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.
A mother of one of the POWs — Private Ivan Milchakov (see a transcript of his videotaped confession here) — said that she received a call from a Ukrainian official. (Translation by The Interpreter).
“I received a phone call and was told that my son was alive and well. They were brought to Kiev yesterday. And then I was calmly told what the Ukrainian government wants personally from me. They want for Russia to admit that the boys, the paratroopers, are prisoners of war, that they took part in an armed conflict in the southeast of Ukraine. In that case, they are prepared to exchange them for Ukrainian POWs,” said Milchakov’s mother.
Milchakov’s mother said that she first learned of her son’s capture from an SMS text on her phone.
“The code of the country was “3,” and then we realized that this was a foreign SMS, and then later on the Internet, on YouTube, there was a video in which I immediately recognized my son.”
She also contacted the Svirsk Division commander about the whereabouts of her son, but they said they had no information.
Milchakov, born 1995, was among the 10 POWs seized 25 August near Zekalny in Amvrosievka District of Donetsk Region.
In his confession, which was coerced since he is in captivity, he says that they were sent on a 70-kilometer march and that they fell under not only mortar fire from Ukrainians, but Grad rockets from RF territory.
The Russian Defense Minister continues to claim that the soldiers wound up in Ukraine accidentally while patrolling the border.
As we reported earlier, the separatist battalion led by the fighter known as “Motorola” (Arsen Pavlov) was fighting in Ilovaisk in Donetsk Region this past week, surrounding Ukrainian troops.
The battle for Ilovaisk had begun August 18, when Ukrainian troops said they took the town.
On August 19, the fighting continued, and Semyon Semyonchenko, head of the Donbass battalion was seriously wounded. A Donbass Battalion volunteer, the Ukrainian-American Mark Paslawski and Mykola Berezovy, husband of Tetyana Chornovil, of the Azov Battalion were killed in this battle.
Another video of Motorola’s battalion published on YouTube August 26 and evidently filmed on August 19 shows the separatist fighters rolling
into residential areas of Ilovaisk on armored vehicles, then shooting
their way through the residential streets of Ilovaisk.
At 2:03, the separatists ask an old woman to give them some water and she pours cups for them. The camera man says he is filming the area — the old lady, the houses, and the sky — to prove that the town still exists, as press reports had said it was “wiped from the earth.” This video is a perfect example of the difficulties created for counter-insurgency forces when separatists blend in with the civilian population.
Some of the fighters in the video have Caucasian accents.
The separatists throw grenades directly at houses at 13:25. The video is titled “Motorola’s Division Throws Grenades at the Punitive Expedition” so they believe they are throwing them at Ukrainian soldiers.
This video has been confirmed as geolocated in Ilovaisk by the blogger @djp3tros who edits Ukraine@War.
The separatists are moving along Lermontov St. which can be seen on Google Maps here. At the end of Lermontov St. next to the building with the red roof and before the cross street, the church can be seen.
The church can be seen in the video at 5:52.
A geo-tagged photo of the same church can be found on Panoramio.
The camera angle can be seen on the map here:
Earlier in the video, the steeple of the church could be seen in the distance.
So Motorola and his men advanced along the road as follows:
Motorola, who became famous for being the first groom to get married in “Novorossiya,” while recovering from a war wound, can be seen in the first few seconds and later at 15:37 with an AGS-17, an automatic grenade launcher.
The separatists then show off trophy weapons and vests they have captured from Ukrainian soldiers in the Azov and Donbass battalions, and a patch of a soldier’s blood.
The BBC Russian Service reports that four Ukrainian journalists have managed to escape the separatist encirclement of the town of Ilovaisk, where Ukrainian forces have been engaged in a bloody struggle for control of the town and are now surrounded.
Maksim Levin, a correspondent for Ukraine’s Leviy Bereg (LB.ua) wrote on his Facebook page:
“Friends, we cannot believe we are alive. Today I (lb.ua), Markiyan Lysenko (Ukrinform), Ivan Lyubish-Kirdey and Georgiy Tikhiy (Germany’s ARD TV) escaped from the encirclement in Ilovaisk and experienced a second birth.”
The BBC continues:
According to him, they broke out in their own car together with fighters from volunteer battalions and soldiers. During the breakout their convoy was shelled, as a result of which, one Ukrainian tank was knocked out.
The journalists’ car also came under fire, causing Levin to suffer minor injuries.
“Thanks to our luck, or God (for those who believe) and our decision to join at the start of the convoy, we escaped from there,” said the journalist.
Maksim Levin’s wife Valentina confirmed, in comments to the BBC Ukrainian Service, that the journalists were save and were heading for Kiev.
Markiyan Lysenko said in an interview with the BBC Ukrainian Service that the four of them were in Volnovakha and would soon travel to the Ukrainian capital.
According to Telekritika, there are three more Ukrainian journalists in the Ilovaisk area.
On August 25, Espresso TV journalist Yegor Vorobyov, cameraman Taras Chkan and Traffic Control journalist Rostislav Shaposhnikov entered the encirclement.
Maksim Levin wrote that the Ukrainian soldiers in the Ilovaisk encirclement are engaged in tough fighting and need immediate assistance.
Earlier, the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon Semyonchenko, wrote on Facebook that, during the breakout from Ilovaisk, a column of Ukrainian soldiers had fallen into an ambush.
“During the attempt to withdraw from Ilovaisk all the members of the battalions and the Armed Forces fell into an ambush. They established a defensive perimeter and are fighting,” wrote Semyonchenko.
He appealed to the ATO leadership to assist the Ukrainian soldiers immediately.
The battle for Ilovaisk has been extremely violent and costly.
Here is footage (purportedly filmed on August 27) broadcast by Russia’s LifeNews (long suspected of close ties to that country’s security services) showing fighters from the separatist Motorola battalion fighting in residential areas of the town and using heavy weaponry including RPG-26 disposable anti-tank rocket launchers in the grounds of a school.
These poles here:
Are also visible in this geotagged photo on Panoramio:
Today, Semyonchenko wrote on his Facebook page
that despite original plans to assault the town with 800 troops and
armoured units, the attacking force had ended up numbering only 340. He
says that, had they received reinforcements, the whole town would be
under Ukrainian control. He says that Russian-backed separatist fighters
shelled the town with tanks, mortars and Grad, Smerch and Uragan
rockets. He also described how Ukrainian fighters would kill themselves
with their grenades to avoid capture (as reported earlier today) as the
militants would brutally execute any captured volunteer fighters.
He blames the failure of the mission and the loss of lives on the
negligence of Ukraine’s military leadership, who he accuses of lying
about the support provided to the embattled troops in Ilovaisk. Yesterday a
protest, called for by Semyonchenko, was held outside the General Staff
of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kiev. Semyonchenko addressed the
crowd by phone over a loudspeaker but urged civilised restraint, today
describing those who broke windows and tore down fences as provocateurs.
On today’s events, he wrote:
The commander of one of the groups that broke out from the
town called me. They were attacked by seven Russian tanks and up to a
battalion of infantry. They were attacked while moving. The attack was
repulsed and 12 prisoners were taken. I’ve done all that I can for them.
Now everything depends on their resilience and your prayers. It’s too
late now for someone to protest again. We just have to wait now.
All translations by The Interpreter.
Russia’s LifeNews (which is suspected of close ties to state security services) reports that separatist fighters have told them that they have captured Tochka-U ballistic missiles from Ukrainian forces.
Their report says that Vladimir Kononov, the ‘defence minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) told them that separatist fighters have now captured two Tochka launchers with ballistic missiles.
It was claimed that one system was captured following the separatist retaking of the strategically important Saur-Mogila kurgan, and another in Ilovaisk.
We have not seen reports of these seizures outside of Russian or separatist media and the possibility remains that the reports may be fabricated to provide the cover of plausible deniability for Russian deployment of such weapons.
Bloomberg reports, citing an unnamed official, that the British government will press European leaders to block Russian use of the SWIFT banking network at a meeting in Brussels tomorrow.
Here is an excerpt from their report:
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as SWIFT, is one of Russia’s main connections to the international financial system. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government plans to put the topic on the agenda for a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels tomorrow, according to the official, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.
“Blocking Russia from the SWIFT system would be a very serious escalation in sanctions against Russia and would most certainly result in equally tough retaliatory actions by Russia,” said Chris Weafer, a senior partner at Moscow-based consulting firm Macro Advisory. “An exclusion from SWIFT would not block major trade deals but would cause problems in cross-border banking and that would disrupt trade flows.”
The move underscores Europe’s growing concern at Russia’s latest incursion into Ukraine, with casualties mounting amid the threat that conflict descends into an all-out war on the EU’s eastern flank. The U.K. wants the EU to respond by ratcheting up sanctions against Russia to bring them more into alignment with those imposed by the U.S., said the official.
The EU enrolled SWIFT as part of sanctions imposed on Iran in March 2012, prohibiting financial messaging providers from providing services to Iranian banks. SWIFT, based in Belgium, has to comply with EU decisions because the organization is incorporated under Belgian law. No one was immediately available for comment from SWIFT’s press office when contacted by phone today.
Bloomberg notes that, due to the threat of being cut off from the SWIFT network, Russia has already drafted a bill to introduce a new system for domestic bank transfers.
Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reports (translated by The Interpreter):
Poland has barred the overflight of the Tu-154 carrying the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, who was returning from Slovakia from events held to mark the 70th anniversary of the Slovak national uprising, reports a RIA Novosti correspondent aboard the aeroplane.
Following take-off of the Russian Tu-154 from Banská Bystrica, the pilots of the aircraft received a message from the ground that Poland would not allow the Russian defence minister’s plane to fly through their airspace, said one of the crew members to RIA Novosti.
As a result, the aircraft made a sharp turnaround and landed, an hour later, at an airport in Bratislava. Negotiations on the matter are now underway.
Sergei Shoigu is not on EU sanctions lists, so the overflight ban is likely to be interpreted as a political move by Poland in protest of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
TV Rain (Dozhd) reports (translated by The Interpreter):
Artyom Kuzmin, one of the 10 Kostroma paratroopers captured earlier in Ukraine, has been brought to a burns centre in Saint Petersburg. Dozhd has been told this by the head of the Kostroma Council of Soldiers’ Mothers, Lyudmilla Khokhlova with reference to the command of the military unit.
While separatists (and Russian state) media reported earlier that several villages to the west and north of Mariupol had been captured by separatist fighters, reports from The Daily Telegraph‘s Roland Oliphant suggest that the port city is not surrounded.
Meanwhile a separatist VKontakte group, titled “Dispatches from the Novorossiya militia,” but still bearing the URL vk.com/strelkov_info, posted a claim that the village of Yalta, (not to be confused with the town in Crimea) had been captured.
According to the post, a local police officer was killed after firing at the separatists.
Other reports suggested that, having been pushed out of Bezymyonnoye earlier today, there were now no Ukrainian forces between Mariupol and Russian-occupied Novoazovsk.
The situation in Mariupol itself is tense. 0629 reports that large queues are forming at the bus station as “dozens of citizens hurriedly try to flee the city.”
In other news related to Mariupol, both 0629 and Dutch journalist Olaf Koens report that an OSCE monitoring team has arrived.
The separatist Novorossiya News Agency has announced that Mariupol is now surrounded by separatist fighters.
The Russian state-owned ITAR-TASS agency reports, in English, on the claim:
“During the fighting overnight, the Novorossiya forces took control of the villages of Starchenkovo, Respublika, Zeleny Yar, Boyevoye, Malinovka, Demyanovka, Starodubkovka, Chervonoye Pole and Osipenko,” the news agency said.
“At present, the operational situation is the following: Donbass’ defenders blocked a section of the Mangush-Osipenko road. The clashes are continuing in Urzuf,” it said, adding “Chances are high that today [Ukrainian] punitive troops will be finally entrapped in Mariupol.”
We have not been able to verify this claim, but it was reported earlier today that Ukrainian forces had been forced to withdraw from Bezymyonnoye, just to the west of Novoazovsk, and that 60 Russian tanks (repainted with separatist insignia and manned by troops from the Caucasus and eastern regions of the Federation) occupied the village.
The claim of an encirclement from the north-west could be disinformation to spread fear and panic among troops defending Mariupol.
If true, the occupations of Chervonoye Pole and Osipenko would be the first of the conflict by separatist or Russian forces of towns in the Zaporozhye region. We will continue to look for more information on these claims.
Meanwhile, some residents of Mariupol took part in activities to reinforce defences in the city today.
0629.com.ua, a Mariupol-based news site, reports that more than 50 people volunteered to dig trenches before checkpoints at the entrances to the city.
The move was, an organiser said, a symbolic one, as a 0629 reporter asked why shovels were being used rather than machinery.
The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has announced that his government intends to render illegal Ukrainian membership of any international bodies opposed to Ukraine’s ultimate goal of EU membership. Furthermore, he says that the proposed legislation would abolish Ukraine’s post-Soviet non-aligned status and allow Ukraine to pursue NATO membership.
“The Ukrainian government is submitting a bill to parliament on the abolition of the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and on the resumption of Ukraine’s course towards NATO membership.”
UNIAN reports that:
In Yatsenyuk’s words, according to the draft law, ” the main and only goal of Ukraine’s foreign policy is attaining membership in the European Union.”
“This bill prohibits the Ukrainian government from taking decisions on membership of other economic, political or military alliances which run contrary to the main objective of Ukraine – membership in the European Union. Following the adoption of this law, Ukraine will be prohibited from (membership) of the Customs, the Eurasian or other different types of so-called ‘unions’, which are, in essence, nothing other than the Soviet Union of the Russian Federation.”
Translations by The Interpreter.
Interfax-Ukraine reports that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has claimed that two Ukrainian anti-aircraft officers blew themselves up on August 25, along with 12 Russian paratroopers, to avoid being taken prisoner.
The majors, from the 51st brigade were Oleksandr Kandesyuk and Oleksiy Shepelyuk.
The Ministry of Defence said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Eyewitnesses say that they saw 12 Russian paratroopers surrounding the Ukrainian soldiers and attempting to take them captive at gunpoint. When the enemy, having encircled them, came within a few metres, the wounded Ukrainian officers got up from the ground and raised their hands. It was evident that they had something in their hands and a moment later several powerful explosions rung out, resembling grenade blasts. It was clear that the officers of the Ukrainian armed forces, Majors Oleksandr Kandesyuk and Oleksiy Shepelyuk, not wanting to surrender themselves, had blown themselves up with a greater number of their enemies.”
The Ministry said that defending against an attack by Russian paratroopers from the 331st airborne regiment, based in Kostroma.
The location of the incident was not revealed by the Ministry, though they said that Kandesyuk had headed an air defence team, armed with MANPADS, who had been sent to the area as reinforcements. The attack came as Russian regular troops with military vehicles crossed the border and surrounded the site, opening fire immediately with “all the weapons they had.”
“By the evening of August 25, most of the battalion battle group had been knocked out of action. As there was practically no chance of survival in this hell, the decision was taken to break out of the encirclement. Major Oleksandr Kandesyuk, together with Major Oleksiy Shepelyuk, commander of an anti-aircraft battery, led the vanguard group of the breakout with his own detachment, a sergeant and two soldiers.”
They fell into an ambush. As a result of the fighting, Major O. Kandesyuk received several wounds from enemy machine gun fire. Major O. Shepelyuk rushed to carry the officer out of the fire and, while attempting to pull his comrade out, was himself seriously wounded. The remainder of the vanguard was fired on with machine guns, mortars and direct fire from a Shilka. All the personnel received serious wounds. The main group was unable to come to the aid of their comrades due to the heavy fire and, moving to their base camp, set up a defensive perimeter.
It was then that the Russian paratroopers surrounded the officers who subsequently blew themselves up.
The ATO command is proposing that President Poroshenko award the officers the posthumous titles of Heroes of Ukraine.
Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the “Prime Minister” of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” and also its commander-in-chief, responded to President Putin’s request to create a “humanitarian corridor” for fleeing Ukrainian soldiers by saying the separatists would make such a corridor.
Yet in subsequent interviews with Russian state media, Zakharchenko is setting a condition, namely that the soldiers turn over their heavy armor and ammunition, RIA Novosti reported:
“We are prepared to provide Ukrainian units, surrounded in these kettles, humanitarian corridors, under the condition of surrendering heavy armaments and ammunitions, so that this weaponry and ammunition cannot be used against us, Zakharchenko told Rossiya 24.
Ukrainian troops are surrounded by separatists outside of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Region. Some have already managed to escape.
About 60 re-painted Russian Federation tanks are 20 kilometers from the Ukrainian town of Mariupol, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing TSN.
As was reported last night, Russian Federation battalions have headed out from Novoazovsk en route to Mariupol. Up to 1,000 Russian soldiers are in the area, primarily from the Caucasus and Far East regions, says TSN.
They launched mortar fire at a checkpoint of Ukrainian troops in the
village of Bezymyonnoye [Bezimenne], and the Ukrainians retreated to the city, as
they did not have the firepower to retaliate.
The Russians are
reported to have set up their position in Bezymyonnoye and are 20 km
from Mariupol. This is a town that saw clashes between Russian-backed
separatists and Ukrainian forces in May, leading to a number of civilian
and combatants’ deaths, but which has been relatively quiet since then.
Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, owner of coal mines in the region,
paid bonuses to coal-miners to patrol the streets and keep the
separatists out of town.
In recent days, hundreds of pro-Kiev Mariupol residents have rallied in the main square denouncing the Russian invasion.
Ukrainska Pravda reports (translation by The Interpreter):
soldiers from the 9th battalion of territorial defense, border guards,
the National Guard, the Dnepro-1 battalion admit that the Russians will
try to break through to the Crimea.
“We have had to constantly
change positions, because the spotters are guiding the enemy’s fire on
to us. We just detained a spotter who had guided a Grad system on us,”
says a Ukrainian soldier.
“Fifth tanks have come from the
direction of Russia, and we have 7 RPGs. That’s it, we don’t have
anything else against the tanks. There are still some Mukhi and AKMs
made in 1962,” said another soldier.
The Ukrainian soldiers claim that there aren’t any home-grown “militia” fighting against them.
Russian invasion is under way, that is without question. Yesterday we
confirmed that when Russian tanks came into Novoazovsk, they had Russian
Federation flags and soldiers,” said the soldiers.
soldiers have blocked the occupied city and are not letting anyone out
in the direction of Ukraine; they are only allowing refugees to go into
Russian troops shelled a bus that was trying to take children out of Novoazovsk, but fortunately there were no injuries.
Ukrainian soldiers in Ilovaisk report that they are doubly surrounded and are running out of ammunition, water, and food.
Translation: Mariupol is preparing for defense: people are rallying and digging trenches.
Translation: Armored group of Russian tanks is preparing to invade Mariupol. Graffiti: Bezymyonnoye is Novorossiya!
President Vladimir Putin made a late-night address
to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, titled “President of Russia
Vladimir Putin Appeals to Militia of Novorossiya”. It was posted on
kremlin.ru at 1:10 am Moscow time.
The Interpreter has a full translation of the text:
is obvious that the militia has achieved serious successes in
suppressing the operation of Kiev forces which constituted a mortal
danger for the population of the Donbass and which has already led to
enormous numbers of victims among the civilian population.
a result of the militia’s actions, a large number of Ukrainian soldiers
who took part in the military operation not by their own will, but
fulfilling an order, have been encircled.
I call on the
forces of the militia to open up a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian
soldiers who have been surrounded, in order to prevent senseless
victims, and to allow them the opportunity to leave the area of combat
operations without hindrance, to reunite with their families, to return
to their mothers, wives and children, and to immediately provide medical
assistance to those wounded as a result of the military operation.
Russian government, for its part, is ready to provide humanitarian
assistance to the population of the Donbass which is suffering from a
Once again, I call on the
government of Ukraine to immediately case combat operations, to stop the
firing, to sit down at the negotiation table with representatives of
the Donbass, and to resolve all the accumulated problems in an
exclusively peaceful way.
What is “Novorossiya”?
“Novorossiya” was trending on Moscow’s Twitter likely as a result of Putin’s late-night speech, and Western reporters scrambled to provide “explainers” of
“Novorossiya” — which can be more contradictory and confusing the more
accurate historical analysis you apply to it.
At its most
practical and current usage, “Novorossiya” (which is pronounced
Nova-RAWS-iya by the separatists themselves) simply means the
combination of the rival self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” in a shaky
“Novorossiya” entity with an unelected parliament and the beginnings of a
state bureaucracy. These are the territories of Donetsk Region and Lugansk Region (or oblast) in Ukraine. (The original territory under Catherine the Great’s rule didn’t include Lugansk, however.)
The flag of “Novorossiya” may look like the old American Confederate flag, but actually was not inspired by it, and in fact comes from a version of the traditional St. Alexander’s Flag flown by the tsarist Russian Navy.
A more ambitious usage of “Novorossiya” (literally “New Russia”) as Russian ultranationalists have described it would mean an entity
made up out of parts of Ukraine and Moldova to make up a “republic” that
would be a constituent member of the Russian Federation, with a map
the separatists and their backers talk about how they would like total independence for
“Novorossiya” and went to great lengths to have Malaysia recognize them as a state in order to turn over the black box from the downed MH17. Formally, they declared independence from Kiev after their May 11 referendum on their status, and “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev has talked about how Novorossiya would form its own separate relationship with the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Sometimes they talk about a federative status with the
Russian Federation, but they envision it with more autonomy than
Russia’s current constituents actually have (ask the Siberians — or
better yet, the Chechens.)
Putin doesn’t clarify which meaning of the term he is using, but he
has used it before, in April, in speaking of the annexation of the
Crimea and “eastern Ukraine.”
even more important than the territory invoked by this term is the
armed movement itself — Putin is legitimizing them as a victorious
force that can now in theory magnanimously move aside to allow hapless
Ukrainian soldiers to flee — as they have already been doing from the
It’s hard to know what might be going on behind the
scenes — yesterday both the Russian and Ukrainian general staffs met to
discuss border issues and exchange of POWs. Perhaps Putin is banking on
getting Russian POWs back if he allows Ukrainians to escape the
“kettle” of the separatists.
Also of note is that Putin describes the battles as a silovaya operatsiya,
and “operation of forces,” rather than “war,” and later speaks of a
“military operation”. The Ukrainians also speak of these battles as an
“anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) not “war,” although yesterday the
president announced a draft of able-bodied men to participate in the
It remains to be seen how this will actually work out, but
the “Novorossiya militia” has just announced that it has agreed to create the