Tag Archives: eastern Ukraine

Ukraine: Search base set up at Malaysia Airlines #MH17 crash site


Australian experts examine the area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash in the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. The head of the Dutch-led international team investigating the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 disaster says his group has retrieved additional DNA samples from 25 victims at a mortuary in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)Australian experts examine the area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash in the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. The head of the Dutch-led international team investigating the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 disaster says his group has retrieved additional DNA samples from 25 victims at a mortuary in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — With the sound of artillery fire in the distance, dozens of international investigators arrived Friday at the zone where a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine and began preparations to comb the rural area for remains of as many as 80 victims and jet debris.

Several hours before they arrived, at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by pro-Russian separatist rebels in a town close to the wreckage site. Thirteen more soldiers were unaccounted for after the attack, officials said, and the bodies of four more people were being examined to determine whether they were soldiers or rebels.

The investigators from the Netherlands and Australia plus officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe traveled from the rebel-held city of Donetsk in 15 cars and a bus to the crash site outside the village of Hrabove. Then they started setting up a base to work from at a chicken farm.

As the investigators prepared equipment for the search, an Associated Press reporter heard the artillery fire.

The investigative team’s top priority is to recover human remains that have been rotting in midsummer heat of 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius) since the plane went down on July 17. They will also try to retrieve the belongings of the 298 people killed who were aboard the Boeing 777.

Ukraine and the West contend the plane was shot down by the rebels with a Russian-supplied missile. Rebel leaders publicly deny it, but one top rebel official has told the AP on condition of anonymity that insurgents were involved in the operation that downed the plane.

Friday’s search effort came after a smaller advance investigative team managed to perform a preliminary survey of the area a day earlier. For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the site. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.

The sprawling site of fields in between two villages will now be officially designated a crime scene and divided into grids that will be systematically searched for remains, victims’ belongings and jet crash evidence, Australian police officer Brian McDonald told reporters in Hrabove. Specially trained dogs will be also be used in the search.

The investigative team’s journey in their convoy lasted about three hours from Donetsk, through the government-held town of Debaltseve, and back into the separatist-controlled territory, where the wreckage lies. At Debaltseve, the convoy was joined by three vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

An Ukrainian government army' vehicle travels across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)An Ukrainian government army’ vehicle travels across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Both sides in the conflict tentatively agreed to a cease-fire around the crash zone, but the Friday morning attack by rebels on government troops took place less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the crash site, outside the town of Shakhtarsk. Ukrainian forces and rebels have been battling in that area for several days but the town is still in rebel hands.

Defense officials said that an army convoy was struck by mortars during redeployment.

Ukraine security spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said the attack took place at 6 a.m., before the end of the 24-hour “day of quiet” declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The militants are behaving in a cowardly and shameless fashion,” Seleznev said. “They used the ‘day of quiet’ just to fire on us.”

Another Ukraine defense spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said another 13 soldiers have been reported missing in action after the attack.

Seleznev said the bodies of another four people killed in the incident have not yet been identified.

Ukrainian forces in attempting to regain control of the area are trying to drive a wedge into an area between the largest rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk. Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities.

In Donetsk, meanwhile, one person was killed Friday and three others were wounded when mortar fire struck a minibus carrying passengers near the central train station, said city hall spokesman Maxim Rovensky.

The city government in Luhansk said five residents were killed and nine wounded after artillery shells rained down on them.

Officials in the two cities did not say who they believe was responsible for the shelling.

Leonard reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Associated Press reporter Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Donetsk, Ukraine.


Associated Press.

#Australia says all #MH17 bodies should be retrieved from crash site within days


Russia, Ukraine and separatist leaders agree as 14-vehicle convoy heads for MH17 site after successful advance mission.

Australian Associated Press
Convoy of special monitoring mission, Dutch and Australian experts bolstered by arrival new assets and additional personnel from Kharkiv en route to the crash site. Photograph: OSCEConvoy of special monitoring mission, Dutch and Australian experts bolstered by arrival new assets and additional personnel from Kharkiv en route to the crash site. Photograph: OSCE

The Australian government is increasingly confident it will be only a matter of days before the remaining bodies of MH17 victims and their effects are transported from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and separatist leaders in the Belarusian capital Minsk, and followed the successful mission of an advance team involving Australian and Dutch police.

The Ukrainian deputy prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, wrote on Twitter that within two days militants would allow passage of the bodies through the war-torn Donetsk region.

The advance team has identified a new, safer but longer route for a 14-vehicle convoy, which on Friday afternoon, Sydney time, was on its way to the site, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.

“There will be about 100 [people] in this convoy,” the Australian foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said from Kiev. “We have judged that it is safe for a much larger team to go on to the crash site and really start working in earnest.”

Bishop, who will leave Ukraine on Friday, said refrigerated vans would carry the remains, which would then be transferred to the Netherlands for identification. “My work is done but the mission goes on,” she said.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the advance team, which had been prevented four times from reaching the site due to shelling and gunfire, had itself recovered some remains.

