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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivers a speech as he visits the Khortytsia Island near the Dnieper River to meet with servicemen, who take part in the military conflict in eastern regions of the country, while marking the Day of Ukraine’s Defenders in Zaporizhzhia region, Oct. 14, 2014.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Mikhail Palinchak/Handout via Reuters.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a law granting three-year limited self-rule status to certain territories in the separatist-minded Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
According to a statement posted Thursday on the presidential website, the law was signed to create the “conditions for the prompt normalization of the situation, restoration of legal order, constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens.”
Ukrainian legislation will still be applicable in these territories “with consideration of peculiarities,” the statement said. People’s militias will be created to maintain order on the ground, while local government bodies will govern these territories after local elections scheduled for Dec. 7, the statement added.
After the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych in March, rebels in the east of Ukraine refused to acknowledge Kiev’s pro-Western government and established self-proclaimed republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
In accordance with the law signed Thursday, insurgents who participated in the eastern conflict against Ukrainian army forces will be immune to criminal prosecution.
Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told state-run news agency RIA Novosti on Friday that its government would not recognize the new law, as it was signed by a foreign state.
“Kiev is still under illusion that it governs us, but in reality this is not the case,” he said.
In addition, Zakharchenko said Donetsk’s insurgents, who lost ground following a Ukrainian army offensive in July, were planning to return to the rest of the Donetsk region, which is “currently occupied” by Ukraine.
The funeral of 54 unidentified Ukrainian fighters in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on Oct. 1. Some of them were killed in the late August massacre of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast. © UNIAN
Oksana Grytsenko reporting,
Nearly two months after the Aug. 29 Massacre of Ilovaisk, which many think forced Ukraine to accept a bad peace deal in September, the number of victims is still being counted.
More than 107 soldiers were killed there, Defense Minister Valery Heletey said in an interview last month. But Yaroslav Zhylkin, head of a group that tracks war casualties, said volunteers who recently returned from Donetsk Oblast’s Ilovaisk found more than 150 dead bodies, many of which were not officially accounted for. He thinks they left behind at least as many corpses.
“My feeling is that there is at least the same number remaining there,” he told the Kyiv Post.
Zhylkin, whose team received a permit from Kremlin-backed insurgents to pick up the Ukrainian dead, said searchers found most of the corpses near the town of Starobeshevo, where a column of Ukrainian troops was fired on by the Russian army in violation of agreements that they would be allowed to leave their encirclement.
Ilovaisk, a town of 16,000 people, was liberated on Aug. 19 by Ukrainian fighters of the Donbas, Dnipro, Azov and Shakhtarsk volunteer battalions. The location was considered to be a strategic point for further attack on separatist-controlled Donetsk, but instead it turned into the deadly trap.
While most of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions were formed as special police units, taking a support role to the army, they became the main combat force in Illovaisk and were supported by the 51th and 92nd army brigades.
A numbers of soldiers were killed during unsuccessful attempts to capture the city on Aug. 9, Aug. 13, and Aug. 14. But the deadliest clashes between the Ukrainian troops and the Russian army happened inside of Ilovaisk, which the Ukrainian side was trying to keep and near Starobeshevo, where the Ukrainian column was shelled during retreat.
“That was a real meat grinder,” said Taras Samchuk, 28, a soldier of the 51th brigade, who managed to survive the ambush thanks to the driver of his armored vehicle who drove into the cornfield to hide. The driver saved 15 men that way. Samchuk recalled the panic that caused fleeing Ukrainians to crash into each other’s vehicles.
Samchuk said that hundreds of soldiers were either killed or taken hostage after the unexpected Russian attack. Most survivors had various wounds, including broken legs, teeth, noses and shrapnel in their bodies.
On Aug. 30, some eight kilometers from Starobesheve, the Kyiv Post saw about a dozen emergency vehicles carrying the dead and wounded from the fight. The dirty soldiers had exhausted and empty eyes..
