Ukraine Liveblog Day 155: Train Carrying MH17 Bodies Arrives in Kharkiv

July 22, 2014
Train carrying bodies of victims of MH17 arrives in Kharkiv. Photo: Javier Pascual

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 so check back often.

More Details on Zaporozhye Blast

More reports on the apparent explosion in Zaporozhye are appearing on Twitter.

Translation: Loud bang in Zaporozhye. People rushed out onto their balconies to look. It’s feared that it’s a terrorist attack.

Translation: Zaporozhye. Explosion occurred in the valley beneath LSU (near the 5th hospital). Law enforcement officers are already there. In my opinion, someone blew something up for fun.

Translation: Zaporozhye. Law enforcement officers are sweeping Victory Park and the valley between LSU and Embankment. They’re looking for something and questioning someone. The tramps were probably joking around.

Translation: The windows of the heart surgery building have been smashed, there’s also some sort of stomatology there.

Translation: The explosion was not in the building

Translation: Literally 30 metres from the Armenian church

Golos, a local news site, reported from the scene that the explosion had knocked out about a dozen windows in the nearby Armenian church.

They report that police are currently looking for a grey Samand car.

All translations by The Interpreter.

Russia ‘Created The Conditions’ For MH17 Disaster

Senior U.S. intelligence officials have given a briefing to the press
where they say that, as far as the hard evidence goes, Russia “created the conditions
for the downing of MH17 by separatists, but there is no evidence yet
that ties Russia directly to the shooting down of the airplane:

said they didn’t know if any Russians were present at the missile
launch, and they wouldn’t say that the missile crew was trained in

In essence, this report tells us very
little. U.S. intelligence estimates have already been released saying
that the missile responsible for downing the civilian passenger plane
was fired by Russian-backed separatists, and evidence we’ve collected
confirms this. And while there is a circumstantial case that the Buk
came from Russia. and now there is a very strong and growing body of
evidence that it fled back to Russia, there never has been any evidence
to suggest that Russia worked directly to shoot down this aircraft.

But if you’ve been paying attention this is what we have said, and what the evidence has proven, all along. First separatists took credit for the shooting down of a military transport plane, then when they learned that it was a civilian airliner they stepped back their claims.

As for the claims that the crew who shot the missile were from Russia, there is no direct evidence of this claim. But there is still a strong circumstantial case, since these weapons are so highly sophisticated and they appear to have fled back to Russia after they were fired.

Explosion Reported In Zaporozhye, Southeastern Ukraine
Locals are reporting that an explosion has rocked Zaporozhye just moments ago. A live video feed reportedly shows smoke rising from the town (this tweet is a screenshot from that feed):

Some reports are that this smoke is coming from the Regional State Administration Building. The majority of the tweets appear to say that this is a hospital or medical building on fire. But all reports are unconfirmed. 

This is a developing story.

Several News Agencies Report That The Buk Was Sighted By Residents Near MH17 Crash Site

In our last comprehensive evidence review we noted that both AP journalists and a Ukrainian journalist saw the Buk missile system in Snezhnoye around the time of the shooting down of flight MH17. Video places a Buk in Snezhnoye , and a photo also places a Buk missile launcher in Torez.

Well Buzzfeed reporters visited Torez, confirmed that the picture we say is Torez in fact is Torez, and spoke to residents who say that they saw a Buk:

BuzzFeed visited the site where a photo was taken purportedly showing the launcher, which Ukraine says was a Buk S-11 surface-to-air complex, driving through Torez around lunchtime on the day of the attack. The photo purportedly shows it being driven past the filling area at a gas station on the town’s main street across from the hardware store. The road was ridden with tire treads from heavy equipment.

Several locals said that the launcher had driven down Gagarina street, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, towards the town of Snizhne, near where Ukraine and the U.S. say the missile was fired. Though convoys of heavy equipment have become a regular sight in Torez since the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the government in Kiev started in April, workers in one store said that the one that passed through last Thursday was much louder than ones they had seen before.

The locals all asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the rebels, who control the town. Many of the residents BuzzFeed spoke to denied knowing anything about the launcher or claimed that it had never passed through the town.

But Buzzfeed confirmed an even more interesting piece of information. Perhaps the most controversial picture released by the Ukrainian government reportedly shows the smoke trail from a missile leaving Snezhnoye. Buzzfeed reports that they found the site where the picture was taken, overlooking a field in the nearby town of Pervomaiske.


The smoking gun? Read the entire report here.

The Guardian also spoke to residents of the area who saw the Buk on Thursday:

“We were inside and heard a noise much louder than usual,” said one shopkeeper, who did not want to be identified. “We came running out and saw a jeep disappearing into the distance with something much larger in front of it. Later, customers said it had been a missile carrier.”

In another shop further down the street, there was talk of a convoy of two jeeps and a missile launcher covered in a net driving past in the direction of the town of Snizhne. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a middle-aged woman. She said her husband showed her a photograph of a Buk launcher afterwards and she realised that was indeed what she had seen. A group of men also said they had seen a Buk.

There have been suggestions that the missile was fired from fields on the outskirts of Snizhne. Many in Torez did not want to speak about the Buk or claimed not to have heard anything about it. Others said the missile’s journey through the town had been a talking point in recent days, but people were scared of divulging too much to outsiders. None of those who reported sightings of the Buk wanted their names published.

Geolocated Video Shows Buk Moving From MH17 Crash Site Towards Russia

On Friday the Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov released this video which, according to the Ukrainian government, showed a Buk missile launcher moving away from the crash site, through Krasnadon and on to the Russian border. We have provided a partial translation of Avakov’s Facebook post:

Today, 18 July at 4:40 am a trailer loaded with a caterpillar missile system was recorded by the clandestine surveillance divisions of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, heading in the direction through Krasnodon, toward the Russian Federation border.

There was considerable debate about where this video was taken, which we have covered fairly in depth here. That debate, however, may now be over. For many hours we’ve been analyzing a claim that this video was taken in Lugansk (at this intersection), on a road roughly parallel to the main highway which would lead from the crash site towards Krasnadon and potentially on to Russia. (Update: Interior Minister Avakov posted the coordinates of the video on his Facebook page on July 22.)

In particular we’ve been comparing that video to a video reportedly taken on July 2nd which appears to show a convoy of vehicles moving through the same intersection. The news report at the time said that this was a convoy belonging to the Lugansk People’s Republic. However, we’d note that between July 2nd and 3rd we reported on several rebel convoys that reportedly moved new equipment, including tanks and a Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile system, between the Russian border and Lugansk.

Could the Buk be making the reverse trip three weeks later? The angles are convincing. The Interpreter has contacted the company that operates these billboards, and has analyzed the position of each billboard across the country. Our staff has spent many hours looking for an alternative location where this video released by Avakov could have been taken. We have found none.

Today we’ve uncovered a few more pictures of this intersection in Lugansk which are compelling. Here is one camera angle from the area apparently taken from a web-camera:


But here is the most compelling picture yet. We did not see the original before, but the blogger for Ukraine At War has tweeted (but not made) a composite of several pictures of the intersection with the video. (Update: it was made by craw1er and posted on a Russian LiveJournal discussion.)

As you can see there are many similarities. Having analyzed this claim, we now believe that this is, in fact, the location of the Buk, which appears to be missing 1 or 2 missiles, and appears to be headed east, very possibly back towards Russia:

We’re not sure who the original author of that photo is, but we can now confirm that this location is where the Buk was spotted, headed east toward Russia.

See our interactive map here to see the potential evacuation routes for the Buk missile system(s).


