Ukraine Liveblog Day 157: Fighting Continues in Donetsk

July 24, 2014
Separatist forces travelling in central Donetsk this morning. Photo: @LacVadym

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.

Tough Words From Estonia’s President

Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has some strong words for Russia after today’s confirmation by the US State Department that Russia is shelling Ukraine.
It’s Time to Assign Blame For Everything Happening in Ukraine

The evidence is now overwhelming — the militia in eastern Ukraine, backed by the Russian government and the Russian military, is responsible for the deaths of nearly 300 people who were on flight MH17. It’s now time for journalists to assign blame — and the international community to assign justice.

The Interpreter’s managing editor reports for Vice News:

If it weren’t for MH17, the Ukraine headline of the week would be the fact that my team at The Interpreter actually proved that Russia was shelling Ukraine with GRAD rockets. The Buks that shot down MH17 either came from Russia or would have needed a highly trained team of specialists (with matching launch key-cards), a crew that could have been trained only in the Russian military. Wednesday, separatists shot down two more Ukrainian military jets, so there are plenty more Russian anti-aircraft missiles still in rebel hands.

The veil has been dropped. Russia is driving this conflict, feeding the flames by providing the rebels with tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, fighters, and perhaps most importantly, cover in the international community.

This crisis exists because Russia wants it to exist. It’s time for the international community to realize that Putin is not a reliable partner in solving it.

Read the article here.

Sector-Wide Sanctions Discussed In The EU

The European Union has added 18 names to its sanctions list today. The names will not be released on Friday, but some EU ministers indicated that this could only be the start of a much stronger wave of sanctions that might target entire sectors of the Russian economy.

Reuters reports:

Under one key proposal, European investors
would be banned from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent
or more by the state. These banks raised almost half their 15.8 billion
euro ($21.29 billion) capital needs on EU markets last year.

implemented such sanctions would be a serious blow to the Russian
economy, exacerbating an already very likely recession this year and
sustaining an economic depression for longer,” said analyst Michal
Dybula of BNP Paribas.

The proposals included an arms embargo,
although diplomats said it would apply to future deals and would not bar
delivery of a French warship built for Russia under a 2011 contract.

EU was also weighing restricting exports of technology for deep-sea
drilling, shale and Arctic energy exploration and so-called
civilian-military “dual use” items, diplomats said.

But a proposal is still just a proposal. Europe has thus far been unwilling to pass strong sanctions and until they do many will remain skeptical.

Kiev: Russia Is Shelling Ukraine, Sending Drones Across The Border

The Ukrainian government says that they are under attack by Russian shells, aircraft, and drones. Kyiv Post reports:

According to the counter-terrorism communications center, Russia fired at eight Ukrainian positions on July 22-24. Artillery fire and multiple-rocket launchers on July 24 twice shelled a checkpoint near the town of Ilinka from Russia. The same night, Ukrainian positions near Kamyshne, Berezovo, Amvrosievka and the Luhansk Airport were shelled by Grad rockets, stated Anti-Terrorism Operation spokesperson Vladyslav Seleznyov…

Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s airspace, the Border Guard Service added. Four times on the evening of July 22 Russian military helicopters and drones flew into Ukraine by as deep as 500 meters…

There is allegedly a military staging area in Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast.  Supplies include T-64 tanks, Grad multiple-rocket launchers, various armored personnel carriers equipped with cannons, Buk advanced radar-guided surface-to-air systems, shoulder-fired rocket launchers as well as sniper rifles, mines, grenades and automatic weapons.

The National Security and Defense Council’s Lysenko also said on July 24 that a field camp of Russian armed forces has been set up not far from the state border in Bryansk Oblast.

There is evidence that Russian drones have indeed crossed the border:

News sites published photos today that Ukraine’s border patrol says shows the remains of an Orlan-10 UAV, shot down by Ukraine’s military.


These are only the confirmed reports. At this hour there are rumors that more multiple-launch rocket systems are headed across the border, including the  9A52-4 Tornado, and earlier statements by the US State Department give some credence to the rumors that we’ve been hearing all day.

Emergency Workers Chased Away From MH17 Crash Site By Militants

Russian-backed militants chased away workers for Ukraine’s emergency services who continue to work to find bodies at the MH17 crash site. Sky News reports:

Speaking to journalists at a news conference in Kharkiv, Serhiy Bochkovskiy said emergency services personnel also had some of their equipment confiscated…

“There are still some lunatics, it’s very hard for us to get to the bodies, to get to the remains,” he said.

“You call them terrorists, to me it’s criminal; well, it’s very nearly the same.”

Crash investigators already working on the site from Malaysia and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been been joined by investigators from Australia.

But the Australians, and the OSCE, are not people who have any training in investigating airplane crashes or determining who is at fault.

US Government Says Russia Is Shelling Ukraine

The US State Department says that there is proof that Russia is firing artillery across the border and into Ukraine:

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

This information is consistent with an investigation conducted by The Interpreter and published a week ago in Foreign Policy which proved that GRAD rockets, artillery rockets, were being fired from Russia into Ukrainian territory.

In a statement made by Daniel Baer, the US ambassador to the OSCE, he lays out the bullet points proving Russia’s support for the separatists who brought down MH17:

  • All evidence we have suggests that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.
  • Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. This has not changed since Flight MH17 was downed. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment to the separatists of up to 150 vehicles that included tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers.
  • Russia-backed separatist fighters have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems and have downed more than a dozen aircraft over the past few months, including two large transport aircraft. On Wednesday July 23, there were reports of two more downed Ukrainian fighter jets near the Russian border.
  • At the time that MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We have reason to believe this missile was an SA-11.
  • Intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government indicate the separatists were in possession of an SA-11 system as early as July 14th. In the intercepts, the separatists made repeated references to having and repositioning Buk (SA-11) systems.
  • Social media postings on July 17, show an SA-11 system traveling through the separatist-controlled towns of Torez and Snizhne, near the crash site and assessed location of the SAM launch. From this location, the SA-11 has the range and altitude capability to have shot down flight MH17.
  • Shortly after the crash, separatists – including the self-proclaimed “Defense Minister” of the group calling itself the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Strelkov, a Russian citizen – claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane on social media.
  • In an intercepted conversation that has been widely posted on the Internet, a known-separatist leader tells another person that a separatist faction downed an aircraft. When it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) system.
  • Video posted on social media shows a SA-11 on a transporter traveling through the Krasnodon and back to Russia. The video indicated the system was missing at least one missile, suggesting it had conducted a launch.

Interestingly, this last bullet point is not entirely accurate. As The Interpreter established two days ago, the video in question does show a Buk missing one or two missile, but geolocation has proven that the vehicle is in Lugansk. The Ukrainian government says that the vehicle went was filmed on its way to Krasnadon, which is possible since Lugansk is between Krasnadon and the MH17 crash site.

The fact that the video showed the Buk in Lugansk, headed toward Russia, is perhaps no less incriminating as it suggests Russian involvement.

Russian Television Under Investigation For Coverage of MH17

RT, the Russian state-operated propaganda outlet, may be sanctioned by the organization that oversees broadcasting standards in the UK because of their misleading coverage of the MH17 crash. Buzzfeed reports:

Ofcom, which ensures TV channels with a UK broadcasting licence provide broadly impartial news coverage, said it was considering whether to investigate Russia Today following complaints from viewers about the tone of its coverage of the Malaysia Airlines disaster…

Russia Today has previously been found to have breached Ofcom’s code on multiple occasions, including a breach of section 5.1, which demands that “news, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”.

Ukraine’s New Prime Minister Is Jewish
As we reported earlier, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has resigned. However, a new Prime Minister has already been picked.
And he’s Jewish:
Ukraine May Not Be Able To Pay Its Soldiers By August
In the last few months we’ve seen videos of Ukrainian soldiers who are relying on donations for food, water, and clothing, as their enemy is receiving direct military support from Russia. Now the Ukrainian government may be running out of money to pay its soldiers:
Freed Russian Journalist Says RT Stringer Philips Still Held by Ukrainian Soldiers

ANNA-News reporter Vadim Aksyonov was released today after being held captive with British stringer Graham Philips by Ukrainian soldiers, Moscow Times reported.

But Philips was still being detained by the Ukrainian forces, he said.

Anna-News reporter Vadim Aksyonov had been detained along
with Phillips, an RT stringer, by “a group of 18 armed soldiers who put
bags over their heads” before driving off with them, according
to Rossia-24, which cited Konstantin Knyrik, head of the Anna-News
agency’s eastern Ukraine bureau.

Relaying a conversation with Aksyonov, Knyrik said a third
journalist had also been detained, though no further details were given.

Aksyonov said he was beaten by his captors, but that Phillips was left untouched.

Read more here.

Philips was not on assignment from when contact with him was lost near the Donetsk Airport in a gun battle between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Resigns As Parliament Prepares For Elections

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is resigning as two key parties are pulling out of parliament and a coalition government is ‘collapsing.’ AP reports:

Yatsenyuk made the announcement from the dais of the parliament after two parties said they would pull out of the governing coalition. “I am announcing my resignation in connect with the collapse of the coalition,” Yatsenyuk said.

He said the parliament could no longer do its work and pass necessary laws.

The move comes as Ukraine is preparing to pave the way for parliamentary elections. The New York Times reports:

Earlier in the day, two major parties announced they were leaving the governing coalition, a step that would allow President Petro O. Poroshenko to dissolve Parliament and call elections for next fall.

That announcement followed weeks of negotiations between the parties, but the move was apparently not supported by Mr. Yatsenyuk’s Fatherland Party, which is led by the former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who had challenged Mr. Poroshenko for the presidency.

Russia Rejects International Monitoring Of Russian Side Of The Border

Many weeks ago, long before flight MH17 was shot down, Russia had tentatively agreed to a deal which was supposed to defuse the situation in Ukraine. Part of that deal would bring international monitors, the OSCE, into eastern Ukraine to ensure that all sides were complying with a ceasefire. While the ceasefire was ongoing, negotiations would be held to bring a permanent peace. And while all of that was going on (and this might be the most important part) Russia and Ukraine both agreed to allow international monitors on the border to ensure that no arms or fighters were crossing from one country to the other.

After initially agreeing to this measure, but after weeks of intensifying both the arming of rebels and the firing of GRAD rockets across the border, Russia is now rejecting the call to monitor the border. Here is an excerpt from a statement from the US mission to the OSCE:

U.S. Permanent Representative to the OSCE Ambassador, Daniel Baer, continued to express his strong disappointment with the Russian Federation’s violations. “As Russia continues to send arms across the border, almost as if to scorn the memory of those who have already perished because of Russian actions—I find it deeply disappointing that Russia was only willing to accept international observers at two small checkpoints on its border with Ukraine.”

Despite requests from a number of delegations to expand the geographic scope of the observer mission, Russia would accept only the most limited-scope mission, confined to just two posts –each of which is a few hundred meters wide on a land border nearly 2,000 kilometers in length.

“Let us be perfectly clear—this will not provide any real accounting of Russia’s massive flows of illegal arms, funding, and personnel,” Ambassador Baer stated. “Nor will this fig leaf provide an assurance to those mourning the tragedy of flight MH17 that Russia is doing anything to stop its illegal flow of arms and other support to separatists in eastern Ukraine.”

The Ambassador continued, “The attempted annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine, and Russia’s unacceptable support for violent separatists in Ukraine’s east, have isolated Russia in the international community. As President Obama has made clear: continued Russian violations will bring increased costs.”

BREAKING: Ukrainian Prime Minister Reportedly Resigns
More details when we have them…
Cold War II: In Russia, Crime Without Punishment

Time Magazine is running a provocative cover – Cold War II: The West is Losing Putin’s dangerous game.


The cover article, In Russia, Crime Without Punishment, is by Simon Shuster. It contains a powerful video about the crash site, but it also contains a context that is perhaps uglier, and scarier, than the torn wreckage and twisted bodies. Shuster explains that Putin has been playing the world all along while world leaders refuse to stand up to him, and this fact has allowed Putin to spread his influence — and death — in Ukraine and beyond. All this happens as Western leaders, more concerned about their own domestic politics than world security or human rights… and Putin knows it:

That was the crisis in a nutshell: the least Putin could do was the most Obama could ask for. The American President announced no deadlines, drew no red lines and made no threats. Even as U.S. intelligence sources asserted with growing confidence that Russian weapons and Russian allies were behind the missile attack, U.S. diplomats were met with roadblocks as they tried to rally Europe to stiffen sanctions against Putin. Obama and Rutte spoke as leaders without leverage, for their voters aren’t interested in military conflict with Russia or its puppets. A generation of Westerners has grown up in the happy belief that the Cold War ended long ago and peace is Europe’s fated future. They are slow to rally to the chore of once again containing Russia’s ambitions.