Australian officials believe as many as 80 bodies are still at the site.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down on July 17 by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australians.

Abbott said the Australian federal police and Dutch police mission was risky, given the continued fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the area.

But the government had taken the best expert advice and Australia’s special envoy Angus Houston was “plugged in” to the international team involved in the mission.

Following Clive Palmer’s comments that Australian police should be withdrawn because of the dangers, Mr Abbott said he did not lightly put personnel in harm’s way.

“But let’s not forget 298 innocent people have been murdered, 38 Australians have been murdered,” he said. “We owe it to our dead to bring them back, we owe it to their families to bring them back.”

The advance team paused for a moment’s silence at the crash site, almost two weeks to the hour since the plane went down, after travelling for six hours to get there.

Senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE met in Minsk as news came through of the successful advance mission.

A statement following the meeting said the senior representatives had committed to securing safe access by international investigators to the crash site until their work on the spot was completed.

There was also agreement on the release of hostages, improved monitoring of the ceasefire and better control and verification on the border between Ukraine and Russia.

Another meeting will be held next week.

via Australia says all MH17 bodies should be retrieved from crash site within days | World news | theguardian.com.

Russia has many ways to wreak havoc in Ukraine


by Nataliya Trach.
Serviceman of the 30th mechanized brigade of the 8th Army Corps at the front in Luhansk Oblast on July 8. © Oleksandr Klymenko/Holos Ukrainy (Voice of Ukraine)Serviceman of the 30th mechanized brigade of the 8th Army Corps at the front in Luhansk Oblast on July 8. © Oleksandr Klymenko/Holos Ukrainy (Voice of Ukraine)

While Russian-backed proxies openly wage war in eastern Ukraine, there are many other fields where Russia implicitly persists to destabilize the situation in order to preserve its influence over Ukraine.

Experts say Kremlin agents are embedded in Ukraine’s security services, the police, army, and parliament. An ongoing Russian trade and information war against Ukraine, as well as the constant threat of terrorist attacks, might contribute to more turmoil in the country.

Apart from that, professional incompetence on the part of certain officials in government and law enforcement bodies stand in the way of marshaling effective resistance to Russia’s aggression, according to analysts.

More destabilization from Russia expected

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to maintain Russia’s grasp over the entire post-Soviet territory. And Moscow sees Ukraine’s recent democratic breakthrough following the EuroMaidan Revolution and possible integration with the European Union as a threat to Putin’s hold on power, analysts believe. “All Russian international integration projects like the Russian World or Slavic Unity have no meaning without Ukraine,” says Oleksiy Melnyk, security analyst at the Kyiv-based Razumkov center think tank. “I am afraid that Putin will raise his bets again to keep Ukraine under his control. We can expect even Russia’s direct invasion into Ukraine.”

Mykola Malomuzh, a retired army general and former foreign intelligence chief in 2005-2010, says that according to his information, Russia-backed terrorists plan to shell Russian territory from Ukraine so that Putin could have an excuse to send so-called “peacekeeping troops” into Ukraine. Malomuzh warns that there is a high probability that Russia’s war against Ukraine could spark World War III.

Russian spies, supporters in Ukraine

After former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s hasty retreat at the end of February to Russia, the heads of law enforcement agencies were dismissed, yet the middle management of the Ukrainian Security Service, known by its SBU acronym, and law enforcement structures still hold their positions. Some of them are still working for Russia, Malomuzh believes.

He believes dozens of Russian agents in the SBU work in Kyiv and a few operate in the regions. “A scant 0.001 percent of Russian agents among the 45,000 on the SBU staff are enough to betray the state’s interests,” adds the former foreign intelligence chief.

The large number of police officers in Donbas that quickly started cooperating with the separatists make the whole security situation even worse. “Donetsk and Luhansk police are sabotaging commands from the center,” former Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Viktoriya Siumar said on April 29.

Military expert Dmytro Tymchuk, who heads the Kyiv-based Center for Military and Political Studies, considers local police units to be a weak link in combating Russian-backed guerillas, estimating that 70 percent of the Donetsk police support the rebels. “A Ukrainian police officer gets $300 a month while a Russian police employee receives $1,200. That’s why the traitors (among Ukrainian police) want to become part of Russia,” Tymchuk wrote on his facebook page on April 14.

Lawmakers from Ukraine’s Communist Party, Party of Regions and the For Peace and Stability factions which many say represent the pro-Kremlin lobby in Ukraine’s parliament are not expected to challenge Russian aggression. “Those lawmakers might block the tribune, block the adoption of European integration laws and they will obviously prevent any law that is disadvantageous to the Kremlin (from being adopted),” political analyst Oleksiy Haran says adding that pro-Russian lawmakers spread Moscow’s propaganda in mass media, which promotes separatism. Continue reading

Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush


Associated Press
An armed pro-Russian rebel secures the area next to a refrigerated train loaded with the bodies of victims, in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and had them loaded Sunday onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said.An armed pro-Russian rebel secures the area next to a refrigerated train loaded with the bodies of victims, in Torez, eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Sunday, July 20, 2014. Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and had them loaded Sunday onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city, Ukrainian officials and monitors said. VADIM GHIRDA/AP

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say at least 10 government troops have been killed in an ambush by pro-Russian separatist rebels in an area near the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Defense officials said in a statement Friday that the attack happened during redeployment in the town of Shakhtarsk, which has been the object of sustained battles for several days.

Ukrainian forces have latterly focused their strategy on driving a wedge into an area between the two main rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities and is about 20 kilometers south where the Malaysia Airlines plane came down.

The Boeing 777 was brought down in a missile attack last month, killing all 298 people onboard.

Ukrainian soldiers, including some who are wounded, stand next to a Ukrainian helicopter as another one flies in the background on July 31, 2014 in a field near Zaporizhya, after a military operation in Ukraine's eastern regions. © AFPUkrainian soldiers, including some who are wounded, stand next to a Ukrainian helicopter as another one flies in the background on July 31, 2014 in a field near Zaporizhya, after a military operation in Ukraine’s eastern regions. © AFP

via Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush – Europe – Stripes.

For eastern Ukrainians, a growing doubt: Is Russia manipulating us?


Russia has long been viewed with brotherly affection in eastern Ukraine. But some easterners are becoming disillusioned after seeing facts on the ground contrast with fictions in Russian media.

By Scott Peterson.A building formerly occupied by rebels lies burned as eastern Ukrainian residents of Slaviansk, Ukraine, cope with the aftermath of months of pro-Russian separatist control of their town.A building formerly occupied by rebels lies burned as eastern Ukrainian residents of Slaviansk, Ukraine, cope with the aftermath of months of pro-Russian separatist control of their town. Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images.

Part 2 of 2 of the Monitor’s investigation into post-rebel Slaviansk, Ukraine. For the first part of this story, about who the rebels in Slaviansk actually were, read: Rebels leave a trail of Russian expertise – and Ukrainian ruin.

SLAVIANSK, UKRAINE — Shortly after pro-Russia rebels left this eastern Ukrainian town, Russia’s state-owned Channel One broadcast a heart-wrenching interview with a refugee mother who had fled to Russia with her children.

The woman told a tearful story, claiming that she witnessed Ukrainian soldiers gather residents at the Slaviansk central square, to watch the “crucifixion like Jesus” of a three-year-old boy on a notice board at city hall. Then the boy’s mother, who had fainted, was tied to a tank and paraded around the square.

The studio anchor, shocked, said the “mind refuses to understand how such a thing is possible, these days in the center of Europe.”

Viewers in Slaviansk were just as shocked – because such an event never took place.

It is tales like this that have turned hearts and minds in eastern Ukraine – where the Russian-speaking majority once welcomed a separatist uprising and Moscow’s backing for it – increasingly against Russia. In towns like Slaviansk, rebels have left behind a population disillusioned and angry. They’re still suspicious of the Ukrainian government forces they believed would kill them, but also disappointed by how a once-trusted Russia tried to manipulate their fears.

Stoking fears

Nationwide, recent polls show that more and more Ukrainians consider Russia an “enemy” and not a friend, despite a long and intertwined history. One poll in early June found that 73 percent of Ukrainians viewed Russia as a “threat.” This month, by one count, 58 percent believed Russian “special service” operatives sparked the conflict.

That is an unsurprising reaction in western Ukraine, which traditionally leans more toward Europe and the West – and which holds little love for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Kiev, you can even buy rolls of toilet paper printed with portraits of Mr. Putin.

But such doubt about Russia had never taken hold before in the east. Indeed, in February, before the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency, eastern Ukrainians overwhelmingly – some 92 percent – thought positively of Russians. And that good will extended towards the anti-Kiev rebels.

“People were absolutely supportive at the beginning,” says Denis Bigunov, a member of the Slaviansk City Council, referring to the uprising that began here on April 12.

It was particularly seized on, Mr. Bigunov adds, by some groups in Slaviansk that had tried to “popularize this Putin-Soviet idea, used loudspeakers, and gave bullets.” They argued that eastern Ukraine naturally and historically belonged to Russia, just like the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March.

And Russian television – the staple news source for many eastern Ukrainians – repeatedly stoked fears about Ukrainian killings and atrocities.

“People went mad,” says Bigunov, speaking on a street with crumbling ornate façades from Soviet times. “Everybody was afraid that the Ukrainian Army would come, or right wingers, and would kill all the Russian speakers – they believed Russian TV.”

Marina, a woman from Donetsk who once supported the separatists, recalls reports – true or not, she does not know – of Russian speakers being taken off a train and being forced to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

“These made people angry, which … created this [anti-Ukrainian] frenzy,” she says. Continue reading