Following yesterday’s violence, there have been carnivalesque scenes in Mariupol today as looting has broken out, a military base has been ransacked and an abandoned armoured vehicle set ablaze in the street.
Meanwhile, preparations are under way for tomorrow’s referendum. Separatist leaders appear determined to go ahead with the poll, despite a public statement from Vladimir Putin, calling for the vote to be delayed, and criticism from the Ukrainian government and western nations that the referendum is illegal.
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An interactive map of the situation:
View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
A live stream from Mariupol is below:
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.
“We were fired on with mortars and land mines,” a self-defense fighter told RIA Novosti. No casualties were reported.
Earlier there were reports Saturday evening on the outskirts of Slavyansk of intensive automatic-rifle and artillery fire.
The state media appear to be backed up by some independent sources. A local photo-journalist Vasily Maximov reports hearing gunfire and explosions outside of town.
In Josh Cohen’s latest article, he notes that despite the Kremlin’s claims that Kiev is run by neo-Nazis who pose a threat to Ukraine’s Jews, in fact Ukraine’s Jewish community is more united than ever — and they are firmly standing in favor of the interim government and against Putin:
In fact, Yaakov Dov Bleich, an American-born rabbi recognized as Chief Rabbi of Ukraine since 1990, says that the recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions have largely been staged Russian provocations designed to discredit pro-Ukrainian activists and Kiev’s interim government. Bleich is not a Pollyanna about the existence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and remains deeply concerned about Svoboda and Tyahnybok’s unapologetic use of anti-Semitic language — but he is much more concerned about Russia: “All of the recent attacks on synagogues and Jews have taken place in the east where the Russian extremists are operating. Meanwhile, in the West, where there are supposedly ultra-nationalist extremists, all has been quiet. The Ukrainian Jewish Community is definitely more afraid of Putin and these pro-Russian hooligans than of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.”
Bleich also noted that the threat from Russia has actually brought Jews and Ukrainians closer together, a process driven by the tribulations of the Maidan where, as Bleich pointed out, Jews stood side by side with Ukrainians. Three of the 82 protesters killed by Yanukovych’s police were Jewish, and Right Sector activists took a lead role in honoring one Jewish protester who was killed by a Berkut sniper. In what sounds almost like a made-for-TV movie, five Ukrainian Jews who had immigrated to Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces actually returned to Ukraine to lead a group of 40 Ukrainian fighters defending the Maidan. Jews also occupy a number of positions in the transitional Ukrainian government. Volodymyr Groysman is a deputy prime minister, while another Jewish-Ukrainian, Ihor Kolomoisky, was named governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
In his latest assessment on Ukraine, David Patrikarakos argues that the chaos in eastern Ukraine serves Moscow’s interests and proves that Putin has already won.
This status quo comprehensively serves Putin’s interests, so why shouldn’t he fiddle for a few weeks while Ukraine burns? The separatists are going nowhere, and even their defiance of Putin on the referenda, genuine or otherwise, helps Moscow because it further paralyzes the country. The longer east and Kyiv fight, the more the conflict will intensify and the more the casualties will mount. Russian propaganda has gone into overdrive since the May 2 tragedy in Odessa, when more than 40 pro-Russia activists were killed in a fire. Its effectiveness in the east, where it retains a monopoly on the collective imagination, is unchallenged. It may yet give Putin the excuse to invade should he ever decide to.
But he needs to be careful. Putin wants Ukraine to smoulder but not explode. Continuing casualties may be useful for propaganda purposes, but if the death toll increases too much he may become trapped by his own rhetoric and have to invade Ukraine to “protect” ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. If that happens, the sight of Russians and their brother Ukrainians slaughtering each other might not play so well on State TV.
No escalation is in fact desired or needed. Russian strategy remains unchanged and clear: destabilize, destabilize, destabilize. By calling merely for the referenda to be postponed, Putin retains their threat while suffering none of the consequences that would almost certainly have ensued had he approved them. He also gets to say he has no control over them. The United States and the European Union are discussing a debating a third round of industrial and economic sanctions against Moscow and it is likely that his newfound “temperance” has headed these off for the time being.
Kyiv Post reports:
A group of armed Kremlin-backed rebels in possession of a 100,000 ballots already marked with a ‘yes’ vote for the May 11 referendum in Donetsk Oblast were captured and the ballots seized during the Ukrainian government’s anti-terrorist operation near the rebel-occupied city of Sloviansk on May 10.
In addition, a Kalashnikov rifle, Makarov pistol, plus ammunition were seized,Obezrevatel reported. Earlier, Ukrainska Pravada reported that the separatists had seized 80 schools in Donetsk city to carry out their referendum.
The Balkans correspondent for The Economist, Tim Judah, adds this video, which Kyiv Post is also carrying.
We can’t vouch for the video except to say that it matches the description from the Kyiv Post and if it is a fake then it was a fairly sophisticated one (3 actors, a cameraman, a bunch of guns, and a lot of ballots).
We’ll continue to watch for official statements.
Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister of Russia, is currently stranded in the break-away of Transdniestria in Moldova. He has been barred from crossing either Moldovan or Ukrainian airspace. In response to this he has posted on TwitLonger:
Upon the US request Romania has closed its air space for my plane. Ukraine doesn’t allow me to pass through again. Next time I’ll fly on board TU-160
Separatists in Mariupol have set fire to a Ukrainian BMP-2 IFV which was captured yesterday after being incapacitated.
The IFV, numbered 240, was seen repeatedly yesterday, first being heckled by separatists while halted, then being towed away by another BMP-2, evidently incapacitated, and finally being paraded by separatists (while under tow by a yellow truck).
Despite the fact that the vehicles gun and ammunition still seemed to be capable (there appear to be shells detonating within the IFV in one of the following vehicles), the separatists evidently decided that the BMP-2, with its engine out of action, was of no use to them, and set it on fire.
0629.com.ua reports that there were several attempts to rob gun shops in Mariupol last night. Two shops, Columbus and Arsenal, had their windows smashed, but their doors were not breached. However, another, called Extreme, was burnt.
Extreme in Mariupol. Photo: 0629.com.ua
Christopher Miller, the editor of the Kyiv Post, reports that Extreme has been looted of all stock:
Even more disturbingly, there are now apparently no police responding to emergency calls in Mariupol:
The Insider reports that a National Guard barracks in Mariupol was abandoned after yesterday’s violence. The troops took all of their weapons with them, but left 10 trucks (with their batteries removed), a BTR armoured personnel carrier and an armoured reconnaissance vehicle behind.
The barracks, on Nakhimov Prospect, had been the scene of an attempted assault by separatists in April.
Here are some photos from The Insider:
An abandoned BTR-70 APC
An abandoned BDRM-2
Translation: The Mariupol City Council has been partially torched, but the State Police building was completely burnt down.
0629.com.ua has footage from the burning of the building here:
The site reports that several fire engines and ambulances arrived on the scene. The fire started on the upper floors of the building.
The Insider, a Ukrainian news site, has more photos of the City Council building today: