Ukraine Liveblog Day 233: The Not-Quite Frozen Conflict

October 8, 2014
Smoke rises over Donetsk airport after it is hit by fire from Russian-backed separatists on October 4 | Shamil Zhumatov, Reuters

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.


Military Base, Seized By Russian-Backed Militants, Reportedly Destroyed By Rocket In Donetsk

The Ukraine at War blog has been following an interesting story today. According to the separatist leader who goes by the nom de guerre “Givi,” a large rocket, a Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missile, hit a base held by Russian-backed militants several days ago, killing hundreds. The SS-21 Scarab, or “Tochka,” is a large tactical missile system capable of hitting a target between 15 and 75 kilometers away.

While the use of such a weapon cannot be confirmed, the Ukraine at War blog has geolocated the video below which shows some of the damage to the nearby buildings. The damage is extensive.

Here is his conclusion:

Even though some people argue that it may not be a Tochka-U, fact is that the destruction is of an unknown level and typical for a Tochka-U. Also, this is not the first time a Tochka-U is used in this war. But it is the first time it is used on a base.

Whatever it was… SONETHING happened. And that means: after weeks of repeated (and repelled) attacks on Donetsk airport… Ukraine strikes back!

Read the entire investigation here.

Shelling of Donetsk Apartment Buildings Did Not Come From Donetsk Airport

UPDATED: As we reported earlier, some apartment buildings were shelled in Donetsk today.

This video taken by a citizen reporter shows some buildings on Batishcheva Street — at the end of the video, the cameraman focuses on the building address, so that we can see he is at “Batishcheva 11.”


We can see the damage to the side of the building as follows:


Looking at the address on Google Maps, we can see the position of the buildings on Batishcheva Street in a courtyard and find number 11. The camera starts at number 11, then pans around to a different building, then back to no. 11. The picture above shows the building where he starts his video on the right and the building where he ends his video on the left. Note that the left side of the building he zooms, no. 11, has all the characteristics of the building he starts off filming, as pictured below:


We showed this video to @djp3tros from Ukraine@War and he believes that it was filmed from the north of building 11, meaning that the damage shown is to the north facing side of the northeastern corner of the building. This screenshot at 0:36 shows a small road on the right side of the building:


Then the camera pans. The cameraman walks to the other side of the path and is standing in front of the opposite building, which he films at 0:57:


Then we take a look at the damage to the building:


This means that the shell that hit the building had to come from either the north or the east. It could not have come from the west, since the area it hit is recessed. When we place this impact on a map, we see that Donetsk airport is to the northeast, while areas known to have shelled the airport are to the north and east.



For more information on the position of guns which are shelling the Donetsk International Airport, see our article What We Can Learn from Russian State TV and Russian-Backed Separatist Propaganda Videos.

Note: an earlier version of this update placed the camera to the south of building 11, not the north, which would have meant the incoming fire came from either the west or south, not the north or east. We are now confident that the camera is filming building 11 from the north, however in both scenarios it would not be possible for the shell to hit this building to have come from Donetsk airport to the northeast.

Donetsk Heavily Shelled, At Least Two Killed Today

AFP reports (via RFE/RL) that Donetsk has been the site of intense shelling today:

Ukraine’s eastern city Donetsk was under artillery fire Wednesday, with at least two people killed when shells hit an area northeast of the city center, AFP correspondents saw.

Rocket fire hit a neighborhood of the train station in the afternoon in the city controlled by the pro-Russian separatists. AFP correspondents saw two dead bodies near a cafe in the area.

Several injured people could be seen in the area after shells also hit a supermarket, a sports store, and a residential building.

Both sides blame each other for the shelling, though it is clear that most, but not all, of the shelling is taking place in the immediate vicinity of the Donetsk International Airport which is controlled by Ukrainian soldiers and is under attack by Russian-backed separatists.

This video, reportedly taken today and posted to the pro-Ukraine Euromaidan PR Youtube channel, reportedly shows damage to a residential building done by shells launched by “terrorists.” 

The video shows the address of the building which is at 11 Batishcheva Street, located here on Google Maps.


It is clear evidence that, with each passing day that the ceasefire is broken, civilians are endangered by the fighting:

As we’ve been reporting, even Russian state-controlled media organizations have documented cases where the Russian-backed militants have used civilians as human shields in Donetsk.
Russian-Backed Militants Shell Mine in Gorlovka; Ukrainian Forces Return Fire

Russian-backed militants shelled the mining complex in Gorlovka (Horlivka in Ukrainian) yesterday October 7.

A citizen reporter uploaded a video to YouTube:

This screenshot from the video shows the mine in the distance and a building in front of the camera:


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

Here is a picture of the mining complex from Panoramio:


Here’s a screenshot of the camera position and mine on Google Maps:


Here’s another video evidently from the same camera position but pointed further north. The video uploaded to YouTube is labelled “Kirovskoye, battle near the Komsomolets Mine, Donbass, 7.10.2014.”

The complex in this screenshot can be seen on Google Maps as follows:



The battle position is here:


In this video uploaded today October 8, a soldier in the Ukrainian ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) reported that the Russian-backed fighters shelled the mine last night, they returned fire, and there were losses on the side of the militants.

Translation: The night was disturbed in Gorlovka. Gorlovka residents report that at about 00:20 to 00:40 there was artillery fire in the city.

There have been a number of other reports of militant activity around Gorlovka which have not yet been confirmed:

Translation: Militiamen have mined the bridge from ? quarter into the city. If they blow it up, the city will be totally blocked from entry.

There have been a number of other reports of militant activity around Gorlovka which have not yet been confirmed:

Translation: The printing press in Gorlovka has been seized. As the Ukrainian Interior Ministry cite reports, a group of unknown armed persons sezied it on Lenin St.

Translation: The terrorists have organized a provocation: they have taken Ukrainian flags and have gone to rob people.

US State Department Pledges More Support For Ukraine Border Guard

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has visited a Ukrainian Border Guard base today and has delivered statements of support to the Ukrainian government. Below is an excerpt, but the entire statement can be found here.

Today Ambassador Pyatt and I are proud to fulfill America’s pledge to you to stand with you as partners, friends, compatriots, today to exchange protocols on an agreement that will allow us to deepen our partnership with the State Border Guards. And today we’ll be providing an additional $10 million in body armor, protective gear for personnel, up-armored SUVs, patrol vehicles and thermal vision devices for the border guards.

As Ambassador Pyatt said, we’ve worked together with the State Border Service for more than 10 years, working on nuclear nonproliferation, stopping crime, stopping smuggling, training your border guards and maritime units. But today this partnership is even more existential. It’s about Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign state, something that is deeply in the interest of the United States.

In addition, we’ll also be providing $1.4 million for the State Export Control and Border Security services, and $15 million from our Defense Threat Reduction Agency for scanners, for communications equipment, for patrol vessels, and for vehicles that support the border guards as you do your work on land, on sea, and in the air.

The United States will continue to stand with you as you strengthen your border. I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the American people to thank each and every member of the Border Guard who serves so bravely for the Ukrainian people and helps them to sleep better at night. We are your partners and we’re proud to be so, and this partnership will continue. 

Self-Declared Donetsk People’s Republic Has Its First Political Party – The Communists

In yet another sign that the Russian-backed separatists are making no plans to reconcile but are instead dedicated to the independence of the area they control, the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DPR or DNR) has created its first political party — the Communist Party. The Russian state-controlled ITAR-TASS reports:

Chairman of the DPR Supreme Council Boris Litvinov was proclaimed leader of the party.

He said the Communists would support DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko’s candidature at the upcoming elections for premiership.

OSCE Mission To Observe Ceasefire Cannot Be Fulfilled Without Ceasefire – Nuland

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland is in Ukraine, and she is reporting that without a real ceasefire there is no way that the OSCE monitoring mission will be able to work in Ukraine. Kyiv Post reports:

“The OSCE mission has a civillian monitoring mission, it is not a military mission. It has been able to work in those parts of the special status zone where there is peace but where they are most needed, were the shooting is still continuing they are not able to work which is why we joined President (Petro) Poroshenko in insisting that the cease fire will be honored in full, “ Nuland told the Kyiv Post during her visit to the mobile detachment of Ukraine’s state border guard service in Bortnychi in Kyiv Oblast. 

The OSCE is the mission that is supposed to ensure that all sides are abiding by the ceasefire agreement and that Russia is respecting Ukraine’s border.

The problem, however, goes beyond just the lack of ceasefire. Yesterday we reported that there are only 90 OSCE observers in eastern Ukraine, and only 270 in the entire country, which falls far short of the 1,500 observers Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says the OSCE needs to properly observe the ceasefire. 

Critics of the West’s response to this crisis might also question Nuland’s logic. The primary goal of the current OSCE observer mission is to observe the ceasefire and ensure that all parties are observing by the agreement. Nuland’s observation that the ceasefire is broken (which matches our own extensive reporting) would suggest that this aspect of the OSCE’s mission is perhaps no longer relevant.

More Fighting Reported Today As Violence Escalates In Eastern Ukraine

Yesterday the Ukrainian government reported that the violence in eastern Ukraine is actually growing, not decreasing, despite the fact that the ceasefire is now over one month old. As we noted, leaders of the Russian-backed separatists would not be surprised by this statement, as it seems none of them believe that the ceasefire is permanent.

While we have yet to independently corroborate all of these claims, the daily briefings from Ukraine’s National Defense and Security  Council provide a good baseline measure for at least the amount of fighting the government in Kiev is reporting, and the news this morning out of the NSDC is grim:

The United Nations now reports that at least 3,660 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, but nearly 10 percent of the deaths, 331, have occurred during the ceasefire. The Guardian reports:

Hostilities are persisting in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk, as well as around the towns of Debaltseve and Schastye.

Donetsk airport, the focus of much of the fighting, has no immediate tactical significance for separatist forces devoid of any air power. However, the government’s hold on the facility gives it a strategic position to attack rebel positions in the city.

At least 3,660 people have been killed over six months of fighting, according to UN estimates. The UN says some deaths reported since the 5 September truce agreement may include individuals killed before that date.

Donetsk city hall reported on Wednesday that three civilians died overnight from shelling. There appeared to be no sign of unrest in the city in the morning.

While it’s tempting to call this a “frozen conflict,” one of Russia’s favorite tactics (here’s a list of them), but there are several other factors to consider. The first — this conflict, like some of the other “frozen conflicts,” is not really frozen all the way through. Russian-backed separatists continue to push the attack in several strategic areas, most notably but certainly not the only one being Donetsk. But it’s also important to remember that Russia’s motivation is larger than just the part of the Donbass which is currently occupied by Russian-backed militants. Moscow wants a route to Crimea, control of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex, and access to Russia’s troops in Transdniestria, a breakaway province of Moldova which has been occupied by Russian troops for three decades which is once again relevant to wider European security. 

As such, one has to suspect that with Russian-backed separatists threatening to advance once again and with Russia still positioning in eastern Ukraine and on the border, we might see a renewed conflict in order for Russia to make further gains:

The LA Times reports:

[Colonel Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the NSDC]  eported that unmanned aircraft had been spotted over Mariupol, the steel-producing port on Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast that is the government’s most important functioning industrial site in southeastern Ukraine. Russian paratroopers backing the separatists last week bolstered their forces camped about 10 miles east between Mariupol and Novoazovsk, which the pro-Moscow gunmen overran in August.

As the shaky cease-fire has failed to quell the most intensive fighting in and around Donetsk, government officials fear the separatists are regrouping for a fresh offensive to take Mariupol and the rest of the seaside corridor that would connect mainland Russia with the Crimean peninsula that the Kremlin seized and annexed seven months ago.