Zhylkin said that Ilovaisk is still desperate and ruined. “The houses are damaged by shells. There are many armored vehicles totally burned down. There are parts of the forest where the trees have no branches left after the massive shelling,” Zhylkin said. “Sometimes we found up to eight bodies lying for weeks after people died. I don’t know whether we will be able to find more of them later because dogs and foxes complicate our work.”
Soon after the scope of the Ilovaisk tragedy became knows, finger-pointing began.
Samchuk said the soldiers of his 51th brigade were accused of abandoning their duty after survivors traveled to their native city of Lutsk in western Ukraine. On Sept. 22, President Petro Poroshenko announced that the 51th brigade will be dissolved, and a new brigade will be formed instead, with new commandment.
On Sept. 4, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal probe over the massive losses in Ilovaisk.
Earlier this month Anatoliy Matios, the chief military prosecutor, blamed the volunteer Prykarpattia Battalion of deliberately leaving their service and said this move “was the prime cause of domino effect in Ilovaisk zone.”
But lawmaker Andriy Senchenko, who heads a special parliament commission for investigating the Ilovaisk tragedy, said that the main responsibility lies with the country’s top commanders.
“It was a series of wrong actions or lack of actions, when they were needed,” Senchenko told the Kyiv Post by phone. “This is lack of coordination, lack of proper planning, ignoring intelligence.”
Senchenko said that up to 1,000 soldiers were killed in August around Ilovaisk or died later of wounds. His count includes earlier fights in August, when the Russian forces pushed the Ukrainian troops to the border, as well as other fights.
Many of bodies that had been collected in that area have not been identified, and were buried in anonymous mass graves in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipripetrovsk and Kharkiv Oblasts, said Zhylkin, the man who recovers bodies.
On Oct. 14 Poroshenko dismissed Heletey as defense minister. Senchenko said this dismissal was provoked by Ilovaisk events, but said that it’s not enough of a punishment. Those guilty should bear criminal responsibility for soldiers’ deaths, he said.
“We didn’t get the resignation of the chief of general staff (Viktor Muzhenko), but his responsibility for what happened and for the deaths is more than Heletey’s,” he said.
(Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kyiv Post+ offers special coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution).
Two pro-Russian separatist soldiers carry the remains of an Uragan missile in front of a burning house, after it was fired on a north western district in Donetsk on Oct. 5, 2014. © AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL
Julia Kukoba reporting,
Russia says it will withdraw 17,600 troops from its border with Ukraine in the Rostov region, where they had been temporarily based “for military exercises,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov late on Oct. 11.
Putin had a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu after a session with the permanent members of Defense Council of Russian Federation. “As a result of the report, Putin instructed to proceed with the return of troops to their standing stations,” Peskov said.
Putin claimed that the planned removal of Russian troops was due to completion a one-year training at a southern region that borders east Ukraine, where Russian-backed insurgents have been battling government troops since April. Russia has been accused of actually supplying both troops in weapons to support the insurgents in Eastern Ukraine – the claims it has denied.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to meet with Russian counterpart in Asia-Europe summit in Milan on Oct. 16-17. Presumable topics are a peace plan for eastern Ukraine and an ongoing natural gas.
Russian opposition politician Borys Nemtsov already called Putin’s decision “the end of Novorossiya project,” referring to the idea of creating a pro-Russian state in southeastern Ukraine.
“(Putin) wanted Novorossiya from Donetsk to Odessa, and, instead, got lesser parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. He wanted a surface pathway to Crimea through Mariupol. He insteads got Russian people building trenches in Mariupol not to let in the invader,” Nemstsov says. “He wanted it done like in Crimea – without a single shot – and he got 4,000 casualties on both sides.”
It remains to be seen, however, just how willing Russia will be on living up to its commitments. Announcement about withdrawing Russian troops from Ukrainian border hit the news in March and May, but it both cases it wasn’t supported by factual evidence.
Both Pentagon and NATO offered their own evidence showing that several thousand combat troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles remained in eastern Ukraine to support the pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian army.
(Kyiv Post staff writer Julia Kukoba can be reached at email@example.com).
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) visiting the Ukrainian defence line near the town of Kurahovo, Donetsk Oblast on Oct. 10. © AFP
Pavel Polityuk reporting,
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday he expected planned talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin next week in Italy to be difficult but said Moscow had a crucial role to play in bringing peace to his country.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Moscow of backing a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine by providing troops and arms. Russia denies the charges but says it has a right to defend the interests of the region’s Russian-speaking majority.
The Kremlin has said Putin and Poroshenko may hold talks on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Milan on Oct. 16-17.
“I don’t expect the talks will be easy. I’m used to this, I have a lot of experience of conducting very difficult diplomatic talks. But I’m an optimist,” Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Poroshenko as telling reporters.
Poroshenko said some European leaders might also join his talks with Putin. Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov has said a “Normandy-style meeting” could not be ruled out – a reference to talks in France in June involving Putin, Poroshenko and the leaders of Germany and France.
“The key and main question is peace. Russia’s role in the issue of providing peace, as you understand, is difficult to overestimate,” Poroshenko said. “And today we raise the issue of moving from declarations to concrete steps.”
Putin and Poroshenko are known so far to have met twice since the Ukrainian leader’s election in May, firstly in Normandy and then in the Belarussian capital Minsk in August when they agreed on the need for a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
GAS DEAL EYED
A ceasefire began on Sept. 5 and has broadly held despite frequent violations, especially around the airport of Donetsk, the biggest city of eastern Ukraine.
The European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, where Moscow has also annexed the Crimea peninsula. In retaliation, Russia has banned most Western food imports.
The United Nations said on Wednesday the death toll from the conflict in eastern Ukraine now stood at more than 3,660 people.
Poroshenko also said on Saturday he hoped to make “significant progress” in Milan on resolving Ukraine’s long-running gas pricing dispute with Russia.
Russia shut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in June over what it said were more than $5 billion in unpaid bills and Ukraine faces a possibility of energy shortages this winter if no deal is reached, risking a replay of the disruptions to Europe’s gas supplies seen in 2006 and 2009.
“We believe that Ukraine’s proposals are absolutely clear, concrete and justified. We are sure that we are significantly closer to solving this issue,” he told reporters.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to discuss the situation in Ukraine at a meeting in Paris on Oct. 14.
Poroshenko, whose country holds parliamentary elections later this month, has faced some domestic criticism over elements of a peace plan agreed with Russia, especially his offer of autonomy to rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine.
Interfax reported late on Friday that Poroshenko had sacked one of those critics, Serhiy Taruta, a billionaire businessman, as governor of the Donetsk region. Poroshenko has appointed in Taruta’s place as governor Oleksander Kikhtenko, a former head of interior ministry forces, Interfax said.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Donetsk; Writing by Alexander Winning in Moscow; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones).
Sausage and meat products, produced in Russia, are on display during the World Food Moscow 2014. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters
Kiev’s municipal council has ordered stores in the capital to label Russian-imported goods with additional markings to warn consumers they could be supporting the “aggressor” by buying the products, media reports said.
According to the ruling approved by the city’s legislature, Russian made-goods will also have to be displayed on separate shelves to Ukrainian goods, the UNIAN news agency reported Thursday.
The purpose of the move, which comes after similar steps were taken by local administrations in Lviv, Ivano Frankivsk and Cherkasy, is “so that people don’t support the aggressor,” Kiev lawmaker Ruslan Andriyko was quoted as saying by RBC-Ukraine.
“Every kopek paid for a product that was manufactured in Russia is also a kopek that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin uses for weapons, which will be aimed against our boys, against us, against our state in eastern Ukraine,” UNIAN quoted Andriyko as saying.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of aiding separatists in the east of Ukraine, where fighting has raged for several months between pro-Russian rebels and the pro-Western government’s forces, though Moscow has denied the charges.