Ukraine LiveBlog Day 177: Russian Aid Convoy Approaches Ukrainian Border

August 13, 2014
Photo: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

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.

Former Separatist Leader Says Reports of Strelkov’s Wounding Unconfirmed, But He Trained Replacements

Former pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin has issued a video message in Moscow concerning reports of the wounding of Col. Igor Strelkov. Separatist sources discounted the reports earlier as “disinformation.

The video was uploaded today, August 13.

The Interpreter has provided a translation:

Very alarming information has been received about the severe wounding of Igor
Ivanovich Strelkov. We await confirmation of this
information, and we await details.

Nevertheless, I want to say to
all residents of Novorossiya, despite even events such as this, the
liberation movement will continue.

During this period of time,
Igor Ivanovich trained a sufficient number of commanders who can
continue to wage battle worthily during the period of injury until Igor
Ivanovich Strelkov recovers — if that is confirmed. You and we are
obliged to win. We don’t have any other alternatives, and we will fight
on only until victory.

This suggests there may be something to
the reports of Strelkov’s wounding in battle, if the leadership feels they have to prepare their
followers for a possible period when Strelkov may be unable to lead

On July 18, Pushilin resigned from the position of chairman
or speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”
parliament but said he would continue to promote the separatists’ cause.

web site that is said to be approved by Strelkov for news from him, had a brief statement

The information corps of the DPR Defense Ministry states
that at this moment Strelkov is at the front positions. No information
has been received at the DPR Defense Ministry headquarters about his

No Russian Humanitarian Convoy But Russian Armored Vehicles Reported in Belgorod

Journalists have been unable to find out anything more about the Russian humanitarian aid convoy that was supposed to reach the Ukrainian border today but which is reportedly stalled near Voronezh.

Earlier, Russian state media reported that the convoy had moved on to
Belgorod, which is about an hour from Sherebino, the checkpoint
originally stated as the crossing point into Ukraine.

Translation: Convoy with humanitarian aid for east of Ukraine left from Voronezh to Belgorod.

But there was no confirmation of this news, as the Ukrainian government continued to insist that the convoy was “a direct invasion of Ukrainian territory under the guise of delivering of humanitarian aid” and the International Committee of the Red Cross said the convoy was not under their auspices.

Meanwhile, there were multiple reports of Russian armored vehicles being moved on train cars to Belgorod.

Translation: #Belgorod. Idling.

An Instagram user uploaded a photo of a Russian armored vehicle convoy on the rails yesterday August 12 which was geolocated to Belgorod. He added the hashtags in Russian “#Putin #bring in #troops.”


On the horizon is the distinctive cupola of Belgorod University.

Added to this is a video of an armored convoy labelled “Latest eschelon of ‘humanitarian aid,’ Belgorad” but we were unable to confirm that it was taken in Belgorod.

There are also other unconfirmed reports of Russian armor in Rostov Region yesterday:

A user uploaded a video to YouTube dated today August 13 and labelled it “Military convoy from Salsk to Rostov 12 August”. We were unable to confirm the location.

Also as we reported yesterday, a massive armored convoy was reported moving in Novoshakhtynsk on August 10th, and was geolocated to that town.

There was also a report today from of “142 armored vehicles” of a Russian military convoy already in Ukraine moving toward Snezhnoye, which is the town near the downed MH17 airliner. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

On 13 August a Russian military convoy entered Ukraine through Dibrovka and passed through the village of Dmitrovka in Donetsk Region. The column numbered 142 vehicles, including a radar station, field hospitals and 20 fuel trucks. All of the vehicles had white markings on them. The military convoy moved toward the city of Snezhnoye. Residents of the city observed a large number of military in uniform with white armbands.

We were unable to confirm or corroborate any of this information about the Russian convoy allegedly already in Ukraine, but taken together, all of these reports of Russian armor on the move near the Ukrainian border, some confirmed, are of concern.

OSCE Witnesses Increased Russian Military Activity On The Border

The OSCE has released their reports from the Gukovo and Donetsk border checkpoints for August 6-12. Keep in mind that the Ukrainian government says that much of the Russian cross-border activity is not happening where the OSCE monitors are stationed but in other areas where Russia has blocked observers.

Here is their summary:

KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russian Federation, 13 August 2014 – The Observer Mission (OM) has reached full operational capacity. This report details the observation at the border crossing points, the opening of Gukovo border crossing point,  increased Russian military activity at the border and developments regarding the return of the last five Ukrainian officers to Ukraine.

A few highlights from the Gukovo crossing:

Observation at the Gukovo border crossing point
Since the Ukrainian army and border guards withdrew from Chervonopartizansk (the name of the border crossing point on the Ukrainian side opposite to Gukovo), the Gukovo border crossing point has reopened and traffic has progressively increased, reaching significant numbers of cross-border movement (including vehicle movement). In the past days, there were between 2,000-3,000 border crossings per day. Two-thirds enter the Russian Federation and one-third exits to Ukraine. However, many people are just crossing for short visits during the day and return in the evening while others are just renewing their migration cards. Therefore the statistics do not give a clear picture of the cross-border movement….

On 12 August Observer Teams observed for the first time in Gukovo border crossing point multiple groups of young people wearing military-style dress and backpacks crossing in both directions.

Throughout the week, detonations and gun fire were heard. These incidents were quickly assessed as not combat related. According to border crossing point authorities, on the first few days after the Gukovo border crossing point reopened, detonations were the result of securing the roads from unexploded ordinances. Explanations on gun fire and mortar occurrences were provided later by people wearing military-style dress crossing from Ukraine into the Russian Federation. According to one of them, there is a “shooting range” nearby which is used to calibrate rifles and mortars…

Excerpts from the Donetsk crossing:

Observation at the Donetsk border crossing point
At the beginning of last week, activity at the Donetsk border crossing point was higher than in the previous weeks. On average, 5,500 entries/exits were recorded, of which roughly eighty percent were crossing to the Russian Federation. This was a result of the deterioration of the overall situation in eastern Ukraine…

Throughout the week the Observer Teams observed multiple groups of generally young people (men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions. Observer Teams also observed several ambulance evacuations of wounded supporters of the self-proclaimed republics.

In the past three days the Observer Teams noticed increased military activity in the vicinity of the Donetsk border crossing point: on 9, 10 and 11 August, the Observer Teams observed two armed Mi-24 helicopters flying over and around the border crossing point. Later during the nights, other helicopters were heard flying tactically very close to the border crossing point. During the day, the Observer Teams confirmed that the helicopters did not cross into Ukrainian airspace while flying within visible distance of the border crossing point…

On 12 August, from 05:15 to 05:30, the Observer Teams heard continuous heavy artillery fire at an approximate distance of 10 kilometres in the west north-west direction. From 07:00 to 07:15, the Observer Teams heard other similar heavy artillery fire at an approximate distance of 10 kilometres north of the border crossing point. In both instances the noise resembled multiple‑launch rocket systems.

Russian Foreign Ministry Denounces Australia After Criticism of Russian Aid Mission

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has denounced Australia, after some tough words from Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop yesterday regarding Russia’s  aggression against Ukraine.

The Sydney Morning Herald has the story:

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has dramatically stepped up Australia’s condemnation of Moscow over the flight MH17 tragedy, accusing it of trying to use humanitarian help as a pretext for an occupation.

Ms Bishop, speaking alongside senior US officials including her counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, also left open the door for further sanctions against Russia, including pushing for a ban on President Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the G20 meeting in Brisbane.

”Any intervention by Russia into Ukraine under the guise of a humanitarian crisis will be seen as the transparent artifice that it is and Australia would condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort by Russia to enter Ukraine under the guise of some kind of humanitarian mission.’

This in turn engendered a harsh response from the Russian Foreign Ministry titled “commentary in connection with new anti-Russian attacks by representatives of the leadership of Australia.” The Interpreter has provided a translation:

The Russian Foreign Ministry views as unacceptable the statements lacking evidence issued in recent days by the leadership of Australia, in which responsibility for the tragic events in Ukraine, including the downing of the Malaysian airliner, is placed on Russia without grounds.

Absurd claims continue to be made that the humanitarian convoy of aid to the civilian population of the South-East of Ukraine may be used as an excuse for Russian “armed intervention” on the territory of a neighboring state. Australian Foreign Ministry Julie Bishop has gone further than everyone in these irresponsible attacks on us, given that her position would seem to involve building bridges between states and not destroying them.

On the whole, the impression is gained that under the weight of their own hugely overblown ambitions, some members of the current government of Australia have finally lost a sane notion of what is happening in and around Ukraine.

Pro-Russian Separatists Deny Col. Strelkov is Wounded
Russian separatists in Donetsk in the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) are denying that Col. Igor Strelkov, whose real name is “Girkin,” has been wounded, RIA Novosti reported. (Translation of quotes by The Interpreter).

“It’s nonsense,” says Vladislav Brig, head of the department for international information of the DPR Defense Ministry’s political section.

This information “appeared on some incomprehensible fake web site created especially to plant disinformation,” he said. “Everything is fine” with Strelkov, he added.

The DPR press service also told RIA Novosti, “We have gotten in touch with Berezin, Strelkov’s deputy, and he has not confirmed this information,” said a press service representative.

Strelkov has described himself as the commander of the Donetsk militia, and is no longer claiming the title of “commander-in-chief.”

In the last few days, a number of Russian and Ukrainian news sites have reported variously that Strelkov is on a drunken bender, has fled Donetsk, has become depressed, etc. and some of his supporters toss this up to “disinformation.”

It has been difficult to get precise news from the DPR not only because of ongoing battles but because there are several competing websites and social media accounts claiming to be their official representatives.

We will recall that last month a “Novorossiya” web site reported that Strelkov was “arrested and taken in a Red Cross helicopter to Kiev” which turned out to be untrue.

Russian State Media Says Strelkov Seriously Wounded

The Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reports, citing a separatist news source (Novorossiya), that Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, the separatist military leader and ‘defence minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has been seriously wounded.

ITAR-TASS notes that they have been unable to confirm the report from other sources. However, that this is being carried by Russian state media lends more credence to it than the previous reports on social media of Strelkov’s, and other DNR leaders’ demises.

Will An Aid Convoy Bring Hope Or War To Eastern Ukraine – Our Newest Podcast

This week on The Interpreter podcast Boston College Professor Matt Sienkiewicz and The Interpreter’s managing editor James Miller the Russian ‘aid convoy’ headed to Ukraine, as well as the state of democratic society in both Russia and Ukraine.

James explains what The Interpreter is,
how it is funded, what its mission is, and the current state of freedom
of expression, freedom of press, and freedom of politics inside Russia,
Ukraine, and territory being held by Russian-backed separatists in
eastern Ukraine.

Click below or here to listen to the podcast in a new window.

Ukraine Says Russia Is Blocking Red Cross Aid To Lugansk

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s press secretary has released a statement today on the aid convoy destined for Lugansk. The first key point made is that the agreement under duress after Russia nearly invaded on humanitarian grounds on Friday:

On Friday, Ukraine faced the threat of direct armed invasion of its territory. Under the guise of the so-called peacekeepers regular armed forces of Russia, not armed mercenaries, were going to cross our border.

The Ukrainian President managed to stop direct invasion after the involvement of the world leaders and the reaction of the Operation Headquarters.

The second key point the statement makes is that Ukraine would welcome an aid convoy into eastern Ukraine if it were organized by the Red Cross and was not a kind of ‘Trojan Horse’ invasion. According to Ukraine, while the ICRC has been trying hard to make this happen and is in agreement with the Ukrainian government, it is Russia that is rejecting all of the proposals:

Yesterday, Ukraine agreed to accept Russian part of humanitarian assistance in case it will be reloaded to the trucks hired by the Red Cross and will be accompanied solely by the Red Cross representatives.

But Russia rejected the given proposal.

So, today we have three scenarios of future developments:

First. Direct invasion of the Ukrainian territory under the pretense of humanitarian cargo delivery.

Second. Provocations with cargo on the territory of Kharkiv region with high probability of Russian aggression.

Third. Assistance to Luhansk will pass through the checkpoint which is the nearest to this Ukrainian city. Our customs officers, border guards and the OSCE representatives will be able to scan the cargo on the Ukrainian-Russian border. The mission will be moving through the territory controlled by militants. After the arrival to Luhansk, the Red Cross will distribute the assistance among civilians.

The decision to accept the assistance for Luhansk and prevent the large-scale invasion by Russia was adopted at the meeting of the President, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and security ministers in the night of August 12-13.

Ukrainian part of the international humanitarian assistance is being sent to Luhansk today.

Ukraine cannot leave its citizens who became hostages of terrorists on the occupied territories.

Read the entire statement here.

Pravyy Sektor Fighters Killed Near Donetsk

Last night, a bus carrying fighters from the nationalist Pravyy Sektor group was shot up near the south-western Donetsk suburb of Mandrykino

Photo: Ukrainska Pravda

TVi report, citing Pravyy Sektor spokesman Borislav Beryoza, that 12 were killed in what Ukrainska Pravda reported as an ambush.

Earlier, Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported that 7 had been killed and 13 wounded by separatist fighters.

According to the RIA Novosti report, the bus had been fired on while making an attack on a separatist checkpoint.

They reported that a representative of the separatists’ self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ had told them (translated by The Interpreter):

On Tuesday evening a bus carrying armed men suddenly attacked our checkpoint in the village of Mandrykino (a southern suburb of Donetsk). They shot our sniper after which the militia at the roadblock replied with heavy fire on their bus.”

Further Confirmation That Russia’s Aid Convoy Never Left Voronezh
As we’ve been covering, it appears that the aid convoy has not left Voronezh, despite claims by the Russian state-operated RIA Novosti to the contrary:
It’s not clear why the convoy is stopped. Since the convoy is still in Voronezh, it’s also not clear in which direction it will travel, or whether any of its contents will spoil in the heat.
Convoy, Or At Least A Large Part Of It, Still In Voronezh
Courtney Weaver, the deputy Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, has posted a photo on Twitter that shows a long line of white trucks, appearing to match those seen in the Russian aid convoy, parked in Voronezh, where they were reported to have arrived last night:
Putin Arrives In Sevastopol For Russian Security Council Meeting

President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Sevastopol, in Russian-occupied Crimea, to start a two-day tour, ITAR-TASS reports.

Later today, Putin will preside at a meeting of the Security Council, to be held at the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The Russian state-owned news agency does not give any details of the subjects of discussion at the meeting.

Tomorrow, Putin is due to host a meeting of the State Duma in the Mriya sanatorium in Yalta. 

General Breedlove – Humanitarian Mission Into Ukraine Without Kiev Backing Would Be Attack On Sovereignty
Regional Offical Says Convoy Is Not Headed To Kharkiv Border

UNIAN reports that Igor Baluta, the chairman of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration has posted on his Facebook page that the Russian aid convoy will not cross the border in the Kharkiv region.

According to UNIAN, Ukrainian State Emergency Service staff, who had been awaiting the arrival of the convoy at the Pletenevka border crossing in the Kharkiv region, have packed up their camp and removed the cordon at the customs checkpoint.

The news agency says that there are unconfirmed reports that the convoy may instead enter Ukraine through a border crossing in the Lugansk region. “It has not been discounted that this could be Izvarino.”

The Izvarino border crossing is beyond the effective control of the Ukrainian government and large quantities of Russian tanks, armour and artillery have apparently passed through unimpeded in the past, appearing on the road to Lugansk in Krasnodon, just to the west of the crossing.  

If this is the case, there is no reason that Russia could not send armed escorts along with the convoy. 

1 Killed And 3 Wounded In Separatist Grad Attack On Volunteer Battalion Outside Gorlovka

Ukraine’s TVi channel reports that separatist fighters fired on Ukrainian positions outside Gorlovka with Grad rockets last night, killing one volunteer fighter and injuring three others.

TVi cited a report by Marat Suleymanov, the deputy political officer for the Batkivshchyna battalion:

“The fired on our battalion’s positions. There were casualties. One of our fighters was killed and another three were wounded.”

According to him, the volunteers have arrived just outside militant-occupied Gorlovka. The fighters’ roadblocks are located 2 km from the entrance to the town. The battalion is awaiting the order to liberate Gorlovka.

Meanwhile, according to reconnaissance reports, the militants are continuing to strengthen their positions. Suleymanov said that the terrorists have begun to operate with mobile groups of a few people, who are attempting to advance right up to the positions occupied by the battalion, in order to take the most advantageous positions for firing from.

Translation by The Interpreter.

Russian Military Helicopters Flying Ahead Of Convoy Near Belgorod

A large fleet of Russian military helicopters was photographed at an army base to the immediate north-west of Belgorod in late March.


The scale of the build-up of force around this base was also documented by satellite photos released by Airbus Defence and Space on April 9

This footage was purportedly filmed in the Belgorod area yesterday, showing large numbers of armoured personnel carriers and trucks being transported by rail.

Avakov: Putin can take these 30 tons of salt that he’s bringing and pour them on his…

The Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, has written on his Facebook page that the Russian aid convoy will not be allowed into Ukraine. 

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

No “humanitarian convoy” of Putin’s will be allowed to pass through the territory of the Kharkiv region. A cynical provocation by an aggressor will not be tolerated on our territory. This is official.

As far as I’m concerned, Putin can take these 30 tons of salt that he’s bringing and pour them on his…

Red Cross Still Has No Detailed Information On Convoy

Andre Loersch, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has told Interfax-Ukraine that his organisation has still not received detailed information on the aid convoy Russia is sending to the Ukrainian border. 

The Russian convoy has been photographed with red crosses, which Russian media have described as “the flag of the ICRC”, which, as we noted yesterday, goes against ICRC policy regarding the use of its name.


Interfax-Ukraine reports: 

He said that the ICRC received two official reports from Russia on Tuesday, in particular, one on the sending of the convoy to the Ukrainian border and another on the content of the convoy.

Loersch said that the ICRC had received a general description of the cargo, but it needed more accurate information about what these trucks are carrying.

Among the technical issues requiring coordination, there is a question whether these trucks will cross the Ukrainian-Russian border and where this will happen, he said.

All these issues are resolved at the international level, Loersch said.

He also said that there was still no information about the location of the convoy and that it was unclear when it will arrive at Ukraine’s border, with the terms ranging from 1700 on Wednesday to Thursday, August 14.

After Night in Voronezh, Russian Aid Convoy Proceeds to Belgorod

Last night several dashcam videos of the Russian aid convoy were uploaded to YouTube, with road signs that indicated they were in Voronezh. The vehicles had turned on their lights as it was growing dark, and were continuing to ride without license plates. They continued to display Russian regional flags and the red cross flags. reported early this morning that the convoy had still not reached the border checkpoint Sherbino-Pletenevka, which was said to be the crossing agreed upon by Russian and Ukrainian officials.

MIGNews said no officials could tell them exactly when the convoy would head out again and they speculated that it could even go to the border of Lugansk Region.

At the Kharkov Regional Government Administration, no officials had information about when to expect the convoy at the Shebekino checkpoint.

Meanwhile, about 30 Kharkiv EuroMaidan activists said they intended to prevent the entry of the convoy to Ukrainian territory and were going to organize a picket at Pletenevka. But they did not appear to have a specific plan of action, said MIGNews.

Svoboda, the Russian language service of the US-funded Radio Liberty, reported this morning that the convoy was approaching the border. It continued to report that while Moscow claimed that Kiev had agreed to drop the requirement to change trucks and re-pack the freight, Kiev had not said anything new to contradict its previous statement that it would not allow the Russian vehicles on to Ukrainian territory.

RIA Novosti reported at 8:06 a.m. that the convoy drivers and journalists accompanying them had stopped for the night at at army base near Voronezh. Then early this morning the convoy headed out toward Belgorod on the way to the Ukrainian border.

Traffic police who accompanied the convoy blocked traffic in some areas to enable the convoy to proceed, said RIA Novosti. There was still no clarity on the further progress of the convoy (translation by The Interpreter), said RIA Novosti:

The question of the humanitarian corridor for the passage to Ukraine of the Russian convoy with medicines, food, baby food, sleeping bags and other necessities remained open for the time being.