Ukraine Liveblog Day 201: The Ceasefire Holds But Is It Temporary?

September 6, 2014

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.

SkyNews footage of Russian armor outside of Mariupol September 3.

Ukrainian Forces Reported to Control Vuhlehirs’k

Yesterday, September 5 a video was uploaded to YouTube titled “Ukrainian
troops still appear to be in control of Vuhlehirs’k”. (The town is
known as Uglegorsk in Russian).

The blogger @djp3tros of Ukraine@War has geolocated the video for The Interpreter here on Google Maps.

Here is the route of the Ukrainian patrol along Nekrasova Street:


To zoom out:


Additional confirmation is at 0:33 where there is a sign with an arrow for the ATB supermarket chain 300 meters away. The ATB in Uglegorsk is at 37 Nekrasova St.


On the Russian popular social media site VKontakte, there is a local group called Eto, Uglegorsk, Detka (“This is Uglegorsk, Child”).

One member of the group from this town posted the following news this evening:

There is quiet in the city. The utilities are working. There’s electricity. There’s Internet and cable but not everywhere. There’s no water. The stores are working. The MTS [cell phone] connection is down. There are a lot of people in the city. The city is coming back to life.

A local news site also posted a notice about the water supply:

Translation: The station is providing water for the cities of Enakievo, Debaltsevo and Uglegorsk. But to restore the water supply in these towns…

The VK group has posted many pictures of the war there, but they are from a month ago and mainly not from this town.

There’s a vigorous debate in the group about which party bears responsibility for the armed
conflict, the “people’s republics,” Russia, or Kiev, and interestingly,
the latest news is discussed, from the video by Graham Phillips inadvertently revealing
Russian Federation soldiers
in Lugansk, to Marie Harf’s statements about
NATO exercises at the State Department
briefing Friday.

Russian Forces Attack Mariupol; ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Says ‘Taking’ Mariupol

To recap, in the last three hours we have reported shelling resuming in Mariupol; the Russian Army reported to shell outside Mariupol; evidence of violence in the Azovstal area; a Ukrainian checkpoint on the eastern edge of Mariupol struck by shells; and of course a Russian Federation military convoy seen in Lugansk (possibly leaving Ukraine).

It seems pretty clear that the Russian Federation Army and Russian-backed fighters are attacking Mariupol.

Yet, early on September 7, ITAR-TASS ran a report claiming the opposite:

“Outside Mariupol the positions of the militia were shelled, apparently, from the Grad system of volley fire. Militia fighters had to reply, and as a result, battle broke out with heavy forms of weapons,” said an agency source. In his words, the sounds of shots and volleys of heavy artillery were heard in various districts.

Perhaps the reality — that it is not the Ukrainians attacking but the Russians — proved too discordant even for ITAR-TASS, and the story was pulled. It is still viewable in Google cache.

This led to some macabre humor:

Translation: the aggressively standing Mariupol attacked the peacefully moving convoy of lost soldiers from the RF.

Many of the Russian POWs captured by Ukrainian forces on the field of battle in Lugansk last month told stories of not realizing they were going into Ukraine or getting lost and accidently crossing the border.

But from all these events, it seems as if the ceasefire has seriously eroded, if not ended, even though the “Donetsk People’s Republic” wanted to blame the Ukrainian side.

First came this announcement:

Translation: the Armed Forces of Novorossiya are taking Mariupol.

Then the self-justifications:

Translation: DPR Prime Minister Zakharchekno: agreement on ceasefire is completely not observed, battles are continuing.

Translation: The DPR announces the violations of the ceasefire in Mariupol and the provocation of the [Ukrainian] forces.

The account of the DPR Press on Twitter appears to be the outlet used most now on Twitter for “official” news from the Russian-backed fighters.

A video of Ukrainian armor burning along the roadside this afternoon:

Ukrainian Checkpoint On Eastern Edge Of Mariupol Struck By Shells

“This doesn’t look like a ceasefire,” said my colleague Stefan. The eastern checkpoint in Mariupol has been shelled.

We spent the night from Thursday into Friday in this plantation.

The official Twitter account for the Russian-backed self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR) announced that:

The armed forces of Novorossiya are taking Mariupol.

Evidence Of Violence In Azovstal Area In Eastern Mariupol

Cars have been found shot up with “people dying from bullet wounds” in the industrial Azovstal area in eastern Mariupol, where shelling has resumed, indicating the end of the short-lived ceasefire declared in Minsk yesterday.

Russian Army Reportedly Shelling Outside Mariupol

There are reports this evening that shelling has resumed in Mariupol, and Ukrainian volunteers blame the Russian Federation forces in the area, regional news site reports. Russian Federation forces disguised as “people’s militia of Donbass” once again began shelling in Mariupol this evening at approximately 22:30 local time  from the Grad BM-21 system, reported.

The Interpreter has translated the story:

According to reports from eye-witnesses, volleys from Grads can be heard in the neighborhood of Vostochny [to the east]. The suburban town of Shirokino is being shelled, which several days ago was literally levelled to the ground along with its civilian residents, although not a single Ukrainian soldier was there,” says

The press service of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion told journalitss that the Russian Federation army was firing the Grads at Ukrainian checkpoints. Azov said it was not returning fire, in keeping with orders from President Petro Porosehkno regarding the ceasefire. Azov believed there was not an immediate danger to the city of Mariupol. published two night-time videos with Grads audible:

There were multiple reports of the ceasefire breaking down and people fleeing.

Translation: the port of Mariupol has died. Before there were more than 10 ships a day moored in the harbor.

Translation: BILD reporter Paul Ronzheimer reports “There are massive explosions, resident are running in a big panic” Mariupol.

Shelling Resumes In Mariupol

Translation: From the east. 10 minutes ago. Now louder.

Large Russian Column, Including T-72BMs On Move In Lugansk Region

The following video, uploaded today, shows a large column of armoured vehicles and military trucks, including what are clearly T-72BM tanks and Strela-10 mobile SAM launchers, headed along a road in the Lugansk region of Ukraine.

The video includes a set of coordinates indicated in the bottom left of the frame, their presence, coupled with a speed indicator suggests this is from a GPS-linked dashcam.

The location indicated by the coordinates lies on a back road just to the north-east of the Ukrainian village of Severny, which lies on the border with Russia. We have previously proposed, based on video evidence of Russian vehicles in nearby Sukholdolsk, that Russian columns are crossing the border in Severny.

The vehicles seen here are headed south. 

While we cannot find an exact visual match with which to verify the location of this video we consider it likely to be accurate. Firstly, the appearance of the location in the video matches that seen in satellite imagery of the location visible on Google Maps:


Note the trees lining both sides of the road.



We can also compare the landscape with this Panoramio photo taken further north along the same road, although there is now only one row of trees.



The tanks seen in the video appear to us to be T-72BMs, as previously identified in a video shot in Sverdlovsk, Lugansk, by Joseph Dempsey, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Dempsey said that the T-72BM was recognisable due it’s distinctiveKontakt-5 explosive reactive armour. We can compare a screenshot of one of the tanks in today’s footage with that identified by Dempsey:



Above is today’s footage, below is the footage from Sverdlovsk:




The reason this is important is that, as Dempsey pointed out to the BBC, the T-72BM has not been exported outside Russia, and these vehicles therefore almost certainly belong to the Russian army. 

From the section of footage uploaded, we can see 2 T-72BM tanks, 1 BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier, 3 Strela-10 self-propelled surface-to-air missile systems, 11 MT-LB armoured personnel carriers and 10 trucks, 9 of which are towing artillery pieces. 

Estonian Intelligence Officer Detained In Moscow

Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer who was, according to Estonia, abducted and taken across the border to Russia yesterday, has appeared in Moscow, where he is being detained. The Estonian authorities reported that smoke grenades were used and that there were signs of a violent struggle. In addition, it was reported that communications signals in the area were jammed at the time of the reported abduction.

Meanwhile the FSB claimed yesterday that Kohver had been arrested on Russian territory, in the Pskov region. 

Interfax reports that Russia’s state-owned Channel One announced today that the Lefortovo Court has approved Kohver’s detention on suspicion of espionage.

Here is video from Russia’s Ruptly news agency showing Kohver being taken out of a car and into a pre-trial detention centre (known in Russia as SIZO). The footage also shows a display of the items that the FSB has claimed that were found on Kohver including 5,000 euros in cash and a Taurus pistol.

The incident occurred only two days after US President Barack Obama visited Estonia and reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to the defence of the Baltic states.
ICRC Report Shelling Near Lugansk

The International Committee of the Red Cross has tweeted that an attempt to ferry aid to the separatist-held city of Lugansk was aborted due to shelling today:

Stanitsa Luganskaya lies to the north-east of the city.
Reports Of Sporadic Fighting In Tense Donetsk

There are reports of some gunfire and evidence of shelling or blasts in the city of Donetsk today, despite the ceasefire agreement.

Donetsk: a fire has started in the railway station

Meanwhile others reported reinforcements had arrived at the Ukrainian-held airport in the north of the city. This video shows Ukrainian tanks and armoured vehicles moving through the ruins of the airport:

Italy May Sell Armoured Vehicles To Ukraine

Italy’s La Stampa reports that the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has authorised negotiations to sell Ukraine 90 Iveco-manufactured armoured vehicles.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

According to the posting, he said this at the NATO summit in Wales on September 4.

“NATO can facilitate the achievement of a political solution. This should be done through the provision of specific support for Kyiv,” the Italian prime minister said.

As reported, Renzi expressed support for new sanctions against Russia.

“We are ready to expand the list of restrictive measures in the field of finance, defense, a number of technologies and dual-use goods,” he said before the summit.

The prime minister urged Russia “in deed and not in name” to demonstrate readiness for the peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

We have no further details yet on the exact details of the vehicles being discussed, or the likely costs and timetabling of such a deal. 

Members Of Aidar Battalion Reportedly Ambushed And Executed Near Metallist

The Ukrainian Aidar volunteer battalion has announced that a group of their fighters were ambushed last night. According to initial reports, 11 members of the battalion were killed near Metallist, to the north of Lugansk.

The reports describe the summary execution of members of the battalion, occurring after the commencement of the ceasefire. 

Roman Romanovich, assistant commander, told Interfax-Ukraine that reports of the death of the battalion commander, Sergei Melnychuk, were false.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that:

According to [Romanovich], since the announcement of the bilateral ceasefire, Aidar have encountered repeated violations of the ceasefire by the enemy. 

Earlier, reports on social networks had said that the commander of the Aidar battalion, S. Melnychuk, had been killed along with a unit of the second company, having been ambushed by Russian spetsnaz forces near Vesyolaya Gora.

Later on, Ukrainian journalist Vsevolod Filimonenko reported on his Facebook page that he had spoken with Melnychuk by phone.

He wrote:

Sergei Melnychuk, the commander of the Aidar battalion is alive and well. Half an hour ago, Sergei Petrovich and I spoke on the phone. It really was almost impossible to get through to Melnychuk, but not because he is no longer with us, it’s simply because there are almost no communications running in Schastye.

Indeed, many Aidar fighters were killed yesterday outside Schastye. They well into a terrorist ambush near Metallist. The Russians shot all our guys on the spot, they didn’t take any prisoners.  The battalion commander, along with a special assault group from the battalion, immediately went to the site of the confrontation to avenge their fighters, but the enemy had already managed to get away. Petrovich picked up the 200s [military code for fatalities] and went back to the town of Schastye.

All translations by The Interpreter.

German MP Marieluise Beck Visits Lugansk – ‘Full of Russian Soldiers’

Marieluise Beck, a German politician and member of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs, specialising in Eastern European affairs, has been in Lugansk after meeting with civil society groups in Kharkiv.

She has described her journey on Twitter and reports that there are large numbers of Russian troops in the area.

Then travelled into the Lugansk Oblast. We realise what the real situation is. The city is full of Russian soldiers.

On Thursday 4/9, a Russian engineering brigade has come to Lugansk and built new structures (electricity lines etc) towards Russia.
The Ukrainian church and the mosque in Lugansk have been closed. The Ukrainian-Orthodox priests had to flee. School has begun again.

Lessons in Lugansk are now taught with Russian school books.

Russian soldiers are going from house to house in Lugansk, giving out food parcels and 1000 rubles for each adult and 500 for children.

Russian passports are being given out in Lugansk.

All translations by The Interpreter.

Poroshenko Tells BBC That NATO Members ‘Prepared to Give Precision-Guided Weaponry’

Yesterday September 4, we noted that in his briefing at the NATO summit, President Petro Poroshenko mentioned a discussion of individual NATO members possibly supplying Ukraine with precision-guided weapons:

There are individual countries who undertook coordination and
decided to be the lead nations within those funds and all the countries
made their commitments to support the funds financially. Apart from
that, basically each country spoke about the results of our bilateral
consultations in the way of assisting Ukraine.

This primarily is related to military-technical cooperation,
both in the area of lethal and non-lethal weapons, including
high-precision weapons. Individual countries undertook to help Ukraine
rehabilitate the wounded servicemen; some countries undertook to supply
medical equipment and medication and as you can see, the scope of the
cooperation on the bilateral level with individual allies is extremely

This was not very explicit, and there were no members of NATO making any public commitments of this nature at the briefing.

But in an interview on BBC’s “HARDtalk” yesterday September 5, President Poroshenko was much more explicit in reply to a direct question from host Steven Sackur. Here’s a transcription of the relevant section at 6:39:

Petro Poroshenko: Also very important that first time after the
conflict had started on a bilateral level, we have a very strong
statement about military-technical cooperation, including non-lethal and
lethal, from supply of the military equipment.

Steven Sackur:
Let me push you on that. You appeared to be suggesting yesterday that
specific countries, member nations of NATO, were prepared to offer you
precision-guided weaponry. Is that true?

Petro Poroshenko: Yes.

Steven Sackur: Which nations?

Petro Poroshenko: This is confidential information.

Steven Sackur: Well, there are only a few nations who would be able to offer you precision munitions.

Petro Poroshenko. Exactly. That’s exactly. So not every…

Sackur: There are very sophisticated militaries in NATO. We’re talking
about the United States, the United Kingdom, just a few others.

Poroshenko: For the country? Please, Steve. Even if it is a hard talk,
no comment. But this is the first time when Ukraine were proposed the
sophisticated weapons to defend their territory.

And you should
understand. This is not just for the victory in this war. This is just
for helping us to create the European security. Because this is not a
war for Ukraine. This is not a war for Ukrainian territory. We don’t
have illusions, Steve, that NATO soldiers on Ukrainian soil would be
defending their freedom and democracy. We count on us. But the military,
financial, military-technical support is vital for us.

Meanwhile, at the State Department noon press briefing yesterday September 5, spokesperson Marie Harf took a question from Matt Lee, AP’s diplomatic reporter:

QUESTION: Marie, coming back to military exercises, so you are
telling that basically military exercises are a response to Russia
actions in Ukraine, correct?

MS. HARF: Well, they’re actual annual – they’re not in response to any recent event. They’re annual —

QUESTION: No, I mean NATO exercise that happened.

MS. HARF: Yes. They are not in response to any current ongoing
events. They are annual exercises that we do every year and we announce
them well in advance.

QUESTION: Okay. But NATO any way plans to intensify its cooperation with Ukraine? Is that a response?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly are intensifying our cooperation,
but the exercises are not being held in response to current regional
events or directed in any regional actors.

QUESTION: Okay, and another one. Yesterday, if my memory serves me right, Wall Street Journal
claimed in an op-ed that President Obama should listen to his own State
Department and to send arms to Ukraine. I’m not asking for a comment,
but just to clarify: Is there anybody in State Department who supports
sending arms to Ukraine?

MS. HARF: The State Department is a very big place; I can assure you of that.


MS. HARF: But I will say Ukraine has made a variety of
requests for different types of aid, and Ukraine’s partners, including
the United States, are reviewing all of them to see how to best further
support Ukraine. The President spoke about this in Estonia this week
just a little bit. We’re reviewing those requests right now. It’s an
interagency process that we are a part of.

So President Poroshenko has been more explicit, but withheld the name of the country or countries making the offer, and no country has made an explicit public pledge. This remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the fact of any discussion at all, and now Poroshenko’s more explicit admission means that this possible transaction will be seen — rightly or wrongly — as NATO, not Russia escalating the conflict:

The State Department spokesperson had a reply to that concern as well, addressed by a reporter:

QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry, as you might expect,
was not impressed with the results of the – of the summit. They say that
the gist and tone of – I’ll just read this one bit — “The gist and
tone of statements on the situation around Ukraine and the announced
plan of NATO countries to conduct joint drill – a joint drill with
Ukraine on its territory before the end of the year are bound to
escalate tensions, threaten the start of progress regarding a peaceful
settlement in Ukraine, and contribute to the deepening of the split in
Ukrainian society. Moreover, they testify to NATO’s unreserved support
for Kyiv’s neo-Nazi and extremist forces, including the right sector.”
Do you have a – would you care to comment on that criticism?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say first that the only reason Russia
was a topic of discussion at the NATO summit is because of their
escalatory, interventionalist actions they have undertaken in Ukraine
over the past months now. So the reason they’re even on the agenda at
the NATO summit is because of their own actions. I’d remind them of

Second, we have made very clear that we will act in conjunction with
our partners. You heard the President say today just recently that we
are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions against
Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors. Those are conversations
that are entirely appropriate to discuss with our allies that were at
the NATO conference.

QUESTION: So you absolutely reject any suggestion that the
tensions are rising not just because of Russia’s actions but also
because of NATO actions?

MS. HARF: Absolutely, wholeheartedly reject that.

 Here’s what the US ambassador to Kiev had to say on Twitter:

The “Fact Sheet on NATO and US Efforts in Support of NATO Partners, Including Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia” had only this additional detail, which doesn’t pledge any precision-guided weapons, but does seem to leave the door open to review requests;

Shipments are planned through late 2014 and will include night vision
devices, additional communications equipment, and more helmets.  We will
continue to assess Ukraine’s needs to apply future funding towards the
highest priority requirements.

POW Exchange to Begin Despite Complaints of Ceasefire Violations

Despite complaints on both sides of non-compliance with the ceasefire agreement, the POW exchange is supposed to begin, RIA Novosti reports.

At the moment, the ceasefire agreement is not fully complied with. It is too early to talk about a complete ceasefire,” Zakharchenko said.

“The transfer of prisoners of war will be held today on our part. We
hope that on Monday, the Ukrainian side will hold their transfer,” he

Zakharchenko made the statement in lieu of two shelling attacks in Amvrosiivka, within the Donetsk Region, early Saturday.

Ukrainian Government Accuses Russian-Backed Fighters of Breaking Ceasefire

Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Center for National Security and Defense (SNBO) accused the Russian-backed militants of breaking a cease-fire agreed on yesterday September 5 already 10 times, reported, citing RIA Novosti.

“In total, in recent days the militia committed 28 shellings of positions (of divisions). Of these, 10 of them took place after the announcement of the ceasefire.”

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” has also complained that the ceasefire is not being fulling observed. The DPR staff has announced that some divisions of the Ukrainian troops have continued shelling populated areas.

No Confirmed Reports of Overnight Fighting

James Miller reports from Kiev:

So far the ceasefire appears to be holding. The BBC reports that there were no confirmed reports of overnight fighting:

There were no confirmed reports of fighting overnight, after the deal was struck in Minsk in Belarus on Friday. 

The BBC’s Richard Galpin in Donetsk says that overnight he had not heard any of the heavy artillery barrages that took place before the truce, although there were some unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian army positions had been shelled near Donetsk airport.

The BBC’s Fergal Keane tweeted from Mariupol, further south, that the ceasefire was holding there.

But there are still some unconfirmed reports of fighting.

Still, it’s safe to say that the ceasefire has held. For the moment, there is no sign of significant fighting.

But one should not confuse a ceasefire with a surrender. Rebel leaders have made it clear that they will pursue an agenda of independence for ‘Novorussiya’ from Ukraine. Our sources in Kiev say that some of the Ukrainian volunteer battalions have said that they will abide by a “tactical ceasefire” but will not accept a surrender and will want to relaunch an attack to retake Donetsk and Lugansk sometime in the future. And the consensus among people we’ve spoken to in Kiev is that there is no appetite at this moment for anything that looks like surrender. 

At the end of the day this may be the first real ceasefire of the war, but with so many issues unresolved it is perhaps likely that this is only a small pause in the conflict.

And this is where the Poroshenko administration will have to walk a very fine line. Russia is clearly pushing for the division of Ukraine. The separatists are still prepared to fight. Poroshenko’s allies in the West appear to be more interested to an end to the conflict than a Ukrainian victory. The Ukrainian government is still weak, the military unable to make gains against this level of attack, and the Ukrainian people are not yet willing to part with eastern Ukraine (even Crimea).  In the end, if Poroshenko makes a deal with Russia his domestic support could collapse, and if he does not then his country will continue to be invaded by one of the most powerful countries on earth.