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A day of humiliation as Ukrainian military offensive stalls, six armored vehicles seized (LIVE UPDATES)

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April 16, 2014, 10:17 p.m. | Ukraine — by Kyiv Post

Armed men wearing military fatigues gather around Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) as they stand guard outside the regional state building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

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Editor's Note: On April 15, Ukraine's military began an anti-terrorist operation against Kremlin-backed insurgents who have taken over numerous government buildings and police headquarters in several cities of Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine's most populous region where 10 percent of the nation's 45 million people live. The Kyiv Post has journalists in Donetsk Oblast and will be updating as events happen.

Danish journalist says Ukrainian soldiers, south of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Oblast, reassure residents they will not attack them

10:13 p.m. -- Danish freelance journalist Johannes Wamberg Andersen said that, south of Kramatorsk, he witnessed a Ukrainian military unit of 16 armored vehicles tell local residents that they will not take any actions against them. Most of the vehicles in the convoy are armored personnel carriers and an unspecified numbers of tanks. Local villagers said that the Ukrainian soldiers thought they were sent to conduct an anti-terrorist operation, not to shoot local residents. -- Mark Rachkevych

OSCE Freedom of Media Representative: Journalists face violence, intimidation and psychological warfare in conflict areas in Ukraine

6:43 p.m. -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Freedom of Media Representative said in a statement released on April 16 that "Journalists [in Ukraine] are under attack, both physically and as part of the ongoing psychological warfare. Journalists in conflict areas face violence, seizure and destruction of equipment, and threats on a daily basis.”

Returning from a three-day trip to the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Odessa, Dunja Mijatovic noted that "Media freedom is a reflection of the overall security situation. From my perspective the situation is alarming, with risk of further deterioration unless it is immediately improved. Violence against journalists must stop now and the rule of law needs to be restored throughout the country."

Mijatovic added that "Journalists in Crimea face additional problems with media re-registration, possible eviction from the region if they are not considered loyal and do not change citizenship, vicious labeling, threats and denial of access to public information.” 

Since Russian-backed separatist movements began popping up in eastern Ukraine on April 6, journalists from Vice News, the BBC, Gorlovka, Hromadske TV, Lenta.ru, have been attacked. 

Gorlovka.ua's and newspaper Kriminal Ekspress' offices were vandalized, and cars owned by Alexei Matsuka of Novosti Donbassa and Odessa First City Channel were set aflame. -- Isaac Web

Defense Ministry confirms pro-Russian separatists have captured Ukrainian armored vehicles

4:28 p.m. -- The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has confirmed that "Russian saboteurs" have captured six Ukrainian armed vehicles in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk.

The ministry says that local residents of Kramatorsk blocked the armored vehicles on the morning of April 16. "As a result of the blocking, extremists seized the vehicles and the column [of armored vehicles] headed towards Sloviansk," said the Defense Ministry's statement.

The vehicles are currently in Sloviansk. The ministry says that the men controlling them are "not related to the Armed Forces of Ukraine."

Whether Ukrainian troops initially driving the armored vehicles switched sides and joined the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear. -- Isaac Webb

Rasmussen: NATO will increase its military presence on eastern border 

2:52 p.m. -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on April 16 that NATO will bolster its military presence along its eastern border in response to the destabilization of Russian-backed separatist movements in eastern Ukraine.

Rasmussen said in a statement that NATO would begin strengthening its eastern border immediately with "more planes in the air, more ships in the water, more readiness on the land."

He said that "air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, as required. Military staff from Allied nations will deploy to enhance our preparedness, training and exercises. Our defence plans will be reviewed and reinforced." 

Further, Rasmussen said that NATO would enhance air patrols along its eastern border in Poland, Romania, and in the Baltic States.

"We will start to implement these measures straight away. More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come. Our decisions today are about defence, deterrence and de-escalation. They are entirely in line with our international commitments, said Rasmussen."

Thus far, NATO has said that it will not send troops to eastern Ukraine to help the Ukrainian military counter Russian-backed separatist movements. -- Isaac Webb

Razumkov Center: Government not showing proper level of professionalism in dealing with Russian-backed saboteurs

2 p.m. – After Kremlin-backed insurgents ignored an amnesty was to give up their arms in eastern Ukraine, an anti-terrorist operation has started there.

“We’ve more than once heard the names and surnames and the locations of where the (Russian-backed) diversionary radical groups are,” said Mykola Sunhurovsky, director of military programs at the Razumkov Center. “Well, if they are known then take measures. Why are you (government) letting them conduct subversive activity and rile up crowds? The situation is very complicated, it requires a high level of professionalism on the part of government, which we haven’t observed yet.” – Mark Rachkevych


As Ukraine's anti-terrorist operation against pro-Russian insurgents in Donetsk Oblast enters its second day, reports of Ukrainian troops switching sides have emerged from the city of Kramatorsk. (AFP)

Unidentified persons block train route between Kramatorsk and Druzhkivka 

Donetsk Railways has announced that unidentified persons have illegally blocked train tracks between Kramatorsk and Druzhivka, forcing passenger and suburban trains to take an alternate route, according to Interfax Ukraine.

Donetsk Railways' press service said that 13 passenger trains and 14 suburban trains travel the route between Kramatorsk and Druzhivka every day. 

The regular service between Kramatorsk and Druzhivka has since been restored -- Isaac Webb

Yatseniuk: Russia now exporting terrorism 

12:48 p.m. – Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said at a briefing today that in addition to oil and gas, “Russia has now begun exporting terrorism,” in reference to a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine that is backed by the Kremlin with suspected Russian soldiers on the ground.

Russia has denied any involvement in the unrest and civil strife in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

“Only one country in the world – Russia – doesn't see the Russian diversion groups carrying out terrorist acts in our country,” said Yatseniuk. – Mark Rachkevych

Armed pro-Russian men seize Donetsk City Council building

12:24 p.m. – In addition to the Donetsk Oblast Administration and regional police headquarters, the Donetsk City Council is now under the control of Kremlin-backed insurgents, reports Novosti Donbass, a local media outlet. The building was taken over immediately after observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe finished a meeting with local authorities there. Initially five armed men entered the building, followed by more soon thereafter.

Members of the pro-Russian organization Oplot told local reporters outside the building that they want to hold a referendum to secede from Ukraine.

They are letting people evacuate the building. – Mark Rachkevych

Defense Ministry promises plans to "respond toughly" to abduction of Ukrainian soldiers

The Ukrainian Defense ministry is promising a tough response to separatists who abducted two Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, reports Interfax Ukraine.

The soldiers, an officer and a contract solder, were kidnapped while stopping on the side of the road in the city of Krasny Luch in Luhansk Oblast. 

The Defense Ministry's press service released a statement saying that the "leadership of the national defense agency is planning to respond toughly to such actions against servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who swore allegiance to the Ukrainian people and are faithfully performing their designated tasks."

"These activities are carried out in close cooperation with the respective structural units of other law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, which are involved in carrying out anti-terrorist operations," said the ministry's statement. -- Isaac Webb

SBU releases more Russian military chatter in Slovyansk (video with English translation)

11:44 a.m. – Ukraine’s Security Service released another video showing high-level chatter between Russian military intelligence subversion members in Slovyansk (Donetsk Oblast) that took place on April 14.

Lasting more than a minute, it is split into two parts.

The first part is between the Russian commander in Slovyansk, code-named, “Strelok” (shooter) and another diversion group member code-named “Prapor” (flag). They discuss blocking Ukrainian military and police units in the area.

The other part is a discussion between a Russian military intelligence subversion group member and the wife of the self-proclaimed governor of Donetsk Oblast. She asks Strelok to send over a group to take over the Donetsk regional police headquarters.

 “Strelok,” commander of Russian military intelligence diversion group in Slovyansk:

“Yes, I’m listening.”

“Prapor,” member of Russian military intelligence diversion group:

“I report as follows: This is a part of those who came from Crimea. They don’t want to surrender. Right now they are trying to persuade them, a man came from Volodarsk (town in Luhansk Oblast) who is former military. But they will not surrender, they don’t want to. I don’t know how he’ll convince them (to surrender).”

Strelok: “Do they have many weapons?

Prapor: Only what they have – 25.

Strelok: Well then make them get on the ground under the threat of…Has Romashka arrived? No?

Prapor: No, when will he arrive?

Strelok: Wait for Romashka. After that block them and under lethal fire, (cursing), there’s no sense to ceremoniously (waste time with them).

Prapor: I blocked the road. Here I have one, two, three…I have five shooters with automatic weapons, but I don’t know these people. They are with Slavik.

Strelok: Right now Romashka will drive over to you. Surround the whole place and block it. And don’t beat around the bush – destroy everything! We are not in Crimea, damn it. Explain to them that we are not in Crimea.

Prapor: Understood.

Strelok: Now call you know

Second part – conversation between Russian military intelligence diversion group member in Slovyansk and Ekaterina Gubareva (the wife of the self-proclaimed governor of Donetsk Oblast Pavel Gubarev):

Ekaterina Gubareva: Pash (Pavel), tell Igor (“Strelok”) that while there’s no fighting happening there or if he’s not busy, give orders to take over the Donetsk Oblast Interior Ministry (Donetsk regional police headquarters) and transfer control over it to us.

Pavel (Agat): You mean to take it over?

Ekaterina Gubareva: Yes.

Pavel: Katiusha (Ekaterina), the guys who take over police stations have for the past 15 years only been fighting in wars. That’s a reality. – Mark Rachkevych

Defense Ministry denies that Ukrainian troops switch sides in Kramatorsk, travel 

11:36 a.m. -- The Kyiv Post's journalists on the ground are reporting that Ukrainian troops, surrounded by civilians and pro-Russian insurgents in Kramatorsk, began flying a Russian flag after speaking with the self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk.

After defecting, the troops traveled in armored personnel carriers together with Kremlin-backed soldiers with no military insignia to Sloviansk, which is 15 kilometers north of Kramatorsk. A video shows a tank also in the city of Kramatorsk together with the APCs. 

The Defense Ministry has denied that its armored personnel carriers were taken over by pro-Russians.

The Ukrainian soldiers, flying the Russian flag, arrived in Sloviansk and immediately entered the city's police station. What they are doing in the station remains unclear. -- Isaac Webb & Daryna Shevchenko

Insurgents in Kramatorsk drive armored personnel carriers, fly Russian flag

Journalists on the ground in the city of Kramatorsk in northern Donetsk Oblast are reporting that armored personnel carriers are driving around flying the Russian flag.

Espresso TV video journalists have filmed pro-Russian troops driving in armored vehicles through the streets of Kramatorsk flying the Russian flag.

Alec Luhn of The Guardian tweeted that "pro-Russian unmarked militia now has armored troop carriers & are driving from Kramatorsk to Slaviansk. A definite escalation of tensions."

Raniah Salloum, the foreign affairs editor of Spiegel Online, reports that he "just saw tanks that switched side[s] in #kramatorsk. Now anti Kiev."

Earlier, Interfax Ukraine reported that armored vehicles flying Ukrainian flags had entered the city of Kramatorsk early on the morning of April 16.

However, the Kyiv Post's journalists on the scene reported that residents of Kramatorsk surrounded Ukrainian troops in armored personnel vehicles and prevented them from entering the city. -- Isaac Webb

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