousand. In May they already have 50 thousand together with the military and by mid-summer they will have 100 thousand; in September they will have 200 thousand; by the end of the year they will call up 500 thousand people to arms”, said Sergei Glazyev and added that Ukraine is removing military hardware from storage.

“We’ve got an all-powerful military machine aimed at us, packed full of Nazis, ideologically loaded against Russia… The ultimate goal of all the action is war with Russia. We will not be able to lose Donbass to preserve peace, because the next goal, which is being declared, is Crimea.”

Translation by The Interpreter.

Two Children Killed in Slavyansk as Poroshenko Announces Humanitarian Corridors

Ukrainian television channel TSN reports that Elena Petryaeva, the chief health official and deputy governor of the Donetsk region, has told them that two children have been killed by shrapnel in separatist-occupied Slavyansk.

“Yes children have been killed. Not [one] child. Two children, of pre-school and school age have, in fact, come to forensics. Both had explosives-related trauma. We do not know the circumstances.”

TSN report that Ilya Suzdalev, a press officer for the Donetsk regional administration, had told the 112 television channel more on the death:

“Two children have been killed – a boy and a girl, 12 and 6 years old. According to initial reports, their death was caused by shrapnel wounds.” 

There are no further reports on where exactly in Slavyansk the children were killed or which side was conducting shelling at the time. Both separatist fighters and government ATO forces have engaged in shelling against each others’ positions.

While this report demonstrates the danger to civilians in the Slavyansk area, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, today ordered the creation of “escape corridors” for civilians to be able to leave combat areas.

A statement (in English) on the website of the Presidential Administration reads:

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko met with heads of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the State Emergency Service.

In order to avoid new victims in the area of holding the counterterrorist operation, the President instructed heads of law enforcement and military agencies to provide all the necessary conditions for civilians willing to move.

The Head of State also instructed the Government to take responsibility for the transportation of people and medical services, as well as deploy the network of mobile units to provide the civilian population with drinking water, food and medicines.

City state administrations, local government bodies and the Cabinet of Ministers must jointly ensure the accommodation of people arriving from the area of holding the counterterrorist operation. 

Multiple Attacks on Government Forces in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk Last Night
There were a number of attacks last night in the area between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, which is the focus of the government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation. 
Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance wrote on his Facebook page:
According to Information Resistance’s operational data, terrorists shelled the airfield at Kramatorsk with mortars last night.

ATO forces returned fire. As a result 2 of the militants’ mortars and one IMR engineering vehicle used by the terrorists were destroyed.

There are no casualties among the security forces. According to preliminary reports, around 40 militants were killed.

This video uploaded last night purportedly shows the shelling in Kramatorsk:

The IMR combat engineering vehicle mentioned could perhaps be the same vehicle stolen by armed men from the Novokramatorsky Mashinostroitelny factory (NKMZ) in Kramatorsk on May 14. There were doubts at the time as to whether the vehicle was operable as the factory owners had described it as out of service and it had only been seen on a transporter flat-bed. 

Here is a photo of the IMR, after its seizure, on a street in Kramatorsk:

Vladislav Seleznev, the official spokesman for the government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation, also reported on the attack at Kramatorsk and gave the same description of separatist losses. He said that the attack took place at 3:00 (00:00 GMT). 
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Seleznev also wrote that two Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded after a separatist attack on their position near Slavyansk. 
The militants are not ceasing their attempts to break out of the encirclement around the town of Slavyansk. 

As a result of the most recent attack on an ATO position with small arms and RPGs, two Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded.

At another checkpoint there was a failed attempt by a group of militants to break the encirclement. Up to 10 militants attempted to leave the encirclement but, thanks to the actions of Ukrainian soldiers, the attempt came to nothing.

All translations by The Interpreter.