Ukraine Liveblog Day 88: Separatist Ultimatum for Ukrainian Government Forces to Withdraw Ends

May 16, 2014
Ukrainian Security Service personnel detain 3 suspected militant organisers believed to be heading from Odessa to Slavyansk yesterday. Photo: Ukrainian Security Service

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.

Election Officials In Danger

Kyiv Post has interviewed members of the Election Commission who say that they have had colleagues kidnapped, offices stormed by gunmen, and workers threatened just for trying to carry out the May 25th Presidential election. The situation is worst in Lugansk oblast, where some are even beginning to doubt whether an election can be held.

On May 8, Melnykova [head of a district election commission inLugansk] and her colleagues had to urgently vacate this office, housed in a pre-school children’s center, when six men armed with Kalashnikovs stormed the building.

“Thank God we had been warned about that attack and managed to run away. Many commissions were stormed on May 8 by separatists,” she said, following a similar attack on May 5.

The attackers came from the local branch of the Communist Party. Armed pro-Russian militants wearing orange-and-black St. George’s ribbons, the separatists’ insignia, live in that office. Another group of separatists, former Afghan war veterans, took over a bank office nearby recently.

But the scariest moment took place in the city of Popasna, some 45 kilometers from Lysychansk. A meeting with local election officials was cut short by several dozen young men who stormed into the office, shouting that there will be no presidential election in Popasna. They then destroyed documents and threatened the staff.

Those are just a few of the examples in the Kyiv Post investigation, which can be read here.

Heavy Gunfire and Explosions In Slavyansk
Breaking news, so we will try to find details.

A Ukrainian TV news outlet reports that militants are shelling the Ukrainian military positions, but it’s not entirely clear at this point who is shelling what. This video was uploaded just moments ago. It’s interesting because there are 11 seconds between the flash and the explosion, suggesting that this is relatively long-range fire (which, at night, makes it much harder to effectively target strikes).

We cannot verify the video, however, based on the lack of identifiable landmarks.

Home of Crimean Tatar Leader Searched By Police

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reports that the house of a leader of Crimea’s Tatars, Mustafa Jemiliev, who is now banned from entering Crimea, has been searched by police, as has the home of the Mejlis press secretary:

In the latest affront to veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemiliev and to the Crimean Tatars on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation, a search has been carried out of Jemiliev’s home.

His wife, Safinar  was taken ill as a result and needed to be hospitalized.  71-year-old Mustafa Jemiliev, former Mejlis leader and Ukrainian MP, could not be there since Russia has banned his entry to the Russian Federation – and his native Crimea which Russia annexed in March.  He explains that he received a phone call telling him that a search was being carried out of his house and that his wife was in hospital. “OMON [Russian riot police] with automatic rifles surrounded the whole block. There were 11 or 12 buses, they appear to have been preparing for some kind of war”.

Mustafa Jemiliev says that they claimed that the search was because the occupying forces of the Crimea do not trust the investigation carried out a year ago after Jemiliev’s son Khaiser accidentally shot and killed a friend of the family, Fevzi Edemov.   They are planning to begin the investigation again.

Since only Jemiliev has a key to his office, the OMON officers entered by force.  As reported they also searched the home of the Mejlis press secretary, Ali Hamzin.  His son saw the court order which apparently said that Hanzin is suspected of ‘terrorism’.  Jemiliev reports: “After they’d searched Ali Hamzin’s home, one of the officers said: “You can thank us that we didn’t plant anything”. It’s hard to say whether they planted drugs or weapons on me, but that at least is what they said.”

The report goes on to state that 150 Tatars have been summoned for interrogation.

Has RT Freelancer Been Fired For Lying About Being Shot At?

Was RT freelancer Graham Phillips just fired for lying about the tripwire/being shot at incident we described earlier (below)?

RT has changed their article:

Now notice the caption of the screenshot in the video:


“Youtube user”? The article now goes on to retract the story that Phillips was shot at, noting that there was a tripwire:

RT’s freelance reporter, Graham Phillips, claimed to have been shot at by Ukrainian soldiers as he approached them to engage in dialogue near the town of Kramatorsk. However, the video he was shooting at the time reveals he triggered a tripwire flare.

Then they have this curious wording:

Graham’s initial claim was not supported by the footage, and his previous record of reporting for RT has already backfired on the journalist.

Two weeks ago Ukrainian radicals put a bounty out on Phillips. The Right Sector reportedly offered $10,000 for the capture of “a Russian spy.”

Yesterday, RT’s Ruptly video journalists also came under fire from two APCs as their car was targeted near the city of Kramatorsk. The journalists were en route to the town of Dmitrovka, some 30 kilometers from Slavyansk.

This article still reads like it contains content from the original article, but has somewhat been amended.

Curiously, Phillips is maintaining his story. As Phillips is now being described by RT as a “Youtube user,” has he been fired?

Akhmetov’s Metinvest Signed Deal With ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’

Earlier, we reported on the patrols organized by Rinat Akhmetov’s Metinvest steel workers in Mariupol. We why the separatists appeared to have retreated before these patrols:

So why are the separatists in retreat? Is it because they trust the steel workers to keep the peace without relying on the police? Is it because they feel outgunned by police? Has a deal really been signed between Akhmetov and both parties, or has Akhmetov simply backed Kiev while the separatists, at least in Mariupol, feel that they have no recourse but to cooperate with the steel workers?

Well, the answer is available on Metinvest’s website: The firm has signed a “memorandum on peace and security” with the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

The Interpreter translates:

Today, May 15, in Mariupol, a multilateral memorandum on peace and security was signed. The initiators of the signing of the document were the managers of the Ilyich and Azovstal iron and steel works, and the city staff of the people’s guards [we assume this refers to the patrol groups].

The document was signed by the general directors of the Ilyich and Azoval iron and steel works, Yuri Zinchenko and Enver Tskitishvili, Mayor Yuri Khotlubey, and the acting head of the city department of internal affairs, Oleg Morgun, the representatives of veterans, women, trade unions in Mariupol, and the leader of the DPR supporters in Mariupol, Denis Kuzmenko.

To the memorandum were attached joint initiatives on public safety in Mariupol and suggestions to the Kiev authorities.

Here is the full text of the memorandum on peace and security in Mariupol:

1. The events of May 9 showed that armed confrontation will lead us on the road to death. This is the way to a political stalemate. These events must not be repeated. Our priority is peace in Mariupol, calm in the city, ensuring the stable operation of industrial and utility companies. Ideological and political differences are no cause for bloodshed. We are united by a desire for peace and our love for Mariupol.

2.  The withdrawal of troops from Mariupol has given rise to a peace process. We support and will jointly develop initiatives to strengthen the work of the people’s guards. We trust the city police and support their fight against looting, hooliganism and theft in the city.

3. We need to take new steps to ensure peace and order in Mariupol. We call for a complete rejection of violence and the disarmament of all armed groups that have emerged in the wake of the protests. The leaders of the DPR, the people’s guards and police assure that they will renounce illegal activities (violence, the occupation of buildings and the use of weapons).

4. Simultaneously, we are jointly appealing to the Kiev authorities with a proposal to remove military checkpoints from roads leading to Mariupol. The city police must ensure peace at the entrances of the city with the support of the people’s guard.

5. The city authorities assure the livelihoods of the citizens of Mariupol and the smooth functioning of municipal services and infrastructure.

6. Together, we shall make every effort to restore damaged or destroyed buildings and roads, and to clean the city. 

7. We shall do all possible to immortalise the memory of those citizens of Mariupol killed in the recent armed clashes.

8. This memorandum is open for signatures from other members of the public and businesses in Mariupol. We are sending it to the authorities, international organisations working in Ukraine and the media.

RT Retracts Story That Their Reporter Was Shot At
A quick change in tone…
RT Reporter Lies About Being Shot At
Just moments ago an RT reporter on the ground in Ukraine levied a very serious allegation:

A few problems are readily apparent. Graham, a well-known freelancer for the Russian propaganda outlet RT, is seen around trees and barricades. Eventually he moves into a field. He doesn’t seem to point the camera at anyone in particular, and no Ukrainian soldiers are readily visible in the shot, so it’s not clear who he is speaking to.

He then identifies himself, and immediately what sounds like a shot goes off, and then smoke, and then a flare is launched.

But in fact, Graham likely knows exactly what happened. This video shows nothing more than a proximity alert, triggered by a tripwire. Once triggered, a proximity alert device that has been placed in the ground emits a loud noise and fires flares into the air, letting the military know that they are potentially being flanked.

Looking at the video, the sound of the “pop” can be heard at the same time as the smoke appears. There is no secondary pop or smoke, which is what we would expect if a smoke grenade was fired at the target (one pop for the flare launcher, a second for the flare itself). Also, the flare fires straight up. If one thinks about the physics of this, that makes it nearly impossible that the flare was shot at RT reporter Graham Phillips. Instead, the flare was likely set up ahead of time.

But all of this can be proved because the actual line from the tripwire is visible in the video, springing across the shot just as the “shot” is heard:


Russia Offers Ukraine A New Gas Deal – But Is It Fair?

Yesterday Russia said that starting in June Ukraine would have to pre-pay for its natural gas. Now Reuters reports that Russia is willing to offer Ukraine a discount on gas if it pays off its $2.2 billion in debt that stems from previous gas purchases.

“We will discuss this (lowering the rate Russia charges Ukraine) if they pay even the debt owed on April 1, and this was $2.237 billion,” Novak said. Russia said Kiev’s debt to state-controlled Gazprom is now just over $3.5 billion.

Ukraine’s deputy energy minister, Ihor Didenko, said on Thursday Gazprom’s price of $485 per 1,000 cubic metres was monopolistic and unfair and that Kiev was working on proposals to avoid the gas taps being switched off.

He said that if the price were to be fixed at $268.5 per 1,000 cubic metres Kiev would be prepared to pay around $4 billion before the end of May.

Russia had previously increased the price of gas by about 80%. So essentially, today’s “deal” is that if Ukraine pays full price for its debts, some of which are based on the increased prices, Russia may give them a new discount, but it’s not clear at what price.

Avakov Announces Capture of the ‘Commander of the Army of the South-East’

Censor.NET reports (translated by The Interpreter):

The commander of the so-called ‘army of the South-East”, the terrorist Alexei Rilke, was detained in Lugansk on Friday.

UKRINFORM’s correspondent was told this in Vinnytsia by the Ukrainian interior minister, Arseniy Avakov, reports Censor.NET.

“Today Interior Ministry officials detained the ‘commander’ of the army ‘of the South-East’ Alexei Aleksandrovich Rilke. He has been transferred to another region so that an investigation can be conducted and preventative measures can be chosen. He is being charged under articles 109 and 208 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code”, said the minister.

Avakov also noted that Rilke is one of the most radical terrorists operating in the east of the country.

Steel Workers Take Back The Streets

Ukraine’s steel workers have launched a campaign to assist police in
taking back territory from Russian-backed separatists. Rinat Akhmetov,
one of Ukraine’s oligarchs, owns a steel company, and on Thursday his workers  confronted the separatists in five cities. The New York Times reports:

Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region’s second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants.

operates two steel plants in the city of Mariupol. The city has been the site of recent clashes between government forces and separatist gunmen. The New York Times reports:

dozen Metinvest workers in overalls and helmets cleared out barricades
of rubbish and tires outside the Mariupol government building Friday.
Trucks carried it away and by midday, the barricades were nearly gone.

are) tired of war and chaos. Burglaries and marauding have to stop,”
said Viktor Gusak, one of the Metinvest employees cleaning the street.

few hundred meters (yards) away, three men sat in the park cooking
soup. One of them, unemployed Serhiy Atroshchenko, told the AP they were
all that was left of Mariupol’s pro-Russian separatist force.

were duped,” Atroshchenko said. “Akhmetov used to keep his eyes closed
(to what was happening), but now he decided to make a deal with Kiev

Despite the claims from Atroshchenko, however, there are reports that the steel workers have an agreement with both sides, and they are keeping the peace today — without the typical shows of force.

So why are the separatists in retreat? Is it because they trust the steel workers to keep the peace without relying on the police? Is it because they feel outgunned by police? Has a deal really been signed between Akhmetov and both parties, or has Akhmetov simply backed Kiev while the separatists, at least in Mariupol, feel that they have no recourse but to cooperate with the steel workers? In all likelihood, it is a combination of some or all of these possibilities.

The fact remains that despite Russia’s narrative, and the very vocal pro-Russian minority, polls consistently show that separatism is not popular at all in eastern Ukraine. The steel workers could simply be a formalized embodiment of that popular opinion. Will it work? It’s too soon to tell, and many have questions Akhmetov’s motives, so this is a story we will be watching very quickly.

Another Electoral Official Kidnapped in Lugansk

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Separatists in Lugansk have kidnapped the head of the 106th District Electoral Commission [OIC] in the Oktyabrsky district of the city. They also attempted to kidnap the head of the 105th committee.

This was announced by the head of the Ukrainian Voters’ Committee, Oleksandr Chernenko.

“Lugansk. The head of OIC 106 was kidnapped yesterday and taken to the SBU building”, he said.

“Last night they also broke down the door of OIC 105 and went to the home of the head of that commission, but they didn’t find him there”, he added.

So far, no other details are known.

This is the latest in a spate of kidnappings of electoral officials. We reported on the kidnapping of an OIC head in Kramatorsk on Wednesday, the same day that a school director was abducted and subsequently released in Lugansk. Ukrainska Pravda also report that the head of the 109th OIC in Lugansk was kidnapped yesterday, and that separatists seized the premises of the 111th OIC in Antratsyt and threatened their members.

Separatist Fighters Attack Kramatorsk Airbase

According to reports from both Ukraine’s UNIAN and the Russian state-run news channel LifeNews, separatists have attacked the Ukrainian airbase at Kramatorsk today.

UNIAN reports (translated by The Interpreter):

At around 10:00 [7:00 GMT] today, May 16, near Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, terrorists fired at one of the buildings on a military airbase, in which, at that time, soldiers were located, with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

According to the official website of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, the attackers fired for 20 minutes from a green space near the military base.

According to the report, Ukrainian servicemen responded with firearms to protect the military facility. There are no casualties among either the Ukrainian servicemen or the civilian population.

Russia’s state-run LifeNews reported that their correspondent, Oleg Sidyakin had heard gunshots. They report that Ukrainian forces set off smoke grenades to mask the base from the separatist fighters.

Ukrainian Army Taking Control of Checkpoints in Nikolaev

Ukrinform reports that the chairman of the Nikolaev Oblast State Administration, Nikolai Romanchuk, has told them that all activist-manned checkpoints in the city of Nikolaev (Mykolaiv in Ukrainian), will, as of tomorrow, be under Ukrainian army control.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

“From May 17, all checkpoints in the city of Nikolaev have come under the direct control of the Ukrainian army”, said the head of the regional administration.

According to him, a territorial defence battalion is being organised for the protection and support of the checkpoints. The battalion is currently 80% formed. Its operational basis will be rapid response squads of 30 people. 

Up until now, the 7 checkpoints around Nikolaev were watched by members of the popular militia, who were the initiators of their construction, and the police.

Crimean Authorities Ban Protests Until June 6

Interfax reports that Sergei Aksyonov, the prime minister of Russian-occupied Crimea, has banned public events (and therefore any political demonstrations) until June 6. Aksyonov’s declaration reads:

“Following the ongoing events across many cities in the south-east of Ukraine, as a result of which there have been deaths and injuries among the peaceful, civilian population, in order to avoid possible provocations by extremists, who are capable of infiltrating the territory of the Crimean Republic, and to avoid the disruption of the holiday season in the Crimean Republic, the staging of public events is prohibited until June 6, 2014.”

 As Interfax notes, this ban would prevent the planned rally by Crimean Tatars to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportations of Crimean Tatars by Stalin on May 18. 

Attack On National Guard Checkpoint Outside Mariupol
Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):
On Thursday evening a 5 Channel film crew came under fire from militants at a checkpoint on the approach to Mariupol.
This is reported by 5 Channel journalist Iryna Gerasymova on her Facebook page.
“At 22:00 [19:00 GMT] militants attacked a National Guard checkpoint on the approach to Mariupol; the shooting lasted for 15 minutes. I have never pressed my face into the ground so hard before. Thank you to Vanya, the reservist who, for 1000 hryvnia a month, shielded me and my cameraman with his body,” she wrote.
The journalist also uploaded a video from the scene.