Ukraine Liveblog Day 183: Ukraine Fights to Retake Ilovaisk

August 19, 2014
Ilovaisk. Photo: Donbass battalion Facebook page.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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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.

Lugansk Streets Empty, Dire Conditions Reported

There were reports today of a heavy build-up of Russia armor near the Ukrainian border, and a report later in the day from Dmitry Tymchuk of Information Resistance that a convoy of up to 40 Russian tanks and troops had broken through to Lugansk.

We were unable to confirm these reports.

Meanwhile, a number of videos have been uploaded today to YouTube showing the streets of Lugansk empty of cars and people as well as heavy damage of some buildings from shelling.

This video titled “Empty Lugansk, City Without People 18.08.14” is confirmed as taken in Lugansk as the driver goes up Budyonny Street past the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky (see Google Maps), past a Watson’s store, and then past the Regional State Administration building, where a barricade of tires and sacks have been erected and the Russian flag is flying.

Note: This copy of the video was uploaded by Life-Maria News, but it appears that it was made originally by Graham Philips, RT stringer who has been reported to be in Lugansk.

The Lugansk City Council reported on its website today that there had been shelling that damaged buildings in the city center, including the marketplace and buildings on the Great Fatherland War Square.The market was in flames and there were reports of a fire at the Children’s Hospital.

Authorities were able to make an update on their own website but reported:

The situation in Lugansk continues to remain critical; people are living in conditions of unceasing military actions, and for the 17th day there is no light, water, mobile or Internet connection.

Bread was being delivered by trucks and long lines were formed. Some water was available.

Food, medications, and fuel deliveries have stopped.

Pravda-TV also ran a report calling Lugansk “a ghost town”:

The pro-separatist ANNA news had footage of the burning Central Market:

American Killed Fighting in Ukraine

The Ukrainian online news site reported that Mark Paslawsky, an American citizen of Ukrainian heritage, was killed in the battle outside of Ilovaisk in the Donetsk Region today.

Paslawsky, age 55, who went by the nick-name “Franco” had taken Ukrainian citizenship in order to fight on the Ukrainian side in the Donbass Battalion.

Photographer Maks Levin confirmed on his Facebook page that his friend Paslawsky was killed in battle.

Interior Minister Aven Avakov said Donbass Battalion Commander Semyon Semyochenko was also seriously wounded in the same battle.

Translation: Mark Paslawsky, 55. Ethnic Ukrainian from USA, he took Ukrainian citizenship to become a Donbass fighter. Killed today.

VICE’s Simon Ostrovsky had a feature about Paslawsky August 6, “The American Volunteer in the Donbass Battalion.”

Both Kremlin and pro-Russian separatist propagandists have claimed falsely that there are variously “150” or “450” “Americans mercenaries fighting in Ukraine.”

But Paslawsky told Ostrovsky that he was the only American he knew of fighting in Ukraine, and he joined as a volunteer with the rank of private.

Ukrainian Military Expert Warns That 1,200 Russian Troops Have Entered Lugansk

Hromadske TV reports that 150 pieces of Russian military hardware, including tanks, and 1200 troops with Russian uniforms (but lacking chevrons) have broken through to Lugansk today. This is part of a message on Dmitry Tymchuk’s Facebook page (translated by The Interpreter):

Bad News:

1. Unfortunately, the fact is confirmed that today, a convoy of military vehicles has broken through to Lugansk to aid the local fighters. Some of it had come from Russia earlier, and some from RF territory today into Donbass.

According to our information, several dozen vehicles have come into the outskirts of Lugansk, of which up to 40 are heavy armored vehicles. Some of this convoy has entered the city.

How this convoy of vehicles could break through the line of encirclement, taking into account that Lugansk is blocked by a ring of checkpoints and guard posts of the ATO forces, we cannot say at this time.

2. Terrorists from the LNR claim that the convoy of refugees from Lugansk shelled yesterday was not done by them. I. Plotnitsky, one of the leaders of the fighters, has made this statement.

This statement could possibly confuse the outside observer who could regrettably surmise that the ATO forces could commit this monstrous act by shelling the convoy by mistake. If it were not for one thing. The leader of the terrorists immediately began swearing that the armaments had not been transferred to the fighters from Russia, that supposedly “all the military vehicles are trophies and have been taken in battles.”

And here everything falls into place. It is hard to imagine that the fighters could seize from the Ukrainian army many dozens of tanks and MLRSes [multiple launch rocket systems], and it is even more incomprehensible how the Ukrainian soldiers obtain such armaments and vehicles which are exclusively in the Russians’ possession, like armored KAMAZs, the newest BTR-82s, the Kord machine guns, the AK “100 series” automatic rifles and so on — the list could be endlessly extended.

