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Friday, January 16, 2015

Eastern Ukraine: situation remains extremely tense after terrorist attack of the bus and fierce battles in Donetsk airport

Control Tower of Donetsk airport
(Image: Maidan UA)
Situation on the Eastern front in Donetsk region remains extremely tense and deteriorated significantly after massive attacks of pro-Russian rebels and Russian military occurred during the recent days.

Despite the attempts of Ukrainian soldiers to keep the terms of the Minsk agreement signed between Ukraine and the separatist fighters on 5 September 2013, pro-Russian terrorists and Russian fighters continue to violate these terms systematically, opening fire on the positions of Ukrainian soldiers and attacking civilians in the cities and villages located in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Tuesday, 13 January, turned into one of the bloodiest and tragic days for Ukraine since the beginning of the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, along with Illowaysk tragedy, MH-17 crash and others, as the terrorists supported by Russia hit the civilian bus with the missiles. The bus was carrying passengers travelling from the territory occupied by the rebels to Ukrainian territories, when it was attacked near the civilian checkpoint close to the city of Volnovakha on Tuesday, 13 January. The bus was hit with the Grad missiles, and this terrorist attack has left 12 people dead and 13 people wounded. 10 of the passengers died immediately, while two other people have died later in the hospital.

Ukrainian side accused the terrorists of the attack, while the terrorists denied all the allegations, despite the fact that they claimed successful attack against “Ukrainian military checkpoint” earlier, just as it was with the Malaysian Boeing. The rebels claimed later that the bus was shot with the guns by Ukrainian soldiers, though the initial investigation showed that the missile rockets were fired from the territory controlled by the rebels.

In addition to that OSCE mission members arrived to the site for investigation have confirmed that the bus was hit by the missile rockets. Similar attacks occurred before in many Eastern Ukrainian cities and villages in the region, including the recent case when three women were killed in the yard of their house as a result of the pro-Russian rebels’ bombing.
Destroyed buildings of Donetsk airport
(Image: Google Plus pictures)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has condemned the attack and called it a terrible “Terrorist act”, calling for the world to condemn aggression of the rebels supported by Russia and to support Ukraine in its fight against terrorism. This statement corresponded also to the recent tragic events in Paris, when 17 people became the victims of the terrorist attack, when the world united in their wish to confront terrorism. As an analog to the #JeSuisCharlie massive actions worldwide after the terrorist attacks in Paris Ukrainians have started their own movement #JeSuisVolnovakha, #JeSuisDonbas and #JeSuisUkraine, trying to attract international attention to the Russian terrorism on the territory of Ukraine. Mr. Poroshenko has also supported this action.

Thursday, 15 January, was called a national mourning day in Ukraine to commemorate the victims of the terrible terrorist attack in Eastern Ukrainian Volnovakha.

It’s worth mentioning also that the recent days were marked with the intensified attacks of the pro-Russian rebels and Russian soldiers against the positions of Ukrainian Armed Forces in the zone of an anti-terrorist operation, as only during the latest 24 hours Ukrainian soldiers were attacked at least 129 times, according to the statement of Oleksandr Turchinov, Head of the National Defense and Security Council of Ukraine.

Terrorist attack of the civilian bus in Volnovakha, Donetsk
(Image: Tribune India)
At least two Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and several soldiers were wounded during the latest day of Russian aggression in Ukraine, according to the information of the anti-terrorist operation press-center. The rebels’ attacks have intensified also in the residential areas of the cities, leaving at least two civilians dead during the latest day. As for Thursday, 15 January, the terrorists opened fire on the positions of Ukrainian soldiers at the Donetsk airport and then turned their weapons towards the residential districts of the cities of Donetsk, Pisky, Debaltseve and others, trying to represent everything as if the civilians were targeted by Ukrainian forces.

OSCE monitoring mission and the special contact group tasked with monitoring the situation in the ATO (anti-terrorist operation) zone and fulfillment of the Minsk agreements have documented numerous violations of these agreements and attacks of the pro-Russian rebels. In addition to that Russia continues to send new so called “humanitarian convoys” into Ukrainian territory and continues supplying the terrorists with the new weapons.

Meanwhile Russian forces and pro-Russian rebels continued their attacks of the Donetsk airport which is being held by Ukrainian forces during more than nine months. Fierce battles continued in the airport during the whole day on Thursday, 15 January, as the terrorists intensified their assaults opening numerous rounds of fire from the tanks and heavy weapons and missiles, attacking the positions of Ukrainian soldiers and attempting to take the building of an airport.

