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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.
TSN reports that the SBU has opened a criminal investigation under anti-terrorism legislation following a blast on a section of railway in Odessa this morning.
There were no casualties but the blast shut down rail movements in the area.
Odessa resident Vitaliy told TSN that (translated by The Interpreter):
“There was a powerful explosion at half past three in the morning, shaking houses. I live nearby and we went out into the street, I thought it was terrorists. I’m just shocked, I have a young child, I ran out into the street, not knowing what to do. It’s terrible, just terrible what is happening.”
The blast is the second incident in Odessa in a week, following a grenade attack on a checkpoint to the north of the city on the evening of September 24-25.
The OSCE has just published the latest report (as of 18:00 September 28) from their Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine.
The SMM continued to monitor the situation in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where it observed and received reports of shelling in a number of locations, including Shchastya and Donetsk city. In Kharkiv the SMM observed a pro-Ukrainian unity rally which culminated in the removal of a statue of Lenin from one of the city’s central squares.
On 27 September the SMM observed in the centre of Kharkiv a demonstration organized by the Communist party under the slogan “No war, for peace”. About 40-50 people, both men and women, in their forties and above, were present. A strong police presence, with more than 300 officers, was visible at the scene. The police informed the SMM that the demonstration had not been agreed and approved by the city administration. During the event, the police detained about 10 protesters, all subsequently released within a few hours. The leader of the local branch of the Communist party informed the SMM that they had actually been detained for safety reasons by the police against possible threats by pro-Maidan groups.
On 28 September, at 14:30hrs, the SMM observed in Kharkiv a large demonstration of some 2,000 pro-Ukraine supporters gathering in front of the Opera house. The crowd, composed of men and women of different ages and including children, was led by members of the “Azov” volunteer battalion, as well as young men and women with masks. Some of the demonstrators marched towards Liberty Square, where Lenin’s monument was located. There, the SMM observed a group of young men with masks trying to climb on top of Lenin’s statue, while the crowd present on the square had increased to approximately 5,000 people. The demonstrators who had climbed up to the statue began using an electric cutting instrument to dismantle the base of the statue. Whilst not visible on the square, the SMM observed the police deploy and set up an outer perimeter cordon around the square and three buses of police behind the regional administration building. At 22:40hrs Lenin’s Statue was pulled down by the demonstrators. As the SMM left the scene, it did not observe any further incident.
On 27 September the SMM visited an IDP transit camp in Svatovo (150km north-west of Luhansk), where a representative of the State Service for Emergency Situations stated that around 5,000 people have passed through the camp since June. All IDPs, mainly coming from Luhansk city and surrounding areas, had been provided with free train tickets to relocate to any destination within the country. Currently, only six IDPs are staying in the camp and will leave in a few days, to stay with relatives or return home.
In Novoaidar (60km north of Luhansk) the SMM met also with an officer of the volunteer “Aidar” battalion, who stated that he is responsible for looking into complaints of offences involving the “Aidar” battalion. He also added that he had encouraged the local community to bring to his attention any complaints against the battalion.
In the area of Shchastya (25km north of Luhansk), on 27 September, at around 15:00hrs, the SMM heard mortar shelling, but it could not ascertain the origin or its direction.
In the city of Donetsk throughout 28 September the SMM heard sporadic shelling consistent with mortar and heavy artillery fire, which appeared to be concentrated in the districts situated close to Donetsk airport. In addition, the SMM visited the villages of Komsomolskoe, Kumachovo, Lujku and Pobeda where it monitored the overall and security situation.
The SMM on 27 September visited three locations indicated by representatives of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) to be the sites of unmarked graves. Two sites are located near an area known as coal mine Komunar, in the outskirts of Nyzhna Krynka village (35km north-east of Donetsk). The SMM had first visited these two sites on 23 September (see Daily Report 24 September). The third site is located at the entrance of Nyzhna Krynka. The SMM was escorted by two representatives of the so-called “DPR” police throughout its visit to the area.
On 26 and 27 September the SMM directly heard and received reports by local inhabitants of heavy shelling concentrated on the eastern outskirts of Mariupol (120km south of Donetsk). The SMM, however, could not determine the origin of the shelling.
The SMM visited a number of checkpoints (CP) manned by the Ukrainian army around Mariupol and was informed by the respective commanders that at 18:00 on 27 September they had received orders from their leadership to halt all use of weapons, including in response to shelling.
Residents from nearby towns of Myrne, Andriivka and Hranitne (all around 50km north-east of Mariupol) reported to the SMM that those areas continue to be shelled, most recently at 10:00hrs on 28 September. They reported that those three towns had been without power for five days, which resulted in serious disruption to civilian life, including telecommunications and food preservation.
In the town of Kramatorsk and surroundings, the overall situation remained calm. The SMM on 27 September visited Debal’tseve (97km south-east of Kramatorsk) and whilst at the main CP, manned by the Ukrainian army, it heard explosions consistent with incoming mortar fire, approximately 1km south-east of the CP, and shortly after heard a further 5-6 explosions.
Long-time Putin ally Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko had threatened to stop plans to construct two stadiums for the 2018 FIFA World Cup unless the Russian government agreed to increase the price tag for the project. However, with budget increase in hand, Timchenko’s company announced today that it will move ahead with the project. The Moscow Times reports:
Timchenko, a billionaire and reputed close ally of President Vladimir Putin, told state news agency TASS in August that his company would refuse to build the stadiums in Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd unless the state raised its cost estimates from 15 billion rubles ($380 million) to at least 17 billion rubles ($430 million).
The final budget for the Volgograd stadium was raised to 16.4 billion rubles ($415 million), while the Nizhny Novgorod stadium will receive slightly more than 17 billion rubles, the company spokesman said.
Timchenko, who was sanctioned by the US after the Russian annexation of Crimea, is in position to make a handsome profit from an international event which, as of this moment, the United States and Europe has no plan to boycott.
In other Timchenko-related news, the oil company Gunvor, whom Timchenko use to own a controlling share of (he sold his shares the night before the sanctions announcement) is reporting high profits since few companies have changed their business dealings with them due to Timchenko’s exit from the company.
Russia’s state-owned ITAR-TASS news agency reports that the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) has announced the opening of a criminal investigation into “the genocide of the Russian-speaking population” in eastern Ukraine.
The spokesman for the SKR, Vladimir Markin, said that Russian investigators had established that:
“in the period from April 12, 2014 until now, in violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as other international legal acts condemning genocide, unidentified persons from among the top political and military leadership of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, National Guard and Right Sector gave orders designed to eliminate Russian-speaking nationals residing on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.”
Vladimir Markin also said at least 2,500 residents of south-eastern Ukraine have been killed as a result of multiple launch systems attacks.
“Investigators established that killings of Russian-speaking citizens were made with the use of the Grad and Uragan multiple launch rocket systems, aviation unguided rockets with cluster warheads, Tochka-U tactical missiles and other types of heavy offensive armaments of indiscriminate effect,” Markin told ITAR-TASS.
“As a result of these actions, at least 2,500 people died,” he said.
Besides, Markin added, “over 500 residential houses, utilities and life support facilities, hospitals, child, general education institutions were destroyed in the Donetsk and Luhansk [People’s] republics, as a result of which more than 300,000 residents who feared for their life and health were forced to leave their permanent places of residence and seek refuge on the territory of the Russian Federation”.
RFE/RL reports that OIeh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director who was arrested by the occupying Russian authorities in Crimea in May, has had his pre-trial detention extended until January 11 by the Lefortovo District Court in Moscow.
Sentsov was arrested along with three other Ukrainian citizens on suspicion of “planning terrorist attacks” on bridges, power lines and public monuments in Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol.
On June 26, RFE/RL reported on the opposition to Sentsov’s arrest, with many regarding him as a political prisoner:
Even Russia’s own presidential council for human rights has appealed to Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin to review the circumstances surrounding the arrests of Sentsov and a fellow Ukrainian activist, ecologist Oleksandr Kolchenko. A reply, posted on June 26 on the council’s website, says prosecutors found “no grounds” for altering the detention of either suspect.
Russia has sought to bolster its case against Sentsov by accusing him of membership in Ukraine’s nationalist paramilitary group, Right Sector — a claim that both Sentsov and Right Sector deny. Prosecutors also say that Sentsov has confessed to the terrorist plots. But the filmmaker and his lawyer, Dmitry Dinze — who defended Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina — say Sentsov was beaten and threatened with rape to force him to confess.
Amnesty International this week called on Russian authorities to investigate Sentsov’s allegations of ill-treatment and to return the Ukrainian detainees to Crimea.
Memorial head Aleksandr Cherkasov calls Sentsov a “political prisoner.”
“Yes, he’s a Maidan activist and he did a lot in Crimea — for example, he helped Ukrainian soldiers get out of there safely,” Cherkasov said. “But the circumstances surrounding the accusations against him suggest they might be fabricated.
Ukraine’s TSN reports (translated by The Interpreter):
Ukrainian scouts say that at least half a dozen enemy diversionary groups may be working in Debaltsevo and its surrounds.
Today it emerged that in neighbouring Uglegorsk [known in Ukrainian as Vulehirsk], militant snipers, who have set up in positions somewhere in the town, have been shooting at civilians for several days now. That they are, in fact, professional snipers is attested to by the fact that they have not been found after attacks that killed three civilians. In all three cases, the cause of death was a penetrating bullet wound to the head.
In Debaltsevo itself, the militants usually used to go on the offensive or shell the town from a distance under the cover of night, but now the terrorists pay no attention to the time of day. Street fighting takes place in the day.
The militants are selecting checkpoints, Ukrainian security forces’ positions and even residential buildings and municipal infrastructure as their targets in Debaltsevo and its surrounding area. The soldiers defending the town and the residents of Debaltsevo themselves believe that the militants do not need the settlement itself as much as the local railway.
Fighters from the Lviv special unit, guards and soldiers are, in addition to their regular duties, now trying to help the civilians with food and water, and are distributing humanitarian aid. There is no water in the town; ATMs are empty, payments are not being made, when they will resume is unknown.
Recall that [on September 27] SBU counter-intelligence arrested a sniper connected to pro-Russian militants in Kramatorsk, who had been left behind in the liberated city to carry out subversive activities.
We’ve been tracking an American, going by the name of “Hunter,” who is fighting alongside the Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine.
It seems that Hunter has encountered journalists from Reuters and has spoken to them, but the interview did not net very much information:
Using his “nom de guerre” and refusing to reveal his real name, age or home town, he described himself as a veteran of the American military without a job in the United States. He did not explain the reasons for his commitment to helping the rebels.
“I don’t want anybody to think I fight for the Russian government here,” he said, adding that he was in eastern Ukraine to “help” the population demanding a clean break from Kiev.
Apparently keen to show their cause has attracted support from abroad, the rebels drove him to the interview in the car of one of the Vostok battalion’s leaders.
As we reported last week, Hunter has made statements in a Youtube video where he admits that his understanding of the political situation in Ukraine “is limited” but he is sure that “it seems to be a very simple, straightforward situation and the Kiev junta does not necessarily, I believe, reflect, they don’t, they don’t err, consider the popular opinion of the people of Donbass. So that’s why this issue’s happening.”
RFE/RL’s Crimean service reports that around 50 people have gathered outside the home of two Crimean Tatars who were abducted by armed men on September 27.
According to Abdureshit Dzhepparov, the father of one of the the two young men, they were bundled by uniformed men into a minivan in the village of Saury-Su in the Belogorsk district at 19:00.
When Dzhepparov contacted the police and the regional branch of the FSB, he was told that the occupying Russian security forces knew nothing of the incident.
Euromaidan Press reports, citing an interview with Refat Chubarov, the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, which has been forced out of its premises in Simferopol,, on 5 Kanal:
The guys were manhandled into a VW minibus with the number plates reading 755 region 82. Such vehicle registration plates have been introduced by the authorities of the occupied peninsula.
Today around 50 people, including the chairman of the regional Mejlis, Mustafa Asaba, and the mayor of Belogorsk, Albert Kanigev, have gathered outside the home of the abducted men.
RFE/RL’s correspondent reports that the crowd includes not only locals but “veterans of the Crimean Tatar movement from various regions of the peninsular.”
According to Dzhepparov, the vice-speaker of the Crimean parliament, Remzi Ilyasov, has promised to personally monitor the progress of the investigation into the abduction.
RFE/RL reports (translated by The Interpreter):
Dzhepparov reported that, on the day of the kidnapping, ‘police’ had come into his house and seized a desktop pc and toothbrushes, with which it may be possible, according to the law enforcement officers, to analyse DNA.
Earlier Abdureshit Dzhepparov said that his relatives should have returned by the morning.
“We know nothing at the moment. Silence. However they called late last night and said that they may be back in the morning, but it’s already 11 we’ve had nothing,” said the relative of the kidnapped pair. “
Russian-backed militants continue to press forward in Donetsk, near Shakhtyorsk, and near Slovianoserbsk, according to the map released today by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine:
What this map does not have is the buffer zone where Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed militants have pledged to pull out heavy artillery. LiveUAMap.com, an open-sourced project based in Ukraine, is trying to map the conflict in real-time and they include the buffer zone (in grey):
What we see is that almost all of the reported fighting is happening inside the buffer zone, at the edge of rebel-controlled territory.
Despite the ongoing ceasefire, Ukraine suffered heavy casualties yesterday in one of the worst days of fighting in recent weeks.
In Donetsk, 3 civilians were killed and at least 5 wounded during fighting in the north of the city, where there was heavy shelling as Russian-backed forces once more attempted to capture the government-held airport.
This morning, TSN reported that the fighting around the airport had left at least 2 Ukrainian soldiers fighters dead and 18 wounded. The airport is currently being defended by members of the 93rd airborne brigade and volunteers from Praviy Sector.
Meanwhile Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, told Reuters today that 7 Ukrainian soldiers were killed late last night near the airport when a shell struck their armoured personnel carrier. The incident is the largest single loss of life since the start of the ceasefire on September 5.
Reuters reports that Yuri Biryukov, an adviser to President Petro Poroshenko, has written on his Facebook page that the APC was fired on by a tank. He reported that 9 Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded in the attack and that enemy tanks had been destroyed by Ukrainian return fire.
A tweet from the National Security and Defence Council suggests that the casualties reported by TSN are from a separate incident, bringing the total number of deaths to 9: