At least two Ukrainian helicopters have been shot down over the eastern town of Slavyansk. Russian, or Russian-backed fighters there have used surface-to-air missiles in a serious escalation of force as the Ukrainian government mounts a concerted effort to retake the town.
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“Ten criminal cases have been opened up including on ‘pre-meditated murder,’ ‘mass riots,’ threat or violence against a law-enforcement agent,’ seizure of government or civic buildings or facilities’; and ‘deliberate destruction or damage of property.’
Clashes arose Friday in Odessa in the area of Grecheskaya St. between Anti-Maidan activists on the one side and Odessa and Kharkiv soccer club fans and EuroMaidan activists on the other side. Later in the evening, the riots then shifted to Kulikovo Field, where pro-Ukraine unity supporters destroyed an Anti-Maidan activists’ camp, and fire broke out in the trade union building where pro-Russian supporters were hiding.”
The death toll from clashes Friday in Odessa reached 41, unian.net reports, citing police. An additional 174 persons have been wounded; of these 77 required hospitalization and 25 of them are in serious condition.
In additional news, authorities say they have found 36 bodies in the trade union building who died as a result of the fire.
According to TCN, 15 of the victims were allegedly Russian Federation citizens and five were citizens of the non-recognized republic of Transdnestria.
We caution that this information, sourced in multiple Facebook accounts of various Ukrainian public figures, has not been confirmed and Ukrainian authorities have not yet made a statement on the identities.
A government commission headed by Vice Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema along with the deputy head of the Interior Minister has flown to Odessa to respond to the violence, unian.net reports.
National Defense Headquarters in Dniepropetrovsk Region has announced an increase in cash awards for those who turn in weapons, with the intent of “battling separatism, banditism and subversive groups of mercenaries.” Authorities are offering $3,000 for an AKM machine gun and $5,000 for a bazooka or grenade-launcher.
“‘Today’s victims in Odessa could have been avoided. For that, law-enforcers just had not to sell their Motherland, their Conscience, and follow the Oath to the Ukrainian People. If the police had followed the demands of the leadership of the region, and had not gotten involved in diplomacy, today would have been different. But as they always did before, they thought not about the country, but about their own comfort. Shame,” said the governor.’
Dmitry Tymchuk, coordinator of the Information Resistance movement posted a similar statement:
‘The Odessa law-enforces showed their worst side. Just one example. According to our information, at the entrance to Odessa, a bus was stopped with ‘Colorado Beetles’ [nick-name for Russian-backed separatists because of their orange-and-black striped St. George ribbons–The Interpreter], who were turned over to the local police. But on orders from a very high city police official, they were all immediately…let go. The appropriate bodies are dealing with the police chief, but the fact itself is illustrative,’ he wrote.'”
Here is more video purporting to be a recording of gunfire in Slavyansk this evening. The exchanges of fire heard suggest heavy fighting:
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Russian-backed fighters attacked soldiers from the Ukrainian 95th Airborne Brigade near the village of Andreevka outside Slavyansk. They report a statement from the Ministry of Defence, saying that:
“A tough military confrontation is ongoing. At the moment there are confirmed reports of the deaths of two Ukrainian soldiers.”
ABC News’ Muhammad Lila reports to dispel rumours of the death of the self-proclaimed ‘people’s mayor’ of Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, and on claims of casualties in the area:
There have also been reports about fighting in Kramatorsk itself. ITAR-TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency, reports, citing state TV channel Rossiya-24, that Ukrainian forces have begun an assault on the city.
There are multiple reports coming in of the sounds of fighting in Slavyansk.
The BBC reports that President Turchynov has announced that there are “many dead” in the military operation to re-take Slavyansk. He added that all separatist checkpoints around the town have now been taken.
The Kyiv Post translates more of his comments:
“The operation doesn’t unroll as fast as we want it to, and is significantly complicated by the fact that the terrorists’ bases are located in the crowded cities and the terrorists themselves hide behind the civilians, take hostages and shoot from the windows of apartment buildings.”
It had earlier seemed that Ukrainian military columns bound for Slavyansk had been blocked by separatist protesters. Alongside the incident earlier at Yasnogorka, there were photographs of a road blocked by a parked locomotive at railway crossing and another group of BTR 80s blocked by a crowd.
The reports of fighting suggest however, that if not all, then certainly a certain number of Ukrainian military units have managed to reach Slavyansk and engage Russian-backed fighters there.
Machinegun fire could just be heard on the livestream. Riot police appear to be showing up.
It appears that this is the Trade Union building, NOT the regional administration building, though that is not yet confirmed. Regardless, it is on fire at the moment, and the doorway is the principle location that is blocked.
18:03 Praviy Sector: Emergency Message Regarding the Events in Odessa
In light of the extraordinary situation in Odessa and Odessa region, Praviy Sector conducted a mobilisation and will harshly cut off any destabilising action with all available means and methods.
We officially state that any attempt at destabilising the situation or conducting any aggressive means in Odessa, which can harm the Odessa citizens, will be cut short by Praviy Sector on martial law.
The information service of Praviy Sector.
Screen captures from a livestream in Odessa now:
At least two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in a gun battle in Slavyansk. AP carries a report from the Ukrainian interim government:
Fighting broke out around dawn near Slovyansk, a city 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border that has become the focus of the armed insurgency. Two helicopter crew members were killed in the crashes, both sides said, and pro-Russia militiaman was reported killed.
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Friday’s clashes and the insurgents suffered significant losses, including many killed and injured. By early evening, he said the army now controlled all of the checkpoints around Slovyansk.
As we’ve been reporting, two helicopters were reportedly shot down and one other was damaged — the Ukrainian government reports that at least one of the helicopters was hit by a sophisticated shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile, undercutting Moscow’s claims that these are just local activists who are holding territory in eastern Ukraine. A video we posted earlier reportedly shows one of the missiles being fired at a Ukrainian helicopter.
A few gems from the Russian media. This report is from the Russian government-operated ITAR-TASS:
The riots were instigated by aggressively behaving supporters of the current Kiev authorities and fans of the local football club Chernomorets.
About 1,500 young men wearing masks and Right Sector armlets armed with chains, clubs and shields tried to stage a march along Odessa’s central streets, chanting “Glory to Ukraine,” “Death to Foes,” “Stab Moskals” (Moskal is an ethnic slur for Russians used in Ukraine), an ITAR-TASS correspondent reported from the site.
They were met by activists from the Kulikovo Pole (Kulikovo Field) movement, who spoke against what they call the usurpation of power in Ukraine, for a referendum on federalization of the country and granting the Russian language the official state language status. Police failed to prevent clashes, which have spread to Deribasovskaya Street and Grecheskaya Square. A number of people have been injured. Policemen are using their shields to take injured people from the site of clashes. People are building barricades in the central streets in Odessa.
And this from RT:
A pro-unity demonstration, which included nationalists and football fans, ran into a rally preaching greater autonomy for the regions.
Gunfire was heard in Odessa’s downtown as two rival rallies met, police having failed to draw them apart. Over 2,000 protesters pelted each other with Molotov cocktails and smoke grenades. Pavements were dismantled to get the stones for the fight, like it was done in Kiev during the Maidan protests…
Around 1,500 supporters of the Kiev authorities gathered at Sobornaya Square in central Odessa. They were accompanied by fans of the local football club, Chernomorets.
Some of the people in the group were wearing the ultra-nationalist Right Sector movement insignia. They were also armed with chains and bats and carried shields, as an Itar-Tass correspondent on the ground reported.
Both reports are filled with distortions, though the ITAR-TASS report is far less accurate. The video we posted earlier clearly shows that pro-Russian crowds broke through the police lines, police who were clearly trying to protect the “Unity Rally.” We have not seen Right Sector insignias on any of the protesters (though it is certainly possible there were some). Only the Russian media seems to be reporting that Right Sector was a major contributor to the Unity Rally, and only ITAR-TASS is reporting that the pro-Ukraine side started the violence.
Supporters from both sides, to be sure, have participated in the riots that have ensued, however.
A YouTube video has been making the rounds reportedly showing a Ukrainian Army convoy attempting to pass through a crowd of separatist protesters who were attempting to block their path near Yasnogorka, between Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. Such tactics have previously been responsible for the capture of Ukrainian BMD APCs, which are still in use by Russian-backed fighters in Slavyansk.
As the first BTR-80 APC approaches, a crowd of people (who appear unarmed) surround and attempt to hold onto the vehicle. The driver carries on, haltingly, while shots are fired (apparently into the air) as the crowd shouts “shame” and “Banderovtsy” at them. A large column of BTRs, 4x4s and trucks is behind. After the column succeeds in pushing through, firing more shots (the direction of which is not seen on camera) the cameraman and crowd rush over to where an elderly man is lying on the ground, apparently injured.
Another video, taken shortly afterwards shows more of the apparently run-over man. He lies still but we can’t make out any visible injuries. The Ukrainian military convoy has stopped. Soldiers have disembarked, holding back the crowd. One comes over to see what has happened. The crowd now chants “fascists” at them.
The BBC reports:
Russia said the use of the army by Kiev against its own people was “leading Ukraine to catastrophe” and it has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on Friday.
Describing the military operation as “punitive”, the Russian foreign ministry also urged Western powers to give up their “destructive” policy on Ukraine.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine are pretty obvious. Russia’s propaganda towards Ukraine has been well-covered. But what has not been well covered in the media is the connection between Russian expansionism, Russian government-run news, Russia’s domestic crackdown on independent media, and the Russian-backed separatists’ crackdown on journalism inside eastern Ukraine.
In an article for Vice News, The Interpreter’s managing editor James Miller argues that the careful use of propaganda, combined with the domestic crackdown on dissenting voices, has allowed Russia to rely less on special forces in eastern Ukraine (though they are there) and more on pro-Russian locals:
In less than three months, the Kremlin effectively destroyed or hijacked much of Russia’s last remaining independent media. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has reorganized some key Russian state-owned outlets to exert greater control over messaging, meaning Russian-language programming (TV, radio, internet, and print) is now dominated by Kremlin-controlled outlets.
Why does this matter outside of Russia? Because those outlets are broadcasting the Kremlin’s propaganda across much of Eastern Europe, where many Russian speakers rely heavily on Russian media. Those broadcasters are on the front lines of a propaganda war.
Meanwhile, journalists inside Ukraine (including VICE News’s Simon Ostrovsky) have been kidnapped by pro-Russia militias, and Ukrainian broadcast media buildings across Crimea and eastern Ukraine have been stormed by armed gunmen who replace their broadcasts with ones beamed in from Moscow, amplifying the Kremlin’s voice on the ground.
We need to stress that as far as we have seen, the pro-Ukraine “Unity” parade today appeared to be formed of peaceful protesters who were attacked by pro-Russian men equipped with various clubs, bats, and riot shields. Since that time, however, there are quite clearly people on both sides who are equipped with weapons, though the only gun we’ve seen, besides those carried by police, did appear to be in the hands of a pro-Russian masked man.
These well-equipped men, for instance, are wearing Ukrainian colors. Men like them have been seen on the livestreams attacking pro-Russians, who are wearing somewhat similar equipment.
More Ukrainian “self-defence” forces — note that some of their equipment appears homemade, and other equipment appears to be more professional. These are from the SergogoTV livestream.
One of the livestream reporters is now giving a phone interview (they may be a local reporter, it’s not clear). Below is a translation:
“I’ve personally seen 10 wounded – there were reports of one shot but we can’t confirm he is dead.”
One of the female narrators says:
“I saw a man killed, I don’t know from which side, he didn’t have any ribbon or hardhat, but he was dead, from a head wound.”
What sounds like gunshots are ringing out right now.
This is not the injury we saw earlier, but a policeman is treating a man, who appears to be older, for an injury, perhaps to the head.
Teargas has just been fired.
Just moments ago, the narrators for one of the videos said “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Well, they are in the thick of the action, so that is a great summary of how confusing things have become. From the initial videos we’ve seen, it appears that pro-Russian crowds, armed with various clubs, riot shields, and helmets, attacked the pro-Ukrainian rally. Since then, we’ve seen people who appear to be supporters of both sides go on the offensive.
It’s a full-fledged brawl, a street battle for the future of Ukraine.
Things do appear to be calming, but as we’ve seen in the last 30 minutes or so, that can change VERY quickly.
While few rioters appear to have guns, men armed with various clubs and riot shields are roaming the streets while police appear to be struggling to contain them. Many riot shields were captured from Berkut officers in Maidan in February, but in Donetsk and Kharkiv police have been seen in recent days supplying Russian-backed rioters with the shields, so it is hard to say where these came from.
Moments ago, this firetruck drove down the street, loaded with men of an unknown agenda. They are now deploying the firehouse. Are these separatists or pro-Ukraine police?
Now there was a fight in front of the firetruck. Some people wearing Ukrainian colors and waving Ukrainian flags were seen nearby, but it’s a very confusing situation, and it’s not clear which armed men are the separatists and which are not.
We have not verified any pictures we have posted that were reportedly taken in Odessa, but they match what we are hearing and seeing. Civilians are now tearing up bricks to throw at police. Here are images from two livestreams.
Several of the rioters appears to have a riot shield, perhaps a sign that some police have helped them.
Now there is loud banging, and men in camouflage and carrying bats have arrived.
Right now we are watching a livestream from Odessa, where armed men, some with bats, at least one who may have had a gun, have been seen walking in the streets. Just seconds ago, a loud bang, what sounded like a flash grenade, could be heard, but then it was followed by what may have been a gunshot. The situation is chaotic.
As I am writing, more gunshots and more loud bangs.
Some pictures are being uploaded to Twitter, but the situation is rapidly decaying into chaos.
Some of the journalists who were detained and later released today by separatists have been describing what happened to them on Twitter.
Mike Giglio of Buzzfeed recounts his experience:
Novosti Donbassa has reported on Twitter that the driver from the Buzzfeed team has suffered a ‘hypertensive crisis’ and is now in hospital.
CBS posted this photo, taken by a member of Ward’s team, “moments before” their detention:
Meanwhile Pierre Crom, a Dutch photographer working in Slavyansk, has reported that separatist fighters in Slavyansk have now clearing the streets and adopting defensive positions.
IInterfax Ukraine reports that they have been told, over the phone, by separatists that two of three captured Ukrainian Alfa unit officers have been released.
“We managed to agree with the opposite site [sic] to swap two of these special operations unit officers for our supporters. We freed them afterwards,” the activist’s spokesman told Interfax-Ukraine over the phone.
The freed soldiers pledged not to take part in any military operations in southeastern Ukraine, he added.
As reported, three officers of the Alfa special operations unit and the Ukrainian Security Services were detained by pro-Russian activists in Horlivka, near Sloviansk, late on April 26.
Late yesterday, however, the Ukrainian SBU denied the report.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that unknown persons have seized a railway signal box in Donetsk, “paralysing” trains in the area.
The signal box is the electrical interchange for signals and points switches on the Lozovaya-Yasinovataya line. Both of these systems have been disabled due to their power being cut.
Interfax Ukraine reports that trains are being divereted while some local services will be pulled by shunting engines.
Tweets from three of the detained journalists indicate that the CBS and Sky crews have been released by separatists:
Hopefully this means that both entire crews have been released. We will watch for more information.
Meanwhile no news has been heard on the whereabouts of Mike Giglio and Elena Glazunov.
Clarissa Ward, who was reporting for CBS News, posted this (her latest to date) tweet late last night:
Novosti Donbassa, a local news site, reports that Ward was travelling to Konstantinovka with other CBS journalists and a team from Sky News when contact was lost.
UNIAN reports that among the other CBS journalists were Erin Lyall, Andy Stevenson and Geoff Mabberley. The Sky News crew consisted of Stuart Ramsey, Barnaby Green, Oleg Malko and Alexander Pustovit.
Novosti Donbassa reports that Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio and his interpreter, Elena Glazunov disappeared this morning at a checkpoint near Slavyansk:
The last message that Novosti Donbassa received from Mike was: “We’ve been seized at a checkpoint”. He then managed to report that he and Elena had been sent by separatists to the occupied SBU building in Slavyansk.
According to the separatists themselves, they have not detained Glazunov and Giglio. This was announced by a separatist representativem Stella Khoroshova.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has confirmed that two military helicopters have been downed by Russian or Russian-backed forces in Slavyansk. A statement (in English) on the Ministry of Defence website reads:
Overnight into May 2, there were shot down two Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopters while patrolling the defined area.
According to the preliminary data, the combat wing aircrafts were shot down by unknown persons by means of man-portable air defense system (PZRK). Two servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed forces are dead, several persons are wounded.
Besides, one Mi-8 helicopter of Army Aviation, Ukrainian Armed Forces, was damaged by small arms fire. There are no injured and wounded persons in this case.
This fact of the PZRK use against the Ukrainian Armed Forces testifies that the well trained and armed groups are currently acting in Donetsk Oblast. They complete terroristic acts trying to destabilize the situation in the region. Neither of them realizes their actions result in deaths and wounds; children become orphans. Such behaviour is common for militaries of other countries or experienced contractors who are ready to act against any person for reimbursement.
There is video footage circulating which purports to show a pilot from one of the downed Mi-24s, having been captured by Russian-backed fighters.
A second statement on the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence site says:
The crew members of two shot down Mi-24 helicopters and one damaged Mi-8 helicopter of Army Aviation, Ukrainian Armed Forces are evacuated with their service arms.
One heavy-wounded pilot was captured by extremists who waited for the emergency landing of the helicopter. His location is known; there are taken measures for his urgent liberation.
Here is a YouTube video which claims to show an Mi-8 helicopter under gun-fire from Slavyansk:
Ukraine’s 5 Channel is showing images of what appears to be one of the downed Mi-24s:
Russian media, including both Rossiya 24 and Komsomolskaya Pravda are disseminating this video, which they claim shows the launch of a surface-to-air missile in Slavyansk. (Note that the preview image used is unrelated to the footage shown):