Ukraine Liveblog Day 228: Militants Attack Airport With Tanks After Red Cross Worker Killed In Donetsk

October 3, 2014
Smoke over Donetsk last night. Photo: Anna Knishenko

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.


Donetsk Burns As Russian-Backed Militia Assault International Airport

There are fires burning in Donetsk tonight as the fighting around the airport rages. LiveUAMap says that this video shows the result of shelling by the Russian-backed forces.

Because the videos are taken at night, we have not been able to verify the locations where they were taken.
Intercept Reveals How Separatist Leader Plans with Moscow Reporter to Spin the Story of ICRC Worker’s Death

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released an intercept of a conversation today between a separatist leader and Moscow journalist which casts doubt on the claims of Russian-backed separatist fighters that the Ukrainian military is responsible for shelling that killed a worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

A missile fired from outside the center of Donetsk landed on the ICRC headquarters at 80A Universiteskaya Street, killing a worker from Switzerland instantly.

In this video uploaded to YouTube by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry on October 3, titled “So-called DPR Falsifies Reason for Death of Red Cross Representative,” war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny of Russia’s VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company) seems to give instructions for how the Russian-backed separatist leaders from the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” could better spin the story of the killing of the ICRC worker.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry says in a statement posted with the video that the tape illustrates how “DPR Prime Minister Zakharchenko and DPR Defense Minister Kononov were conspiring with a Russian state TV correspondent, Yevgeny Poddubny” to “lead the international community astray and compromise the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

At 0:53, Zakharchenko says he is totally fed up with the Red Cross. He sounds bored and tired and says at 0:58 “Tomorrow we’ll write some condolences and all the rest.” At 1:01 he says (translation by The Interpreter):

We’ll say how bad the Ukrainian military are, they don’t know how to aim accurately. We’ll show the Red Cross the shrapnel from the phosphorous bomb which supposedly, f**k, went right through their colleague.

Poddubny asks if the Ukrainians used a Uragan missile, and Zakharchenko replies:

“Well, they shot, well, a piece is lying there from that cluster crap, and they found phosphorus inside. So, tomorrow we’ll show the whole world what they beat on Donetsk with.”

Poddubny answers doubtfully that they should find some experts to provide more forensic analysis. “They should show the direction from which the shell came,” he says.

Zakharchenko replies that the missile came from Avdeyevka, that is, a town to the north and north-east of the Donetsk airport, where the Ukrainian ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) has marked its positions. Poddubny persists, saying that experts could determine the size and direction of the crater and how the missile fell, which would bolster the case. Says Poddubny:

“Let’s do this, so that we, well, accuse people for cause, and not falsely, yes, so that some analysis is made. That would be good.”

The interchange establishes once again how much figures from Moscow try to direct the separatists native to the Donbass; in this case, a state media reporter.  Poddubny seems to be playing a role that is not covering the news, but helping to manufacture it for the sake of war propaganda. Zakharchenko seems bored and annoyed by the interchange and hastens to end the call.

The tape does not establish that the Russian-backed separatists were responsible for the shell that killed him, but indicates that they may be trying to spin the evidence so as to exonerate themselves.  

Zakharchenko was involved in a sensational news story this week when he was quoted as saying that dead bodies found in a mass grave outside of Donetsk were missing organs, which was used by Russian state media to claim that Ukrainians were involved in organ-trafficking.

Yet on the next day, Zakharchenko walked back his claims, and his vice premier also added clarifications to explain that they were talking about other graves of combatants, not civilians, who were missing intestines only because of shrapnel wounds.

Poddubny is the same reporter sent to report on the finding of the body of Andrei Stenin, and participated in the cover-up by state media of the fact that two other people killed in the car with Stenin were extreme nationalists from Russia’s Popular Liberation Movement (NOD) who worked for Col. Igor Strelkov’s news agency


Russian-Backed Fighters Storm the Airport

As we reported yesterday, Russian-backed rebels are continuing to shoot at Ukrainian positions at the airport from apartment buildings they have occupied in the area, and making sorties to the airport, taking over some areas.

Semyon Pegov, a reporter with LifeNews, a TV channel with close ties to Russia’s security agencies, narrates the scene; a copy of the news broadcast was uploaded to YouTube.

The LifeNews war correspondent describes how a tank hides behind a building before scouts check the area and then fighters move in to take over a police building at the airport. The separatists are using a variety of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and also drive in on two T-72 tanks which are only available in Russia.

But while the rebels were huddled in the police building, Ukrainian forces unleashed artillery fire on them, wounding 10 and killing at least one. This evidently is the same or a similar incident that prompted separatist fighter Aleksandr Negrebetskik, formerly a city councilman from Zlatoust, to complain about the separatist commanders.

Pegov describes the fate of a separatist fighter nick-named “Yalta” from Crimea, who was killed 2 October in the airport battle; at 4:12 the fighters cry out his name as he brings wounded men out of the building, but then he is killed under fire from a BTR.


 Ukrainian soldiers in a BTR.

Only the previous day, Pegov had featured Yalta in a report (at 4:37) where he jokingly sent greetings to his family, saying “Mama, everything’s fine, I’m working as a cook in the cafeteria.” Gesturing to the weapon on his back, he quipped “I don’t know, the guys dressed me up like this because it’s a holiday but everything’s fine, I’m baking delicious pies.”


At 5:26, Pegov explains that the fighters are shooting with recoilless anti-tank rifles from atop a nearby building. Then the camera pans to other artillery deployed by the separatists.



Pegov says that the separatists had proposed to Kiev that they could make a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian forces to leave the airport but they turned down the offer.

The Donetsk airport has been both a strategic and a symbolic area, Pegov explains, as both sides try to claim it to change the course of the war.

Russian-Backed Forces Attack In Donetsk As Russia Wants Ceasefire Continued

The Interpreter’s Michael Weiss sums up today’s diplomatic chatter:

According to RFE/RL, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone conversation that Russia wants the ceasefire maintained. Of course, while complaining about shelling of residential areas away from Donetsk airport which he says is the result of actions taken by the Ukrainian military (there is no evidence to back his claim) he made no mention of the militants’ attack on Donetsk airport.

RFE/RL also reports that Lavrov calls the death of a Red Cross worker, killed in yesterday’s shelling, “murder,” and Lavrov is blaming the Ukrainian military for the incident, though it’s not clear what evidence he used to come to this conclusion:

In a statement, the [Russian Foreign Ministry] described the killing of Swiss aid worker Laurent DuPasquier as “murder.”

“The fire came from positions taken by Ukrainian forces,” ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said in an accompanying video statement.

Despite increasing evidence that Russian military forces have been deployed in eastern Ukraine and are supporting the pro-Russian separatists there, Russia continues to deny that it has any forces on Ukrainian territory.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry did not reveal how it had determined DuPasquier was killed by a shell fired from Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

Ukraine blames Russian-backed separatists for yesterday’s shelling.

Ukrainian Currency, The Hryvnia, Levels Out As New Rules Roll Out

After a near free-fall, the Ukrainian hryvnia appears to be leveling out. Ukrainian News Agency reports:

The National Bank of Ukraine has upped the official hryvnia exchange rate, set for October 3 from 14:00 by 0.95 kopeck to 12.9405 UAH/USD, reads a statement made by the NBU.
On March 31, the NBU passed the resolution No. 180, having amended the procedure of calculation of the official hryvnia exchange rate from April 4.

Under the new order, the official hryvnia exchange rate is calculated as the weighted average rate for the business day at the interbank market.

The NBU plans to set and publish official hryvnia exchange rate every business day after 12:00.

Estonia Arrests Two Former KGB Officers Who Crossed The Border

Last month the Estonian government said that Russian agents crossed the border a kidnapped an Estonian security agent, dragging him across the border into Russia where he is now awaiting trial and is accused of spying.

Now Estonia is reporting that they have arrested two “former” KGB officers who illegally crossed the border last Sunday. The Guardian reports:

Last Sunday two Russians, reportedly identified as former KGB officers, were held by Estonian border guards when their boat allegedly crossed the border on the Narva River near Lake Peipsi.

The men, Mihhail Suhoshin, 64, and Alexander Ladur, 54, are being held on charges of resisting arrest and illegally entering Estonia.

The incidents point to heightened tensions between the two countries.

“The ex-KGB guys caught on the Narva River are ‘ex’ and may have been merely fishing,” said Kalev Stoicescu, a research fellow and Russia expert at the Tallinn based International Centre for Defence Studies. “But the Russians are testing all types of borders, on land, at sea and in the air space of many Nato and EU countries including Estonia. They do this to provoke, but also to test reactions both technically and politically.”

Latest OSCE Report On Donetsk Shelling And Schastye Shootings

The OSCE has just published the latest report from their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, as of 18:00 Kiev time on October 2.

The report addresses the heavy shelling in Donetsk yesterday which left a worker for the International Committee of the Red Cross dead.

Also noteworthy are reports of fighting near Schastye in the Lugansk region and an official acknowledgement of the “unauthorised use of OSCE insignia” by a military officer from the Russian Federation.

In another incident, two uniformed men were photographed boarding an OSCE vehicle. The OSCE published a statement acknowledging that “a breach of its own internal security regulations” had occurred, and expressed their regret for the incident.  

Here is an extract from the report:

At 10:45hrs the SMM heard incoming sniper shots from the area on the ridge above Shchastya (25km north of Luhansk) which lasted for two minutes. At 15:00hrs the SMM heard outgoing heavy machine gun fire from the direction of Shchastya which lasted for two minutes.

The SMM met local officials and residents in Popasna, who reported that the town had been shelled on 30 September at about 10:00hrs, leaving one person dead and three injured. They said that there had been 18-19 impacts of what they believed were GRAD rockets, originating from south-east of Popasna. The SMM observed several buildings including a kindergarten and the local ambulance station affected by the shelling.

In Donetsk heavy shelling occurred intermittently during the day and until dusk in the northern part of the city. At approximately 18:00hrs, the SMM heard a quick succession of five incoming rounds, which caused unusually powerful explosions. An international staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) died during the shelling (see SMM Spot Report 3 October). The SMM facilitated the evacuation of the deceased by ambulance.

The SMM observed an unusually high level of military activity in Kurahovo (50km west of Donetsk).

While returning from patrol at the Marynskiy district in Krasnogorivka (25km west of Donetsk), the SMM was refused access to the city by the Ukrainian Army checkpoint personnel at the entrance of Marinka (35km south-west of Donetsk); the SMM had to take an alternative route.

In the city of Mariupol, the overall situation was generally calm during the day, but most CPs were closed for civilian traffic.

Upon arriving at the “Joint Coordination Center for Ceasefire Monitoring” in Soledar, the SMM noticed that one military officer from the Russian Federation was wearing an OSCE patch on his uniform as well as carrying an ID card with the OSCE logo. The SMM  made the necessary demarches in response to this unauthorized use of OSCE insignia.

At Maiorsk (53km south-east of Kramatorsk) the SMM observed a civilian car bearing a Ukrainian and a Right Sector flag and carrying two uniformed men. The vehicle bore fresh bullet holes and the occupants informed the SMM that they had sustained sniper fire after passing the previous checkpoint on the road from Maiorsk to Dzerzhinsk (40km south-west of Kramatorsk). In Dzerzhinsk the SMM observed long queues outside the banks of the town; reportedly, pension payments for the residents of Gorlivka have recently been transferred to Dzerzhinsk. 

Poroshenko Signs Lustration Law

According to Euromaidan Press, an organization which is the semi-official website for the opposition movement which toppled the previous government, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has signed into law the lustration bill which is aimed at removing those inside the government who stand with Russia or the former administration and do not share the vision of the new government:

The President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko reports on his FB page that he has signed the law on lustration “On purging government and state apparatus”.

“I have decided to sign an important law. Lustration will begin! State institutions shall be cleansed of KGB agents and tops officials of the Party of Regions.” announced the President.

There is some confusion over whether the bill has actually been signed, though.

Poroshenko Dismisses Border Service Head Lytvyn

Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainskie Novosti news agency, that President Petro Poroshenko has dismissed the head of the Ukrainian Border Guard Service (SBGS), Mykola Lytvyn.

Lytvyn had, in fact, written a letter of resignation in mid-June, however it has taken until today for the president to formally dismiss the head of the service.

Russian Deputy Fighting In Donetsk Says 90% Of His Unit Is Russian, Slams DNR Commander

Aleksandr Negrabetskikh, a communist deputy from the Russian city of Zlatoust who is fighting with Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, has told that 90% of the unit he is with are Russian citizens.

In an interview Negrabetskikh, who insists he and his fellow citizens are not mercenaries but there to help, said that the remainder of the fighters were Donetsk residents. When asked why so few were locals he replied that they residents of the city were panicked and that many were fleeing to Russia, “but we are coming here!” Donetsk residents, he says, do not want to defend their homeland.


The members of his unit from Donetsk consider themselves Russians, he says. Half of the Russian citizens in his unit are from the Urals, the others from Siberia.


He claimed that his unit is formed of 100 fighters engaging 7,500 Ukrainian defenders at the airport. 

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of the interview: – How is the assault on the airport going?

Negrabetskikh –  We’ve been fighting for eight days already. We were simply betrayed the day before yesterday. They shot as they wanted. Our illiterate commanders ‘disowned’ us. Because of this, we suffered very heavy losses and got tired of enduring our comrades. One fighter carried his dead twin brother because we have a law: we don’t leave our own people behind.

What happened?

When we captured the terminal, the command rounded us all up in one building. Right then and there we were struck by Grads, mortars and tanks. Shot point blank. Many killed and wounded. 100 people went in but only around 60 came out, the rest were wounded and killed. It shouldn’t happen. Because of that command we were pushed back from our position. Thanks to our own commander, who took us, a DNR military counter-intelligence unit, aside, we all went out and squeezed together. And there, where we were gathered up and were standing, heavy shells had already begun to fall.

How do you fight with such a commander?

Now we’re reloading and cleaning our assault rifles before heading to the airport once again. We go as we have to, we won’t listen to anyone. At first we will go in groups of three as scouts, and we will adhere to normal military tactics. Only then will we call in the boys. And we will shoot anyone who interferes with us, they are enemies of the people.

