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Russian human rights activists have described the story that Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and Russian translator Andrei Mironov were working on at the time of their deaths Saturday.
Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of RFE/RL interviewed Aleksandr Cherkasov, chairman of the board of Memorial Human Rights Center about Mironov, a former Soviet political prisoner who was a member of Memorial, although not on the staff. Cherkasov said Mironov had worked for many years as a journalist, human rights monitor and translator for foreign journalists in both Chechen wars and other conflicts in the Caucasus and recently in Ukraine.
Memorial itself recently conducted investigations in Donetsk and Kramatorsk and gave a press conference about their findings on the eve of the 11 May referendum, but their trip was separate from that of Mironov and Rocchelli.
Mironov (L) and Rocchelli. Photo by Cesura Lab.
Cherkasov described the area where the journalists were working before their deaths:
“This was outside of town, where evidently, there were some strongholds (of separatists–Radio Svoboda). Ukrainian forces were using heavy artillery there and firing on these strongholds from 122-mm mortars, which could be determined from shrapnel. Several nights ago, 6 homes had been destroyed and a hospital damaged right nearby. Understandably, journalists and human rights defenders went there. Some were lucky. When Andrei and his friends came, evidently, this area fell under fire. The firing was coming from hidden positions, that is, they could not see directly who they were shooting. A car drove up and once again they opened fire from mortars at that area.”
The Italian Foreign Ministry said they would conduct a thorough investigation of the death of Rocchelli, who had worked in Chechnya, Libya, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Kyrgyzstan as well as Maidan and southeast Ukraine, and in addition to Cesuralab, worked on Italia-1 TV owned by Mediaset, the Berlusconi family’s channel.
Human Rights Watch researcher Tatyana Lokshina, who has also been monitoring the human rights situation in Donetsk Region, said she left Slavyansk the day before Rochhelli and Mironov because of heavy shelling which made it too dangerous to stay. Lokshina reported:
“Slavyansk has figured fairly long in the news as a place of high concentration of anti-Kiev, anti-Ukrainian forces. There really are large detachments of fighers there. When we were there, there was a shoot-out between them and Ukrainian military which was located nearby.”
Asked if the area was forested or populated, Lokshina said there were small villages in the area:
“We were in the village of Semenovka on the outskirts of Slavyansk, and were were there because we learned the village was shelled for the third night straight. When we got there, we saw several homes destroyed, it must be said that the night before we arrived, six homes were rather heavily damaged –two homes destroyed very severely, and another four damaged that night — with 9 damaged homes in all. We talked with the local residents, and they told us about the intenseness of the shelling, that it was getting worse, and growing.”
Lokshina said Human Rights Watch covers human rights violations on both sides of the conflict, and were monitoring the situation of journalists who had been obstructed in their work, detained or disappeared, including Russian state media.
“There was a constant battle, there were uninterrupted combat actions, heavy shelling at night, and during the day, various strikes,” she said, and described one 80-year-old woman in Semenovka whose house was ruined but who was saved by hiding underneath a table. She noted:
“Of course it must be said that the Ukrainian military aren’t just shelling for no reason. They are shelling because there is a rather serious presence of insurgents there, and from there, from the outskirts of that village, they shoot at the soldiers.”
Although the shelling was not that intensive there, people were still panicking and hiding in cellars, if they were unable to evacuate, she said.
As we reported yesterday, Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24 broadcast a news program 24 May that said a shell had hit the roof of a psychiatric hospital, causing a fire, and damaged homes as well as an auto repair shop where a 120 mm anti-personnel mine was found. The correspondent blamed the Ukrainian army for shelling civilian buildings, although conceded that a battle was underway in Semenovka between separatists and Ukrainian soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has not yet commented on the reason for the journalists’ deaths, but Dmitry Tymchuk, a military analyst for the Ukrainian group Information Resistance, said that Ukrainian forces were located on Karachun Hill and had not been actively shelling in the area near the railroad crossing where the journalists were found dead.
Tymchuk said that Ukrainian soldiers were not likely to be able to fire on the journalists with automatic weapons because they were at least 1.5 kilometers away. Instead, he said, during this period the separatist groups in Slavyansk were constantly shelling the positions of Ukrainian forces.
With exit polls showing Poroshenko at 60% and others trailing far behind, Ukrainian oligarch Petro Poroshenko claimed victory in the presidential elections, although the votes were still being counted.
The polls were still open after hours at 22:23 local time because of long lines, UNIAN reported — although , the winner was already decided. The Central Elections Commission was still counting votes, which were more than expected, and in Donetsk, commissioners had to count records by hand as the system was down.