The lie about the arms proves the lie about shelling the convoy as well.  But the leader of the fighters is so tangled up in lies that he doesn’t even turn on his brains when he sticks his lying on the public.

We have not been able to confirm the reports yet.

Donetsk Rocked By Gunfire And Artillery, But Who’s Shooting?

Earlier today there were reports that Russian-backed separatist artillery opened heavy barrages of outgoing fire from the center of Donetsk, Ukraine’s fifth largest city. Reuters reports on the violence in the city:

A Reuters reporter said intense shooting broke out. Five or six rebel gunmen ran through a shopping mall car park, ducking behind cars and firing their guns.

It was not possible to determine at whom they were firing; there was no sign of Ukrainian troops and the rebels remained in control of the center.

In a park near the rebel headquarters building, residents fled when they heard the sound of shelling nearby. Shops closed early, and cars with gunmen inside sped through the streets, ignoring red traffic signals.

A few hours earlier, fighting broke out in Makiyivka, a neighborhood on the eastern edge of Donetsk that until Tuesday had not seen any combat.

A resident of Makiyivka who gave his name as Svyatoslav said he had seen separatist fighters turning back an ambulance from the scene of the fighting, telling the crew there was no one left alive for them to treat.

The fires are still burning now:

There is an interesting theory being circulated at the moment. Earlier, there were a series of reports, all posted at the same time and coming from multiple sources, which suggested that it was separatists who were firing artillery rockets, probably Grads, out of the center of Donetsk. But artillery rounds and rockets have also fallen in the city. But we have not seen signs that the Ukrainian military has moved on Donetsk today, and Reuters saw no evidence of Ukrainian soldiers in the area. Are the separatists shelling the city themselves to blame the crisis on the Ukrainian military?
Ukraine Bans 14 Russian Television Channels

RFE/RL reports:

Ukraine has banned 14 Russian television channels accusing them of spreading war propaganda.

Among the channels Ukrainian authorities banned on August 19 were Russia Today and Life News.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry aide Anton Gerashchenko made the announcement on his Facebook site, saying the channels were taken off the air in Ukraine because they were “broadcasting propaganda of war and violence.”

The new announcement is the result of a law which would sanction Russian companies deemed a threat to Ukraine. The law sanctions companies which are considered important to Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, but unlike their European and American counterparts they also focus on the media. Again, RFE/RL reports:

The draft law, which passed by a small majority in a first reading on August 12, provides for sanctions against 172 individuals and 65 entities in Russia and other countries for the support and financing of separatism in Ukraine.

Targets include behemoths like energy giant Gazprom, which currently relies on Ukraine to pipe nearly half of its gas supplies to Europe. Ukrainian economists have eagerly suggested Moscow could lose as much as $150 billion in revenue if the sanctions are imposed.

Press advocates are concerned that such heady projections may trump objections about the legislation’s media provisions, which would allow for the prohibition of individual print, broadcast, and Internet outlets outside and inside Ukraine, as well as limiting access to public telecommunications networks.

International watchdogs have condemned the proposals as a profound rollback in Ukraine’s commitment to free speech, considered one of the strongest in the post-Soviet space.

While the Ukrainian crackdown on Russian media outlets has been widely condemned, it is also important to remember the context. When Russian troops began to take over Crimea, one of the first things they did was arrest Ukrainian journalists and raid television and radio broadcast centers. The signals of independent Ukrainian news outlets were then replaced with those of Russian state media.

Ukraine has also been accused of arresting Russian journalists, and some Russian journalists have been deported or their entry into Ukraine has been blocked. At the same time, journalists have also been arrested, kidnapped, and harassed in separatist territory. On the other side of the border, Russia has banned journalism that (according to the Kremlin) spreads anti-Russian propaganda. They also now require bloggers to register with the government, and they have shut down or tampered with the few remaining independent media sources in the country.

Clearly Ukraine now sees itself in an existential struggle against a new and aggressive Russian imperialism, and it believes that the Russian journalists operating or broadcasting in the country are part of the Kremlin’s strategy for control in Ukraine.

Churkin: Russian Aid Delivery May Commence In Next Few Hours

The Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reports:

An action to deliver Russian relief aid to eastern Ukraine may get under way in the next few hours, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday.

“We hope that no one will resume attempts to hamper the delivery of relief aid from Russia and that we will be able to start the action in the next few hours,” the Russian diplomat stressed. He also said that with hostilities still on, Russia urgently needed security guarantees from the Ukrainian side.

