Ukraine Liveblog Day 160: The Battle For The Donbass Intensifies

July 27, 2014
A Russian or Russian-supplied BMP-2 moving as part of a large convoy in the Lugansk region today. Screenshot from YouTube video from Shtepsel TV

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.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Reports That Separatist Leader Bezler Has Fled Gorlovka

UNIAN reports that Timur Olevsky, a reporter for Russia’s independent Dozhd TV channel, has told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV that separatist leader Igor Bezler, known as ‘Bes’ (Daemon), has fled Gorlovka.

“I’ve received reports that ‘Bes’ has disappeared from Gorlovka. Somehow he got out, I don’t know which direction he headed in. They’re even saying that he could be in Russia,” said the journalist.

The leadership of the militants has been passed from ‘Bes’ to ‘Botsman’.

According to Olevsky, in addition to the Ukrainian hostages in Gorlovka, there is a Swedish citizen.

“They have 17 people. As far as is known, they were going to exchange 50 soldiers for Olga Kulygina (an accomplice of Bes – Ed.), who is in detention in Kiev,” says Olevsky.

‘Botsman’ is the militant in Gorlovka who earlier today issued a threat to kill hostages and blow up a chemical plant in the town should Ukrainian forces, who have made gains in the area, advance further.

Bezler himself has been a central figure in the south-eastern conflict. 

He first became prominent on April 14 this year. Shortly after separatist fighters took over the police station in Gorlovka, Bezler was filmed addressing remaining police officers. He introduced himself as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian Army. 

Afterwards a number of conflicting stories of his origins emerged. We summarised those claims in an article last month:

He was subsequently identified by regional media as either a local crime boss, (who ran a dodgy funeral company) or a former Spetsnaz officer turned private security manager. On the 16th of April, Odessa politician Oleksey Goncharenko wrote in more detail about Bezler on his blog. According to him Bezler was a former officer who had served in both Afghanistan and Chechnya. He also said that Bezler had worked at a funeral company, and with a veteran paratrooper organisation. [On April 18] the SBU issued a wanted notice for Bezler describing him as a GRU agent.

Since taking over the police station, Bezler has remained effectively ensconced as the leader of the separatists in Gorlovka. Until the arrival of the Vostok battalion, he and Igor Girkin (known as Strelkov) were considered the leaders of separatist military activity.

On June 4 Bezler appeared in a video conducting an apparent (and quite possibly faked) execution of prisoners. 

Since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Bezler has been the subject of a great deal of attention as his voice was recorded on two tapes released by the SBU, in which he appears to discuss the downing of an aircraft, apparently unaware that the aircraft is a civilian airliner.

We have yet to receive any confirmation beyond Olevsky’s report. 

Polish Journalist Severely Wounded in Lugansk Region

Novosti Donbassa reports that Bianka Zalewska, a Polish journalist working for Ukraine’s Espreso TV, has been severely wounded in eastern Ukraine.

According to an announcement from the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) press centre, she was given first aid treatment by Ukrainian soldiers and then taken to the nearest hospital in the town of Starobelsk in the Lugansk region. 

Due to the severity of her injuries she was then airlifted by helicopter to Kharkiv to receive further treatment. 

US Releases Satellite Evidence of Shelling From Russia

The US State Department has released satellite photo evidence of the shelling of Ukrainian positions from inside Russian territory.

We have previously verified the location of videos showing Russian BM-21 Grad rocket launchers firing into Ukrainian territory from a location near the Russian town of Gukovo.

On July 16 Ukrainian forces reported being shelled from across the border, a location that matched the trajectory we plotted for the Gukovo launches.

Since then, there have been numerous reports from the Ukrainian military of cross-border shelling.

Today, the US State Department published images, taken by the DigitalGlobe satellite imaging company, which show clear evidence of both rocket and artillery attacks across the border.

AP report:

U.S. officials are sharing satellite images they say show Russia has been firing rockets more than 7 miles into eastern Ukraine.

The State Department on Sunday released images it said shows blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed.

The department says the images come from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

The four-page memo is said to shows strikes between July 21 and July 26. Officials say one image shows rockets have been fired more than 11 kilometers, or 7 miles, into Ukraine from Russian soil.

Two of the images show evidence of both rocket and artillery fire across the border, aimed at Ukrainian positions near the town of Dyakovo

We have plotted the positions of these locations onto our Google Map embedded in our liveblog. Here is a screenshot with the positions marked out (note that the satellite photos are not aligned to the north):


Two days before the photo showing evidence of rocket bombardment was taken, on the night of July 24, Ukrainian forces near Dyakovo reported being shelled from across the border with both artillery and mortars. Shelling was also reported on the night of July 22.

