Ukraine Liveblog Day 245: Huge Explosion In Donetsk

October 20, 2014
The explosion in Donetsk this morning. Photo-montage of YouTube screenshots by @conflict_report

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.

People’s Front Candidate Hospitalised After Attack In Boryspil

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Volodymyr Borysenko, an electoral candidate for the People’s Front party, has been hospitalised following an attack at his home in Boryspil, in the Kiev region.

The reports cites a Facebook post by the independent MP Mykola Kniazhytsky, who notes that Borysenko had received threats, which he reported to the police.

On his Facebook page, Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Interior Minister, wrote more on the attack.

Writing at 21:26 GMT, Herashchenko wrote that the assassination attempt had been made about an hour earlier. He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

When he went outside to feed his dog, he was shot at with a firearm, and a home-made explosive device was thrown at his feet.

The bullet was stopped by body armour, which Volodymyr Borysenko had been wearing recently, after receiving telephone threats having a pig’s head thrown at him as a form of intimidation.

Borysenko is now hospitalised in a state of traumatic shock. He will live.

Herashchenko said that a criminal investigation under the statute for attempted murder had begun. There has been no announcement yet with regards to the possible perpetrators or motives of the attack.

Video: Swedish Navy Searches For A Suspected Russian Submarine
Ukraine Today has posted this video which shows part of the Swedish Navy’s search for what they believe is an under-water object operated by a foreign power — in other words, a suspected Russian submarine:

Rockets Launched From Donetsk As Separatist Leader Says Ceasefire Is Over

The ceasefire in Ukraine never truly existed. There has been shelling every day since the ceasefire was agreed upon in late August. Each and every day has seen Russian-backed separatist forces attack the Donetsk International Airport, though there has also been fighting elsewhere.

Despite all of this, no one can argue that the ceasefire did not have a significant effect in many areas of eastern Ukraine where there has been little-to-no fighting for the last month and a half. The effects of the ceasefire can even be seen in Donetsk where, despite daily fighting, the intensity of the violence has been greatly diminished.

But as we’ve been reporting today, the explosion at a chemical plant in Donetsk has rocked the entire city with the ferocity of the explosions and secondary explosions. Now, RIA Novosti is confirming news we carried earlier — that a key separatist leader is now calling the ceasefire over:

Monday’s heavy shelling of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk undermines the negotiation process of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Kiev, DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko said.

“No more talks about ceasefire, of course we are not going to sit [at the negotiating table] with Kiev,” he said.

Of course, even RIA can’t deny that this ceasefire was never expected to last:

On October 19, DPR Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin said the self-proclaimed people’s republic would never become part of a united Ukraine.

Does this mean that even the false ceasefire will be completely broken? Will fighting break out across the entire region as we saw before? Will this trigger a new wave of Russian invasion which was in full swing right before the ceasefire was signed? Time will tell, but the Associated Press is already seeing the Russian-backed rebels respond militarily to the explosion, at least in Donetsk:

On Monday, a powerful explosion shook the largest rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, causing shockwaves that were felt over a radius of several kilometers. Numerous buildings, including the Shakhtar Donetsk football club, were damaged as a result.

The explosion, which occurred at a rubber processing factory used to create components for ammunition, was succeeded by multiple barrages of outgoing rockets fire from the city.

Search Widens For Possible Russian Submarine In Swedish Waters

It’s October, and what better time is there to talk about the search for a possible Russian submarine? This weekend the Swedish military has been following reports of a suspicious and unidentified submerged object which many believe may be a Russian sub illegally operating in Swedish territory. The Washington Post reports:

On Friday and Saturday, Sweden mobilized ships, helicopters and more than 200 troops following reports of “foreign underwater activity” less than 31 miles off of the coast. The operation, reminiscent of an era when Sweden routinely patrolled its coastal waters for incursions by Russian submarines, prompted Cold War comparisons to the 1990 thriller “The Hunt for Red October” and the 1981 “whiskey on the rocks” incident, during which a Soviet spy submarine ran aground near a Swedish naval base.

On Sunday, the Swedish military reported three credible sightings of what they describe as “foreign undersea activity” and published a picture of a partially submerged object.

Also on Sunday, a Russian-owned oil tanker, the Concord, which had been in Swedish waters for several days, started sailing toward Russia before suddenly turning around and heading back to Sweden, the Associated Press reported.

The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet is reporting that “the National Defence Radio Establishment (“Försvarets radioanstalt”, FRA) detected radio communication in Russian a day before the operation started. It was transmitted on a special frequence, used by Russia in emergency situations.”

Friday night signal intelligence once again intercepted radio communication. This time it was encrypted but it was possible to determine the position of the transmitter and the receiver. The transmitter was situated somewhere in Kanholmsfjärden in the archipelago of Stockholm, and the receiver was situated in Kaliningrad, Russia.

This information has been confirmed by several persons with knowledge about the ongoing search operation, altough they can’t confirm that there is a damaged submarine in Swedish waters.

– We are now focusing on determining if there is ongoing foreign underwater activity or not, one of the sources tells Svenska Dagbladet.

The Swedish Prime Minister is reporting that they are widening the search for the object, though they are downplaying reports that they are hunting for a submarine. AFP reports:

The search was being extended southwards to the open sea about 70 kilometres (44 miles) southeast of Stockholm, as Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said that more military exercises were being carried out in the Baltic Sea.

“There’s an increase in military exercises from both the Russian and the NATO side,” Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said, speaking at a press conference in Helsinki.

Russia has denied reports that they have anything to do with this mysterious object:

The Russian Defense Ministry denied there were any emergency situations involving Russian warships Sunday and suggested a Dutch submarine might have triggered Sweden’s alert, after carrying out exercises in the area.

The theory, however, was dismissed by the Dutch defense ministry Monday, French news agency AFP reported. 

Ukraine’s Parliament Says 300 Soldiers Were Killed In Fight For Ilovaisk

One of the bloodiest battles in the history of this conflict was the fight for Ilovaisk, a town between Donetsk and the Russian border (map). On August 19th, after weeks of fighting, the Ukrainian military finally retook the town from Russian-backed militants. However, a large group of Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded after Russia intensified its direct military intervention in eastern Ukraine and those troops soon found themselves fighting large amounts of tanks, armored vehicles, and well-trained infantry, all the while taking artillery fire from Russian-supplied grad rockets and howitzers.

Now Ukraine’s parliament is finally admitting that more than 300 soldiers were killed during the battle. The Associated Press reports (via RFE/RL): 

A report by Ukraine’s parliament revealed Monday that more than 300 soldiers were killed during a weekslong battle that marked a crushing setback in the military campaign to root out pro-Russian separatist forces in the east.

The report is the first official confirmation of the scale of a defeat in the city of Ilovaisk that critics of the country’s military command have described as the result of disastrous leadership.

It is believed the ultimate number of servicemen lost may be even greater, and the parliamentary inquiry into the Ilovaisk battle complained that military authorities have failed to cooperate.

For more information about the battle see our special presentation: The Battle of Ilovaisk: A Turning Point in Russia’s War on Ukraine 

DNR Leader Says ‘Ceasefire’ Is Over

The ‘prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Aleksandr Zakharchenko, has tweeted that the ceasefire, agreed upon at the Minsk talks last month, is over.

Translation: After today’s shelling of Donetsk with rockets, the ceasefire, even formally, has to be considered abandoned.

Translation: An hour ago, the Ukes carried out a strike near the old terminal, after which our artillery carried out a strike on the dillweeds’ positions near Peski.

Bipartisan Leadership of US Senate’s Armed Services Committee Advocate Arming Ukraine

Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and Republican James Inhofe, who is the ranking minority member of the committee, have both co-written an op-ed in The Washington Post advocating for the arming of the Ukrainian military with US weapons:

It’s important to remember what sparked Russia’s intervention: the peaceful, democratic protests of the Ukrainian people that unseated a corrupt, Putin-friendly regime. Supporting Ukraine’s desire for peace, freedom, territorial integrity and democracy supports values Americans hold dear.

We and our NATO partners have taken significant steps to support Ukraine by providing more than $100 million in military assistance (including an additional $46 million of assistance announced during Poro­shenko’s visit), deployments to Eastern Europe and increased military cooperation. And most important, we and our European partners have imposed biting economic sanctions that have damaged the Russian economy, plunging it toward recession and signaling to Putin that he cannot benefit from European economic strength on one hand while endangering it on the other.

But this aid so far has not included the weapons the Ukrainian military needs to defend itself. Ukrainian forces are suffering significant casualties from artillery fire, a result of the heavy weapons provided, and probably operated, by Russia on behalf of the rebels. At the same time, Poroshenko and the Ukrainian military have shown great restraint in resisting Russian provocations, declining to fire back at artillery coming from Russian territory and making it clear their only objective is to defend their own territory.

Did Russia Threaten To Annex Crimea BEFORE Euromaidan To Force Yanukovych Out Of the EU?

Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 until September, has given a very frank interview to Politico’s Ben Judah. Sikorski, who has always held a firm-but-diplomatic stance with regards to Russia, appears to now be holdng no punched. The now-former foreign minister is even giving away details of private conversations with world leaders, and what he has to say about Russia, Putin, and the mechanisms of the Kremlin, is alarming.

“I think psychologically the regime has been transformed by the annexation of Crimea,” Sikorski told Politico Magazine. “This was the moment that finally convinced all doubters and turned all heads. This was Napoleon after Austerlitz. This was Hitler after the fall of Paris. This was the moment that finally centralized everything into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

“What is happening now is the full embrace of neo-imperialism,” Sikorski says. “They have exploited every post-Soviet and neo-Soviet atavism and made it real because an alarming proportion of the population believes it. This is how they have refueled their regime.”

But then Sikorski goes on to leak details from conversations with Yanukovych which indicate that he feared Russia even before Maidan:

“We learned Russia ran calculations on what provinces would be profitable to grab,” says Sikorski, who claims that Poland became aware the Kremlin had calculated it would be profitable to annex Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa regions, while the assessing that the Donbass area currently controlled by Putin’s rebels would not, on its own, not be profitable to incorporate into Russia.

“By that time they were already doing calculations about how to seize Crimea as a way of blackmailing Viktor Yanukovych,” says Sikorski, “I know from my conversations and meeting with Yanukovych that he wanted to get the [European Union-Ukraine] Association Agreement. But in November 2013 something happened, something snapped. Based on our conversations, my sense is that it was something Putin told him in Sochi. I think that Putin had kompromat [blackmail material] on Yanukovych: we now know there was a weekly, biweekly truck taking out the cash [stolen from the Ukrainian budget] in a cash transfer. And I think he told him: ‘Don’t sign the Association Agreement; otherwise we’ll seize Crimea.’ That’s why he cracked.”

Is this credible? In a speech given by ousted President President Viktor Yanukovych soon after he fled to Russia, he said that he was considering joining the EU but then traveled to Moscow where he was informed of the true costs of joining the EU. Many looked over this part of his speech, seeing it as Yanukovych trying to make himself look more amenable to the Euromaidan crowd. But there is another reading — he was bullied by the Kremlin to reject the EU deal. There are facts to support this other narrative. For instance, when Yanukovych traveled to Sochi right before announcing that he would stall Ukraine’s signing of the EU association agreement, he got “lost” on his way to visit Putin and appears to have tried to leave Russia without the meeting ever haven taken place.

These are only a few of the alarming claims made in the interview. Read the entire article here: Putin’s Coup — How the Russian leader used the Ukraine crisis to consolidate his dictatorship.

More Images Show Force Of Explosion In Donetsk

As we’ve been reporting, a massive explosion took place today at the Donetsk State Chemical Products Factory (DKZHI), just more than three kilometers southwest of the besieged Donetsk International Airport. The shock wave has reportedly blown out windows across the city, including at the Donbass football arena.

More pictures are coming in now that show the sheer force of the blast:

This video is taken inside, and it is still dramatic.
Huge Explosion In Donetsk This Morning

Donetsk was rocked by a devastating blast this morning at the Donetsk State Chemical Products Factory (DKZKhI). The factory lies to the north-west of the city centre, just over 3 km south-west of the besieged airport.

The following videos show a tremendous blast at the already burning plant, which produced explosives for armaments.

Following the shock wave at around 1 minute in, the cameraman shouts “Tochka-U! It’s a Tochka-U.” A Tochka-U (NATO reporting name: SS-21 Scarab B) is a short-range ballistic missile in the Ukrainian military arsenal. There have been numerous claims that Ukraine has deployed these weapons in the east.

As we have no footage or reports on the initial strike itself, we cannot comment on this claim, however the powerful, secondary blast seen at around 40 seconds is most likely to be caused by explosive chemicals igniting due to the fire ignited by some prior cause, which may be shelling or indeed a missile strike.

This video contains two different views of the blast from other angles:

The press office of the Donetsk City Council put out the following statement (translated by The Interpreter):

The situation, as of 13:00 [10:00 GMT], on the outskirts of Donetsk is extremely difficult.

At 10 past 12 [9:10 GMT], a powerful explosion occurred in the city. According to initial reports, it occurred in the area of the Donetsk State Chemical Products Factory.

A strong blast wave swept across the whole city. According to residents, not only glass, but also window frames were blown out in many districts of the city.

The details of the incident are still being clarified.

The power of the blast wave is clear from the videos above. Donetsk news site reported that the shock wave had even torn up parts of the glass façade of the Donbass Arena football stadium, to the east of the city centre.

Translation: #Donetsk Donbass Arena has buckled too.