Almost 100 Bodies Of MH17 Victims Unaccounted For As Train Arrives In Kharkiv
Some breaking news:

This confirms earlier reports. The Washington Post reports:

The number of bodies that arrived in the train’s refrigerated rail cars was significantly lower than the 282 bodies, plus 87 body parts believed to belong to the remaining 16 victims, that Ukrainian officials have said were recovered. The train, which left the rebel-held mining town of Torez on Monday night, took more than 17 hours to travel a route that normally takes five hours or less.

Asked about the discrepancy, Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Tuesday in Donetsk that 290 was “the last number [of bodies] we were told” had been recovered. “We had no possible way to verify that count,” he said.

He said an international group of observers saw body parts at the crash site Tuesday. There still has not been any systematic attempt to comb the scene for all human remains, he said.

Was Putin To Blame For MH17?

Lost in the debate about geomapping anti-aircraft missiles, finding black boxes, and recovering bodies of the fallen, there is an underlying question which needs to come to the surface — as it is now apparent that Russia supplied the missile(s) and crew that shot down flight MH17, is Putin directly to blame? Why would he want an airliner to get shot down? Why would he allow this to happen.

In an article in The Daily Beast our managing editor James Miller explained that Putin is now extremely reckless, engaged in “a last-ditch desperate attempt to salvage a win in eastern Ukraine at any cost.” As part of this ‘Hail Mary pass’ Putin has supplied the separatists with a lot of firepower and allowed GRAD rockets to be fired from Russian territory into Ukraine. But why?

Almost three weeks ago Ukraine’s government and the separatists had entered into at least a tentative ceasefire, and Russia believed the separatists could diplomatically outmaneuver Kiev. But Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, did not extend the ceasefire, as even his European allies thought he would. Instead he launched a sudden strike on the separatists, retaking a series of key rebel strongholds.

Putin was the one who had been outmaneuvered, and the effort to covertly support the separatists in eastern Ukraine was falling apart. Now the veil has fallen. Russia is almost overtly supplying the separatists with military support. But Putin’s urgency in Ukraine has turned to recklessness, and Thursday’s events are the recklessness of Putin epitomized.

Why the urgency? Putin had been seeing surging popular support at home despite the flat-lined economy, the loss of a major ally in Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, and the problematic Winter Olympics that popularized the Twitter hashtag #SochiProblems. The reason was the perception that Putin had won a decisive victory by annexing Crimea and standing up to the West.

But in recent weeks Moscow’s thinkers and pundits have written that they believe Putin’s support could collapse. A failure to achieve further victory in Ukraine has led analysts to predict that Putin’s support could drop significantly, and Russia’s leading pollsters already see evidence that these predictions could be right.

Read the entire analysis here:

On Friday James appeared on CNN to speak more to this issue: Was Putin to blame for MH17. The video is available here.

RT Stringer Tries To Get Eastern Ukrainian Residents To Say They Support Rebels

The context is that an (already discredited) stringer for the Kremlin propaganda network RT, Graham Phillips, interviewed local residents in Slavyansk, the former rebel stronghold which has since been liberated by the Ukrainian military. During the interview, however, Phillips asks leading questions, as if he is trying to not only get the man and woman to express his point of view but also his distorted version of the facts.

Phillips, who appears to be proud of the video, has titled it “I debated a local woman in Slavyansk.”

Below is the video and a transcript which we have translated:

Graham Phillips: Hi, how are you? How is your mood today?

Man: Better than ever.

Graham Phillips: So, what do you think, so the Ukrainian flag is here now?

Woman: The Ukrainian flag is best of all.

Graham Phillips: You didn’t support the referendum?

Woman: No, of course not. I’m only for Ukraine.

Graham Phillips: Well, where are you? Because to be honest, I was here in Slavyansk during the referendum and it seemed that every person was supporting it.

Woman: That’s not true.

Graham Phillips: What, every person is rejecting that now?

Woman: It’s not true. It’s not true.

Man: I can confirm what she’s saying. It’s a total lie. What do you mean, “every person”?

Woman: It’s not true. Well, first, what kind of referendum was it, anyway? In your country, is a referendum just a xerox copy, a xeroxed leaflet? That’s a referendum? I answered you. And who counted the votes? Who monitored it? Who counted, who counted what was written there?

Graham Phillips: And you didn’t support the militia?

Woman: No I didn’t support them.

Graham Philips: How do you see the actions of the Ukrainian troops? Didn’t they shell the town?

Woman: I fully…No, they didn’t shell the town. If those monsters hadn’t been here — I can’t call these “militia” otherwise — They aren’t militia. Everything would have been..

Man: Everything would be in one piece otherwise.

Woman: Why is all the rest of Ukraine…90% of Ukraine is living without war…The majority of Donetsk Region lives without war. So who is to blame?

Graham Phillips: But the Ukrainian Army shot civilians.

Woman: [Laughts] What, the terrorists didn’t shoot civilians?

Graham Phillips: They killed children! The Ukrainian Army…

Woman: [Laughs] No. The Ukrainian Army was doing everything right. It’s defending its territory. It’s defending its country, its borders, its people.

Graham Phillips: But they killed children…a child…Civilians.

Woman: What, the terrorists didn’t kill children? They didn’t kill them, or what?

Man: There is no war without people killed. If someone accidentally hit something, can’t get by without that…but if this hadn’t happened, they’d be terrorizing us still, those “militia”.

Woman: No, only the Ukrainian Army, and only Glory to Ukraine!

Graham Phillips: Alright

Woman: A failed interview, yes?

Graham Phillips: Good-bye.

Woman: I told the guy it was a failed interview.

Ukrainian Soldiers Tear Down Lenin Statue in Orlovka

Novosti Donbassa reports that a group of soldiers from a Ukrainian volunteer battalion have torn down a statue of Lenin in the village of Orlovka, to the north-east of Donetsk.

Here is video of the statue’s fall:

Ukrainian Forces Retake Popasnaya

Semyon Semyonchenko, the leader of the Ukrainian volunteer Donbass Battalion, has written on his Facebook page that the town of Popasnaya, in the Lugansk region, is now back under Ukrainian control.

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

Popasnaya is completely liberated. Ukrainian flags now fly over the administrative buildings. The terrorists are beginning to run away from neighbouring Pervomaysk. The checkpoint at the entrance to Pervomaysk has been destroyed. They’re just throwing their weapons away. That’s right. They need to make it to the border in time.

Semyonchenko posted several photos from the town as well:




EU Shows Signs It May Be Preparing New Sanctions – Some Ministers Remain Hesitant
Amid the international uproar over the horrific downing of flight MH17 and overwhelming evidence that it was shot down by separatists with Russian support, the EU has agreed to examining further possible sanctions and identifying individuals and companies benefiting from Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In the run up to today’s EU ministers meeting where possible new sanctions were discussed, there were increasing calls from various member nations about imposing stricter sanctions on Russia for its continued support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has come out forcefully in the last couple of days calling for Putin to stop supporting the separatists and that Britain was prepared to impose wide ranging sanctions, along with bearing the financial cost of such sanctions. France even opened the possibility of not delivering the second Mistral assault ship currently under construction if the EU decides to implement stronger sanctions. However, the first ship, the Vladivostok, has already been paid for and France has said that it will be deliveredbecause of this, and any failure to deliver would see fines of at least 600 million Euros. However, there have also been calls by various states, such as Italy and Cyprus, against harsher measures.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton spoke shortly after the meeting to announce that the EU had agree on imposing new sanctions on a list of individuals that would be presented at a meeting later this week on Thursday.
“To expand the restrictive measures with a view to targeting individuals or entities who actively provide material or financial support to or are benefiting from the Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern-Ukraine, and to adopt additional measures to restrict trade with and investment in Crimea and Sevastopol, at the latest by the end of July.”
She also announced that they had agreed on examining a new series of possible measures that could be implemented targeting Russia’s energy, defense and financial sectors along with any dual use technologies if cooperation fails to materialize;
“The Council recalls the previous commitments by the European Council and remains ready to introduce without delay a package of further significant restrictive measures, if full and immediate cooperation on above mentioned demands fails to materialise. To this end, the Council requests the Commission and the EEAS to finalise their preparatory work on possible targeted measures and to present proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector. The results of this work will be presented on Thursday, 24th July.”
The full text of the statement can be found here.

Another Video Reportedly Shows A Buk On The Move
Another piece of the puzzle perhaps. A screenshot from this video was posted by The Interpreter days ago, but we had not found the video it belonged to until it was shared on Storyful’s Open Newsroom. This tweet, sent not long after the video was uploaded, has both the video and a possible location:

That location, which seems like a good theory but has not been 100% confirmed, places the Buk here, approximately 20 kilometers from MH17’s flight path and 24 kilometers from Torez (see it on our interactive map):


This is the only video we’ve seen of the supposed separatist Buk that shows the vehicle traveling with an escort which makes it stand out. One theory, however, is that multiple Buk systems were deployed in this area, and so it’s possible that any one of them we’ve geolocated so far could shoot MH17 down.

As we’ve said, however, this and it’s location is not 100% confirmed.

Ukrainian Forces Enter Severodonetsk

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Oleksandr Turchynov, the speaker of the Rada, has announced that Ukrainian forces have entered the separatist-held city of Severodonetsk in the Lugansk region.

Announcing that he had spoken with the head of the Interior Ministry, Arsen Avakov, Turchynov said:

“The National Guard and armed forces have entered Severodonetsk. A complete clean-up of terrorists is under way now.” 

UNIAN reports that Anatoly Naumenko, the head of the Lugansk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, has announced that Ukrainian forces have taken the city council, police and SBU buildings. 

According to the report, there was evidence of executions in the area, and four hostages were released:

At one of the sites security forces discovered the bodies of two citizens who had been shot. In addition, four hostages were released – residents of neighbouring districts who had spent about a month in captivity. The oldest of them is 57, the youngest, 21.


Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala posted a number of photos from the town on his Facebook page:




All translations by The Interpreter.

MH17 and Moscow’s Magical Mystery Jets

In a separate analysis for The Interpreter, NYU professor Mark Galeotti digs into (and rips apart) various theories for the downing of flight MH17 presented by the Russian government yesterday. One theory, that a Ukrainian Su-25 was tailing MH17 (the insinuation is that the Ukrainian military jet shot the airliner down) is particularly puzzling:

One wishes the Russians would make their minds up: was it a Ukrainian
ground-based missile or a jet they are implying shot down MH17? In any
case, setting aside the continued implausibility of this “false flag”
hypothesis, or indeed Kiev’s claim that no such jet was in the area,
let’s consider the details.

A Su-25 is a ground-attack aircraft. Yes, it can be armed with
air-to-air missiles such as the R-60 ‘Aphid’, but its 3kg
warhead—compared with the SA-11 Buk’s 70kg—is extremely unlikely to have
done the damage visible on MH17. Eyewitness and photographic evidence
from the crash site demonstrates a very broad and deep fragmentation
pattern. Both the Buk’s 98M38 or 98M317 missiles and the R-60 are
designed to explode just before impact to blast the target with
shrapnel, but the size, pattern and above all quantity and kinetic
energy of the two weapons’ warheads are very different.

Nor necessarily is an R-60 at all likely to have brought a Boeing 777
down with one hit. The KAL 007 747 brought down by Soviet fighters in
1983 was hit by two heavier R-98 missiles (with 40kg warheads) and still
did not suffer the immediate, catastrophic destruction evident for
MH17. Overall, the damage clearly points to a larger weapon than the R-60.

Read the entire analysis here:

MH17 Black Boxes To Be Sent To UK For Analysis

The official website of the Ukrainian Cabinet has announced that the ‘black box’ flight data recorders from MH17 will be sent to the UK for analysis.

The announcement reads (translated by The Interpreter):

The Kingdom of The Netherlands has received a request from the delegation investigating the crash of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 for Dutch specialists.

During today’s meeting of an international group of experts on the investigation at the Ministry of Infrastructure, a representative from the Dutch Bureau of Investigations announced that, at the current time, the government of the Kingdom has not yet decided on this issue. It is expected that the decision will be taken soon.

After the resolution of the issue, Dutch experts will arrange the transfer of data recorders from the Malaysians and send them to the British investigative bureau for deciphering.

MH17 Wreckage May Have Been Tampered With

OSCE monitors at the MH17 crash site have told the BBC that “major pieces of the wreckage” appear to have been tampered with.

Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE, who has been at the scene with other monitors, spoke to the BBC’s Dan Damon on the World Update programme on the World Service:

Bociurkiw: We’re observing that major pieces, and I’m looking at the tail fin as I said, and then there’s also the rear cone section of the aircraft, they do look different than when we first saw them. In other words, they’ve been cut into. And one main cone section has been almost split in half. And this in addition to an observation we made two days ago that the cockpit section and the after the first class section, which is about two kilometres from here, we observed uniformed men cutting into them with a diesel power saw.

Damon: To what end? Were you able to ask them why they were doing that?

Bociurkiw: They did not tell us. And at that time there was active body and body parts recovery, but, you know, we must say that we had been told that they had recovered some 35 or so bodies in that particular location and that was all the bodies that had been found there. 

 Here is a Souncloud link to the original BBC audio:

Reports of Further Shelling of Ukrainian Positions From Russian Territory

Ukraine’s Liga Novosti reports (translated by The Interpreter):

On Monday, at around 22:00 [21:00 GMT], the village of Kumachevo (in the Donetsk oblast) was shelled by terrorists with mortars from the direction of the Russian Federation, reports the ATO press centre on their Facebook page.

Furthermore, at around 2 am [23:00 GMT] the Dolzhansky border checkpoint (in the Lugansk oblast) was shelled by artillery from the direction of the Russian Federation.

Militants also carried out a mortar bombardment on a checkpoint near the village of Chervonopartizansk [also known as Krasnopartizansk] from the village of Panchenkovo

A checkpoint near the village of Solntsevo was fired on with BM-21 Grad rockets. A mortar attack was carried out on a crossing near the village of Dmitrovka

Checkpoints near Marinovka and Novoazovsk were also shelled with artillery.

We have previously verified video that shows Grad launchers firing rockets towards Ukrainian territory from Gukovo, in the Russian Federation.

At least one of the targets of those launchers appears to have been Krasnopartizansk, where, on July 16, Ukrainian soldiers reported being shelled from across the border

It is likely that Krasnopartizansk was in the field of fire from the Gukovo Grad launcher:


Train Carrying MH17 Bodies Arrives in Kharkiv and Black Boxes Handed Over

The train, onto which the bodies of those killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have been loaded and stored for several days now, has arrived in city of Kharkiv, having safely left separatist-controlled territory.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

A train carrying the remains of the victims of the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777-200 plane arrived in Kharkiv from Donetsk at 1125 [8:25 GMT].

An Interfax-Ukraine reporter said that the train had approached the Kharkiv-Balashivsky station. After the locomotive is changed, it will be moved to the Malyshev Plant, where the bodies are to be loaded into special equipment brought from the Netherlands.

The train consists of five refrigerated cars and a conventional passenger car with the inscription “Donbas” and a plate reading “Donetsk-Moscow.”

The train is currently guarded by police. Law enforcement officers are not making any official comments.

Earlier, as reported by Reuters, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the separatist ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, the Russian Aleksandr Boroday, handed over the ‘black box’ flight recorders to a Malaysian official:

Early on Tuesday, senior separatist leader Aleksander Borodai handed over the black boxes in the city of Donetsk.

“Here they are, the black boxes,” Borodai told journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk.

Colonel Mohamed Sakri of the Malaysian National Security Council said the two black boxes were “in good condition”.