Ukraine Liveblog Day 57: On the Edge of War

April 15, 2014
Pro-Russian crowds in Lugansk, Monday, April 14. | EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE /LANDOV

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.


Putin and The Interpreter Agree – Ukraine on the Edge of War

We picked the title for our liveblog late last night (on the east coast at least), but our assessment seems to match Russian President Vladimir Putin’s — almost.

According to the article, Putin made the remarks while on a phone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

We disagree with Putin, however, on one word — as pro-Russian separatists have very little popular support, Ukraine is not perched on the edge of a civil war, but a regular war, pushed to this point not by internal factors, but by external ones.

Are Ukraine’s Oligarchs Blackmailing the Interim Government?

Roman Olearchyk writes that several of Ukraine’s oligarchs, including the country’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, are being accused by many of “double dealing” with regards to separatism, holding the country ransom to negotiate a better deal:

Critics charge that some of Ukraine’s richest businessmen may now be using the threat of separatism as a negotiating chip with Kiev’s new pro-western leadership. Their aim: to preserve their clout after the new government was brought to power by mass protests against a corrupt and oligarch-dominated political and economic system.

Andriy Senchenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, on Monday charged that oligarchs were seeking to maintain dominance so they could “further rob” eastern Ukraine and “continue exploiting millions of people” as inexpensive labour…

Andy Hunder, a Briton with Ukrainian roots who has worked in Ukraine in government relations for more than a decade, said Mr Akhmetov and other tycoons had the “clout to quash any separatist movement”.

“They seem reluctant to do so as they are bargaining with both the Kremlin and the new Ukrainian authorities to agree a status quo where their businesses and assets will be protected and allowed to prosper in a post-Yanukovich Ukraine.”

Mr Akhmetov steadfastly denies such claims. In a statement on Tuesday, the businessman called for an end to violence, and for negotiations to resolve the stand-off.

 And Akhmetov is not the only oligarch facing such accusations. Read the entire article here.

Yulia Tymoshenko Says Russia is Waging War

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister who is running for president, has given an interview to RFE/RL:

“What is taking place today in Ukraine’s east and south is not just an aggression, not just a terrorist act by Russia against those regions of Ukraine,” she said. “I am sure that it has to be defined by a proper word: a war, which has been launched by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and which has a goal to actually seize Ukraine’s territory.”

Tymoshenko called on authorities to “immediately announce a state of emergency” in Ukraine’s eastern regions, where pro-Moscow protesters have seized government buildings and security headquarters in around 10 towns and cities.

Tymoshenko backed the creation of “brigades of territorial self-defense” forces in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, and Kharkiv Oblast.

“In the nearest hours, we will recommend the appointment of the commanders of those territorial brigades of defense, who will be mobilizing people,” she said.

Russia Reportedly Suspends Transfer of Military Hardware to Ukraine

During the annexation of Crimea Russia captured a large series of Ukrainian military equipment – from vehicles to artillery pieces, from non-lethal supplies to warships. Russia and Ukraine had negotiated the handover of some of this equipment.

Today, the Russian Defense Minister announced that Russia is suspending this process until Ukraine ceases to be a “hot spot.”

Drunken Crowd Outside Kramatorsk Airbase

Former journalist Ilya Azar reports on the crowd gathered outside the Kramatorsk airbase following the attempted storming earlier by separatist forces.

There are about 150 local people at the airport in Kramatorsk, many drunk, they are mocking and swearing at the 8 Ukrainian spetsnaz who are visible through the fence.

The drunks crawled over to the soldiers, who are shooting in the air, and then they talked without shooting. The drunks could not explain coherently what they were talking about and how it went.

SBU Opens Criminal Case Against Mayor of Slavyansk

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Donetsk department of the Ukrainian Security Service has opened a criminal case against the mayor of Slavyansk, Nelly Shtepa on grounds of separatism.