Russian Military Buildup On And Across The Border Escalates As Diplomatic Options Are Discussed
Despite the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough today, Russia may be signaling that it is willing to wheel and deal but only while holding Ukraine to the point of a sword. There are many reports of new weapons headed from Russian bases towards the Ukrainian border. This, for instance, shows a 122mm Gvozdika, a self-propelled howitzer with a maximum firing range of more than 15 milometers:

We’ve seen plenty of these weapons in Ukraine, reportedly after they have crossed the Russian border and were delivered to the separatists. But another picture, posted to Facebook in the last hour, shows a weapon we have yet to see in this conflict, a 2S19 Msta, a 152mm howitzer with a maximum firing range of 29-36 kilometers:


This weapon was reportedly photographed near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, headed toward Russian Donetsk (map), the location of the Izvarino border crossing. The separatists have never acquired this weapon, to our knowledge, so if this shows up in Ukraine it will be a clear indication that Russia sent it there. It will also be a significantly dangerous addition to the separatist arsenal.

In the last 24 hours there has been more Russian equipment filmed on both sides of the border. Yesterday we posted evidence that Russian military trucks towing guns were spotted in Russia, but then trucks and guns that look exactly the same were later spotted inside Ukraine on their way to Lugansk. A few more pictures show the similarities between the vehicles spotted in Russia and in Ukraine:

Yesterday we posted pictures from a report by TVN24 Foreign Correspondent Wojciech Bojanowski who spotted Russian armor, supply trucks and artillery crossing the border and an SA-13 (Strela-10) advanced anti-aircraft missile system moving towards the border.

We’ve seen this before. The pattern has always been that Russia escalates its interference in Ukraine at the same time that it elevates its diplomatic overtures. If the leaders of Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to meet on August 26th, it is likely going to be a very dangerous 7 days.

Ukraine Claims More Than 30 Incidents Of Shelling From Russia In Last Week

UNIAN reports that the spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Yevhen Perebiynis, has told reporters at a briefing today that there have been more than 30 incidents of shelling from across the Russian border in the last week, carried out with howitzers, Grad rockets and mortars.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

According to [Perebiynis], over the past week, Ukrainian border guard detachments have been fired on more than 30 times from Russian territory, and more than 15 cases of Russian helicopters and drones violating Ukrainian airspace have been recorded.

In addition, Russian mercenaries and military hardware continue to illegally enter Ukrainian territory under the cover of Russian artillery fire.

“Russia, as is their tradition, denies any involvement in the shelling, despite the existence of dozens of pieces of evidence demonstrating that it is carried out precisely from their territory,” said Perebiynis.

He noted that there had recently been further confirmation of the horrific crimes of the terrorists from the DNR and LNR and their Russian backers: telephone call intercepts, satellite images, photo and video evidence from local residents, foreign journalists and even the terrorists themselves.

According to Perebiynis, the facts of the shelling from Russian territory are confirmed in reports from the OSCE mission, whose representatives are at the Russian border checkpoints on the section of the border controlled by the terrorists.

“Thus, there exists compelling evidence that the terrorists in the Donbass are killing civilians, including children, kidnapping hostages, who are subjected to torture, and purposefully destroying the infrastructure of Ukrainian towns and villages. There is also compelling evidence that Russia is continuing to provide financial support to the terrorists, and that heavy military equipment and armed fighters are passing into Ukrainian territory at an unprecedented rate,” said Perebiynis.

Latest OSCE Report Stresses The Plight of IDPs and Migration To Crimea

The OSCE has released their latest report, which can be read in full here. There were a few interesting things that caught our attention. First, even in areas where the fighting has stopped, like the city of Mariupol which has been liberated by the Ukrainian military operation, a large amount of internally-displaced persons, or IDPs, remain. Now that the fighting has stopped, many IDPs need housing, essential supplies, and perhaps ultimately relocation.

Some of these IDPs, presumably (though the report does not specify this),  those who are pro-Russian, have tried to flee to Russian-occupied Crimea:

The SMM visited on 17 August a checkpoint at the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) between Ukraine’s mainland and the Crimea peninsula in Chonhar (217 km south-east of Kherson). About 60 cargo trucks and 10 small passenger vehicles were waiting to cross over to the peninsula. The SMM gained access to the middle of the neutral zone and also saw a dense line of vehicles there.  Ukrainian Border Guards thought that the flow of IDPs moving from the Donbas region to Crimea still remained high. According to them, during the 24 hours alone preceding the SMM visit, 55 buses full of people escaping the area of fighting in Donbas, from Donbas, crossed from Ukraine’s mainland into the Crimean peninsula.

