Ukraine Liveblog Day 133: ‘A Bullet Through the Heart of Donetsk’

June 30, 2014
"A bullet through the heart of #Donetsk: a map hanging in the press center of the DNR." | Christopher Miller/@ChristopherJM

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

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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.

OSCE Scaling Back Monitoring Mission In Eastern Ukraine

Though the OSCE’s monitors have finally been released by eastern Russian-backed separatist gunmen, the OSCE is reducing the size of its monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine out of fear of additional kidnappings. The Moscow Times reports:

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday it had scaled back monitoring operations in eastern Ukraine and frozen further deployments after eight of its observers were held hostage for a month.

The security and rights watchdog’s deputy chief monitor, Alexander Hug, said all eight — four set free on Friday and four on Saturday — were unharmed and their release had been unconditional.

But he said the Vienna-based organization had shrunk its activities in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting forces of the Kiev government since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

Another Video Reportedly Shows Shelling In Kramatorsk
Yet another video reportedly taken tonight in Kramatorsk:

Explosions can be heard in the background, followed, at the very end of the video, with air raid sirens.

While we still can’t confirm any of the individual videos, these match reports we’ve been hearing for over an hour that the town is being shelled.

A DNR spokesman says that the shelling began about two and a half hours ago and at least one person has been killed.

NATO Warns Of Escalating Russian Activity On, And Across, the Border
Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin reports on comments made by NATO commander General Breedlove today:
In other words, for all of Russia’s talk about how their own actions are the result of a more robust NATO, after years of reducing the amount of forces in Europe NATO will now be considering significantly bolstering their presence in Eastern Europe as a direct response to the threat from Russia.
Kramatorsk Reportedly Under Attack
This video was reportedly just taken tonight in Kramatorsk and it appears to show sirens and explosions, though we cannot verify the video:

Another video, taken from a different angle:
Air Raid Sirens Reported In Donetsk, Kramatorsk
There are now similar reports across parts of eastern Ukraine, particularly in Kramatorsk and Donetsk:
Ukraine MP Says ATO Will Restart, Martial Law Declared

Ukrainian MP Oleg Lyashko has announced that the decision has been made at the NAtional Security Council meeting that the the ceasefire should end and the anti-terror operation should be restarted. Lyashko reports that martial law will be imposed in the Donbas.

Already some commentary:

But despite rumors of fighting in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, Poroshenko has yet to make his formal announcement, and now it seems his press conference keeps being pushed back. Is it possible that Poroshenko will wait for the ATO to restart before he makes an announcement?

This from Poroshenko’s press secretary:

Poroshenko Consulted World Leaders And National Security Staff Before Ceasefire Expired

Reuters reports that Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, consulted with leaders of Germany, France, and Russia, but gave no indication that he would take their advice to extend the ceasefire past 10 PM local time (five minutes ago):

Poroshenko consulted the national security and defense council after four-way telephone discussions with the leaders of Germany, France and Russia aimed at helping end the situation in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east where government forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists since April.

His office said the four leaders backed a further meeting of the so-called contact group involving separatist leaders, a former Ukrainian president, a senior representative of the OSCE rights and security body and Moscow’s ambassador to Kiev.

The group, which seeks to defuse the crisis, would consider options for a new ceasefire between the opposing sides, work to set up effective border controls and secure the release of hostages on both sides.

But Poroshenko’s office did not make clear whether he would recommend a further extension to the ceasefire from Monday night when he met his security chiefs. He is facing calls from some of them not to extend it because of Ukrainian military losses in the past seven days.

Indications are that Poroshenko will speak very soon and will possibly announce a much more robust ATO.

There are already plenty of rumors that the speech Poroshenko is set to give, which appears to have been delayed, will result in a significant policy shift.

These reports are unconfirmed.
Declaring Martial Law? Ukraine’s President to Address The Nation
More indication that martial law may be declared in parts of Ukraine very soon:
There is still no confirmation that martial law will be declared.
20 Minutes Until Ceasefire Deadline – Ukraine Armor On the Move
Ukraine’s President has just under 20 minutes to extend the ceasefire agreement. Poroshenko is under heavy pressure from Moscow to do just that. But there is no sign that the ceasefire has worked, and as the deadline approaches, Ukraine’s troops are on the move:
The news website Obozrevatel reports that Poroshenko has declared martial law in Donetsk and Lugansk. It’s not official yet, but it seems that the ceasefire is over and a new phase of the anti-terror operation (ATO) is just beginning.
Poroshenko Demands Russia Tighten Border Security

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko held a four-way telephone conference with Russian officials as well as French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday. A main theme from Poroshenko — Russia needs to tighten their control of the border and stop allowing Russian fighters and arms to cross into Ukraine:

Ukraine’s National Guard said Sunday that rebels had used tanks and mortar shells to fire on a checkpoint near the separatist stronghold of Slovyansk, about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with Russia.

“There were no casualties among the military personnel there,” its statement said. A spokesman for the operation told Channel 5 television that five soldiers had been killed in the past few days by rebel violence in violation of the truce.

Interfax news agency cited rebels as saying Ukrainian forces had shelled around Slovyansk, hitting a marketplace and an apartment building, causing injuries.

Russian Tanks On Flatbed Trucks In Lugansk?

Russian tanks have reportedly been spotted again moving in Lugansk. Ukraine’s Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Tanks have been seen in Lugansk, being hauled on trailers with flatbeds. Blogger Denis Kazansky has posted this on his Facebook page.

“Lugansk today. While Hollande, Putin and Merkel were trying to persuade Poroshenko to extend the ceasefire, Russian tanks continue to be freely hauled into the city on flatbeds and trailers, so as not to harm the asphalt,” he noted.

“Apparently, the occupiers are sparing the roads because they are convinced it’s their own asphalt.

“Let’s continue the ceasefire. It must definitely be extended. The terrorists have still not managed to bring in the necessary amount of weapons to the Donbass.”

The following picture was included in the story. This appears to be the first time it was uploaded to the internet:


The street does look consistent with downtown Lugansk.

Separatist Crackdown On Free Press Continues

Russia is loudly protesting the death of a Russian journalist today. Anatoly Klyan, a journalist for Russia’s Channel One, was the third Russian journalist killed in Ukraine and the fifth journalist killed overall. But as of now there is no evidence that any of the journalists killed were specifically targeted. The other Russian journalists who were killed were hit by a shell near a checkpoint on the front lines of fighting. There’s no evidence that those targeting the separatist position could have seen the journalists, and the journalists were so close to the front lines that the cameraman who survived hid underneath a rebel armored vehicle. As we reported earlier today, Klyan was traveling at night in a bus that was procured by rebel fighters and was being driven by a man in camouflage. Again, there is no evidence that these journalists were specifically targeted.

There is plenty of evidence, however, that the separatists are increasingly cracking down on independent media. Last week the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ announced that all journalists working within their territory would have to register within ten days. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the registration comes with heavy regulations:

The separatists also said that media content must not include “calls to power grab; forced change of DPR’s territorial integrity; propaganda of war, violence, national and religious hatred,” news reports said.

On Thursday in the city of Torez, armed separatists raided the newsroom of the regional independent newspaper Pro Gorod (About the City) and confiscated reporting equipment, including computers and a camera, and the personal belongings of the staff members, according to the Kiev-based local press freedom group Institute of Mass Information . Before leaving, the separatists broke furniture and a security camera and threatened journalists with even harsher consequences if they continued to report on developments in the region, Igor Abyzov, the newspaper’s editor, told  IMI.

Also on Thursday in the regional capital, Donetsk, separatists forced the staff of the local television and radio broadcasting center to terminate the signal of the Kiev-based independent national TV channel ICTV and the municipal 12 Kanal (Channel 12) TV station, and replace them with Russian TV channels, the news agency Interfax-Ukraina reported  citing a statement  released by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. The report did not specify what actions the separatists took against the center.

The crackdown on the free press continues this week. The Moscow Times reports that the separatists have now taken over a website of an independent journalist’s union and will be creating their own alternative:

In a statement posted online, the group that has taken over the website said the hosting contract held by the Ukrainian Union of Journalists’ Donetsk branch had expired at the end of last year, and that the association no longer owned its website and domain name.

The website is now managed by an “action group of journalists who are engaged in creating a Union of Journalists of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” the statement said. It was signed by an anonymous “group of journalists.”

President Poroshenko Debates Extending Ceasefire

Ukraine’s President will decide by 10 PM tonight (local time, 1900 GMT) whether or not to extend the ceasefire. The ceasefire had already been extended from 7 to 10 days, and that didn’t net many results. Already today there is some fighting. The Globe and Mail reports:

Sporadic fighting still flared Monday despite the ceasefire. Shelling killed at least two people and ruined several apartments in the rebel-held city of Slavyansk in the eastern separatist region of Donetsk.

In Slavyansk, shooting kept up through the night and into Monday morning. Residents saying the army appeared to start shelling after rebels opened fire. Heavy shelling was heard throughout the town from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Some of the shelling appeared to be directed at rebel front-line positions outside the city while other shells landed in a residential neighbourhood, destroying or damaging several buildings.

One clue about what is going to happen next could be pictures and videos uploaded by people inside Ukraine.

Heavy Fighting In Donetsk Leaves a Journalist Dead
Yesterday another military base in Donetsk was attacked by militants of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic.’ In a new wave of fighting there, at least one Ukrainian soldier, and one Russian journalist, have been killed.

Anatoly Klyan, a journalist for Russia’s Channel One, was shot in the stomach and died just north of Donetsk, in a town called Avdiivka. ABC reports:

Video footage of the attack broadcast on Channel One showed Klyan continuing to film inside the bus even after he was shot in the stomach, stopping only when he grew weak and telling his colleagues “I can’t hold the camera any longer.” Other journalists helped him into a passing car to be taken to a nearby medical center, but the television station said doctors were unable to save him.

The bus driver also was hit in the head. He was filmed holding his left hand to his bloody, shaven head while continuing to drive with his right hand until it was safe to stop.

Channel One said the trip was organized by the rebel fighters and that the bus, whose driver was wearing camouflage, came under fire as it approached the military base. It was dark at the time and it was unclear whether those shooting could tell who was in the bus.

Klyan is the fifth journalist to be killed in Ukraine. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding his death, the Russian Foreign Ministry is blaming the Ukrainian government.

The Ukrainian government, on the other hand, has protested that they cannot tell reporters from insurgents since many of the Russian journalists appear to frequently travel with rebels. Reuters reports:

Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said he had no information about the violence but that Russian journalists had worked among separatists in the past, making it difficult to identify them as reporters.

“Russian journalists have more than once worked among terrorist groups and those who send them bear responsibility for them,” he said.

Regardless, with the ceasefire expiring it is clear that there hardly was any ceasefire at all. Now, with more fighting in Donetsk and the ring of towns around Slavyansk, it’s also clear that whatever the ceasefire was supposed to accomplish has not been accomplished.