Ukraine LiveBlog Day 195: Assassination Attempt on Separatist Leader Zakharchenko

August 31, 2014
Outgoing Prime Minister Alexander Borodai, left, shakes hands with Alexander Zakharchenko, new Prime Minister of the self-declared "Donetsk People’s Republic", Aug. 7, 2014. Photo by AP/Sergei Grits

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

How Ukrainian Troops Emerged Out of Russian Encirclement at Ilovaisk

On August 28, Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey gave orders to keep information secret and not put out news to the Internet via mobile phones as this would endanger troops, UNIAN reported. Thus, it has been difficult to get the story of what has really happened to the Ukrainian troops encircled by Russian Federation troops and Russian-backed separatists outside Ilovaisk, which we have been reporting on.

On August 30, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov then posted some news on his Facebook page (translation here and below by The Interpreter)

The first fighters from the Ilovaisk group — 28 people from the Interior Ministry Mirotvorets battalion (14), Herson (3) and Dnepro-1 (11) — came out of the seige in Komsomolskoye, which had been the forefront of the stronghold of the National Guards brigades.  Several men from the TRO Defense Ministry battalions were with them. They had not held the line in vain all night! About 100 fighters in total came out to our positions throughout the night (28 from the volunteer battalions just now and the guys from the Defense Ministry). It’s not the group that had held the defense outside Chevonopolye, another one. We’re waiting for the rest of the guys!

Semyon Semyonchenko didn’t wait it out — he shot  himself up with painkillers, slipped out of the hospital and is reporting from the road, and together with the commander of the National Guard is coordinating our departing groups.

Semyonchenko has not been posting as much as he has been in the field despite recovering from serious war wounds. On August 30, he wrote on his Facebook:

The situation has been been getting righted. They are trying to split up some of the guys and put them in captivity but they aren’t succumbing. On the one hand, there is a tank division, on the other hand is the [Russian Federation] Airborne Troops regiment. Although it’s the enemy, they are trained cadres, better than the DPR. They have provided medical assistance to the wounded. Within an hour, everything should be decided. There have been attempts along the road by some freaks to shoot the convoy. We passed through. We’re waiting. PS People are asking why I wrote in such detail. The situation is strange and complicated. The maximum amount of detail and publicity is needed. So that just in case, the chronology of events can be restored.

Then on August 30, Interior Ministry advisor Anton Gerashchenko followed up on his Facebook page:

Good news from Semyon Semyonchenko!

Another 69 fighters from the Donbass Battalion have come out from the encirclement outside of Ilovaisk.

Among them are 4 women fighters.

Another 11 fighters from the Svityaz Interior Ministry special battalion have come out of the encirclement and 4 fighters from the Interior ministry Dnepro-1 special battalion.

Tomorrow we will total up and publish the lists of all those who did not come out.

We will determine the fate of each one whose fate is not yet known.

Glory to Ukraine!

Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Council for National Security and Defense said that some Ukrainians had been taken into captivity by Russian paratroopers, but not all the details were available, reported.

He added that he thought without the Russian Federation back-up, the separatists could not have encircled Ilovaisk.

On August 31, Arsen Avakov then reported on his Facebook page that Andrei Teteruk, commander of Mirotvorets was alive, and that Yury Bereza with his fighters from Dnepro-1 had emerged as well. He also gave an impassioned defense of Semyonchenko, who has been criticized by many for his outspoken opposition to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry for failing to back up his men on the battlefield.

On August 31, reported that Aleksandr Polishchuk, commander of the Ivano-Frankivsk Battalion with 17 fighters had come out from Ilovaisk; 4 men were wounded and being taken to the hospital.

Then provided a total count on August 31 that about 200 fighters had been surrounded by separatists, from the Donbass, Dnepro, Svityaz, Herson, Mirotvorets and Armed Forces of Ukraine. But earlier reports had indicated that 340 soldiers had been reported encircled.

Apparently in the confusion, men got separated from their battalions and some were taken into captivity by the Russian Federation forces. The pro-Kremlin Vzglyad, based on a report from state news service, cited an acting deputy of a Ukrainian battalion nick-named “Lermontov” who said they fell under cross-fire from anti-tank missiles, grenades, BMD automatic cannon and rifles. He claimed that 60 men had been killed instantly and dozens wounded, some later dying of their wounds. This information could not be verified, although certainly some number of men have been killed as we reported.

Another fighter who gave his name as Aleksei said he was distraught by Ukrainian shelling and wanted to leave his battalion, but then fell into the encirclement near Ilovaisk.

On Sunday, August 31, Gerashchenko went on a number of TV programs and wrote on social media his conclusions about what had happened in the last week:

Last Sunday, August 24, Russian Federation troops entered Donbass. If there had not been this aggression on the part of Russia, from their regular army, these events outside of Ilovaisk would not have happened. However, our battalions of police, who were not prepared to fight with troops from the regular army of the Russian Federation, outfitted with tanks, artillery, Grad systems…we could not oppose them, gripped in the pincer of Russia.

Unfortunately, our guys wound up encircled, all the negotiations about a humanitarian corridor were blatantly thrown aside by the Russian Federation, and they began to just shoot our guys, as they lured them out of Ilovaisk. Some of the guys now are coming out of the encirclement, some of them were taken captive, we are now in the process of verifying the lists of those who regrettably are no longer with us among the living.

Powerful Explosion in Donetsk

There was a powerful explosion this evening in Donetsk, where Ukrainian forces have continued to battle Russian-backed separatists, and other regional media are reporting.

The explosion could be heard throughout the city and environs.

According to a resident who uploaded a video to YouTube and narrated the scene in an alarmed voice, the large explosion took place at 19:13 pm Kiev time, August 31. He believed that it was near the village of Birzyuzova and the Lidievka coal mine.

It is believed that an oil plant was hit by artillery fire, but further information is being sought.

Here is another citizen’s video uploaded this evening:

This citizen who uploaded a video also believed it was in the Lidievka coal mine area:

2 Ukrainian Coastal Patrol Boats Attacked In Azov Sea

Earlier today, two Ukrainian coastal patrol cutters were attacked by aircraft in the Azov sea, not far from Mariupol.

Video of the incident is below, at around 1 minute in, 2 aircraft approach from the right. Shortly after passing the vessel, an explosion goes off, suggesting a bombing run.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Donetsk border guard department has announced that the attack took place at 15.20 (12:20 GMT).

An official from the Novoazovsk district authorities told 0629 that two boats bad been attacked and that sailors been killed and wounded, however they had no further information to relay at the time.

Polish journalist Paweł Pieniążek took this photo of the smoke rising from the sea:

Andrey Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Defence and Security Council, told Reuters that a rescue operation was underway.

At the time, he said that artillery had been used in the attack. This claim was echoed by separatist sources.

However the video footage makes it clear that aircraft were used.

Since the separatist fighters have no air capability, the attack can only have been carried out by aircraft of the Russian armed forces.

The move raises fears that naval forces may support an attack on the city of Mariupol. 

Putin Calls for Negotiations for ‘Statehood’ for Southeast Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin has called on the government of Ukraine to begin negotiations on the issues of statehood for the southeast of Ukraine. Putin said this during an interview on the program Voskresnoye Vremya [Sunday Time] on state TV’s Channel 1, TV Rain reported.

Interfax quoted Putin as follows (translation by The Interpreter):

“We must immediately get down to a substantial, substantive negotiations, and not on technical questions, but on the questions of the political organization of society and statehood in the south-east of Ukraine with the purpose of unconditional provision of the lawful interests of people who live there.”

The word Putin used in Russian is gosudarstvennost’ which means literally “statehood” but can also mean “state system” or “state organization,” i.e. form of government.

It is not clear how Putin envisions the “Novorossiya” entity, but given a presentation by his aide Sergei Glazyev yesterday at a conference in Yalta attended by Russian-backed separatists and European far-right party figures, there is a notion to make the amalgamated “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” a member of the Customs Union of which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are members.

Further Reports Of Attacks On Troops Attempting To Escape Ilovaisk

Volunteer fighters from the Crimea Sotnia (hundred) of the Dnepr battalion have reported that they were attacked while attempting to leave Ilovaisk.

Last night, the volunteer force posted grim images of the aftermath of their escape on their Facebook page (warning: graphic):

Look at the ‘humanitarian corridor’ Russia gave us. Hundreds of bodies, dozens captured.







Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Donbass battalion, who is outside the town at the moment having been evacuated following injuries, reported on his Facebook page that “very complicated” negotiations were still underway with regards to the release of his volunteer fighters.

He did say, however, that 14 soldiers had managed to escape the encirclement during the night, but he declined to provide their names.

Our wounded were, as of yesterday, not in the ‘DNR’ but in the captivity of the 137 regiment of the Russian Federation 32nd Division and the 9th Tank Brigade. Their injuries are being treated, there has been no abuse.

Second Russian Humanitarian Convoy at Ukrainian Border
A second Russian humanitarian convoy is en route to Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian media are reporting.

Translation: Second “humanitarian convoy” from Russia has arrived at the border of Ukraine.

The second convoy has stopped in the city of Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy near the Ukrainian border, and this time is being brought by railroad, Rossiya 1 reported.

The convoy is also getting a lot less attention than the first
intensely-watched convoy which got its start on an army base in a Moscow
suburb, and consisted of army trucks painted white by soldiers — and
sent half empty into Ukraine despite failure to clear Ukrainian customs.

RIA Novosti reported that at their meeting in Minsk August 26, Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed about the delivery of humanitarian aid by rail. But the terms are not clear, and the Secretary Genera of OSCE recently reiterated that all such humanitarian aid must be shipped with the consent of the country receiving it.

A Russian news program reported that 280 KAMAZes were loaded, but the route was being kept secret.

In an article on titled ‘Russian Humanitarian Convoy Deprived Ukraine of Decency”, Yury Levykin said that the convoy showed that “Ukraine does not control the situation on its territory, at all, and Russian can do anything it wants on it.” The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

Russia used the operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Lugansk in order to demonstrate that it is capable of realizing bold foreign policy decisions despite any obstacles, including the dissatisfaction of other countries, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Politics and chairman of the presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, in a program on Ekho Moskvy. “With the help of the convoy, Russia demonstrated that it is quite capable of acting independently, and no one can get in its way. That was its goal, among other things,” he said.

Lukyanov believes that since Russia got away with the first convoy, now it will make such convoys a regular occurrence, citing the necessity of helping people in need.

“The fact that now this went completely calmly, without any frictions and problems, tells us that either there are some behind-the-scenes agreements about which we don’t know, and the rest is theater or there are no agreements, and it’s simply that neither Ukraine nor the West has the ability to hinder Russia,” said Lukyanov.

TV Rain Journalist Describes Reports Of Russian Troops In City Of Donetsk

Timur Olevskiy, a reporter for Russia’s excellent, independent TV Rain (Dozhd), has relayed reports he has received of Russian soldiers in the city of Donetsk on his Facebook page.

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

A very important explanation to clarify this status: I am not actually in Donetsk now. What I have written was told to me by local residents, whom I have no reason not to trust. No more and no less.


How best to write this? Have Russian soldiers captured Donetsk or has the Russian army occupied Donetsk?

There is such news. Officers have been billeted in rented accommodation in the city centre. A hell of a lot of soldiers. The paratroopers have somewhere to wash. There’s a patrol on every corner.

Olevskiy edited the post to add the initial note that the reports had come to him from others in Donetsk. His original post ended:

Now do you understand that we’re the occupiers, yes? 

Assassination Attempt Made on Zakharchenko, PM of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’

An assassination attempt was made on Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the appointed “prime minister” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR), ITAR-TASS reported.

The attempt was made during the day on August 30, a source in the DNR told ITAR-TASS. Shots were fired at the car in which he was traveling, Interfax reported.

His driver was injured, but Zakharchenko escaped unharmed.

The attack came after Zakharchenko replied to President Vladimir Putin’s call on the “Novorossiya militia” to open up a humanitarian corridor to allow Ukrainian soldiers encircled by Russian-backed separatists to escape. Zakharchenko said he would approve the corridor if first Ukrainian battalions gave up their heavy weapons and vehicles. The Ukrainian soldiers began leaving the area of fighting near Ilovaisk yesterday morning, amid reports that they were fired upon nonetheless by separatists.

Zakharchenko was installed August 8, after the resignation of Aleksandr Boroday, and as a man with some military training, said he would make the unification of the separatist command and victory on the battlefield a priority.

Speculation about the nature of the assailants ranges from rival separatists to Ukrainian forces to Russian intelligence but there is no information available at all on the attackers.

There were reports on August 28 that Valery Bolotov, the former “governor” of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” was assassinated, after disappearing soon after resigning from his position, citing the need to recover from wounds. The reports have not been confirmed.

Another DNR leader who suffered repeated assassination attempts was Denis Pushilin, former chairman of the Supreme Council. In a June 7 attack, his aide Maksim Petrukhin was killed; on 12 June, his car was blown up while he was away in Moscow, and two people were killed. He left his post on July 18.