Large Convoy of Russian Armour, Artillery and SAMs Filmed in Eastern Ukraine

There are videos and reports today of a large column of armoured vehicles heading westwards through the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. 

Among the vehicles filmed are at least 6 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, 2 Strela-10 mobile surface-to-air missile launchers, 8 MT-LB armoured personnel carriers (each towing an artillery piece), 2 trucks loaded with anti-aircraft guns, a number of minibuses (presumably carrying troops) and a large articulated lorry.

This video was reportedly shot in the Lugansk region today: 

This video was purportedly filmed in Krasny Luch. Though we see less of the convoy, we can see the same distinctive range of units (a BMP-2, Strela-10 and MT-LBs with artillery).

Here is another video purportedly filmed in Krasny Luch, showing the BMP-2s and a Strela-10. Finally, there is another video of Krasny Luch on July 27 which also shows elements of this convoy.

We have not yet been able to geolocate these videos, but this column
has not been seen before in Ukraine and an escalation of force in
response to the massive Ukrainian offensive under way today is to be

Given the number and the type of weapons seen, and the lack of
corresponding reports of their loss by Ukrainian forces, it seems
reasonable to conclude that these have come from Russia, most likely
crossing the border from the Russian town of Donetsk to the Ukrainian
town of Krasnodon. 

Previous convoys of armour
have travelled westwards from Krasnodon on the Russian border, through
Lugansk and onto the M-04 road through Debaltsevo and Perevalsk to
Yenakievo, whether they have either carried on to Donetsk or split north
or south.

However as Ukrainian forces have moved on and apparently retaken Debaltsevo, this route is now blocked.


An alternative southern route from Krasnodon to Donetsk runs along
the H-21 road via Krasny Luch, Snezhnoye, Torez and Shakhtersk. This
route is now blocked too by Ukrainian forces:


If this large column, which combines battle-deployable armour,
troops, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons, carries on to the west,
then it will pose a severe threat to Ukrainian forces advancing on Torez
and neighbouring towns.

Ukrainian Forces Retake Debaltsevo, Move on Shakhtersk, Torez and Gorlovka

Ukraine appears to be making a concerted effort across a number of fronts to retake territory lost to Russian-backed separatist fighters.

Having recently made gains in Severodonetsk and outlying areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, the Ukrainian army is reportedly moving on a number of key separatist-held towns.

Municipalnaya Gazeta reports on terrible destruction in the town of Debaltsevo, as Ukrainian forces pushed separatist fighters back in street fighting earlier today.

According to the report, explosions and gunfire can still be heard in the town.

As a result of the fighting, the town is now without electricity or water.

Municipalnaya Gazeta posted some photos from the town:





Here are some more dramatic photos of the destruction in Debaltsevo today:

Meanwhile Ukrainian forces are also reportedly moving on Shakhtersk and Torez to the south.

Novosti Donbassa reports that local residents have reported that the Ukrainian army has entered Shakhtersk.

According to the reports, the Ukrainian army entered the town from the north, from the direction of Debaltsevo. Meanwhile, separatist fighters are counter-attacking from the south.

The terrorists have turned on sirens in the town and are returning fire. Powerful explosions have been heard in the town. 2 Kamaz trucks carrying militants from Snezhnoye have arrived to aid the terrorists.

There are also breaking reports of fighting in Torez, to the east of Shakhtersk.

ATO forces in Torez

There are even some, unconfirmed reports of fighting on the outskirts of Snezhnoye:

The Ukrainian army has reached the outskirts of Snezhnoye. A battle is under way.

Meanwhile, in Gorlovka, to the north-west of Debaltsevo, Ukrainian forces are pressing on the long-occupied town that formed (along with now-liberated Slavyansk) one of the two centres of separatist power.

This video purportedly shows smoke rising from the area around the Stirol chemical plant.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that between 20-30 people were killed today in Gorlovka when the centre of the town was struck by Grad rockets.

One of the shells reportedly struck and exploded not far from the central maternity hospital.

The rockets were reportedly fired from the outskirts of the town. Some local reports claimed they were fired by separatist militants. 

This video purportedly shows the Grad attacks:

Censor.NET reports that the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO) has claimed in an announcement that 8 of the separatists’ military vehicles have been destroyed and around 20 militants killed by the Ukrainian army near Gorlovka.

According to the announcement, Ukrainian forces have already reached the outskirts of the town and are engaging separatist fighters.

They also report that Ukrainian forces are moving on the separatist-held town of Pervomaysk, to the east of recently-liberated Popasnaya.