Ukraine Liveblog Day 135: New Ukraine Offensive Yielding Results

July 2, 2014
A pro-Russian separatist BTR in the streets of Donetsk yesterday | Guardian/EPA

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

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Two Journalists Released By Separatists In Lugansk

Russian-backed separatists have released two journalists from Hromadske TV two days after they were captured. Global Post reports:

Reporter Anastasia Stanko and cameraman Illya Bezkaravayny went missing in Ukraine’s eastern Lugansk region, which along with neighbouring Donetsk have proclaimed their independence from Kiev and seek to join Russia.

“We were not beaten or tortured — only threatened,” the station quoted Stanko as saying.

Lugansk separatist leader Valery Bolotov said the journalists were freed after the heads of Russia’s three main state-controlled television stations personally intervened on their behalf earlier Wednesday.

The New Ceasefire Falling Apart Before It Even Starts?

Less than two hours ago the prospect for a new ceasefire was announced, but we’re already seeing signs that it might fall apart.Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin’s comments, quoted by Reuters, might indicate that not only would Ukraine’s control of the border be a precondition, but so would the release of hostages held by the separatists:

Klimkin added a note of caution, saying hostages must be released and Ukraine allowed to control its borders to stop the rebels receiving fresh fighters and weapons. The document said Russia made a commitment to allow Ukrainian border guards across checkpoints in Gukovo and Donetsk to control this.

“The de-escalation of the situation will happen when the peace plan of the Ukrainian president is respected in its totality,” said Klimkin.

Lavrov said Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s decision to end the ceasefire had cost “people’s lives and serious destruction of civilian infrastructure … but better late than never”.

The separatists have previously not been willing to accept a ceasefire if Ukraine did not withdraw its troops. Furthermore, the separatists have routinely used prisoners as bargaining chips and civilians as human shields. What are the chances that the separatists will allow Ukraine to conduct more military operations and then just accept a ceasefire where their supply lines are cut off? These sound like preconditions that are incompatible with the past words and actions of the Russian-backed militants. 

Despite Promise Of New Ceasefire, Tensions Between Moscow and Kiev Remain High
Russia may have reached an agreement in principal with Europe and Ukraine on a new ceasefire, but the reality is that the rhetoric coming from the two camps over the last few hours has rarely been more heated, as evidenced by this exchange:
Russia has also fired allegations at NATO:

The ITAR-TASS article slams NATO commander General Philip Breedlove who accused Russia of destabilizing Ukraine:

“We have noted Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US General Philip Breedlove’s statements, which at this crucial time when the leading world powers are taking joint efforts to find solutions to the Ukrainian crisis, bring about no other reaction than surprise. Obviously, such statements aim to escalate the situation around Ukraine,” he said.

“We think it is absolutely unacceptable when a military representative of such a high rank gets involved in an information and propaganda campaign by spreading false information about the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

He noted that Russia had repeatedly given exhaustive explanations on all issues related to security on the border with Ukraine. “Moreover, based on the results of a more than 15 inspections received by the Russian Federation since March of this year under the Open Skies Treaty, no convincing proof of the Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine was presented,” Lukashevich said.

Russia is trying to play the victim here, but even the OSCE, of which Russia is a member, has slammed Russia’s role in Ukraine. Yesterday, the OSCE parliamentarians actually approved a resolution condemning Russia’s actions:

By a majority of three-to-one, OSCE parliamentarians approved a
resolution that condemns Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine during a
plenary meeting today at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s 2014 Annual
Session Baku.

Parliamentarians voted by a margin of 92 in favor
to 30 against with 27 abstentions on the item, which “condemns the
clear, gross and uncorrected violation of the Helsinki principles by the
Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine, including the particularly
egregious violation of that country’s sovereignty and territorial

Full text of the item is available HERE.

resolution now becomes annexed to the Baku Declaration, to be voted on
tomorrow, 2 July, by nearly 300 parliamentarians from more than 50
countries. The Declaration will contain policy recommendations for the
OSCE and its 57 participating States in the fields of political affairs
and security, economics, the environment and human rights.

resolution, which was initiated by U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, the
Deputy Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA, also “deplores the
armed intervention by forces under the control of the Russian Federation
in Ukraine, and the human rights violations that they continue to

It further expresses “unequivocal support for the
sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of
Ukraine”; discredits the March 2014 referendum in Crimea; and notes the
“particular vulnerability of Crimean Tatars, Roma, Jews and other
minority groups” in the conflict.

The final resolution, including the Russian resolution, was adopted today by a vote of 97 to 1 with 9 abstentions, which included members of the Russian delegation.

More On The Proposed Ceasefire

As we’ve just reported, the conference between Ukraine, Russia, and major European powers has come to a tentative agreement for a new ceasefire which may go into effect on Saturday. RFE/RL reports:

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France backed the idea of using observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at border-crossing points at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Steinmeier spoke after talks with his Russian, Ukrainian, and French counterparts in Berlin. 

DW has more details:

Germany’s Frank Walter-Steinmeier said there was a “clear commitment to a multilateral ceasefire.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint news conference that the quartet had agreed on the “necessity to swiftly agreed conditions for a stable long-term truce.”

To be clear, this is a roadmap for another ceasefire. In order to have an official ceasefire agreement, Ukraine and the separatist groups would have to agree to the measure and actually stop firing.

RT has more details on the Russian position on whether or not the separatists will agree to the ceasefire.

In their joint statement, the ministers called for the Contact Group to resume its work “no later than July 5 with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed, sustainable ceasefire.”

The group should include representatives of both Kiev and the self-defense forces of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said.

While Russia only has limited influence over the self-defense forces in southeast Ukraine, Lavrov said that their representatives, including Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Boroday, have already “publicly stated that they are ready to answer Russia’s and the OSCE’s calls to start consultations on a ceasefire.”

A New Truce? OSCE Agrees To Monitor Ceasefire — And The Borders
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has stated that the government in Kiev is willing to agree to a ceasefire if it is bilateral and monitored by the OSCE. Sergei Lavrov has announced that Russia is willing to work with Ukraine and the OSCE to guard border checkpoints if a truce is agreed upon.
While Roland makes a great last point, he also points out that the ceasefire will not take place until Saturday. At this rate, Ukraine may have won significant military victories by then. Beyond the victories we’ve already reported, Ukraine appears to have made even more progress today and is closing in on Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, and Lugansk.
Separatists Reporting Intense Shelling In Slavyansk

Earlier today the separatist leaders in Slavyansk told Interfax that the shelling in the city was intense and casualties were reported (translation by The Interpreter):

“People’s Governor of Donbass” Pavel Gubarev has made a statement, citing the leader of the militia of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” Igor Strelkov.

“The enemy’s artillery is working incessantly. There is firing on Slavyansk as well. In the area of the bridge across Kazyonny Torets, a civilian bus was shelled. Two people died, 3 were injured.”

There was no confirmation of this information.

That shelling has continued throughout the day, according to multiple reports. Pro-separatist propaganda outlets and twitter accounts are posting many pictures that they claim shows the destruction. While it’s not possible to verify each one, and many are graphic, one thing is clear — the narrative from the separatists is lacking its typical braggadocio and is instead focused on the damage being done by the ATO, both to civilians and to the Russian-backed militants.

Ukraine Security Services Says It Has Arrested The Mayor of Gorlivka
This video, released by the official Youtube channel for The Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) reportedly shows the SBU arresting the mayor of Gorlivka (Horlivka) and capturing a storehouse filled with weapons:

The SBU is also reporting that they have broken up a separatist recruiting ring in Kharkiv. RFE/RL reports:

The SBU says the criminal group includes seven Kharkiv residents aged between 25 and 50. They allegedly looked for potential recruits with previous weapons training and military experience, and reportedly promised monetary rewards in exchange for killing Ukrainian military recruiters.

Ukraine Says It Has Attacked More Than 100 Rebel Positions

RFE/RL reports that the spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko, says that more than 100 rebel positions have been attacked by Ukrainian forces today. Four Ukrainian troops have been killed, but the ATO has recaptured three villages.

Interestingly, this means that despite the intensified ATO, the vast majority of Ukrainian soldiers died before this new offensive.

The Twitter account for the spokesman of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ does not appear to contest that the separatists have been hit hard. Though there are certain claims that they deny (like the report that many insurgents have surrendered), mostly their Twitter account is posting claims that civilians and civilian buildings have been hit by shelling or airstrikes across eastern Ukraine.

One video they share was posted by LifeNews, a Russian news outlet with very close ties to Russia’s security apparatus. LifeNews has reportedly taken this footage in Kondrashovka, near Lugansk, which shows widespread damage, reportedly inflicted by Ukrainian strikes today.

More video, reportedly from Lugansk:

Those videos have not been geolocated or verified.

However, Ukraine denies that the damage in at least one of the villages of Lugansk was done by their armed forces. Despite claims of civilian casualties, they say that their airstrikes were not conducted nearby, and their artillery was firing in a different direction. According to the statement published by, Kiev is blaming the separatists for the shelling that is killing civilians.

Video Interview of Ukraine Troops On Front Lines Of ‘The Ceasefire That Wasn’t’

Another must-watch video from Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky. The title — “The Ceasefire That Wasn’t.” Ostrovsky talks to the soldiers belonging to the unit that was ambushed last week, in the middle of the “ceasefire.” Two APCs were destroyed and many Ukrainian soldiers were killed by tanks — on that both the separatists and the Ukrainian soldiers agree. But evidence we’ve been collecting for weeks now indicates that those tanks crossed into Ukraine from the Russian side of the border on June 20th.

The video, published yesterday, starts after the ambush and interviews the troops who were on the front lines. They say that they were only able to hold checkpoints, not advance, and they were only allowed to shoot after they were fired upon. The soldiers are not happy that the ceasefire existed in the first place because as far as they are concerned they were the only ones who abided by it.

Ukraine Border Service Says Russia Is Digging In On Border
Are Russian troops digging in right on Ukraine’s border, close enough to see with the naked eye? 
Here is the video, which was released by Ukraine’s border services. It shows what appear to be Ukrainian border troops scouting out Russian positions. A variety of pictures, reportedly snapshots of views with the camera taken through the scopes of the border guards’ equipment, shows militants — and an armored vehicle — flying Russian flags.

The video is hard to verify. None of the alleged Russian troops are actually visible in the frame, at least that we could see. All the shots rely on these “scope snapshots.” The video has also not been geolocated, a difficult task with the terrain of this part of Ukraine.

It’s also possible that these are separatists, not Russian military. The numbering on the side of the armored vehicles is similar to the numbering on separatist vehicles that have been fighting in Ukraine. It’s important, therefore, to remember that Ukraine has not only accused Russia of militarily supplying the rebels, but the evidence is clear that Russia has been allowing the separatists to move freely across the border.

Kiev Says The New ATO Is Working

Yesterday’s liveblog was busy, filled with news about a new wave of a relaunched Ukrainian military offensive, the anti-terrorism operation, or ATO. This wave is clearly more expansive, covering more area, and much more intense, hitting each area with more firepower and urgency.

Today, Kiev says it’s working. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The armed forces and the national guard are continuing an active offensive,” Parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov told the chamber Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency. “Our forces’ actions are effective and yielding results.”

Ukraine’s army came under attack 19 times in the last 24 hours, killing three servicemen and injuring 10, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council said Wednesday, Interfax reported. The border patrol reported that a guard was killed. Separatists haven’t commented on the fighting…

A Ukraine army spokesman said its offensive was complicated by the fact that separatists had mined roads, approaches to bridges, and strategic objects, according to Interfax. There was no immediate comment from separatists on the claim.

Paul Brennan is on the ground in Donetsk, and has been tweeting an overview of the situation there.

Christopher Miller reports from the front lines.
It’s hard confirming every story when such a wide swatch of the country is embroiled in fighting, but so far it does appear that Ukraine’s military is making progress fairly rapidly in some areas.