Shtepa had been accused of welcoming the occupation of government buildings in the area. Addressing a crowd outside the police station in Slavyansk on April 12, Shtepa said of the occupiers that:

These aren’t some visitors from Western Ukraine, these are ours, our Donetsk boys.


Ukrainska Pravda notes that:

Shtepa later fled the city, dramatically changing her rhetoric. Notably, live on Channel 112 on April15, she said that there were invaders, from the unrecognised Crimean Republic and Russia, in the town.

 The SBU press service noted that the charges being investigated come under Article 110 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code: ‘trespass against the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine’.

Here is the complete article, taken from an English translation of the Criminal Code:

Article 110. Trespass against territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine

1. Willful actions committed to change the territorial boundaries or
national borders of Ukraine in violation of the order provided for in
the Constitution of Ukraine (254к/96-ВР), and also public appeals or
distribution of materials with appeals to commit any such actions, –

shall be punishable by restraint of liberty for a term up to three years, or imprisonment for the same term.

2. Any such actions, as provided for by paragraph 1 of this Article,
if committed by a member of public authorities or repeated by any
person, or committed by an organized group, or combined with inflaming
national or religious enmity, –

shall be punishable by restraint of liberty for a term of three to five years, or imprisonment for the same term.

3. Any such actions, as provided for by paragraphs 1 and 2 of this
Article, if they caused the killing of people or any other grave
consequences, –

shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of seven to twelve years.

‘Russian Colonel’ in Horlivka Reportedly a Local Crime Boss

Ostrov,a local news site for the Donetsk area, reports on claims that the uniformed man who claimed to be a Russian Lieutenant Colonel while addressing defected police officers in Horlivka yesterday, is actually a local crime boss.

OstroV writes that a Horlivka resident has identified the man as a local crime boss who goes by the named ‘Bezler’.

Formerly, the pseudo-colonel of the Russian army was the head of a local funeral services company, from which he was sacked in 2012 for stealing 38 enclosures and monuments, as well as for extorting money from the elderly for plots in the cemetery.

The ‘colonel’ may also have links to both Spetsnaz and the controversial local politician, Sergei Shakhov:

Bezler showed up again during the last parliamentary elections. The website identifies him [this time as Igor Bezler] as a former lieutenant colonel in Spetsnaz, and the manager of security for the Horlivka-based candidates, ‘Team Shakhov’.

Civilians Injured at Kramatorsk Airfield
Breaking news.
Debate Over Casualties in Kramatorsk

The Ukrainian operation to retake Kramatorsk airfield (map) is now over. The Ukrainian government says that there were no fatalities. The Kyiv Post reports:

According to the AP, “The mayor of Kramatorsk said Ukrainian troops have now occupied the military airport and are blocking its entrance.”

The freeing of the airfield is part of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s “anti-terrorist operation,” which is being conducted throughout eastern Ukraine to quell Russian-backed separatist movements.

Rossiya 24 reports that four Russian-sponsored terrorists were killed as a result of the operation.

Further, according to Interfax Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, says the Ukrainian special forces’ operation has led to the detainment of Russian officers. – Mark Rachkevyvch and Isaac Webb

But earlier, before the base had even completely fallen, RT, the Russian state-owned propaganda/news outlet, said that 11 had been killed. Russian-language outlets appear to still be broadcasting a similar message.

Now RT is backpedaling.

AP adds further details on the newest Russian state-media reports:

Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported that Ukrainian army troops wounded two pro-Russian militiamen Tuesday during a skirmish near a small airport in Kramatorsk, not far from Slovyansk. The report could not independently be confirmed.

RIA Novosti said the troops drove to the airport n (sic) an armored personnel carrier, started talking to the gunmen who control the site and a skirmish broke out. It did not elaborate.

So how many were injured? And where was RT getting their information from?

Andrei Soldatov Discusses the Role of the FSB in Ukraine and wider FSU

Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist and expert on the security services, has written an excellent piece for The Moscow Times on the use of the FSB in Ukraine:

On April 11, Ukraine’s Deputy Prosecutor General said there was no
evidence implicating the FSB in events on Maidan Square. At the same
time, it is officially confirmed that FSB generals visited Kiev on Feb.
20 to 21. Recall that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note
to Moscow on April 4 demanding to know why FSB Colonel General Sergei
Beseda visited Kiev on Feb. 20 and 21, and that the very next day
Interfax cited a source in Russian intelligence confirming that visit.

The answer as to why Beseda was in Kiev with his entourage could be
key to understanding the role of Russia’s intelligence agencies in the
current crisis and to the Kremlin’s entire strategy in Ukraine.

Beseda heads the FSB’s Fifth Service, or the Service for Operational
Information and International Communications. That service includes
the Operational Information Department that Beseda headed until 2009.
Since the end of the 1990s, that division has been responsible
for conducting intelligence activities focusing on the former Soviet

Soldatov goes on to discuss the hallmarks of FSB operations in the wider Former Soviet Union, and highlights some weaknesses to their methods, for example, a dependency on contacts amongst those in power while ignoring opposition or street movements. Soldatov compares this to the use of intelligence by the British government during the collapse of their empire.

This approach has at least two major drawbacks. First, all of the
Ukrainians who cooperated with the FSB now have no political future
in that country — depriving the FSB of access to the ruling circles.
Second, if the FSB relied entirely on information provided by close
associates of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, how accurate
was their picture of the overall situation in the country?

Russian Stocks Crash as Fighting Starts
Here’s some market analysis:

This is interesting. Russia’s stocks have been trending downwards since February, but they really crashed in the period right before the annexation of Crimea. Russian stocks have been slowly inching upwards (though slower than world markets) since, and only dropped a little yesterday in response to the actions of pro-Russian militants.

In other words, it’s possible that investors were prepared for Russian interference in eastern Ukraine, but were surprised when Ukraine actually reacted in any meaningful way.

Faceoff at Kramatorsk Airfield
The Ukrainian military may have captured the airfield in Kramatorsk (map) back from pro-Russian militants, but they have a new problem — the supporters for those militants are gathering on the outskirts of the base.
Window on Eurasia: &Ukraine…Has Ceased to Exist
More Details on Actions at Kramatorsk Airbase Today

Ukrainska Pravda has a report up which sheds more light on the operation at Kramatorsk airport today:

Unidentified fighters with military outfits and automatic weapons were attempting to storm the aerodrome in Kramatorsk.

Ukrainska Pravda was informed of this by a source in the security agencies.

“But the aerodrome is well defended, so the attack was repulsed. There were no casualties on our side. But, since we did not know how the assault would end, our planes and helicopters took off so as to protect our equipment”, said the source.

“It’s calm now in the town, the National Guard is in action”, he added.

Earlier, it was reported that gunshots and several explosions were heard at the airbase in Kramatorsk.

Up until that point, miltary aircraft were circling above the airbase, reported the Kramatorsk News website.

According to eyewitnesses, either a MiG-25 or a Su-27 flew very low, for around half an hour, in the direction of Donetsk.

[Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 today – Photo: Vlada Redko]

Afterwards, several ambulances and emergency service vehicles drove up to the airfield, from which explosions and gunfire were heard.

At the same time, Andrei Romanenko, the deputy editor of the Kramatorsk News, wrote on Facebook: “The war is under way at the airbase in Kramtorsk…Someone is trying to storm the base!” reports Ostrov.

[Ukrainian MiG-29 today]

Ukrainska Pravda notes however in follow-ups that the situation remains uncertain. Three helicopters have been seen flying over the airbase, and a crowd of people, half in camouflage, the other half civilians (including children) have gathered near the aerodrome. One soldier has been reported to have been shot in the leg while on duty at a checkpoint.

Mobile telecommunications have also been disrupted in the area.

Ukraine Claims Russian Has Airborne Troops in East Ukraine

Kyiv Post has more details on the claims that the Russian 45th Airborne is already operating inside Ukraine:

While attending the funeral of a slain SBU captain in Poltava today, First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said several hundred armed Russian military soldiers are in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv oblasts who were covertly and gradually sent there over a long period of time, reported local online news source Poltavashchyna. 

“Right now, they’ve concentrated their strength in Krasniy Lyman, Horlivka, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk (all in Donetsk Oblast); the terrorists are committing violent acts against police officers and are taking over government buildings,” said Yarema.

According to the minister, it has been determined that some are from the 45th Airborne Regiment of the Russian army based near Moscow.

Is there evidence? The 45th Airborne is a storied Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, also known as the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Regiment of the VDV (read a bit about its history). It’s one of Russia’s most elite groups.

Still, Yarema made the statements at a funeral, and before this military operation. It’ll be interesting to see what evidence, if any, is produced by the Ukrainian government, especially now that they have, presumably, new evidence after the capture of the Kramatorsk airfield.
Pro-Russian Militia Report Injuries at Kramatorsk Airfield

RFE/RL reports:

Ukrainian military and security forces have reportedly started an operation against a pro-Russia group in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.

Shooting has been reported at the Kramatorsk airport.

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the head of the pro-Russia Donbas volunteer group, Sergei Tsyplatkov, as saying two members of his force have been wounded.

The Reuters news agency cites a witness as saying two helicopters landed and Ukrainian troops disembarked at the airport.

More reports from just outside the airfield.

Market Watch – Russian Edition
The Russian markets have taken a large hit today. This tweet sums it up perfectly.
Ukrainian Government Says Russian Airborne in Ukraine

More details on the claim that the Russian 45th Airborne is already in Kramatrosk and Slaviansk. Theo source of the report appears to be Vitaly Yarema,  First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine:

Is the Seige of Kramatorsk Airfield Over

This report from Kyiv Post:

Espresso TV’s correspondent on the ground at Kramatorsk airfield, the elite Omega unit of the Interior Ministry has taken control of the airfield.

Citing the Defense Ministry, Interfax is reporting that Ukrainian armored personnel carriers stormed the airfield, which lies between the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Ukrainian troops fired on pro-Russian separatists who had occupied the airfield.

Russia Today reported that several members of the Donbass people’s militia were wounded in the attack and there “may be deaths.”

Quoting “activists” at the airfield, Russia Today reported that “Other members of the militia have blocked the entrance to Kramatorsk and are ready to defend the city, the activists added.”

Concurrently, RIA Novosti reported that Ukrainian troops had laid siege on Sloviansk. — Isaac Webb

Ukraine Helicopter Shooting?
If you listen, one can hear what could be the chop-chop of fast automatic gunfire. It could be an audio artifact of the sound from the helicopters hitting the rotor blades, but it’s worth keeping an eye on:
Russian Airborne in Ukraine?
An unconfirmed but troubling report from Bloomberg:
Widespread Ukrainian Military Mobilization

After days of people asking where Ukraine’s response to this crisis was hiding, it seems that a significant response has been rolled out today.

Another picture reportedly taken from Kramatorsk:

It’s not just in Kramatorsk. There are reports of wider troop movements, though it’s difficult to gauge how large the deployment of troops is at the moment.
Russian Media Says 11 Dead in Kramatorsk
Three recent tweets from RT:
As far as casualties, we have yet to confirm any such news.
More on the Storming of Kramatorsk Airfield
As we’ve been reporting, it is clear that there is a large Ukrainian military operation to reclaim Kramatorsk airfield (map), and from the looks of it the Ukrainian military means business.

Sergei Lavrov In China

Earlier we reported that China seemed to be changing its tune on what’s happening in Ukraine. One possible reason – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is there right now. He warned against Kiev’s use of force to restore order in eastern Ukraine:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that any use of force by the Ukrainian government in the east could undermine talks on the crisis involving the EU, Russia, the US and Ukraine, which are due to be held in Geneva on Thursday.

“You can’t send tanks against your own citizens and at the same time hold talks,” he said on a visit to China.

Ukraine Military Storming Kramatorsk Airport
There is a military operation underway to retake Kramatorsk airfield (here on our interactive map), which is close to Slaviansk. The airfield appears to be a disused Soviet airbase, though it’s big enough that if Russia wanted to land military planes and equipment there it could. By contrast, the “airport” in Slaviansk is basically just a small area to land helicopters. It was also seized by pro-Russian militias.
More military operations reported in close proximity to Kramatorsk, including in Izium (map) and Slaviansk (map), to the north.
More Signs of Ukraine’s Military On the Move

And now a claim we’re investigating:
China Echoes Moscow’s Concerns
Is China beginning to see things the way Russia sees them?
Pro-Russian Militia Conducting its Own Operation in Slaviansk
Several reports like these at the moment.
Ukraine Says It’s Starting a Military Counter-terrorism Operation

Ukraine’s President has announced the start of military operations to combat pro-Russian separatists. The New York Times reports:

The first indication that the operation represented more than just words this time was a modest Ukrainian military checkpoint established on a highway north of the town of Slovyansk, which has been controlled by militants since Saturday.

Witnesses said a dozen armored personnel carriers parked on the highway flew Ukrainian flags about 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, north of the town. There were no credible reports of confrontations with the well-armed and apparently Russian-backed forces in the town.

“On Tuesday morning, in the north of Donetsk region, an antiterrorist operation began,” the Ukrainian speaker of Parliament and acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, told Parliament in the capital, Kiev. “It will be carried out in stages, and responsibly and in a balanced manner. The goal is the defense of citizens of Ukraine.”

We do see some evidence of that military buildup today.

SBU: Russian GRU officer leading Slavyansk separatists

The Ukrainian Security Service has announced that they have identified the leader of the separatist paramilitary group operating in Slavyansk as Igor Strelkov, an officer in the Russian military intelligence (GRU).

Ukrainska Pravda reports on the SBU announcement:

“It is definitely his voice on a telephone recording of a conversation with his handler in Moscow, released to the media on April 14, in which he reports on the terror in Slavyansk and the shooting of the car carrying Ukrainian law enforcement officers”, said the SBU.

Stelkov was identified by previously detained infiltrators.

According to intelligence, he arrived in Crimea at the start of March this year and coordinated the seizure, by Russian soldiers and members of the Russian security services, of Ukrainian military installations, local authorities and the headquarters of the Autonomous Republic, as well as the kidnapping of soldiers, NGO activists, other Ukrainian citizens and foreigners in Crimea.

The infiltrator personally gave orders to Ukrainian citizens “K” and “V” to occupy and hold the Kharkiv regional administration building, military units, and law enforcement units with the aim of seizing weapons in the Luhansk Oblast.

The SBU said that it was instigating a criminal investigation against Stelkov on charges of “premeditated murder and committing acts threatening the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of Ukraine, conducting subversion, and organizing riots in the eastern regions of Ukraine”.

Here is the Stelkov recording:

Another voice identified on telephone recordings of separatist groups, released by the SBU, was that of Aleskandr Boroday, a political theorist and PR agent.

Ukrainian President dismisses Luhansk SBU chief

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has dismissed the regional chief of the Ukrainian Security Service in the Lugansk oblast, Oleksandr Petrulevich.

Former Governor of Kharkiv Attacked

The former governor of Kharkiv, Mikhail Dobkin, a man who is an ally of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and is being investigated for separatism, was attacked by activists on his way to an interview at the very same TV stations as Tsaryov was attacked at. We’ve summarized a report from below:

Former governor of Kharkiv Region and presidential hopeful Mikhail Dobkin was attacked by activists on his way to ICTV studios to appear on a television show called “Freedom of Speech” this evening, reported.

The politician was deluged with zelyonka, an indelible green disinfectant used in Russia and Ukraine to brand enemies. Then he had flour dumped over his head on top of that. Picketers had already gathered in wait outside the studios. Dobkin fled the scene without his tie. Protesters punctured the tires of his car as well, and several of his aides were reportedly injured in the melee.

Other politicians who have gotten the zelyonka treatment are Yatsenyuk, Lutsenko and Vlasenko — and in Russia, Pussy Riot activists have also been deluged.

The practice is so common that in September 2012, Dobkin said, “Now getting doused with zelyonka is a means of raising your own rating.”


Presidential Candidate Attacked

Yesterday we reported that Presidential Candidate Oleh Tsaryov had his car searched by police, and ammunition cartridges and military hardware were  found inside:

Here’s what we’ve pieced together about what has happened.

Tsaryov was giving an interview in the ICTV media building, when his car was searched by police. Then a crowd attacked him as he was leaving the building, and activists outside beat him. Some have said that Right Sector “beasts” beat him, but Russian Sector has published a statement on VK (the Russian social network) from Tsarov himself thanking the Right Sector for saving his life. We’ve translated it below:

Pro-Ukrainian activists attacked Tsaryov after the end of a live broadcast he did on a television show. He said he was in “severe condition” and thanked Right Sector, which prevented his lynching; “I am grateful to the guys from Right Sector who saved my life”

This video shows Tsaryov trying to leave the building when he was attacked:

The crowds reportedly attacked his car and blocked the ambulance from arriving.

He eventually made it to the hospital and was treated for multiple bruises and lacerations. He claimed he was “severely injured,” but afterwards he gave an interview in the prosecutor’s office, with no shirt on, so his injuries could not have been too severe. In the interview he vowed to continue his presidential campaign.

Regardless, this will not go over well with the Russian media:
Too late…
An excerpt from’s report. Remember that he gave an interview, so “critical condition” is a gross exaggeration, and he himself thanked Right Sector for saving him:

Radicals attacked two presidential candidates that were taking part in a Ukrainian talk show ‘Svoboda Slova’. Oleg Tsarev was brutally beaten and is now in critical condition, the candidate’s press office reported.

Oleg Tsarev was attacked by radicals after being trapped inside the ICTV media building following his appearance on the Ukrainian talk show, according to the statement released by Tsarev’s press office.

“It was with great difficulty that government’s security forces were able to recapture Oleg Tsarev from the angry mob. He was severely beaten and is in serious condition,” the press office said.

The video embedded below shows the scene of the alleged mob attack, although Tsarev himself is not visible through the crowd.

Confirmation That Russians Were Killed?

So far we’re seeing very little information on the supposed killing of 10 Russians, or pro-Russians, in Donetsk. However, Lesya Orobets, the Ukrainian politician, has given her latest summary about the situation:

The good news. There are various groups of people who do not want to become Putin’s subjects and are putting up a fight, including the use of firearms. At least 10 hostiles were killed today. Three independent sources confirm that three unknown persons approached a checkpoint, killed all hostiles with automatic weapon fire and promptly departed. Volunteering the Donetsk way.

The people I spoke to have no knowledge of other signs of the anti-terrorist operation in the region. A big pro-Ukrainian rally is planned on 17 April in Donetsk. Some say there will be bloodshed and massacre, while others see it as a sort of chance.

We still can’t confirm the news, however.

In other news, Orobets says that 50% of Lugansk’s police force remain loyal, and “all available firearms and ammunition have been distributed to police officers,” which hypothetically means there won’t be more armories falling to separatists.

Russian Supporters Reportedly Shot In Donetsk

The headline is stark: “10 Russian Fighters Shot at Checkpoint in the Donetsk Region.” The report has few details except that a a group of a group of “Alpha fighters,” presumably either pro-Russian police or Russian troops, were shot by “a band of Patriots.”  has a similar report. According to them, military convoys are headed towards Donetsk and there were clashes between pro-Russian groups and possibly members of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector.

We’ll continue to monitor these claims.