Militants Attack Donetsk Airport With Tanks, Presence of Russian Officers Confirmed By Militants

As we’ve been reporting below, Donetsk airport is still partially in the control of Ukrainian soldiers, but part of the airport has fallen to Russian-backed separatists who are pressing the attack. AP reports that journalists have seen the militants use tanks, a clear violation of the ceasefire:

An AP reporter on Friday saw three rebel tanks firing their cannons at the main terminal of Donetsk airport, where government forces have holed up. Sniper shots rang around the area.

Rebels have made some gains in the area near the airport, seizing some buildings on its fringes and using them to target the main terminal.

Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said two Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and another nine wounded since Thursday. He said that Ukrainian forces at the airport have undergone rotation and firmly stood their ground.

Lysenko also said that Russian drones, rockets, and tanks were involved in the assault on the airport.

While the separatists and Moscow itself continue to blame the Ukrainian military for breaking the ceasefire, until two days ago there has not been shelling of any parts of the city except around the airport which is surrounded. Two days ago shells landed 3000 meters from the airport, but analysis from reporters on the ground and the OSCE international monitors say that those shells came from the south — an area which is controlled by the Russian-backed militants.

For days before this, the Russian media has been inadvertently documenting the separatists firing at the airport from inhabited residential buildings and neighborhoods.

Yesterday, a Red Cross worker was killed when three shells hit the center of the city for the first time in weeks. While the Ukrainian government blames the Russian-backed fighters, Russia blames the Ukrainian government. Unfortunately, no impact craters have been documented and there is no evidence which we have seen which could offer a similar clue about where those shells came from.

The BBC reports that, according to separatists on the ground, there are Russian officers working to “mediate” the fighting. There is no indication that there is any mediation effort underway, Russian officers do not have the permission of the Ukrainian government to be on Ukrainian territory, and the separatists are the ones on the attack in Donetsk, so what are they doing there? The BBC reports:

One of the pro-Russian separatist leaders in Donetsk, Andrei Purgin, told the BBC that Russian officers were in the city acting as “mediators”.

“The warring parties cannot talk without mediators, so please see the Russian officers in this capacity, they are not taking sides in the conflict,” he told the BBC.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry Adviser – Yanukovych, Azarov and Pshonka Families Given Russian Citizenship

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Anton Heraschenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, has written on his Facebook page that the families of former president Viktor Yanukovych, Mykola Azarov and Viktor Pshonka have been given Russian citizenship.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“The families of Yanukovych, Pshonka and Azarov have managed to agree with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin on the provision of Russian citizenship, and they may still feel dry and comfortable. I learned from operational sources that [Russian] nationality to Ukraine’s betrayers had been granted under a separate secret decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a reward for their faithful service on the collapse of [Ukraine’s] national security, defense, law and order system and economy,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Friday.

He noted that according to the Russian Constitution, “Russia does not give its citizens to anyone, be they serial killers or maniacs.”

“Besides, in the same way as Ukraine does,” he added.

In this regard, Heraschenko said he was in favor of amending the constitution and law “in terms of depriving betrayers of nationality.”

Mykola Azarov was the Ukrainian prime minister up until January 28, when he resigned in what was seen as an attempt by the Yanukovych government to appease protesters on the Maidan without making significant concessions. 


Viktor Pshonka (above) was Ukraine’s prosecutor-general. He was notorious for his abuse of his power and accumulation of wealth

This YouTube video shows him struggling to escape Ukraine following the fall of the Yanukovych government by pushing through airport security:

Echo Moskvy reports that President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, refused to comment on Heraschenko’s claims.
Shelling Continues In Donetsk

Donetsk news site reports that shelling has been heard in four districts of the separatist-held city.

The use of heavy-calibre weapons was reported, writes, by residents in the Zaperevalnaya and Bosse areas. Artillery salvoes were reported to have been heard in the Petrovsky and Kirovsky districts (to the west of the city) and the Kuybyshevsky and Kievsky districts (to the north, nearer the airport).

Both the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, and the ‘chairman of the defence ministry’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Georgiy Morozov, reported that fighting was continuing around the airport.

Speaking to Russia’s state owned RIA Novosti news agency, Morozov said that the airport was partially under the control of separatist fighters.

He denied reports earlier in the day that the airport had completely fallen to his fighters. 

Meanwhile the ATO Press Centre claimed that the airport remained under government control. 

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Press Centre has announced a “partial rotation” of troops and equipment at the airport, to relieve the defenders.

The Security and Defence Council also reported that two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the past 24 hours, though it did not specify whether they died in the battle for the airport:

This video footage below was uploaded today by a pro-separatist YouTube channel. It records blasts and flames around the devastated airport yesterday: