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.
Valdis: Hello, how are you!
Valds: Listen, do we have the International Committee for the Red Cross in general in the city?
Box: What’s going on there, something urgent?
Valdis: Not really, just a car is parked with the Red Cross.
Box: And what else…
Valdis: Well, let’s find out just what this “firm” is all about.
Dikiy: Hello? Vladlen.
Valdis: Yes, yes.
Dikiy: This is Dikiy. Your people the Red Cross have f**king come in.
Valdis: Yes, yes, I heard.
Dikiy: They can move around. This is a normal Red Cross.
Valdis: A normal one, really? But in general…they don’t have any permission in written form, nothing…
Dikiy: It doesn’t matter. This is the Red Cross — this is the OSCE people. But the kind that are normal. The rest we kicked the f**k out of here.
Vladis: I see. But in general..
Dikiy: Well, the security [inaudible]…
Vladis: …we had an order for their detention.
Dikiy: Who gave the order?
Vladis: Well, in general, the commander of the Box group. The third department, from Khmury [Grumpy] [advisor of Igor Strelkov].
Dikiy: Well, let me dial up Khmury.
Valdis: And what to do with the Red Cross?
Box: They’ve figured it out over there. Put them in the lock-up.
Valdis: Well, we have three people in there now: the driver, the translator and one more worker from that firm. Where should we take them? Perhaps lock them up down cellar or? We have gotten explanations from them, they’ve written them.
Box: The Commander [Strelkov] said they should stay there. Let them sit there.
Valdis: So we’ll take them down. Let them sit there.
Russia has fired back at countries which have passed sanctions against it. But the measures could come back to haunt Russia. Reuters reports:
Russia has extended food import bans to Romania, stepping up its response to more biting Western sanctions for its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine, though Moscow’s measures could be rebounding on its own economy.
Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said on Wednesday it was suspending beef and cattle imports from Romania, citing an outbreak of mad cow disease.
Moscow has already imposed bans on Ukrainian juice and dairy produce, Polish vegetables and Australian beef and has said it might target Greek fruits and U.S. poultry.
However, the Russian central bank warned on Tuesday that the ban on importing such cheap products could make it harder to control inflation.
That’s not the only action of Russia’s that could do more damage to itself than to the countries it is angry with. As we have noted, sanctions have already hit Russian airlines, (and grounded some of its oligarchs). But the Kremlin’s new response to sanctions drove the MICEX stock index to its lowest point in three months yesterday, with airlines leading the way to the bottom. Bloomberg reports:
Russia may limit or ban flights over Siberia by European carriers bound for Asia in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the country, Vedomosti said today, citing people familiar with the situation. Aeroflot was forced to ground its low-cost Dobrolet unit, which was targeted by European Union sanctions last week in response to the Ukraine crisis. Ukraine today expressed concern Russian forces were massing on its eastern border as it continued an offensive against separatists.
“Banning overflights in response to sanctions would be negative for Aeroflot,” Andrey Vashevnik, who manages $25 million as chief investment officer at R&B Investment Fund Ltd. in Moscow, said by phone. “The Ukraine conflict is far from being over.”
Russia is discussing retaliation for the penalties imposed on airlines, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a meeting with Aeroflot Deputy Chief Executive Officer Vadim Zingman and Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, according to a statement on the government’s website.
The MICEX since July 17th:
The OSCE’s latest report has two interesting details about two major border crossings, one of which, the Gukovo crossing, is near where Grad rockets have been launched from Russia into Ukraine:
Observation at the Gukovo border checkpoint
The Gukovo border checkpoint has been closed for several weeks and therefore activities on site have been very limited. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatists has been going on very close to the Gukovo border checkpoint in the past week. The OM observed several shells falling in the territory of the Russian Federation (two on Saturday,2 August, and two on Monday, 4 August, early morning), two of which fell directly on the Gukovo border checkpoint, causing minor damage (see Spot Report of 3 August 2014). The Observer Mission was not able to confirm who was responsible for the shelling.
Observation at the Donetsk border checkpoint
According to Russian authorities, the Donetsk border checkpoint is the busiest in the Rostov region. It operates 24/7 and accounts for approximately 50 to 60 percent of all the cross-border movement in the Rostov region. This is due to the fact that several border checkpoints are currently closed (including Gukovo) and ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine has forced many Ukrainians to seek refuge in the Russian Federation.
The OM observed a high flow of pedestrians and cars, and according to civilians entering the Russian Federation, there are hundreds of cars and at times up to a kilometre of pedestrians waiting to cross despite the border checkpoint working at full capacity.
On the two first days of its observation (31 July and 1 August), the OM observed several groups of ten to twelve young men in military-style dress with backpacks going to Ukraine from the Russian Federation and coming from Ukraine. In some instances, some of the young men coming back from Ukraine were visibly lightly wounded and on two occasions the OM observed a flag of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” on some young men’s clothes. The OM did not observe any weapons. After 1 August the OM has not seen such groups.
The OM also witnessed regular evacuations in ambulances of wounded civilians, Ukrainian servicemen and separatists to hospitals in the region through both Gukovo and Donetsk border checkpoints.
Interestingly, the report also covers the Ukrainian soldiers who fled fighting and crossed into Russia near Gukovo.
As we’ve been reporting, NATO is warning that Russia could invade
Ukraine with “peacekeeping” forces, and vehicles marked with
“peacekeeping” insignias have been seen on the border for the first
time. John Schindler provides additional analysis and context:
Ukraine has been making slow yet steady progress in its “anti-terrorist
operation” (ATO) against Moscow’s proxies in eastern Ukraine and it’s
now clear that, if the Kremlin does not directly intervene in the
conflict — beyond the artillery support from across the border that the
Russian military has been providing its paramilitaries for weeks — it’s
likely that the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and the “Luhansk
People’s Republic” (LNR) will soon unravel altogether. NATO has warned
that Moscow may send troops across the border under the guise of a
humanitarian or peacekeeping mission (observers have spotted Russian
military vehicles near the border pre-painted with “peacekeeping”
insignia), in a Putinesque version of the “Responsibility to Protect”
(R2P) doctrine that the Obama administration cited in its 2011 Libya
From the outset in any clash, Moscow’s forces will
enjoy considerable fire superiority in artillery — long a Russian forte
— and airpower; high losses to date among Ukrainian air force units in
close air support missions indicate inexperience and it is to be
expected that the Russian air force will sweep Ukrainian opponents from
the skies, at least around Donetsk and Luhansk, with relative ease. One
wonders how well mostly green Ukrainian ground units will withstand hard
pummeling by artillery and air strikes.
Schindler goes on to note that while Russia already has the firepower on the border to deal Ukraine a defeat, not far behind there is a much larger force which could reach Ukraine in a matter of hours or days.
The consensus is that if
Russian vehicles really are marked with “peacekeeper” emblems, then the
Russian government may really be preparing to invade. The Interpreter has
found several videos and pictures which do reportedly show Russian
vehicles, staging near the Ukrainian border, marked with the peacekeeper
This video, uploaded on July 30th, reportedly shows a “Column of RF armored vehicles near Ukrainian border 30.07.2014 on Belgorod-Shebekino Highway.” One sign clearly says that this is Belgorad, and another says “to center.” At the 0:43 mark there is a sign which we think says “To Ukraine,” though we’re working to specifically geolocate the video:
Look at the bottom right on some of those vehicles. There appear to be “MC” or “Mirotvorcheskiye Sily” emblems — the emblems used by Russian peacekeeping troops in places like Transnistria, like this:
Or this, which is actually a file-photo of Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria:
Journalist Saviik Shuster tweets:
Translation: 30 July 2014 a few hours ago. Belgorod #war #Ukraine there is an “MS” sticker on the BTR (Russian initials for mirotrorcheskiye sily or peace-keepers).
Translation: ATO outside of Belgorod, f**king peace-keepers (26 km to the border)
That picture is a screencapture from a video, found here. The video is too short to easily geolocate, but here is a clear screengrab — the vehicle is marked “MC”:
On August 1st we posted several videos which showed Russian troops building on the border with Ukraine. The third video in our update showed a convoy of Russian armor on the move in the Rostov region. In that video there is a clear shot of the insignia.
As we reported earlier, Russia has already put its “peacekeepers” on combat-ready status. But a video of those peacekeepers, staging in the Samar region, posted by Russian state TV, confirms two things:
1) The peacekeeping emblems are the same on the vehicles near the Ukrainian border as the ones in the Samar region.
2) Just as Schindler wrote, while the Russian forces directly on the border are growing, a large number of Russian forces are mobilizing not far behind.
There is a gas station visible in the video, this gas station, and that places the Grad rockets somewhere just south of Lugansk, as the fighter who speaks to the camera several times can be seen both near the gas station and near the rockets.
The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, has said that Russia’s peacekeeping forces should maintain constant readiness. The comments, reported by the Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS, are presented as an expression of business-as-normal, but they follow both Russia’s proposal to send a ‘humanitarian mission’ to eastern Ukraine, and publicly expressed concerns from NATO that such a peacekeeping mission could be used as cover for an invasion by the Russian military.
The comments appeared in a report on a visit by Shoigu today to a military base in Samara.
ITAR-TASS reports (translated by The Interpreter):
Shoigu said that Russian peacekeeping forces must be in a state of constant readiness to fulfil their tasks.
“The world has changed, changed dramatically. As you know from previous cases, including this brigade, peacekeeping units may be called upon unexpectedly,” he said.
“This is precisely why divisions and brigades of the peacekeeping forces must maintain constant combat readiness,” explained the minister.
Shoigu also said that peacekeeping units should only be staffed by contract soldiers, not conscripts.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s LB.ua reports that Hennadiy Zubko, the deputy head of the Presidential Administraion of Ukraine, has said that the introduction of Russian peacekeeping forces would be considered “direct aggression.”
Translation: Makeyevka, 5 am. 4 BMPs [they’re actually 2s9 NONAs on BMD chassis – The Interpreter], a crane and a car carrying concrete slabs “passed by” in the direction of Donetsk. A new checkpoint somewhere?
What caught our eye, however, is that we believe we’ve seen these trucks before. Look at the truck on the left, which has a distinctive blue stripe. A truck which looks very much like this one was spotted west of Torez on July 17th, the day MH17 was shot down, delivering a Buk anti-aircraft missile from Donetsk (which, according to the timeline provided by the Ukrainian government, crossed the border from Russia that morning.
The Buk was also spotted on the same blue-striped truck in Donetsk that day, which matches the version of events advanced by Ukraine:
Also taken on July 17th, this truck was spotted in Torez carrying a Buk.
After MH17 was shot down, a video was reportedly taken showing the Buk, missing one or two missiles, on its way back to Russia. We have confirmed that this video was taken in Lugansk, and that the truck was headed towards Russia. Note the blue stripe on the truck.
For more information on the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight see our Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
The Daily Mail reports that the owner of this truck reported it stolen:
The owner of what is said to be the only such white Volvo truck in the Donetsk region of Ukraine has identified his lorry and said it was commandeered by separatists who took over his premises nine days before the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 people on board…
A Lithuanian news website revealed it has spoken to the truck’s owner – identified only as Vasiliy – stressing: ‘Western intelligence agencies have managed to establish the truck’s origin and movements.’
Website alfa.lt said that Vasiliy – a ‘new witness to this horrible crime’ – now fears for his life.
It is believed he could identify the rebels who commandeered his premises and vehicles, a potentially key link in building a case against those responsible for downing the aircraft.
This vehicle appears to have been instrumental in moving the Buk from Russia, through Donetsk, and back to Russia. Could it once again be moving separatist hardware? And is this hardware coming from the Russian side of the border?
Andriy Tsaplienko, a senior correspondent for Ukraine’s Inter television channel, has written on his Facebook page that Ukrainian soldiers and border guards, who were forced to take refuge in Russian territory on August 4, are trapped in Russia and are on hunger strike.
He writes (translated by The Interpreter):
The soldiers from the 72nd brigade and border guards are stuck in the territory of the Russian Federation.
According to one of their commanders, none of the lads asked for asylum in Russia or switched their allegiance.
They summoned our soldiers for questioning throughout the night and tried to take fingerprints.
By morning, the lads had come out of the camp and begun a hunger strike, demanding that they be sent on to Ukraine or meet with a Ukrainian representative.
We have not seen any other reports of the start of a hunger strike, however a report by the OSCE Observer Mission from August 4 does say that no asylum requests were reported to their team in Gukovo.
They also reported that following the departure of the first group of Ukrainian soldiers for Ukraine, another bus was expected to take more soldiers home. This has not happened so far.
The OSCE notes that:
The cell phones of the 72nd brigade commander and border guard commander were not reachable to confirm this information.
Reuters reports that Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman, has said, in an emailed statement, that Russia now has “around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine’s eastern border.”
Following last night’s proposal to the United Nations Security Council by the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, that Russia could send a “humanitarian mission” to eastern Ukraine, Lungescu said that Russia could use “the pretext of a humanitarian or peace-keeping mission as an excuse to send troops into Eastern Ukraine.”
In addition, Reuters reported that:
A NATO military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that early this month Russia had significantly increased the number of troops near the Russian border.
The roughly 20,000-strong troop presence included tanks, infantry, artillery, air defence systems, as well as logistics troops, special forces, and various aircraft, the officer said.
Previously, Russia has used military exercises as cover for intervention, military analysts say.
The Ukrainian football news site Tribuna.com reports that separatist fighters for the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ have occupied the training grounds of the Metallurg Donetsk football club on the southern outskirts of the city.
They report (translated by The Interpreter):
The seizure took place yesterday, late in the evening. Speaking to a correspondent from Tribuna.com, club representaties refused to give an official comment on the incident, pleading a lack of information.
The website of the mayor of Donetsk, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, reports that air strikes were conducted in the city last night, as suggested by reports last night.
The report on the mayor’s site says (translated by The Interpreter):
An air strike was conducted last night in the area of Sechenova street (in the Kalininsky district). As a result, a crater with a diameter of 4 m and a depth of 1.5 10 m was left in the road. Shrapnel from the bomb damaged a gas pipe on Sechenova street.
Novosti Donbassa reports that a footbridge, connecting two districts in Gorlovka, has been seriously damaged by explosives during the night.
A video from the scene was uploaded to YouTube. At least two of the main supports are clearly broken:
Novosti Donbassa reports (translated by The Interpreter):
“This is a bridge over a canal. Without it, it will definitely be hard for the army to cross. All the remaining alternatives are securely closed off by the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] militants,” said a local resident.
The ‘DNR’ has not yet commented on the destruction of the bridge. However, according to preliminary reports, if it becomes a strategic neccesity, the possibility that the road bridge, running parallel to the the footbridge, could be destroyed, cannot be excluded.
There are numerous reports of heavy fighting and shelling on western side of Donetsk, with fighting between Ukrainian volunteer battalions and separatist fighters in the suburb of Marinka and heavy shelling in the Petrovsky district, to the immediate east.
The civilian death toll from the shelling in the Petrovsky district has now risen to three, reports local news site 62.ua.
The area has suffered massive destruction, as seen in these photos, taken yesterday by local photographer, Igor Ivanov in the Tekstilschik area:
This video purports to show the Ukrainian volunteer Azov battalion in battle in the suburb of Marinka, adjacent and to the west of Petrovsky:
This footage purportedly shows shelling in the Donetsk area last night: