Ukraine Liveblog Day 240: Ukrainian Forces Attacked And Surrounded In Lugansk Region

October 15, 2014
Anti-aircraft tracer fire west of Mariupol last night. Photo: Petr Shelomovskiy

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.

Large Military Column Reportedly Headed North In Lugansk Region

Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala writes on his Facebook page that he has received reports of a large military column headed north in the Lugansk region.

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

My contacts and a number of eyewitnesses have told me that a large column of military vehicles passed through Lugutino yesterday. The column was headed to the north of the Lugansk region.

Bochkala notes that the area to the north is still under Ukrainian control. This report could be related to the offensive waged over the last day around the Bakhmutka highway, which has left over 100 Ukrainian soldiers pinned down near Smile.

We have yet to see further reports on this column.

Ukraine Will Try Blogger And Suspected Russian Agent For Treason
The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) has announced that it will try a blogger and suspected Russian agent for treason:

Here is the complete announcement from the SBU’s website:

The SSU Counterintelligence Office jointly with border guards detained citizen of Ukraine “M”, native of Luhansk, YOB 1990, who was trying to flee to the temporary occupied Crimea to receive the next task from representatives of the RF special services.

It was established that Mr. “M” was recruited by Russian FSB back in March of the current year while he was staying in the peninsula. Having returned to Ukraine the offender spread through the social media anti-Ukrainian materials and misleading information to discredit Ukrainian authorities by order of his FSB supervisor. Aside from that, he has set up an internet community to promote the creation of the so called Novorossiia and appeal to support the terrorist activity in the east of Ukraine.

The offender was detained at the checkpoint in a bus, which was heading from Luhansk to Yalta. According to him, he was traveling there to meet with his supervisor to get new missions aimed to destabilize situation in Ukraine.
The investigation under Part 1 Article 11 (treason) is under way.

The question, of course, is whether Ukraine has evidence to tie this “Mr. ‘M'” to the Russian government, or whether Kiev is about to prosecute someone for voicing support for “Novorossiya” as, no doubt, Kiev’s critics will claim. 

Are Crimean Teachers Destroying Ukrainian Books?
Obozrevatel published a story today on reports that a teacher in a Simferopol school in Russian-occupied Crimea destroyed Ukrainian textbooks in a classroom.

The report is based on a Facebook post from Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Assembly) member Eskender Barieev on October 13. The Interpreter has translated the post:

Here are the impressions of an 8-year-old school boy, studying in a school in the Simferopol District:

“In our school, they collected all the text books and books in the Ukrainian language and on the Ukraine. They made a pile. And in front of the schoolchildren, they began to tear them up. Some of the students wanted to take the books home, but they were not allowed. They involved the students in the destruction of the books. Some of the pupils refused. I managed to make away with one of the books and saved it, it was a Ukrainian-English dictionary. I wanted to try to get some more, but I couldn’t manage.”

The most terrible thing about this is that a teacher, to whom we often entrust our children, is doing this…

In fact, this is not the first case of literature being destroyed in the Ukrainian and the Crimean Terek languages (state languages in the Crimea). They destroyed books in the Crimean Tatar language after the annexation of the Crimea in 1783…

There is also a report that earlier, activists in Sevastopol managed to save some Ukrainian books that Russians were trying to burn. It turns out that the books considered ideologically dangerous in Russia: books on Europe, on Hetman Mazepe, on the Holodomor, on the connections between language and politics. The activists sent the rescued literature to Kiev, from where it will be sent to teachers in schools in the Donbass.

On October 13, Sergie Aksyonov, self-proclaimed prime minister of the Crimea, announced that there would be a moratorium placed on the confiscation of banned religious literature from Crimean Muslims. But yesterday the Russian-backed leadership of Crimea implied that “banned Islamic literature” would be confiscated if it was not disposed of before January 1, 2015.

Polish General Says Poland Has Offered To Sell Arms To Ukraine

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Poland has offered to sell Ukraine military hardware, equipment, and winter outfits for servicemen, and is awaiting a response to its propsals.

This was stated by a retired Polish general, the former deputy defence minister Waldemar Skrzypczak, in comments to UNIAN during the Baltic Business Forum.

“The Ukrainians now know everything that we can offer. Everything now depends on when Ukraine will make the next step, namely when they ask when specific equipment can be delivered,” said Skrzypczak.

The retired Polish general said that Polish arms manufacturers supply the Ukrainians with small arms, ammunition, body armour, helmets, drones, thermal imaging gear and other equipment.

“There is just one condition – the Ukrainians must make the decision on what they want, because if they don’t, then they will once again be sitting in the trenches in slippers and t-shirts,” said the general.

The deputy manager of Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa holdings, which combines all companies in the defence industry, Michał Switalski, declined to comment on whether the Ukrainian side had approached his Polish partners on the subject of arms procurement.

In other comments at the forum reported by UNIAN, Skrzypczak said that he thinks that Russia may attempt to “punch a corridor” through to Crimea during the winter.

The retired general believes that such a move would lead to the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers, and that Putin be forced to change tack due to international pressure, but the war-weariness brought on by increasing casualties could make the Kremlin wary of letting the conflict stretch into a second year for fear of political unrest.

“I fear that the Ukrainian army will not be able to fend off Russia alone.” 

Smoke From Donetsk Airport While Shells Strike Residential Buildings
Smoke is rising from the besieged airport to the north of Donetsk:

Translation: 17:41 View of the airport #Donetsk

One photo, which we have not yet verified but has no previous appearances when run through Google image search, shows what looks like a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled gun:

Translation: #Donetsk right now in the direction of the airport.

Donetsk news site reports that, according to eyewitnesses in the city, shells have fallen in the Kuybyshevsky, Petrovsky and Kievsky districts.

One resident is quoted by as saying:

“Artillery is firing out of the city, you can even hear the shells whistling overhead.” 

All translations by The Interpreter.

OSCE Report That Grad Rocket That Struck Sartana Appeared To Have Come From The East

The OSCE has published a spot report on the shelling of the village of Sartana, immediately north-east of Mariupol, where 7 civilians were killed yesterday when shells struck a funeral procession.

Importantly, the OSCE report notes that, judging by the angle of a Grad rocket found lodged in the ground, the shelling came from the east – Russian-held territory.

Here is the full report:

At 14:23hrs on 14 October, the SMM – in Mariupol (113km south of Donetsk city) – heard what it assessed to be heavy GRAD shelling to the northeast of the city. A Ukrainian military officer attached to the Joint Control and Co-ordination Centre in Mariupol and the Liaison Officer at the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” based in Mariupol later informed the SMM that the shelling had been directed towards a Ukrainian military checkpoint 1km east of the village of Sartana (19km northeast of Mariupol). Another source told the SMM that seven people had been killed and 10 to 15 injured in the shelling. 

The SMM arrived in Sartana at 17:00hrs, and observed the remnants of a GRAD rocket lodged in the ground. Its positioning suggested it had been fired from the east. A man – who appeared to be a plain-clothes policeman – told the SMM that seven people had been killed and fifteen wounded in the village as a result of incoming shelling at approximately 14:20hrs. The SMM left the village after 15 minutes because of constant shelling exchanges, assessed by the SMM to have been taking place between Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint just to the east of the village and unknown, presumably irregular armed forces affiliated to the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, positioned somewhere further to the east. 

The SMM went to a hospital in Mariupol at 17:30hrs, where a doctor on duty said 14 people – seven males and seven females aged between 33 and 65 – had been admitted. The 14, two of whom were seriously injured according to the doctor, had sustained injuries caused by shrapnel. At the hospital, an Orthodox priest, who claimed to have been at the scene immediately after the attack, told the SMM that he had seen several corpses. He added that Ukrainian military personnel had performed first aid on the injured.

OSCE Report On Fighting Near Smile

The OSCE has published a spot report from the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) on fighting observed near Smile in the Lugansk region. The fighting was described earlier by the Lugansk governor Hennadiy Moskal, who announced that over 100 Ukrainian troops were now surrounded in the area.

Moskal later reported that a number of wounded servicemen were captured, amongst them a battalion commander.

Here is the full OSCE report:

On the evening of 13 October, a Ukrainian military officer told the SMM that armed forces affiliated to the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) had advanced towards a Ukrainian military checkpoint (CP) between Khoroshe and Smile (approximately 40km northwest of Luhansk city), and had issued the Ukrainian soldiers there with an ultimatum: either surrender or face attack. Early in the morning of 14 October, a Ukrainian military officer attached to the Joint Control and Co-ordination Centre (JCCC) inDebaltseve (75km northeast of Donetsk city) told the SMM that fighting was on-going around the CP in question.

Later that morning, a Ukrainian military CP commander near Frunze (45km northwest of Luhansk city) told the SMM that the CP between Khoroshe and Smile was surrounded by “LPR” irregular armed forces.  He said that a relief convoy – consisting of three Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) – had been ambushed by “LPR” irregular forces 2.7km west of Smile, resulting in, he said, 12 Ukrainian military casualties – dead and wounded – and two burnt-out APCs remaining at the scene.

Following an unsuccessful Ukrainian military attempt to retrieve the dead and wounded – involving a tank and two APCs – the SMM approached the “LPR” irregulars, and obtained a promise that the injured would be evacuated by the “LPR” and provided with medical treatment. Whilst at the ambush site, the SMM observed two injured Ukrainian soldiers and four burnt-out APCs. 

The SMM also observed fresh mortar impacts at the surrounded Ukrainian military CP, located 1km south of Smile. 

NATO Sees No Major Withdrawal Of Russian Forces From Border

General Philip Breedlove, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has told the Associated Press that the military alliance has seen no “major movement” indicating a withdrawal of troops from Russia’s border with Ukraine.

AP notes that:

On Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered about 17,600 Russian troops to return to their bases from Rostov. The region in Russia borders east Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have been battling government troops since April. 

Ukraine Claims Russian Drone Spotted For Shelling That Killed 7 Yesterday

Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO), has told reporters at a briefing in Kiev today that a Russian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) was detected flying over the Donetsk region yesterday. 

The reconnaissance drone aided, he says, target the shelling of the village of Sartana, just outside Mariupol, where shells fell on a funeral procession in the afternoon killing 7 civilians and wounding 18.

Interfax-Ukraine report that Lysenko said (translated by The Interpreter):

“It has been established that on October 14 a Russian drone carried out active reconnaissance in this area. At 14:30 the terrorists began shelling the Border Service office in Sartana with a Grad launcher located near the captured settlement of Shirokino.

The border guards suffered no losses from the shelling. Targeting was corrected with the direct assistance of the drone. 

As there was a funeral procession on the outskirts of the village at that time, the terrorists shifted their fire there.”

Lysenko’s claim that the funeral procession was specifically targeted (he says that a shell fell directly on them) would render the event a war crime.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Lysenko also said that a Russian electronic reconnaissance aircraft was detected flying over Ukraine, crossing the border near Uspenka and flying close to Donetsk.

Lysenko also reported helicopter flights entered Ukrainian territory along the border between Russia and the Sumy region, to the north, and along the border with Russian-occupied Crimea. 

112 Ukrainian Troops Reportedly Surrounded In Lugansk Region Following Attack

UNIAN reports that Hennadiy Moskal, the governor of the Lugansk region, has written on his Facebook page that 112 soldiers from the Ukrainian army and the National Guard have been surrounded near the Bakhmutka highway, near the village of Smile, in the Lugansk region.

Moskal writes that the troops were attacked by militants operating under the banner of the ’32nd unit of the Army of the Don Cossacks’ led by Pavel Dremov.

The Russian or Russian-backed fighters were, according to Moskal, equipped with around 20 tanks and “two dozen other armoured vehicles.”

Several Ukrainian armoured vehicles were destroyed and and at least 5 were killed.

The attack and encirclement came after a day of engagements between separatist fighters and Ukrainian forces at different checkpoints in the area.

UNIAN reports:

[Moskal] said that yesterday from 0800 to 0840 and then from 1010 there had been continuous mortar and small arms attacks on a National Guard checkpoint No.32 near the village of Smile in Slavyanoserbsk district.

“At 1045 there was a clash between the militants and the 24th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who had come to the aid of the National Guard checkpoint,” Moskal said.

“Our side has lost some armored vehicles. At about 1500, a group from the 80th Airmobile Brigade, which had come to help the National Guard, was ambushed. Information about the dead and wounded is being clarified. From 2000 to 2030, the insurgents fired mortars at a position held by the 128th Brigade near the village of Chornuhino in Popasnyanskiy district. At 2130 there was again some shelling. There were no losses on our side.”

Then after midnight the militants attacked a Ukrainian army checkpoint near the village of Zolotoye in Popasnyanskiy district, Moskal said. Just after 0200, the gunmen opened fire and then surrounded the area around National Guard checkpoints Nos. 31 and 32 near Bakhmutka. Fighting broke out.


There is no firm information about the situation at Bakhmutka this morning. It is known that 112 soldiers of the Ukrainian army and National Guard have been surrounded. Several wounded and shell-shocked soldiers have been captured, including a battalion commander. The situation can be described as critical.

It is impossible to obtain specific information about the number of dead and wounded and losses of armored vehicles, as constant bombardments from the militants’ heavy artillery, which is entrenched in nearby woodland, prevents access to the area.

Attempts by [OSCE] representatives to negotiate a ceasefire by phone with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) were unsuccessful. The “Army of the Don” militants are not following the orders of the LPR and act at their own discretion, Moskal said.

Yesterday, Moskal had announced that 5 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and three armoured vehicles destroyed in the area during an attack on the checkpoint. 

This afternoon, the ATO Headquarters claimed, on their Facebook page, that the checkpoint remained under Ukrainian control. The situation was described as “tough.”

Shortly afterwards, Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, told reporters (translated by The Interpreter):

“A battle is now under way there. One cannot call this an encirclement as we can still deliver reinforcements, ammunition and we can also help with covering fire.”

The militant commander named by Moskal, Pavel Dremov, was recently interviewed by AFP.

Dremov claims to be operating independently of the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’ and is a local, not a member of the Russian armed forces. He does, however, admit to having fought with pro-Russian forces during the 1992 Transistrian war.


In the interview, Dremov claims he lacks functioning tanks:

Then, lowering his voice, Dremov says: “I’m going to tell you a secret. I have 1,200 fighters under my command, but only one broken-down tank and a troop transport. That’s all.”

AFP has no way of verifying the claims of the “colonel”, who gets around in a Japanese SUV painted in camouflage colours, shuttling between Stakhanov and the nearby town of Pervomaisk.