Ukraine Liveblog Day 73: Has Russia Already Won Eastern Ukraine?

May 1, 2014
Russian-backed gunmen occupied the office of the public prosecutor on Wednesday in Lugansk, Ukraine. Credit Zurab Kurtsikidze/European Pressphoto Agency

One day after Ukraine’s interim President said his government was “helpless” against Russian-backed militants who keep capturing government buildings, Russia warns Ukraine to withdraw its own troops from the border.

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

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An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

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

Slavyansk Separatists Digging In – With Heavy Armor

Earlier there were reports that the separatists in Slavyansk are expanding their roadblocks, and even rolling armored vehicles through the streets.
Earlier, pro-Russian rallies were held in the town:
Some of which had a pro-Soviet flavor:
Gunmen in Lugansk Photographed Wearing Russian Military Patches

The smoking gun? Several photos have been circulated today that reportedly show gunmen in Lugansk wearing Russian military insignias. This picture is getting the most attention:


It is part of a gallery uploaded to the website The headline says:  “Guards of the city council are starting to ‘take possession’ of the property of the mayor’s office.” The sign outside clearly reads “Executive Committee of the Lugansk City Council,” which confirms that this is the office of the local mayor.

Several of the pictures show a group of men sitting in front of the office. In this picture, note the man in blue (we’ll see him again in a second, but also note that the man sitting down furthest to the right appears to have the same Russian insignias on his arms.


Several pictures also show the men loading the same container, presumably of property from inside the mayor’s office, into a vehicle. One picture appears to show the man in blue identified earlier now sitting in the passenger seat.

So is this definitive proof that the gunmen operating inside Lugansk are Russian soldiers? The circumstantial evidence for such a conclusion has been mounting for some time. But why would this man be wearing Russian military insignias now, when they have been so careful to hide their identities up to this point?

An Ugly Scene In Donetsk

Beyond the narrative of the attacks we posted earlier, there are a few key details that should be added. First, the crowds were armed with guns:

All the reports we’ve heard have been consistent — the crowds wanted to humiliate the police who resisted them, and several threatened to kill the police officers.
The press has become another popular target for pro-Russian protesters.
Again, the pro-Russian crowds demonstrate that they are drawn towards Russia over social issues, mainly ones that have been heavily shaped by the Russian-language media beamed in from Moscow.
Ukraine Denies Separatists Have Released Imprisoned Soldiers
Last week Russian-backed separatists in Slavyansk captured three Ukrainian soldiers, beat them, blindfolded them, and then showed off their bloodies prisoners to the international press. Today the Russian news agency Interfax reported that the prisoners had been freed. RFE/RL has translated a tweet from the Ukrainian SBU denying that report.
Pro-Russian Crowds Storm Donetsk Prosecutor’s Office

Russian-backed militants have stormed the prosecutor’s office in Donetsk. RT, the Russian state-operated news/propaganda outlet reports (and spins):

Day celebrations in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, have turned violent as
pro-autonomy activists attempted to storm the local prosecutor’s office
and police responded with tear gas. Gunshots were heard at the scene.

of shield-holding protesters pelted rocks and petrol bombs at the
building while chanting “Fascists!,” as they tried to break in. There
were no immediate reports about those injured, but, as it was seen on a
live stream, at least one person was carried from the scene, with
someone shouting “Call an ambulance!”

The protesters demanded that law enforcers come out of the building that houses regional prosecutor’s office.

security forces are laying down their shields, letting activists take
them,” RT’s correspondent in Ukraine, Paula Slier reports in Twitter.

the activists entered the building as the police left, removed the
Ukrainian national flag, burned it and replaced it with the flag of the
self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk.

activists”? Most observers see those waving Russian flags and calling on Moscow for support as pro-Russian separatists. 

Let’s check some other sources for more information. James Mates witnessed the entire event, from the May Day rally to the storming of the prosecutor’s office.

Putin Tells Ukraine To Pull Out of the East

Several days ago Russia claimed that it had withdrawn its forces from Ukraine’s border. NATO warned that they had seen no evidence of this and that they could see that Russia’s troops were still in place. Despite lots of searching, and multiple requests made to the Russian media, The Interpreter has also failed to find any evidence that any significant troop withdrawal has taken place this week.

Now, Vladimir Putin has demanded that Ukraine pull out its own forces from eastern Ukraine. The New York Times reports:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Thursday, her office in Berlin said, reportedly telling the German leader that Ukraine must remove its military from the southeastern region of the country in order resolve the showdown there with pro-Russian militants who have seized several official buildings.

“Putin emphasized that it was imperative today to withdraw all military units from the southeastern regions, stop the violence and immediately launch a broad national dialogue as part of the constitutional reform process involving all regions and political forces,” the Russian news agency Interfax reported.