Tag Archives: Ukraine crisis

An #American #Donbas #Battalion member dies in fierce fighting near #Donetsk


By Mark Rachkevych.An American-Ukrainian known only as An American-Ukrainian known only as “Franko” died on Aug. 19 while fighting with the Donbas Battalion in an attempt to free the city of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast from Russian mercenaries and Kremlin-backed guerrillas. © Maks Levin

An American has reportedly become the first foreign casualty on the Ukrainian side of the military conflict against Russian mercenaries and Kremlin-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. 

Identified only under his nom de guerre of “Franko“, he reportedly died from heavy artillery fire while trying to free the town of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast on Aug. 19 while serving in the volunteer Donbas Battalion, Liviy Bereg photographer Maks Levin stated on Facebook, citing another photographer, Maks Dondiuk, who has embedded himself in various Ukrainian service units.

According to the photographer, the Donbas Battalion, had come under heavy fire by various barrages of GRAD, Fagot and other types of artillery, in addition to tank and sniper fire.

“There is no way for them to get out of Ilovask,” wrote Levin. He added that two other volunteer battalions, Azov and Dnipro, managed to leave the area earlier in the day.

News reports on Aug. 19 earlier stated that one Donbass Battalion member died and four were wounded in heavy fighting to free the Donetsk Oblast city. Battalion leader Semyon Semenchenko was one of the four wounded.

In a Vice News report in which he featured prominently, Franko said he was a private in a six-man squad within the battalion, while claiming to have “professional military experience.” His code name apparently was inspired by the famed Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko. In the video, he speaks with what sounds like an east coast American accent and appears to be aged in his 60s. He emphasized in the interview that he had taken on Ukrainian citizenship before joining the fight in the east. According to photographer Levin, Franko owned property in Ukraine and may have lived in the country.

Max Dondiuk told Vice News that he assumed Ukrainian citizenship before joining the Donbas Battalion to fight against the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. (Maks Levin)Max Dondiuk told Vice News that he assumed Ukrainian citizenship before joining the Donbas Battalion to fight against the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. (Maks Levin)

He was a “cheerful diaspora (member)…who beautifully cursed in Ukrainian,” remarked Levin. He added that Franko wished to “enter Donetsk (as a liberator) and to return to Kyiv, sell his apartment in Lviv and settle somewhere in the calm Carpathian Mountains.”

The Donbas Battalion was formed early in June. At least 80 percent of its members are from eastern Ukraine. According to the Interior Ministry to which the irregular volunteer battalions are subordinated, 25 battalions are currently engaged in the war zone in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

(Kyiv Post editor Mark Rachkevych can be reached at rachkevych@kyivpost.com).


Kyiv Post.

#Poroshenko confirms #Russia sent 1,200 fighters, #military hardware to insurgents in #Ukraine


By Christopher J. Miller.taken and released by Presidential press-service on August 18, 2014 shows Ukrainian Presient Petro Poroshenko (2L) speaking during a cabinet meeting in Kiev. Ukraine accused on August 18, 2014 pro-Russian rebels of shelling a convoy of civilians fleeing the war-torn east, leaving Photo taken and released by Presidential press-service on August 18, 2014 shows Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (2nd left) speaking during a cabinet meeting in Kiev. Ukraine accused on August 18, 2014 pro-Russian rebels of shelling a convoy of civilians fleeing the war-torn east, leaving “many” dead, as crisis talks to halt months of bloodshed failed to make a breakthrough. AFP PHOTO/ PRESIDENTIAL PRESS-SERVICE/ MYKHAYLO MARKIV © AFP

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, after a meeting with heads of security forces, said that the government has confirmed that Russia recently sent to Ukraine military reinforcements for the insurgents, including 1,200 trained militants and additional armoured vehicles.

“Today, we must consider a new content of military operation under new conditions,” Poroshenko said. “Part of these vehicles have been destroyed. Now, measures are being taken to destroy the rest of them. Today, we must regroup our forces. It will ensure the protection of our territory and the continuation of offensive actions of our army.”