Turnout was reported as 60%, Interfax.ru and other news agencies reported, actually less than the 67% reported in 2010. In some parts of the country, polls were closed; while the Washington Post reported that a regional breakdown was not available, people in two eastern districts made up about 14% of the electorate.
Popular Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov gave a summary of a press conference this evening held by the acclaimed winner Poroshenko, and Vitali Klitschko, who is expected to win the contest for mayor of Kiev, based on exit polls:
Russia is our neighbour. We have had a difficult 200-year relationship. We are choosing the Geneva format for negotiations. Crimea is ours. Our direction is toward the EU. We can come to an agreement about the rest.
Yesterday Varlamov was stopped and interrogated for some hours at the Ukrainian border.
The Ukrainian TV channel TSN visualized the elections as follows:
Poroshenko said he would sell his chocolate factory after he took office, gordonua.com reported.
Ukrainian journalist Peter Shuklinov posted the “photo of the day,” although the author was unknown:
Translation: Photo of the year, I think. Who is the author? Strong.
Although the Batkyvshina Party had lost and done poorly, Tymoshenko and Yatesnyuk were still toasting the elections.
The head of the Ukrainian Electoral Committee’s Odessa region, Anatoliy Boiko, has announced at a press conference that there are voting irregularities in today’s elections in Odessa. According to Dumskaya.net, Boiko said:
Unfortunately, we have the impression that deliberate, systemic fraud has been carried out on the voter lists in Odessa.
The problem, he said, appears to affect the Malinovsky, Primorsky and Kievsky districts of the city, but not the Suvorovsky district.
He also described serious problems in other districts, noting that at many polling stations, the electoral rolls for the mayoral elections were longer than those for the presidential ones. He added:
In addition, many voters complained that they had been on the register for the last elections but were not for these. I stress that if someone was on the electronic database, they could not have simply disappeared from it. They could fail to appear on the paper versions of the lists either through negligence on behalf of the registry employees, or this was done intentionally.
Meanwhile, Obkom reports that Vladimir Kurennoy, one of the leaders of UDAR’s Odessa mayoral election team, has said that:
We have had reports that certain forces in the electoral commissions and in the city commission will attempt to correct the results of the [election].
According to his sources, the situation is rather tense in Odessa at the moment with the vote counting, and in addition, groups of young people in sports clothes [casuals], so-called ‘titushki’, are beginning to gather outside electoral commissions.
Kurrenoy said that, according to all exit polls, [Eduard] Gurwits [UDAR’s candidate and twice former mayor of Odessa until 2010] is winning the election.
That said, UDAR suspect that the second-place candidate, Gennadiy Trukhanov, is attempting to distort the results by employing the ‘titushki’ and his administrative resources.
All translations by The Interpreter.
The Kyiv Post reports on the results of an exit poll conducted by the Savik Shuster Studio talk show. The poll suggests that Vitali Klitschko has “won 57 percent of the vote, leaving the runner-up Lesya Orobets far behind with 10 percent of the vote.”
The newspaper also published the following results from the Savik Shuster Studio poll. It appears that Klitschko’s UDAR party has by far the largest share of the vote for the city council as well:
List of parties that have won seats in Kyiv city council
Radical Party (of Oleg Liashko) 7.9
Samopomich (Self-aid, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy’s party) 7.4
New Life (Olesya Orobets) 4.1
Democratic Alliance (Vasyl Gatsko) 3.7
Civic Position (Anatoliy Hrytsenko) 3.5
Source: Savik Shuster Studio
The first deputy prime minister of Ukraine, Vitaly Yarema, has announced that Ukrainian security forces will resume the anti-terrorist operation in the country’s south-east.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that, at a briefing this in Kiev this evening, Yarema said (translated by The Interpreter):
For more peaceful solutions to the issues relating to the elections today, active operations by the Ukrainian army and security forces were suspended so that the residents of the eastern areas could go to the polls and vote.
Meanwhile the armed forces maintained a high level of readiness and we completely blocked off parts of the regions occupied by terrorist organisations. The active phase of the anti-terrorist operation will resume shortly.
A video uploaded today by Ruptly, the stringer for the Kremlin’s propaganda arm RT.com, raises more questions about how journalists were killed and wounded yesterday near Andreyevka, a town near Slavyansk. (The Ruptly video has now been changed to “private” status but we managed to watch it repeatedly before it was removed form view.)
As we reported yesterday, an eye-witness, French journalist William Roguelon who was himself wounded in the attack, says he believes the mortar fire came from the position of the Ukrainian army, and other reporters are citing him.