The attack started in the morning and continued during the whole day, with the intense fights in the late evening as well. According to the reports the rebels have received the special orders to take the airport today and to control it totally. Oleksandr Zakharchenko, one of the leaders and local warlords, declared on Thursday that the airport will be taken within less than an hour and invited Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for negotiations being held on the territory of the airport, in order to negotiate “the terms” and “to stop the bloodshed”. Some other reports indicated also that the terrorists planned to use their usual tactics during an assault using the human shields. This time this role had to be played by the OSCE observers, as the members of the monitoring mission were expected to arrive on Thursday to the airport for carrying out their mission. The rebels planned to open fire on the mission, accusing Ukrainian soldiers in it and using the OSCE members as a human shield.
Damages of civilian houses in Donetsk
(Image: Kyiv Post)
Despite the fierce attacks of the Russian soldiers and pro-Russian rebels Ukrainian soldiers continued defending the facilities of the airport. The battles reached almost the same intensity as in September and October, according to the soldiers and journalists working on the field.

Pro-Russian and Russian fighters diverted heavy tanks’ and artillery fire on the Ukraine-held parts of the airport. The building of the New Terminal, held by Ukrainian soldiers, was about to collapse, while the fatal damages were made also to the control tower as well. After artillery barrages there has been a massive assault and attack of an infantry carried out in the basement of the terminal building. Several floors of the building were destroyed, and the terrorists have taken some parts of it, but were pushed back later after Ukrainian counterattack.

According to the journalists working in the airport an enemy uses units fully manned by Russian citizens, many of them professional soldiers, well equipped and armed. Though Ukrainian soldiers never got an order to leave the airport premises and continued to defend the positions, despite the heavy attacks of the enemy.

Later in the evening Ukrainian soldiers carried out a counter attack in the New Terminal. New soldiers including paratroopers were deployed, and the soldiers were also supported by the massive artillery fire as well. Many of the previous Ukrainian positions have been retaken, so the building of the New Terminal and the airport of Donetsk remain under Ukrainian control currently.

Thursday attack left two Ukrainian soldiers dead and several wounded. Terrorists in their turn experienced serious casualties, according to the reports, and were forced to retreat from many of their positions.

In addition to that rebels opened fire on the entire front in the airport area. Talking about the Donetsk airport battles many reporters and journalists compare it to the Stalingrad battle which appeared to be one of the scariest ones during the World War II and was a turning point.

Debris of destroyed airplanes at Donetsk International airport
(Image: Al-Jazeera America)
Thus, the situation in the airport remains tense and extremely hard? But Ukrainian soldiers continue to control the airport and to hold their positions, according to the statements of Andriy Lysenko, spokesperson of National Defense and Security Council of Ukraine.

The next day, Friday 16 January, was narked by the new attacks of the Donetsk airport carried out by the rebels and Russian soldiers. Ukrainian soldiers though continue to hold their positions, but one soldier was lost in Friday and several others were injured as well.

According to the latest reports the separatists and pro-Russian terrorists are ready to participate in the next round of the talks to be held in Minsk between Ukraine and the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.

Meanwhile Oleksandr Turchinov, Head of the National Defense and Security Council of Ukraine, stated during his Thursday’s speech that there are at least two possible scenarios for the Eastern Ukraine in the nearest future. The first scenario includes the full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, involving Russian troops openly and officially, what threatens to turn into a massive continental war in Ukraine. Another scenario includes the current tactics of Russia with terrorist attacks and destabilizing the situation in the region, turning it into a long term conflict, preventing Ukraine from the further development.

Though the danger of a full-scale Russian invasion is still very high, according to Mr. Turchinov and many experts, as there are at least 36 000 fighters including nearly 8 000 Russian soldiers of regular army fighting currently in Ukraine and supplied with the latest models of military technique and weapons. In addition to that more than 52 000 Russian troops and weapons are deployed to the areas along the borders with Ukraine, ready for an offensive. Due to the current situation Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has issued a decree about the next three waves of partial mobilization in Ukraine in 2015. The decree was passed to the Parliament and was approved by the MPs on Thursday, 15 January.

Ukrainian forces in the ATO zone
(Image: Reuters)
Meanwhile, European Parliament initiated a meeting of the European Council over Ukrainian issue recommending to strengthen and deepen sanctions against Russia and to support Ukraine with the lethal weapons as well. Thus, European Council has issued its resolution on Ukraine on Thursday, 15 January, in which it emphasizes full support of Ukraine and condemns recent terrorist attack in Volnovakha and demands Russia to stop its aggression and destabilizing situation in Ukraine. EU stated that the sanctions against Russia will be deepened and strengthened and may possibly include Russian nuclear sector and sector of foreign financial operations as well. These sanctions could be lifted only when Russia will leave Eastern Ukraine and gives Crimea back to Ukraine. It was also stated that there are no restrictions for supporting Ukraine with the lethal weapons and assisting it in its fight with the Russian aggression, as this aggression threatens not only Ukraine, but EU as well, posing a danger of terrorism and war. European Council resolution also stated that Russian started an undeclared, the so called hybrid war against Ukraine and it must stop it immediately, fulfilling the terms of the Minsk agreement and participating in the further peace talks, as EU sees the political solution is the only one possible solution for the current crisis.