Ukraine Liveblog Day 96: On Eve of Election, Separatists Declare the Formation of a United ‘Novorossiya’

May 24, 2014
Crowd in Donetsk 24 May 2014 Photo: Jennifer Rizzo

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

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Detained LifeNews Journalists Released, Now in Grozny, Chechnya

Marat Saichenko and Marat Sidyakin, a cameraman and journalist for Russia’s LifeNews, who were detained by Ukrainian authorities on suspicion of aiding separatist fighters, have been released and flown to Grozny, Chechnya.

Translation: Marat Saichenko and Oleg Sidyakin have been freed. Right now, the journalists are in Grozny.

Their release was overseen by the Chechen dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov, who spread the news via his preferred medium of Instagram. He wrote:

Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko are alive and well. They’re in Grozny! Their aeroplane landed at 1:35 at Grozny airport. Now we will drink some tea.

The last line of the Chechen government’s announcement says (translation by The Interpreter):

The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, had also called for the immediate release of the journalists, noting that it would otherwise be necessary to take drastic measures against their captors’ representatives.

Kadyrov has previously threatened to send volunteers to fight against Ukrainian government forces, even offering to travel there himself. There have been a number of claims, denied by Kadyrov, by Ukrainian forces that they have encountered Chechen fighters in the south-east, most recently yesterday, following the ambush at Karlovka.

Italian Journalist, Russian Translator Killed Near Slavyansk

The Italian press agency ANSA has published the name of the journalist killed outside of Slavyansk: Andrea (Andy) Rocchelli. He was 30 years old.

RIA Novosti has also reported that Rocchelli worked for the photo agency Cesuralab which was working in the region, and that his translator, Andrei Mironov, was also killed.

Reports: Shelling in Slavyansk Kills Italian Journalist and Interpreter, Injures French Photographer

There a number of reports that an Italian journalist and an interpreter were killed by shelling in Slavyansk today. A French photojournalist, William Rougelon, was also wounded. Neither of the dead have been named.

Roza Kazan, a freelance journalist working in Slavyansk, posted the following tweets this evening:

The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported (translated by The Interpreter):

According to television reporters and social networks, William Rougelon, a freelance photographer, has been wounded and taken to hospital, from where, after being bandaged up, he has left independently.

Rougelon told Russian journalists that, after the shelling, his Italian colleague and the interpreter lay motionless.

Earlier today, following armed clashes between militia and the Ukrainian armed forces in Semyonovka, members of the Slavyansk self-defence force returned fire on the security forces’ positions. Explosions from mortar fire and automatic gunfire have been heard almost all day.

Rossiya 24, a state-owned Russian news channel interviewed Rougelon after he was treated in hospital. He described the shelling attack, saying that his group was about half a kilometre outside Slavyansk, near the railway, when the shells struck. He doesn’t know if the shells were directed at them. The video is below:

Video Shows Separatist-Controlled BMP-2 in Antratsit

A video uploaded to YouTube today shows a BMP-2 IFV on the streets of Antratsit, in the south of the Lugansk oblast. The vehicle is definitely not flying a Ukrainian flag, but neither does it appear to be either the Russian or the black, blue and red of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (now to be merged with their counterpart in Lugansk into the self-proclaimed state of Novorossiya). The flag here is made up of three horizontal stripes of blue, white and red. It appears to in fact be the 1992-2003 Yugoslavian flag. Could this suggest volunteers from the Balkans?

At least two Ukrainian BMP-2s were destroyed in combat near Rubezhnoye to the north of the region on Thursday. It is possible one vehicle was captured here. Meanwhile the BBC’s Olga Ivshina reported seeing a BMP carrying separatists out of Karlovka following the devastating ambush on Ukrainian Donbass Battalion volunteers there.
Electoral Committee Chairman Says Voting Cannot Take Place in Donetsk Tomorrow

Ukrainska Pravda reports, (translated by The Interpreter):

Due to threats to polling station staff and the townspeople themselves, the May 25 presidential elections cannot be held in Donetsk.

This was the opinion expressed by the chairman of the Ukrainian Electoral Committee, Oleksandr Chernenko, reports 5 Channel.

“Today reports are coming from Donetsk, saying that members of electoral commissions are actually writing letters of resignation. Everyone understands that holding the elections poses a threat to citizens’ lives”, remarked Chernenko.

“I know that decision to abandon the election has already been taken at the city government level. Because this contradicts the law, this decision certainly needs to be checked over in some way by the Central Election Commission. Then again, it’s impossible to safely hold elections there. Furthermore, they would only have been cancelled had there been no more legitimate a solution”, said the head of the UEC.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Central Election Commission, Mikhail Okhendovsky, said that he would be able to specify the number of constituencies in Donetsk which will be running on the morning of May 25, according to Ukrainskiye Novosti.

Okhendovsky also noted that in the Lugansk oblast “there will be, most likely, only two 2 constituencies at which elections will be held” – in the towns of Svatovo (district 115) and Belovodsk (district 114). 

The CEC will not wait for reports of results from the 10 remaining constituencies committees.

Self-Declared Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’ Announce a Union as ‘Novorossiya’

UNIAN reports (translation by The Interpreter):

The self-proclaimed, so-called ‘Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics’ have signed a ‘act’ on their unification into “the unified state of Novorossiya”.

According to a correspondent for URA-Inform-Donbass, the signing of the ‘act’ took place today, May 24, in the Shakhtar Plaza hotel in Donetsk at the close of a congress of ‘people’s representatives’ from Nikolaev, Odessa, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Lugansk and Zaporozhye.

The correspondent reports that the “act of unification” was signed in the name of the people of Donetsk by Aleksandr Boroday, who considers himself the ‘prime minister of the DPR’, and on behalf of Lugansk by Alexei Karyakin, who considers himself the ‘chairman of the Republican Assembly of the LPR.’

The signing process itself took place behind closed doors. The entrance to the room was guarded by several gunmen. Only journalists from the Rossiya-24 TV channel were allowed to put their signatures down on the ‘binding agreement’.