Ukraine Liveblog Day 241: Stand-Offs At Donetsk Airport And Bakhmutka Highway Continue

October 16, 2014
A soldier raises the Ukrainian flag from a building in Donetsk Airport. Screenshot from video uploaded by Vasiliy Goloveshchenko

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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View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
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.

Assets In Poroshenko’s Bank Increase By 50 Percent Since Start Of Year

Ukrainian President Poroshenko is the chief shareholder of International Investment Bank (MIB), which has seen its total assets increase by more than 50% since the start of the year. Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

According to a statement for the third quarter of 2014, the assets of the International Investment Bank (MIB), whose chief shareholder is President Petro Poroshenko, increased by nearly 50% since the beginning of the year, to 2.5 billion hryvnia (about $193 billion), reported.

By contrast, the assets of the entire banking system for the first 8 months (figures for 9 months are still not published) increased by only 5%.

It is illustrative that even such an insignificant growth was conditioned by the rapid devaluation of the hryvnia.

As Aleksei Komakha noted on his site Minprom, about 41% of the assets of all banks are denominated in foreign currency. Taking into account the weakening of the official rate by 63%, we can speak about the essential reduction of the banks’ shares.

The assets of MIB also in part grew due to the devaluation. However the crisis almost left untouched President Poroshenko’s financial institution. Unlike the majority of his colleagues in the field, Poroshenko’s bank saw a flow of deposits, including in foreign currency.

The funds remaining in the accounts of MIB clients nominated in foreign currency increased from 644 million hryvnia ($49 million) to the equivalent of 1.4 billion hryvnia ($108 billion) in the first 9 months of the year, that is, by 35% if calculated in dollars [note – using today’s exchange rate, this is a 45% increase – The Interpreter]. Also foreign currency deposits of physical persons increased by 12% in the dollar equivalent.

We will recall that President Petro Poroshenko published promised to sell the business under his control after his election.

It’s not clear from the report whjat percentage of Poroshenko’s businesses he has sold.

Gunmen Raid Pokrovskoye Mine, Reportedly hold Parliamentary Candidate Captive

A troubling report today that armed gunmen may have taken a prospective member of parliament captive after raiding the Pokrovskoye mine and capturing the executives.  reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Today at about 7:15 am about 15-20 people without identifying insignia in balaclavas armed with machine guns broke into the Pokrovskoye mine, the TV channel Orbita reported, citing the press service of the mine’s management.

The gunmen set up security checkpoints on the grounds of the mine and blocked the movement of the executives of the mine in their offices and also the office of Leonid Vladimirovich Baysarov, a people’s deputy of Ukraine who is also running as a candidate in the parliamentary elections from the 50th district.

Currently, there are 1,500 people in the mine. The administration is denied the ability to manage the mine.

According to unofficial information, pressure is being put on Baysarov to remove his candidacy from the elections.

We will recall that Pokrovskoye is the largest coal mine and company town in Ukraine, employing more than 13,000 people.

The blocking of the mine is a real threat to the normal existence of the towns of Krasnoarmeysk, Dimitrova and other adjacent towns.

Russia Threatens To Cut Europe’s Natural Gas If Ukraine Receives Any

Not only is Russia holding all the cards in their negotiation with Ukraine over the price of natural gas, Russia is working to ensure that Europe does not undercut its stranglehold on this part of Ukraine’s economy.

Russia is concerned that either Europe will send Russian gas back to Ukraine, or Ukraine will filter off some of Europe’s gas this winter. According to RFE/RL, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear statements that this will not happen without consequences:

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies.”

Two Russian Opposition Figures Say They Would Not Return Crimea to Ukraine

On our Russia liveblog, Russia This Week, we’ve been talking about a series of statements by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in which he says that he would not just return Crimea to Ukraine if he became president of Russia. Here is an excerpt:

Venediktov: Is Crimea ours?

Navalny: Crimea belongs to the people who live in Crimea.

Venediktov: Don’t evade the question. Is Crimea ours? Is Crimea Russian?

Navalny: Crimea, of course, now de facto belongs to Russia.

Venediktov: So you think…

Navalny: I think that despite the fact that the Crimea was seized with outrageous violations of all international norms, nevertheless, the realities are such that Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation. So let’s not kid ourselves. And I advise the Ukrainians not to kid themselves, either. It will remain part of Russia and will never become part of Ukraine in the foreseeable future.

Venediktov: So in this sense the question was great. If you were to become president, would you try to return the Crimea to Ukraine?

Navalny: What, is the Crimea a ham sandwich or something that you can take and give it back? No, I don’t believe so.

As we’ve also been following, his statements have been controversial to say the least, and he’s been criticized by both Russian liberals and many in the global community, especially Ukrainians.

Now, Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky has also said that if he were president he would not return Crimea.

This will no-doubt disappoint many western fans of both Alexey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Below The Interpreter has translated an article from ZN,UA:

Right after opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Mikhail Khodorkovsky announced that he would not return Crimea if he were president.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the ex-head of YUKOS does not intend to return Crimea to Ukraine in the event of his election as president of Russia.

During a Twitter discussion, Khodorkovsky said that on the whole, he is in agreement with the Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
“On the main things, we are allies. On the details, we’ll come to an agreement,” he wrote.

Answering the direct question of a user, would he return Crimea to Ukraine in the event of his election as president of Russia, Khodorkovsky said no.

Translation: @psykrab @mich261213 Don’t evade the questions. Would you give back Crimea if you become president?

Translation: @mich261213 “I’ll answer directly: I would not. The problem of the Crimea will take decades. The path is through the erosion of borders in Europe, through municipalization. I will not live that long.”

According to a recent Levada Center poll, only 14% of Russians are prepared to return the Crimea to Russia.

The Interpreter is a special project of the Institute of Modern Russia, a New York-based think-tank whose president is Pavel Khordorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

New Pictures Of Donetsk Airport After Weeks Of Attacks

If you want to know why Donetsk Airport is important to this conflict, Read our summary of the airport’s symbolic meaning here and see the multimedia presentation linked in the bottom of our last update.

If you want to know what the airport that was once the symbol of Ukraine’s promise looks like now, these pictures are a good place to start:

Another Three ‘Cyborgs’ Killed Defending Donetsk Airport
Here are the tweets from Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council’s summary of today’s situation briefing:
Moscow-Backed Leader Of Crimea Claims Missing Tatars Are In Syria

Regular readers will know that we’ve been doing our best to cover a highly-alarming story — the disappearance of young Crimean Tatars, and the political crackdown on the Tatar leadership. In recent days things have only gotten worse, as another one of the missing Tatars was found dead and yet another was found dying. The Moscow-backed Crimean leadership has threatened to confiscate “banned Islamic literature” starting in January. There are even reports of Crimean teachers destroying Ukrainian books.

Now the Russian-backed leadership is claiming that the missing Tatars are not abducted, even suggesting that they may be terrorists by saying that some of them have traveled to Syria. RFE/RL reports:

Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader, Sergei Aksyonov, has acknowledged that four members of the Muslim Tatar minority on the annexed peninsula are missing but asserts they were not abducted.

Speaking on October 16, Aksyonov criticized missing Crimean Tatars by saying some of them had fought in Syria, implying they were Islamic militants.

At least three Crimean Tatar men have been found dead since Russia annexed the Black Sea region from Ukraine in March.

Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that three Crimean Tatars remained missing after “hostile encounters” and that some of those found dead had apparently been tortured.

On October 14, at a meeting of the  Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he had never heard about the missing Tatars, but he was sure that “in our country, thank God, in modern Russia there aren’t and can’t be any problems with the Crimean Tatars.”

Putin: Regarding some manifestations there, of course, that must be carefully watched. I am grateful to you that you have drawn this to my attention. I’m hearing for the first time that there are disappearances of people.

[Nikolai Svanidze, a Russian TV and radio host and member of Russia’s Public Chamber and the Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations]: Disappearances of people does take place and outright abductions of people by persons without identifying insignia.

Putin: It’s not clear who is doing this. Who is doing this? Why are they doing this? I don’t understand this at all. What is understandable and clear for me is that we will be doing what was never done for the Crimean Tatars. One of the most important problems for them — the legalization of their property and right to land. This is a key issue, and we’re doing this. We are meeting them half-way.

Read about this and other statements from Putin at the meeting on our separate liveblog, Russia This Week.

Putting The Pieces Back Together — Kiev’s Efforts To Combat Corruption

Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has launched a website called “ATO & Crimea” which runs updates and analysis of this crisis. Today they are running an article that explains the new set of anti-corruption laws passed by the Rada. The focus of much of the article is the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NACB) which is designed to be a key tool in the efforts to fight the remnants of previous regimes.

One key question is the selection process for the bureau:

– The head of the Bureau will be appointed by the President on the proposal of a Commission of nine people including three from the public (of high credibility and moral standing in society), Parliament, the Cabinet and the President).

– The selection process of the three final candidates will be made on live television.

– The President has no right to veto the appointment of the head.

– The Bureau’s Head will hold office for 7 years without extension.

– Parliament can fire the head of the Bureau, 150 MPs can raise the question of the removal, than simple majority of Parliament 226 MPs must vote.

– To work effectively, Bureau will also operate under a legislative framework that builds a system of anti-corruption.

What will the bureau do? The focus of the NACB will be to investigate the incomes of government officials and to track this information on openly-accessible websites. A few highlights:

– The Commission will create a single register of declarations of all public servants. This will be available on-line, including not only income, but also expenses.

– The commission can compare lifestyle to income and expenses. The declaration will provide information not only about money in the bank but available cash, which, for example, is stored in a jar at home, in jewelry, with employees, family and related persons. In this way, if an employee earns annually UAH 300,000 and buys a car for USD 300,000 – a procedure will begin to see if that enrichment is legitimate.

– Monitor conflicts of interestand nepotism. Close relatives cannot be subordinate officers in agencies, and cannot be involved in activities related to the official’s work.

– Tenders will no longer accept bids from offshore companies with unknown owners – the final beneficiary purchaser must be known. Mandatory registration with Ukrainian national legislation in Ukrainian registries will have the ultimate beneficiaries of all businesses in Ukraine. Criminal liability is now established for breaking this law.

Read the entire report here.


Election Update — Darth Vader, Joke Billboards, Debates
Darth Vader is real, and he ran for president of Ukraine. This spring one of the candidates for President was a masked man, wearing a Darth Vader costume, who was running as a member of the Internet Party. He was disqualified because he refused to use his real name, but his candidacy was controversial for two reasons. Many saw him as the ultimate symbol of the distrust of the political system in Ukraine — if politics is a farce, why not go all the way with the joke? Others suspected he was backed by Moscow to discredit the entire process.

Now, the Internet Party is back and running for parliament. We’ve translated an article by The Insider which reveals the very interesting identity, and political connections, of some of the Star Wars characters who are running for office in Ukraine. Read our Exclusive Translation: Who Are Ukraine’s “Darth Vaders?” The Masks Are Off – An Insider Look At The Internet Party.

Meanwhile, and with parliamentary elections only a few weeks away, Kyiv Post’s Ian Bateson has been tweeting some election-related information. It seems that both Ukraine’s political billboards and its debates are symbols of the long lack of a real political process, a trend which many in Ukraine hope will soon be reversed.
Fighting Continues In Lugansk Region

UNIAN reports that Ukraine’s northern operation command has announced that there were several attacks over the last 24 hours to the north-west of Lugansk.

According to the report, checkpoints near Zolotoye, Khorosheye and Smile were fired on. The military report that Ukrainian forces returned fire with artillery.

There was also an engagement between a separatist assault detachment and National Guardsmen.

The northern operational command report that 1 Ukrainian serviceman was killed and 5 injured during the fighting. According to initial reports, one T-64 tank and a Ural truck were destroyed.

According to, the ATO press centre has also reported attacks on Ukrainian positions near Debaltsevo, Chornukhino and Tryokhizbenka, where there was an attack with Grad rockets late last night.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the Lugansk Regional Administration has asked civilians not to travel along a section of the Bakhmutka highway, which travels through the area of the current separatist offensive actions, due to the ongoing hostilities.

According to the press office of the governor, Hennadiy Moskal, civilians should avoid travelling along the road between Lugansk and Gorskoye in the Popasnaya district.

112 Ukrainian soldiers are still pinned down by forces led by Pavel Dremov of the ‘Cossack Army’ near the highway, to the immediate south-west of Smile. The ATO press centre reported that “the situation remains dynamic.”


Defenders Of Donetsk Airport Repel Yet Another Assault

The Ukrainian flag was raised from a building in Donetsk Airport this morning after defending forces successfully repelled yet another assault by Russian-backed fighters.

Vasiliy Goloveshchenko, one of the soldiers defending the airport, has uploaded a video this morning showing the raising of the flag:

A photo of his from October 13 makes the devastation of the site clear:


Donetsk news site reported that the ATO Press Centre had announced that an assault on the airport had been made yesterday evening.

Despite shelling from the city, there were reportedly no casualties among the soldiers defending the site. 

The ATO Press Centre and the Northern operational command also report attack on Ukrainian positions outside Donetsk near Kashtanovoye, Nizhne, Redkodub, Avdeyevka аnd, to the south near Telmanovo, Granityoe. 

Meanwhile Russia’s SputinikTV uploaded a video to YouTube this morning showing a workshop in Donetsk in which Russian-backed forces are maintaining and repairing a large quantity of armoured vehicles.

At least one T-64, several T-72s a BTR armoured personnel carrier and a NONA self-propelled mortar are visible.

The video header describes the vehicles as trophies, but  the T-72s likely come from Russia as they have not been deployed by Ukrainian forces in this conflict, but the T-64 and other armoured vehicles may be either captured or taken out of Russian storage.