Ukraine Liveblog Day 122: Reports of Heavy Combat Near Krasny Liman

June 19, 2014
BTR-4E Gunner aims at separatist positions near Slavyansk. Screenshot from Radio Svoboda 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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Russian Defense Ministry TV Journalists Apologize For Lying About White Phosphorus

Below is an excerpt from our Russia liveblog. Read the rest here:

Radio Svoboda and UNIAN reported today that Russian journalists from the Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda sent a letter of apology to Ukraine’s Channel 5, saying they had lied on Russian TV when they claimed in a 12 June program that the Ukrainian army had bombed the village of Semyonovka near Slavyansk with “white phosphorus” bombs. Their program first led to all of Russia state media making the claim that the same type of bomb used by the US in Iraq was used, and angry demands by the Russian Foreign Ministry for an investigation.

The false report was promoted by Kremlin propaganda arm
then all the predictable pro-Kremlin echo chambers and discussed avidly on forums.

But ultimately, after discussion on forums, the propaganda gambit led to exposure and ridicule because it was determined that Russian state TV had used footage from the Iraq war in 2004, claiming it was in Slavyansk.

How Were Two Russian Journalists Killed On June 16th

On Monday we carried the tragic news of the two Russian journalists who were killed while covering events near Lugansk. Today, however, there are questions about why those journalists were so close to the front lines — and whether they should have been in Ukraine at all.

On our Russia liveblog, we have posted translations of a story that originally was published in Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of the US-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe. The story suggests that Rossiya 24 may have sent journalists who actually worked on children’s programming into a war zone without the proper training, or even or even made flak jackets mandatory when embedded with separatists. The journalists at one point are seen at a checkpoint, even hiding under armored vehicles which would have been a legitimate military target for Ukraine’s forces. Furthermore, they were killed by shelling, so there is no indication that the Ukrainian military could see them in order to identify them as members of the press.

Below is an excerpt from our Russia liveblog. The entire entry can be read here:

Rykovtseva asks whether Kornelyuk was given training on how to conduct himself in a war zone and notes: “On that tragic day, the Rossiya camera crew went out to this dangerous area under shelling without bullet-proof vests and without helmets.”

Oleg Shishkin, special correspondent for Channel One, describes it as follows: ‘Usually he would go out to a shoot in a bullet-proof vest and helmet, but this time, the journalists decided to leave them in the hotel. They said that there was just a little work, and they would quickly return.”

Rykovtseva discounts the idea — now being flogged heavily by and other channels – that even had he been wearing the helmet with the “TV” on it that it would have been visible; it wasn’t on a jacket (many reporters in Ukraine have been wearing large, loose yellow or other bright-colored vests with PRESS stamped on them). Rossiya 24 has broadcast that the Ukrainian National Guard took deliberate aim at them, but Rykovtseva found that even Kornelyuk’s own colleagues who sympathize with the separatists think this is nonsense. The video taken by his own cameraman from the scene shows that a mortar that had landed unexploded suddenly began smoking and went off — and that — not reporters without helemts or flak jackets or visible markings — seemed to have attracted additional fire.

The Russian media appears to be asking the same questions. Also on our Russia liveblog, we carry a report that the Union of Journalists of Russia, a Russian-wide civic organization
devoted to promoting journalists’ rights, issued a statement 18 June
after the killing of Rossiya 24 journalist Igor Kornelyuk and his sound
engineer Anton Voloshin.

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt, which can be read here.

Ukraine Is Far More Unified Than One Might Expect Given The Media Coverage

Emmet Tuohy is a research fellow at the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, Estonia, writes that despite the violence in the east and the narrative that bitter partisanship, or even ethnic tension, is growing in Ukraine, if one dives into the facts in the streets and the polls taken recently one would find that the country is not really divided at all:

Driven by the bread-and-butter issues of economic development and corruption, the broad-based Euromaidan movement — which was initiated by a journalist of Afghan background, and which drew upon the support of Ukrainians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds — has brought into being a new civic Ukrainian identity.  To the surprise of many longtime Ukraine observers, overwhelmingly Russian-speaking Dnipropetrovsk has become a bastion of patriotic sentiment, its Lenin Square renamed after the “Heroes of the Maidan”;  while Odessa, the “non-Ukrainian” city whose very place in the country’s history and culture was until recently “very much in question,”  saw its brief outbreak of civil unrest brought under control by a “fierce, grassroots” pro-Ukrainian movement — one that just happens to operate in the Russian language.

Differences among Ukrainian regions with regard to language use and geopolitical orientation preference remain, but they have never been remotely clear-cut. There have always been those who speak Ukrainian at home and yet push for closer ties with the Russian Federation, just as there have been those who speak only Russian at home but support an independent or European future for their country.  And now, after the recent presidential election that expressed a broad national consensus for the pragmatic pro-European policies of Petro Poroshenko, the salience of these regional differences is diminishing.

Tuohy goes on to argue that a few key facts have been widely ignored by the media which has given too much credence to Russia’s claims that significant divisions exist between the east and the west.

The article is filled with interesting and overlooked facts, and can be read in full here.

Rebels Still Holding As Many As 200 Hostages In Donetsk

The head of the Donetsk Regional Administration, Serhiy Taruta, said earlier this month that as many as 200 citizens are still being held hostage by separatists in Donetsk. Eight OSCE monitors, part of an internationally brokered deal which included Russia, remain in captivity despite calls for their release. The peace deal that seems to be falling through as we speak was in part supposed to resolve this problem.

Now, Ollie Carroll reports that it is getting harder and harder for the hostages to get free, and the price tag for that freedom keeps going up. It seems that the ‘Donetsk Peoples’ Republic’ would like to finance a large part of their efforts through hostage taking:

NATO Sees Russian Troop Buildup – And The Kremlin Won’t Comment

While the Kremlin has not responded to the new claims, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is now saying what The Interpreter has been saying for days — Russian troop convoys are headed back toward the Ukrainian border:

“I can confirm that we now see a new Russian military buildup — at least a few thousand more Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border — and we see troop maneuvers in the neighborhood of Ukraine,” Rasmussen said in London.

“If they’re deployed to seal the border and stop the flow of weapons and fighters that would be a positive step. But that’s not what we’re seeing…”

“I consider this a very regrettable step backwards and it seems that Russia keeps the option to intervene further,” Rasmussen said. “So the international community would have to respond firmly if Russia were to intervene further. That would imply deeper sanctions which would have a negative impact on Russia.”

Russia has expressed concerns that Ukraine is increasing its own troop presence near the border as part of the intensifying anti-terrorism operation. Russia, however, fails to note the Ukrainian military planes that have been shot down, the separatist gunmen who have attacked Donetsk, the Russian-backed gunmen who are conducting mortar attacks against Lugansk airport, or the border bases which have been attacked — and sometimes overrun — by separatists. These are the reasons that Ukraine has had to intensify their efforts to reestablish control over the border areas.

Russian Propaganda Alert – RIA Novosti Edition

RIA Novosti was once one of Russia’s most respected news agency in the international community, serving as a neutral wire service that was providing information mainly to journalists, the business community, politicians and other Russia watchers. However, in the last year it has been reformatted and put under the direct control of Dmitry Kiselev, a Kremlin apologist who is open about the need to use information as a weapon to expand Russia’s influence and combat those whom Kiselev and his handlers have deemed opponents. There’s a word for that — propaganda.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Today RIA Novosti is raising the alarm that almost 19,000 people have fled Ukraine and entered Russia as a direct result of the Ukrainian military action to retake eastern Ukraine:

“According to the data as of 6:00 a.m. MSK (02:00 GMT), the number of registered refugees from Ukraine was more than 18,900 people. [The refugees] are located in the Southern, Central and Northwestern federal districts, as well as in Sevastopol and Crimea,” said Drobyshevsky. Over half of the refugees, about 10,000 people, are staying with their relatives and friends. “At the temporary accommodation centers there are 8,800 people, including more than 4,500 children,” Drobyshevsky added.

According to the Emergency Situations Ministry’s spokesman, in just the past 24 hours, 97 people have applied for refugee status at the local Federal Migration Service offices and are staying with their relatives. Drobyshevsky noted that the people who have left their homes because of the special military operation in the southeast of Ukraine need psychological assistance. “In the last 24 hours alone, assistance has been provided to more than 370 refugees, 97 needed medical attention,” according to the spokesman. “Food and information is being provided, and medical and psychological assistance has been organized for displaced persons at the temporary accommodation centers,” said Drobyshevsky.

The problem — this article makes no reference to the article RIA published just yesterday that put that number at 13,500:

Evidence supporting the claim that masses of Ukrainians have sought refuge in Russia has been severely lacking. Not only this, but Russian media outlets faked pictures back in March that allegedly showed Ukrainians queuing up to cross the border into Ukraine. Those pictures and videos were not from this conflict and did not show the Ukrainian border. As we documented at the time, journalists then visited the border and saw that no such lines existed — in fact, traffic crossing into Russia was not even busy.

Some of RIA’s other Ukraine headlines today:

   – Civil War in Ukraine Heads Toward Genocide – Kremlin

   – Lavrov Concerned over Kiev’s Intent to Replace Dialogue with Force in East

OSCE Re-establishes Contact With Both Missing Groups of Monitors

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the OSCE has told them that they have re-established contact with both of the missing groups of monitors in south-east Ukraine:

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has re-established contact with two groups of monitors who went missing in eastern Ukraine at the end of May, an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission spokesman told Interfax-Ukraine on Thursday.

None of the groups has been freed so far, the spokesman said.

The first group of OSCE monitors, among them citizens of Switzerland, Estonia, Turkey and Denmark, went missing in the Donetsk region on May 26. Contact with the second team of four was lost during their trip to the Luhansk region on May 29.

Heavy Fighting Reported Near Krasny Liman After Separatists Reject Ultimatum

There reports of a major battle near the town of Krasny Liman, to the north-east of Slavyansk, after separatist fighters there rejected an ultimatum to lay down their arms in the early hours of the morning. 

Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance wrote on his Facebook page (translated by The Interpreter):

According to Information Resistance’s operational data, ATO forces are engaged in combat operations in the Krasny Liman area.

Last night in the area, where terrorist forces are concentrated, leaflets were scattered, in which the ATO forces proposed that the militants lay down their arms. 

In the ultimatum presented to the terrorists, in accordance with the Ukrainian president’s peace plan, was a proposal to lay down arms and the guarantee of an objective investigation into the criminal offences of each of the militants. Terrorists with no blood on their hands were guaranteed freedom and security.

The terrorists refused to compky with the conditions of the ultimatum.

Their demands rejected, the ATO forces moved in to take action.

Reuters reported that Vladislav Seleznev, the spokesman for the ATO, had told them that fighting had broken out at around 4:00 (1:00 GMT). 

Seleznev reported extremely heavy combat, including the use of armour by both sides:

Up to 4,000 separatist fighters could be involved in Thursday’s fighting near Krasny Liman, and armored vehicles and possibly tanks were being used by both sides, the military source said.

The reported use of tanks could not be independently confirmed.

Military sources said the Ukrainian forces had fired leaflets into rebel areas giving them an ultimatum to lay down their weapons in line with the Poroshenko blueprint.

“When they received a refusal, the forces of the anti-terrorist operation went over to active action,” Dmytro Tymchuk, a military analyst with good sources in the military said.

“There’s a major battle going on which exceeds in terms of force and scale anything there has been up to now,” a military source said.

Olesya, a woman in the village of Yampil near Krasny Liman, said Ukrainian forces had entered the village in armored vehicles bearing the Ukrainian flag.

“There’s been no shooting. We residents went out into the street to watch the column – and then went back to hide in our houses again,” she said by telephone from her house where she was with her husband and five-year-old daughter.

“But there was fighting all night. Mines were flying over our heads. Planes flew over and we could hear heavy weapons. It’s awful what is going on here,” she said.