Tweets from his free-lancer colleague Roza Kazan indicated he was trying to pinpoint the location of the deaths and had mentioned the Zeus plant.
But given that the journalists first reported hearing shots from Kalashnikovs, as separatists were returning fire, then they heard heavy mortar rounds, questions remain about how they died. The Kremlin’s propaganda arm, RT.com, which might have been expected to report a story unfavorable to the Ukrainian forces, did not state explicitly that mortar fire came from Ukrainian forces.
The Interpreter has provided a summary translation of the points in the graphic video:
o Exploded mines were found near the bodies of Italian journalist and Russian translator.
oThe bodies were confirmed as Russian citizen Andrei Mironov and Italian citizen Andrea Rocchelli at the morgue.
Their passports, notebooks, and camera equipment were found at the
scene; the passports, intact, were said to be in their pockets, some of
the equipment was broken.
o The force of the blast blew off of the head of one of the pair; shrapnel killed the other.
Separatists say they found their bodies in a ditch by the side of the
road this morning at about 8:30-9:00 am local time. Their superiors in
the separatist movement told them to bring the bodies to the morgue.
Bodies were found about 3-4 meters apart, about 150 meters from some
train cars carrying loads in the “green zone,” in a descent of the road
where there was a gully by the roadside.
o The likely hid from shelling and were likely thrown aside by the blast wave.
o They were likely thrown from the “green zone” and then hit by mortar fire again.
o They were directly in the line of sight.
Asked if there were bullet holes in the body, the separatists couldn’t
say, but said there were holes in the body, limbs were broken, and
fingers torn off.
o Asked if anyone could have touched the bodies
after they died, the separatists said it was possible, but they couldn’t
tell for certain because the shelling occurred the previous day close
to evening, about 19:00.
o Asked about the direction the shelling
came from, the separatists said shelling was going on right where they
were found, but did not specify which the side in the conflict
o The two were in civilian clothing and not camouflage.
The Guardian reported that separatists told them that “the journalist came under fire from Ukrainian troops late on Saturday, but that claim could not be independently confirmed.”
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has declined to provide details about the killings.
A staple of Kremlin propaganda is that the ultrarightist Right Sector, a group that defended Maidan and has at times called for violent resistance against Russia and its supporters, is gaining a lot of support in Ukraine.
Armed members of Right Sector have been involved in some gun battles with Russian-backed separatists in the southeast. The organization recently declared it was giving up arms after one of its leaders was shot dead by Ukrainian law-enforcers during an arrest, yet fighters continued to be reported, notably by Russian state media. The Kiev authorities recently registered the organization as a legal entity.
Yet in reality, polls taken before the elections showed that Right Sector never got more than low single digits of support even among ardent nationalists. And today it obtained 1 percent.
Exit polls show Petro Poroshenko ahead in today’s presidential elections and he declares victory; and candidate Tymoshenko has conceded his win.
There was concern that Tymoshenko would not concede Poroshenko’s victory in the first round.
Concerns have been voiced about the lack of access to voting precincts closed, disabled or attacked by Russian-backed separatists in the southeast. Also Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied Crimea had to travel to Kherson Region to vote.
There is concern that the victor may not sufficiently break with the past.
Translation: @oleg_kozyrev So a bureaucrat who rides around in a car that costs 160 thousand euro is going to eliminate corruption in Ukraine? Maidan, what do you think?
While the rest of Ukraine votes in the presidential elections today, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is visiting annexed Crimea. The Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reports:
This trip is Medvedev’s second once after Crimea’s accession to Russia in March. On March 31, he held an offsite meeting of the Russian government on the peninsula.
On Sunday, the head of the Russian Cabinet will visit the Crimean department of the Russian Federal Migration Service, which has a center for issuing Russian passports. Later in the day, Medvedev, who is the leader of Russia’s ruling United Russia party, will meet with people at the party’s headquarters in Sevastopol.
On Monday, May 26, he will visit the Artek international children’s center and will chair a government meeting dedicated to issues of organizing children’s vacationing.
A large delegation accompanies the prime minister on his current trip, including deputies Igor Shuvalov, Dmitry Kozak, Arkady Dvorkovich, Olga Golodets, Dmitry Rogozin, Sergei Prikhodko, Yuri Trutnev and Alexander Khloponin; as well as ministers Dmitry Livanov, Vladimir Puchkov, Veronika Skvortsova, Maxim Topilin, Oleg Savelyev; Oleg Belaventsev, the Russian president’s envoy to the Crimean Federal District, and Crimea’s acting Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov.
Note that the heads of the Federal Migration Service offices in Crimea and Sevastopol have been placed on the EU sanctions list.
Meanwhile Mustafa Dzhemilev, the exiled leader of the Crimean Tatar community voted today in Kiev:
According to 0642.com.ua, a Mariupol-based news site, the 59th District Electoral Commission has reported an average turn out across the city of 17.2% as of 15:00 (12:00 GMT). The site notes that the Primorsky and Zhovtneviy districts saw particularly active participation in the elections. The voter turnout in the Ilychevsky and Ordzhonikidze districts was, according to the 59th electoral commission 10.31% as of 15:00.
Mariupol has seen major violence between separatists and government forces but has been calmer since separatists fighters withdrew following an agreement with Rinat Akhmetov’s Metinvest company, who provided workers to act as security patrols.
Earlier on, Ukrainska Pravda reported on problems residents had experienced attempting to vote in the city. A group of voters had travelled to one polling station where they were unable to cast ballots as the electoral roll had not been brought by a member of the electoral commission, who had not come into work out of fear for her safety. The residents demanded that the official be found, saying:
“Let them find her, take the lists and give us the opportunity to take part in the elections. We will not leave until we vote.”
Meanwhile, 0642.com.ua also report that only 268 of the 1483 polling stations in the Lugansk region are continuing to function. The highest turnout has been in the Svatovo area – around 22%.
Translation: Participants in the rally in Donetsk are going to smash Akhmetov’s residence.
Translation: Armed men are already outside Akhmetov’s residence.
There were reports following the Karlovka attack that members of the Vostok Battalion were actually Chechen fighters.
Meanwhile, local news site OstroV reports that some in the crowd are planning to attack one of the mansions of the billionaire oligarach Rinat Akhmetov (who has recently publicly urged the Donbass to oppose the separatists). People are reportedly chanting “Akhmetov is an enemy of the people” alongside “Russia!”.
Mikko Hipponen, a Finnish security expert for F-Secure widely known in the field of Inernet security, has reported that the Ukrainian voting system may be hacked — based on a Russian report.
But it was immediately declared to be a hack limited to a work station only and then a DDoS attack.
Then it was said to be a hoax by the Ukrainian Interior Minister Avakov:
Yet a coder for Kaspersky Lab is confirming the hack:
Kaspersky Lab has been cooperative with the Kremlin to maintain its business in Russia, and there may be sources in Russia determined to portray the Ukrainian system as compromised.
The story needs more reliable sources from Ukraine and Western countries, both from government and independent experts.
A photo that has been widely circulated on social media without attribution, showing children cowering in a cellar, is now confirmed as one of the last photos taken by slain Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli in Slavyansk (below).
On 19 May, Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, ran a photo report from Rocchelli and an article signed by his translator, Russian human rights advocate Andrei Mironov, who was also killed in heavy shelling, in cross-fire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces near Slavyansk (accounts differ as to which shells hit them).
The team did interviews with large families in the town of Slavyansk who were hiding in their cellars from fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Ironically, while the journalist and his translator reportedly have died at the hands of separatists (according to some accounts) they reported accurately the perspective of some of the townspeople caught in the crossfire who opposed the Ukrainian forces’ actions and only wished for peace.
Shown here are Vladimir and Nadezhda Karnauk, parents of many children, who live in Mymovka, a district of Slavyansk. Since 2 May, they have been under fire. They managed to send their five smallest kids to relatives, and the rest were hiding in a damp cellar, said the report.
Ludmila and Sergei Kushchovy also have a large family; they have 10 foster children in their care. While they have not been shelled, they have outfitted the cellar as a refuge, and have taught the children what to do. They have sand bags for putting out fires and a shovel in case they need to dig out, says the report.
One of the parents interviewed, Ludmila, describes the feelings of people in Slavyansk (translation by The Interpreter)
“I, for example, understand it this way, that if they are lying, and saying that everyone has left our city, and we remain here, it’s because we are called separatists…We watch Ukrainian television and hear what is being said about us. We have no other information.
It is very terrible to watch how the Ukrainian army, our fellow citizens, are shooting at us, Ukrainians.
We want people to see us! People who want peace. We are not beasts. We don’t need to have barbed wire stretched over us.”
Sergei, another resident, told the reporters:
“We began talking with them. We asked, ‘who are you?’ They said, ‘We have come to defend the president.’ I said, ‘There’s no president here. There’s only us folks. Who are you going against, against the people?’ We talked with them, and during that time, snipers were lying in ambush. They were lying there and aiming at us. We said, ‘We’re being peaceful with you. You will go hope with blood on your hands. How will you be after that? You will begin with us…’
We gave them water, gave them cigarettes. They disarmed, turned around and flew back to Ukraine.
Then on the television we saw they were going to bring them to trial. For what?”
Gazeta.ru is among many outlets, both Russian and Ukrainian reporting that turn-out is high in Kiev. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
In Obolonsky District of Diev, the turn-out at the voting station is very high, a correspondent from gazeta.ru reports. From early morning, many Kiev residents wishing to vote have joined long lines here. Most of them are pensioners.
“We babushki are trying to come and vote earlier,’ said one voter. “First, we can’t sleep. Second, it will be very hot out later. Now it’s easier for us,’ she said. And she admits — she will vote for Tymoshenko. “Only she will return the Crimea to us,’ the pensioner is confident.
The Russian online newspaper gazeta.ru says that Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian oligarch famous for his chocolate company, is the “favourite” in today’s presidential elections in Ukraine.
It’s a very crowded field with 21 names. The AP also reports polls that place Poroshenko ahead of the other candidates.
In March, OMON (riot police) blocked Poroshenko’s famous Roshen confection factory in Lipetsk in a move that was believed contrived to put pressure on him.
Anna German, a former close aide to deposed president Yanukovych, also told Novaya Gazeta earlier this month that she believed Poroshenko could win in the first round.
ITAR-TASS has s report of polls closed “due to lack of ballots” in Donetsk accompanied by a picture of a woman who appears to be breaking up the glass poll boxes with a pitch-fork.
Yet, curiously, the Russian state news outlet doesn’t explain what the picture is about. The article merely says the polls are “closed” in Donetsk and Gorlovka.
Meanwhile, Egor Maximon from the independent TV Rain didn’t have any problem reporting that the boxes were smashed.
In Nikolayev, NikVest reports Batkyvshina (Fatherland Party) which has sent monitors to polls, say the deputy election commission has shown up drunk, and the election crew there forgot to put in the control ballot to start the process according to procedures — and ballots are now already handed out.
Opora, a civic monitoring group, says that representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic are blocking the work of the working election commissions.
And reports continue to be confirmed of Russian-backed separatists keeping the polls closed.
ITAR-TASS reports polls closed in Donetsk and Gorlovka.
NikVesti, a local news site for Nikolayev reports that the election is taking part in a tense situation and “not without intrigue” in Nikolaev. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of the news:
For the first time in the history of Ukraine, these elections are taking place in a difficult social-political setting, where in the eastern regions of the country, terrorist groups are arming, and at the Ukrainian-Russian border, the Kremlin’s troops are concentrated.
First, the gap between the key candidates is not significant, and second, the number of voters who have not yet made up their minds about the elections, but are intending to come to vote, is more than 20%. The result of elections for mayor ccould be unepected due to the high turnout of voters who are not interested in local politics, but wish to vote in the elections for President of Ukraine.
For a live feed of Nikolayev, go here.
Many people are fearing that polls will be kept closed by pro-Russian separatists who have taken over towns in the southeast such as Lugansk, Slavyansk and Donetsk.
Translation: Polling stations in Donetsk closed. [Graffiti: Glory to Ukraine!]
But some polls in Donetsk Region are reported working.
Translation: Krasnoarmeysk, Donetsk Region. Voting is proceeding calmly, under the guard of “Dniepr”
In Mariupol, 13 polling stations were not open, 0629.com.ua reported.
The Interpreter has translated the news item:
Today at 8:00, not all the polling stations in Mariupol opened. As we learned in the 59th precinct (Primorsky and Zhovtnevy districts), 10 precinct commissions have not begun working yet — they simply haven’t been given ballots.
In the 58th election precinct (Ilichevsky and Ordzhonikidzevskiyh districts) 3 election commission were not working. The reason — not enough people. “The commissions were simply not formed,” local authorities explained.
Among the precincts where there is no voting today is the psychiatric hospital.
AP reports that Ukrainian authorities are concerned about some polls not working in the southeastern regions of Ukraine.
Pro-Russian insurgents are likely to prevent voting Sunday in half or
more of the election districts in the embattled east, Ukrainian
Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovyi said on Saturday that police
are ready to ensure order and security at polling stations in just nine
of the 34 districts in the east.
Earlier, Volodymyr Hrinyak, chief of the public security department
at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said 17 out of 34 district election
commissions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not operating because
their offices have either been seized or blocked by armed men.
Hrinyak’s update was reported by the Interfax news agency.