So Putin presses ahead. His increasingly overt goal is to splinter Europe, rip up the NATO umbrella and restore Russian influence around the world. As if to put an exclamation point on that manifesto, the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine apparently resumed their antiaircraft attacks less than a week after the destruction of Flight 17. On July 23, two military aircraft belonging to the pro-Western Ukrainian government were shot down just a few miles away from the airliner’s crash site.

And Putin evidently will keep going as long as each new crisis only makes him stronger.

Read the entire article here.

The article is excellent, though it strikes us that the world is coming to this conclusion far too late and the evidence for this argument has been growing for quite some time.

And Time is not alone in their provocative covers today:


Heavy Fighting Continues In Donetsk
Earlier rebel forces were spotted on the move in central Donetsk:

RFE/RL has collected some tweets from Al Jazeera English Correspondents who are reporting that GRAD rockets have hit the city in the last hour or so:

A report from just north of Donetsk, in Gorlovka:
CNN Journalist Abducted In Donetsk

CNN reports that a fixer working for them in Donetsk has been abducted by separatists and has been in custody for two days:

Armed men from the Donetsk People’s Republic [DPR] seized Anton Skiba outside a hotel in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk after he had worked for one day with a CNN television crew.

Since his detention, CNN has attempted through a number of different separatist officials, including the office of the self-declared separatist prime minister Alexander Borodai, to secure Skiba’s freedom.

CNN chose not to report his abduction at the time while making efforts to obtain his release.

That has not happened to date, so CNN is now publicly asking those who are holding Skiba to release him immediately.

Another journalist who has been reported missing is Graham Phillips, a stringer for the Russian state-operated propaganda network RT. RT says Phillips was not on assignment and that they told him not to travel to Donetsk, but he did anyway and has reportedly been detained by Ukrainian forces. However, Ukraine denies they have any knowledge of Phillips’ whereabouts:

The Ukrainian Security and Defense Council says it doesn’t have any information on Phillips’ whereabouts.

‘We have no information concerning this journalist,” the Council’s spokesman Andrey Lysenko said, as cited by RIA Novosti. He added that Ukrainian troops never detain journalists.

Fighting Continues in Donetsk

There has been heavy fighting overnight in Donetsk, with heavy armour seen on the move today as separatist fighters are pressed further by Ukrainian forces advancing on the outskirts.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that residents in the Kyivsky (to the east of the recent heavy fighting around the station), Kirovsky, Leninsky and Petrovsky districts of the city were awoken last night by the sound of heavy artillery. reports that the Petrovsky district was heavily shelled by separatist fighters. Most of the damage, according to eyewitnesses, was on Zamoyskovo, Ordzhonikidze, and Chekistov streets. A number of homes and facilities were damaged. On Chekistov street, a fire broke out after a house was shelled.

Residents spent about half an hour from 5 am in the cellars, waiting for the bombardment to end. Eyewitnesses also reported one casualty. “A guy was taken away in an ambulance – he had a piece of shrapnel in his stomach,” said eyewitnesses.

According to Interfax-Ukraine, power has been knocked out in the Kuibyshevsky district, with 26 out of 28 transformer stations still out of action this morning. Water supply is also reportedly erratic in all of these districts.

This morning Deputy Oleh Lyashko reported on his Facebook page that the Shakhtersk and Dnepr battalions were engaging separatist fighters on the outskirts of the city.

Separatist armour has also been reported on the move:

A separatist held NONA self-propelled mortar.

We have geolocated the third photo, with the large display panel, here:


As the poster says, the vehicles are headed westwards, down Bogdan Khmelnitsky Avenue.

This video purportedly shows separatist T-64 tanks firing in Donetsk, however we have not been able to verify or geolocate it: