Ukraine Liveblog Day 249: Heavy Shelling And Movements Of Armour Reported In Donetsk

October 24, 2014
A BMP-2 turning east off Artyoma Street in Donetsk today.Photo via @litator

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.

Putin Admits To Organising Yanukovych’s Flight

Speaking at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi today, Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time that Russia helped the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, flee to Crimea in February this year following the protests on the Maidan.

The Interpreter translates an excerpt from a transcription of Putin’s speech by Russia’s independent TV Rain (Dozhd):

“He left and took out the law-enforcers with him. He’s a fine one, now… I will not hide it. We helped Yanukovych make his way to Crimea, which at that time was part of Ukraine… Yanukovych asked us to get him out to Russia, which we did.”

Yesterday Paul Goble wrote, in his Window on Eurasia series, on the flight to Russia of nearly 5,000 of Yanukovych’s backers.

Among these 5,000 from Ukraine are former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, former defense minister Pavel Lebedev, former justice minister Elena Lukash, former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka, former head of the national security service Grigory Ilyashov, and former vice prime minister Sergey Tabachnik.

They, their allies in the banking and business communities and others have fled to Moscow where they have purchased expensive properties in the city or land nearby. As a result of this emigration, Ukrainian citizens now occupy “two-thirds of the market for elite Moscow housing.” In short, they took a lot of the wealth they had acquired in Ukraine to Russia.

NATO Jets Intercept 2 Russian Su-27s And An-26 Over Baltic

The Latvian National Armed Forces (NBS) tweeted this morning that NATO F-16s have intercepted a Russian flight, made up of 2 Su-27 fighters and an An-26 aircraft (perhaps performing either reconnaissance or signals gathering duties) over the Baltic, near to Latvian airspace:

Union Chairman Warns Of Radiological Contamination Risk In Yenakievo After Mines Flood

Ukraine’s TSN reports that Mikhail Volynets, the chairman of the Independent Union of Miners, has warned that there is a risk of radiological contamination in Yenakievo after the flooding of two mines there.

Volynets told TSN that the Poltavskaya and Ulegorskaya mines were flooded, and that these mines lay next to the Yunkom mine, in which a nuclear device was detonated in 1979.

Volynets warns that dirty mine water may now seep between these channels and rise to the surface, carrying radioactive material. He says that the level of radiation contamination will be in excess of a thousand times the normal rate.

The Yunkom mine was the scene of a Soviet experiment in the peaceful application of nuclear explosions in 1979. According to a paper published by the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC), the blast was conducted with the aim of shattering coal strata so as to release trapped gas and prevent dangerous blasts.

The paper describes the experiment:

In this connection the experiment was carried out in “Yunkom” mine, Yenakievo town of Donetsk region, Klivazh facility whose aim was to check efficiency of blowing-prevention measures by processing the most blow-dangerous beds with a nuclear explosion.

The explosion having 0.3 kt yield was made at a depth of 903 m on September 15, 1979. The eastern side of the mine field was involved. The nuclear device was placed between the coal beds Devyatka and Kirpichevka at 45 and 31 m distances, respectively.

The end box was constructed in the slope 826 m away from the horizon. The explosion yield was conditioned by ensuring seismic safety of mine shafts and main workings as well as of industrial and dwelling surface buildings near to “Yunkom” mine and in Yenakievo town.

The underground workings in the mine were examined twenty-four hours after the explosion. No serious damage was found except for the cave on the lava and vent gallery joining. Some rock fragments fell out and fines crumbled off the cover and sides of the workings.

This explosion produced no negative effects on the mine and the neighboring enterprises and did not interfere with the active life of the inhabitants. Seismic and radiation safety was provided as it was specified in the project. On the fifth day after the explosion the mine was working in a normal mode.

This was not the only underground nuclear detonation to have taken place in eastern Ukraine.

In 1972, a gas blow-out fire, like those the Yenakievo blast was intended to prevent, in Krestishchi, in the Kharkiv region, was extinguished with a 3.8 kiloton nuclear detonation in a borehole.

The flooding of mines in the Donbass has been widely reported in recent weeks.

On September 20, AFP reported from the village of Vilkhivka, where locals told them that the local mine was flooded as the pumps had been shut down.

On October 24, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, reported (translated by EuroMaidan Press) that:

Over 80 coal mines are not functional in Donbas, seven of which are flooded already and another ten are being flooded at this time.

They added that “the mines are being flooded due to danger of explosion caused by lack of electricity.”

Ceasefire Update — One Day With No Rocket Attacks, But They Reportedly Resumed Today

The following are the tweets summarizing the daily morning briefing of the Ukrainian government’s National Security and Defense Council at the Ukraine Crisis Center:

Despite calls from separatist leaders days ago to end the ceasefire, this is somewhat encouraging news, but as you can see the ceasefire is still being selectively broken in some locations.

The following claim that a Russian helicopter flew near Ukrainian airspace is an slight escalation, however, and while this kind of thing used to be regularly reported by the Ukrainian government, such reports have become less frequent in recent weeks:

Russian Defence Ministry Calls FT Journalist A ‘Naive Girl’

The Russian Ministry of Defence has issued a remarkably condescending and sexist statement in response to a report in the Financial Times on October 22 by Courtney Weaver, the paper’s deputy Moscow bureau chief.

We reported on Weaver’s report yesterday on our Russia This Week blog. Weaver describes meeting uniformed Russian soldiers in the Weeping Willow restaurant in separatist-held Lugansk.

However Russia’s state owned TASS news agency reports that the Ministry of Defence has issued a statement claiming that Weaver, who they claim indulged in stereotypes, was gullible, misled and a “naive girl.”

The ministry compares the account to a scene in the successful Soviet comedy, The Diamond Arm, which also features a restaurant called The Weeping Willow.

TASS quotes the statement (translated by The Interpreter):

“By a strange coincidence, the situation described in the article is reminiscent of a key scene in the Soviet hit film, The Diamond Arm. The cast of characters, like the heroes of the film, leisurely spend their evening, partaking of spirits in the Weeping Willow restaurant. However, while the heroes of the legendary Soviet comedy awaited their quarry in decent suits, the diners in the eponymous restaurant in Lugansk seduced the journalist while in camouflage.

To be serious, making such definitive conclusions based on the outpourings of the patrons of dens of ill repute, is, we think, unacceptable for an employee of a serious, international publication.”

The ministry claimed that certain Western journalists were employing “mothballed stereotypes.” 

“Now, in the eyes of the public abroad, anyone in camouflage with a glass of vodka, whether armed or not, appears to be a ‘Russian soldier.’ It is strange that this material omitted bears, caviar, matryoshkas and balalaikas.”

The statement then went on:


“To all appearances, in search of a scoop, the gullible journalist let her guard down and was enthralled by her interlocutors in camouflage uniforms, who, getting themselves into a state, left a deep impression on the naive girl.”

Danish F-16s Intercepted Russian Flight On Tuesday

The Local reports that the Royal Danish Air Force has confirmed that two of their F-16 fighters intercepted a Russian aircraft on Tuesday, October 21.

The interception was one of a number this week, with Portugese F-16s intercepting a Russian Il-20 ELINT flight that had entered Estonian airspace on the same day. On October 20, Canadian CF-118s intercepted the same type of aircraft over the Baltic.

The Local reports:

A spokeswoman for the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command (Flyvertaktisk Kommando) told the Ritzau news agency that two Danish jets were sent to make a “visual inspection” of a Russian aircraft seen heading toward Denmark east of the island of Bornholm. The Danish F-16s made visual contact with the Russian jet and ensured that it left Danish airspace.  

Ritzau have not reported any details of the type of aircraft intercepted, or the nature of its mission.

Sweden Calls Off Hunt For Submarine

The BBC reports that the Swedish military has announced the end of an operation to locate a suspected submarine in the Stockholm archipelago.

The vessel, whatever it was, is now believed to have left Sweden’s territorial waters.

The Swedish operation was reported to have been the country’s biggest military mobilisation since the Cold War.

In a statement, the military said (in Swedish): “This means the bulk of ships and amphibious forces have returned to port.” It added that some smaller units would remain in the area.

Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad told reporters: “We assess that the [vessel] that violated our waters has now left.”

“It’s the assessment of the defence forces that probably foreign underwater activity has taken place in Stockholm’s inner archipelago,” he said, calling any such activity within Swedish territory “unacceptable”.

The military believed at least one vessel was involved, he said, adding that it was probably not a large submarine, but “a small vessel”.

Heavy Shelling And Movements Of Armour Reported In Donetsk

The situation is tense in Donetsk with reports of heavy shelling and a build-up of armoured vehicles seen on the streets.

The office of the mayor of Donetsk, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, reported at 9:30 (6:30 GMT) that, following a relatively quiet evening, volleys from heavy-calibre weapons were heard from 1 am.

By 9:30, artillery fire was audible throughout the city.

Another report from the mayor’s office at 13:30 (10:30 GMT) described continued audible salvoes and explosions.

Donetsk news site reported that there were numerous reports on social media of movements of armoured vehicles and fighters in the city.

According to their reports, at least 2 BMP-2s have moved onto the grounds of the Tochmash plant, to the south-east of the airport. The same source suggests that the site is being used as an artillery position. Mortar teams have reportedly set up in the regional employment centre, to the east of the junction of Kievsky Prospekt and Artyom Street.

This photo was taken today and shows a BMP-2, carrying soldiers, blocking off a road.

Although the tweet places the vehicle on Kievsky Prospekt, we have geolocated it here on Artyom Street:


UNIAN reports that:

There is speculation that the militants are preparing for a large-scale assault on Donestk airport, which is still under the control of Ukrainian forces despite months of attacks by militants attempting to seize control of the facility.

 “A column of tanks is now proceeding along Kyivskiy Avenue in Donetsk towards the airport,” reads a report on a separatist Web site. and UNIAN report that the separatists have asked all residents and workers in the area to leave.