Poroshenko’s announcement confirms a boast made on Aug. 15 by the new rebel leader in Donetsk, who said a column of military hardware and reinforcements were on their way to eastern Ukraine from Russia.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the newly appointed prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said during a meeting with separatist leaders that a column of military vehicles with weapons and personnel was advancing toward the Ukrainian frontier from Russia.

“I’d like to give you some good news,” Zakharchenko told his comrades in an address on Aug. 15 that was published on YouTube. “At present, moving towards the corridor [from Russia to Ukraine that is controlled by the rebels] are… 150 items of military hardware, 30 of which are tanks and the rest are infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.”

Joining the military column are 1,200 personnel who had received four months’ training in Russia, he added.

However, speaking to journalists in Donetsk on Aug. 18, Zakharchenko backpedaled, denying any fighters or weapons were en route to eastern Ukraine.

Kyiv Post editor Christopher J. Miller can be reached at miller@kyivpost.com and on Twitter at @ChristopherJM.


Note: This article has been produced with support from http://www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.


Kyiv Post.

#Klimkin: #Russia still wants to make #war, not peace in #Ukraine


French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Ukraine's Foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a meeting on the situation in Ukraine on August 17, 2014 at Villa Borsig in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday he hoped a French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Ukraine’s Foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a meeting on the situation in Ukraine on August 17, 2014 at Villa Borsig in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday he hoped a “roadmap” for a sustainable ceasefire in Ukraine will emerge from talks in Berlin with his counterparts from Moscow, Kiev and Paris. AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ © AFP

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin acknowledged on Aug. 18 that Russia is not meeting conditions needed for an internationally monitored peace and ceasefire in Ukraine’s east. Kremlin-backed insurgents have waged war on the nation since mid-April, particularly in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where violence has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

“The Russian side today is not ready to take all the commitments…” Klimkin said, including controlling the Russian-Ukraine border to stop the flow of mercenaries and military equipment to the Kremlin-backed insurgents in Ukraine. Klimkin said Russia is also not willing to “recognize the facts” that Ukrainian forces are being shelled and fired upon from Russia in border areas.

Without such commitments, Klimkin said, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cannot work.

Klimkin’s press conference comes a day after he met in Berlin with three other foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, Germany’s Frank Walter-Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius.

Klimkin also said that Western allies have not agreed on a military assistance package for Ukraine, but said they have not refused to offer one either.

He also confirmed the Aug. 23 visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Kyiv, a day before Ukraine celebrates its national independence.


Kyiv Post.

Ukrainian troops inch closer to rebel city Donetsk


Ukrainian soldiers load a Grad missile during fighting with pro-Russian separatists close to Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Dozens of civilians were killed Monday when separatist rebels shelled a convoy of refugees trying to flee war-torn eastern Ukraine, a top Ukrainian official said. A top rebel chief said no such attack had occurred. (AP Photo/Petro Zadorozhnyy)Ukrainian soldiers load a Grad missile during fighting with pro-Russian separatists close to Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Dozens of civilians were killed Monday when separatist rebels shelled a convoy of refugees trying to flee war-torn eastern Ukraine, a top Ukrainian official said. A top rebel chief said no such attack had occurred. (AP Photo/Petro Zadorozhnyy)

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk on Tuesday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said.

As the fighting raged, the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko on Aug. 26 in Minsk, Belarus. The two leaders have not met since early June, despite a rapidly climbing death toll in east Ukraine.

One soldier was killed and four wounded Tuesday when a volunteer battalion came under mortar fire before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of Donetsk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook.

Among the wounded was the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon Semenchenko, who said government soldiers had destroyed three rebel checkpoints and four firing positions and that fighting continued.

A Russian military truck carries a MSTA-S self-propelled howitzer about 10 kilometers from the Russia-Ukrainian border control point at town Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk on Tuesday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)A Russian military truck carries a MSTA-S self-propelled howitzer about 10 kilometers from the Russia-Ukrainian border control point at town Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Ukrainian government troops were fighting pro-Russian rebels in the streets of Luhansk on Tuesday and captured most of a town near the eastern city of Donetsk, tightening the noose around that key rebel-held stronghold, Ukrainian officials said. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Government efforts to quell the pro-Russian separatists have focused on encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. Fighting began in mid-April after Russia annexed the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea but in the last few weeks, the government has recaptured significant amounts of rebel territory.

Ukrainian troops were also advancing in the separatist region of Luhansk, capturing one neighborhood in the city of Luhansk as they battled the rebels Tuesday on city streets, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations — a number that has grown in recent weeks as living conditions in rebel-held cities deteriorates rapidly.

With the rebels losing more and more ground, the Kremlin announced the meeting in Minsk, which would also include officials from the European Commission and the Eurasian Customs Union, which is comprised of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

Local citizens line up to collect water on a street in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. The Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian rebels have traded accusations on numerous occasions before, and it was not possible to immediately reconcile the differing statements, since the war zone is very dangerous for journalists and a lack of power there limits independent reports from civilians. (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)Local citizens line up to collect water on a street in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. The Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian rebels have traded accusations on numerous occasions before, and it was not possible to immediately reconcile the differing statements, since the war zone is very dangerous for journalists and a lack of power there limits independent reports from civilians. (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

Poroshenko, who confirmed the meeting, said “stabilizing the situation” in eastern Ukraine would be a key topic of discussion. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader wanted to talk about the deteriorating humanitarian situation there.

Valery Chaly, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said in a televised briefing that the government is seeing a “clear diplomatic roadmap” ahead of them and expressed hope that they will be able to come up with new approaches to end the war.

Living standards appear to be particularly dire in Luhansk, near the Russian border, which has been left without electricity, running water or phone connections for 17 days.

Luhansk city hall said the city center came under fierce shelling overnight, which killed and wounded an unspecified number of civilians. Residents are standing in lines to buy bread as food supplies are running out, it said. Authorities also raised the alarm about a potential outbreak of infectious diseases since household garbage has not been taken away for more than two weeks.

Boys play at a refugee camp set up by the Russian Emergencies Ministry for people displaced by fighting in Ukraine, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Russia-Ukrainian border, near Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Fighting across eastern Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures released Friday. The U.N. says about 155,800 have left for other places inside Ukraine while 188,000 more have crossed into Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)Boys play at a refugee camp set up by the Russian Emergencies Ministry for people displaced by fighting in Ukraine, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Russia-Ukrainian border, near Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Fighting across eastern Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures released Friday. The U.N. says about 155,800 have left for other places inside Ukraine while 188,000 more have crossed into Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

In Donetsk, artillery fire was heard across town, the city hall said in a statement. But the city’s suburbs seem to be the most hard-hit.

A resident of Olenivka, a village south of Donetsk, told the Associated Press by telephone that Ukrainian government troops were firing artillery from fields near her house.

Tatyana, who asked for her surname not to be printed for fear of reprisal from Ukrainian troops, said that houses in her village had been hit by return fire in previous days. Loud blasts could be heard in the background as she spoke.

The shelling appeared to be aimed at Donetsk’s Petrovsky district, which has come under sustained rocket attack over the past week, she said.

Several residents in the Petrovsky district have told the Associated Press that rebels have positioned and fired Grad multiple missile launchers in their neighborhood, which appears to have drawn the incoming fire.

The eyewitness accounts appear to fly in the face of claims by the Kiev government that the armed forces have refrained from aiming rockets at residential areas.