The Ukrainian border guards at another ABL checkpoint, near Strilkove (239 km south-east of Kherson), claimed that there were frequent minor provocations against them from the Crimean side, such as laser pointing in night hours and full combat alert announcements. The SMM was approached by a woman at this checkpoint, who said that her son, an activist supporting Ukraine’s unity, had disappeared in Crimea on 26 May. She feared that he was imprisoned by the de facto authorities of Crimea.

Read the entire OSCE report here.

Separatists Reportedly Firing Artillery Out Of Central Donetsk
The Ukraine Reddit forum has collected a series of tweets which indicate that there has been a series of outgoing artillery, mortar, and/or rocket barrages fired by separatists out of central Donetsk:
Ukraine Can Only Guarantee Security For Aid Convoy On Government-Held Territory

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Yevhen Perebiynis, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, has told reporters at a briefing today that Ukraine is capable of providing security for the Russian aid convoy, but only on government-held territory.

Perebiynis said:

“As we already mentioned, militants themselves and Russia, who control them, brings all responsibility for the security of this cargo over the territory controlled by the terrorists. Ukraine, in turn, has many times confirmed its readiness to provide security guarantees and provided them on the territory that is under control of the Ukrainian ATO forces.” 

He then said that owing to this, the International Committee of the Red Cross must come to an agreement with Russia and Russian-backed separatist forces regarding security in militant-held territory.

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko To Meet Russian President Putin
This is a big development:
15 Bodies Recovered From Shelled Refugee Convoy

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Defence and Security Council (SNBO), has told reporters at a briefing today that 15 bodies have been found at the site of the convoy which was shelled with Grad rockets and mortars yesterday in the Lugansk region.

According to Lysenko, military engineers and forensics teams were at work on the site. However, due to the renewed outbreak of fighting in the area, work has had to be stopped.

Slovak Citizen, Fighting For Separatists, Reportedly Detained in Ilovaisk

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, has reported that a Slovak citizen has been detained by Ukrainian forces in the town of Ilovaisk.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“A European Union citizen of Serbian descent, who has citizenship of the Slovak Republic and is a resident of the city of Banska Bystrica, was detained near a locomotive depot in the town of Ilovaisk. He had a Slovak passport with a mark confirming that he crossed the Ukrainian border at Zhuliany airport on July 3, 2014,” Heraschenko said on his Facebook account early on Tuesday after a conversation with Donbas battalion commander Semen Semenchenko.

Ukrainian Flag Raised Over Ilovaisk

Ukrainian forces are mounting a concerted attempt to retake the separatist-held town of Ilovaisk, to the east of Donetsk.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the volunteer Donbass battalion has announced that the Ukrainian flag is flying in the town centre, though the army is not in control of the entire town.

Ukrainian forces attacked the town yesterday with fighting continuing intothe night.

According to Interfax-Ukraine, the Donbass battalion reported on their Facebook page that:

“Grad and Uragan [systems], as well as armored hardware, were used against Ukrainian servicemen. Groups of the Donbas battalion that entered the town from ten different directions managed to access the town center, where the blue-and-yellow flag of the Ukrainian state is already flying.”

Initial reports from Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Donbass battalion, suggested that, despite fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces had not suffered losses.

Semyonchenko wrote on his Facebook page at 7:47 (4:47 GMT) (translated by The Interpreter):

We’re in Ilovaisk.

Yesterday, the Donbass battalion, a detached company from the Dnepr Battalion and the 2nd platoon of the Azov battalion were engaged in heavy combat on the outskirts of the town. They performed their task perfectly.

The shock troops of the Donbass battalion, sweeping away the terrorists’ roadblocks, entered the town from several directions and, by 19:00, had taken control of the eastern part of the town…

Semyonchenko wrote that Ukrainian forces had provided food and care for residents in the areas they occupied. “To avoid becoming a static target at night” they set out to destroy enemy checkpoints and sweep the area for separatist fighters. 

Semyonchenko claimed that, by 5am, Ukrainian forces were in control of around two thirds of the town. At the time, he wrote that there had been no losses and that those who had been lightly wounded were refusing to go to hospital.

However, at  11:53 (8:53 GMT), the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote on his Facebook page that Semyonchenko himself had been seriously wounded.

Avakov wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Donbass battalion, while on the advance for the second day, has received shrapnel wounds.

The group leading the attack, cleansing Ilovaisk of terrorists, ran into mortar fire. They stood their ground, the attack was not turned back.

One of our soldiers was killed and four wounded. Among them, Semyon. Multiple shell fragments. They were all taken from the battlefield to a hospital. According to initial reports, the lives of the wounded are at risk.

We’re sending reserves to help the lads. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! Glory to the valiant war!