Ukrainian people kiss the new bell and pray near it, before it is lifted into place, set in the main bell tower of the golden domed Orthodox Monastery of Caves in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The bell weighs 7,150 kilograms and is decorated with a unique decor, made in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)Ukrainian people kiss the new bell and pray near it, before it is lifted into place, set in the main bell tower of the golden domed Orthodox Monastery of Caves in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The bell weighs 7,150 kilograms and is decorated with a unique decor, made in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The government, meanwhile, has accused the rebels of killing dozens of civilians in a shelling attack Monday on a convoy of refugees fleeing Luhansk. The rebels denied that any attack took place, while the U.S. confirmed the shelling of the convoy but said it did not know who was responsible.

There have been no eyewitness accounts of what happened and the war-torn area is largely off limits for journalists, making independent verification impossible.

The Ukrainian defense ministry released a video Tuesday that reportedly showed people who survived that attack at the nearby village of Novosvitlovka. The video showed a young man lying on a hospital bed sobbing. A woman who was not pictured said the man’s mother was killed in the attack. The video could not be independently verified.

Journalists still have not seen any video or photos of the scene of Monday’s shelling attack on the road from Luhansk to Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Kiev for the first time since the crisis erupted Saturday to meet with top officials.

Ukraine and the West have voiced concerns about Russia’s military activity near the Ukrainian border. Moscow has said it can do what it wants on its territory but invited a mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to observe two border crossings in a bid to counter claims that Russia is supplying the rebels with weapons.

Paul Picard, head of that OSCE mission, told reporters in a Russian border town on Tuesday that observers had seen a marked increase of military activity around the border points over the past week, including Russian helicopter activity. But he said no helicopters were observed crossing the border.

Picard also said the observers had seen “groups of young men and women wearing military-style dress” moving back and forth across the border. No weapons or military vehicles were observed.

FILE - In this July 23, 2014 file photo, a man walks past a piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in a garden in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. The remains of at least 15 Malaysians killed when the jetliner with 298 people on board was shot down over Ukraine on July 17 will be returned to their home country this week, the first Malaysian victims of the disaster to be flown home, the country's defense minister said Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)FILE – In this July 23, 2014 file photo, a man walks past a piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in a garden in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. The remains of at least 15 Malaysians killed when the jetliner with 298 people on board was shot down over Ukraine on July 17 will be returned to their home country this week, the first Malaysian victims of the disaster to be flown home, the country’s defense minister said Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

Tensions have been high over the past week since Russia said it plans to send a massive aid convoy of over 200 trucks to help people in eastern Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is expected to take responsibility for the convoy when it enters eastern Ukraine, was still waiting for security guarantees from all sides Tuesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ICRC President Peter Maurer agreed to take steps “in the next several hours” to clear the way for the convoy to proceed to Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry said both Moscow and the rebels have provided security guarantees for the convoy, but not Kiev. Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Evhen Perebiynis, said Tuesday that Kiev cannot guarantee the safety of the convoy on rebel territory, since it does not control that area.

Russia chose to drive the convoy close to a rebel-held border post against Ukraine’s wishes.

Also on Tuesday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the first remains of Malaysians who were killed when a jetliner was shot down over Ukraine will be flown home this week.

All 298 people on board died when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17 over an area controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

(Laura Mills in Moscow, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev, Ukraine, and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report).


Associated Press.

As Its Forces Advance, Ukraine Says Poroshenko Will Meet With Putin


Ukrainians approach the border crossing at Donetsk on Tuesday. Credit Alexander Demianchuk/ReutersUkrainians approach the border crossing at Donetsk on Tuesday.CreditAlexander Demianchuk/Reuters

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces pushed deeper into territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels on Aug. 19, fighting street battles in the besieged city of Luhansk and pressuring the outer defenses of Donetsk in a further blow to the separatists’ crumbling virtual state.

While continuing its offensive, the Ukrainian government said it saw a real chance for a peaceful settlement after an announcement that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would meet next Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro O. Poroshenko and European Union leaders in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“I come with positive news. I think we have a chance to switch to a real roadmap toward a peaceful process,” Valery Chaly, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said at a news conference in Kiev.

Previous efforts toward a settlement, which included a meeting of foreign ministers last week in Berlin, have all failed, and even an agreement on when and how a Russian aid convoy could enter Ukraine has proved elusive. The convoy of more than 260 trucks remained stuck on the Russian side of the border, a week after it left Moscow. Ukrainian officials expressed bewilderment over why many of the Russian trucks appeared to be mostly empty if their only purpose was to deliver humanitarian aid.

Despite the repeated diplomatic setbacks, Mr. Chaly said the two countries’ presidents stood a better chance of a breakthrough that could bring an end to the war in eastern Ukraine. Talks have foundered on Russia’s refusal to halt or even acknowledge what Ukraine and its Western supporters say is a steady flow of fighters and military hardware into Ukraine from Russia.

“We all realize that these issues can only be solved at the highest level, at the level of president, especially in the case of Russia,” Mr. Chaly said.

On the ground, fighting raged unabated, with Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, asserting that Ukrainian forces had entered the town of Ilovaysk, about 11 miles east of Donetsk, the rebels’ biggest remaining stronghold in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials also reported fierce street battles in Luhansk, and said 15 bodies had been recovered from a refugee convoy that fled that city on Monday and was then, according to Ukraine, attacked by rebels fighting to regain control of a strategic highway leading south to the Russian border. The rebels denied hitting a caravan of refugees.

The Defense Ministry in Kiev released a video of what it said were survivors of the attack describing how the convoy of vehicles had suddenly come under fire, despite flying white flags. But no photographs or video footage have emerged of the assault.

In Donetsk, which along with Luhansk forms the core of the separatists′ fast-shrinking domain, the rebels struggled to keep control of outlying districts.

Emblematic of the tightening squeeze on the city, an artillery duel broke out Tuesday to the northeast, in Makiivka, as representatives of a rebel Parliament were trying to deliver food to an orphanage for disabled preschool children, called the Special Child Center.

In the blighted industrial area, strewn with the pipes and smokestacks of an aging coking plant, rebels took up position near the orphanage and fired mortars, oblivious to the aid delivery mission. The Ukrainians then fired back.

None of the children were hurt, but in the ensuing shelling at least three people died and the neighborhood was whipped into a panic.

In the chaotic scene, women ran through the leafy courtyard clutching the hands of the children, residents emerged from apartments lugging hastily packed bags, and gunshots and explosions echoed among the apartment buildings. On a street called Fifty Years of The Soviet Union, a dead woman lay on the sidewalk.

“They just bombarded us,” said Stanislav Nosov, a teenager crouching in the stairway to a basement. “If they are shooting here, the battle for Donetsk has begun.”

But whether Ukraine’s final push into the city was really underway was unclear.

A rebel soldier said the Ukrainian Army had not crossed a bridge over a canal that would indicate a ground assault on Donetsk, and that the din of explosions was in fact just a continuation of what in recent weeks has been a regular barrage into the city from Ukrainian positions outside.

The wounded were loaded into cars and ambulances and driven toward the center of town; after a time, the courtyard quieted and the yelling stopped.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has left at least 2,086 dead and more than 5,000 wounded, according to the United Nations. Each side blames the other for the mounting toll.

The fighting around Donetsk and inside Luhansk provided a grim counterpoint to unusually upbeat statements in Kiev about the possibility of a settlement.

“We have a busy and very exciting week ahead,” Mr. Chaly, the presidential administration official said. “We are moving from telephone communication to direct diplomacy.”

Lifted by battlefield gains in recent weeks, the mood in Kiev was lifted further on Tuesday by news that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had accepted an invitation from Mr. Poroshenko to travel to Kiev this weekend, and that the European Union was considering a new round of economic assistance. Ms. Merkel’s visit to Kiev will be her first since a popular uprising toppled the previous president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, in February and set off a revolt by pro-Russian separatists.

“We see this visit as a demonstration of solidarity at a very important time and a very important place,” Mr. Chaly said.

(Andrew Higgins reported from Kiev and Andrew E. Kramer from Donetsk, Ukraine. Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin).


The New York Times.