Ukrainian troops in control of Donetsk Oblast's Kramatorsk airfield, Ukrainian deputy prime minister says several hundred Russian troops in Ukraine

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April 16, 2014, 2:09 a.m. | Ukraine — by Kyiv Post

Pro-Russian activists guard a barricade outside the regional police building they seized in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 15, 2014.

Kyiv Post


Editor's Note: Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said he has today launched 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.

SBU: Russian soldiers in Donetsk Oblast are highly trained professionals with combat experience whose presense incease by the day

Hundreds of Russian soldiers are in Donetsk Oblast and their numbers are increasing, said First Deputy head of the Security Service (SBU) and its Anti-Terrorist Center’s chief Vasyl Krutov, cited by UNIAN news agency on April 15 near the Kramatorsk airfield.

The Kremlin has denied any involved in the uprisings and occupation of government buildings, police stations and airfields in eastern Ukraine over the past week despite evidence to the contrary.

The newly appointed anti-terrorism chief told UNIAN that “two days ago their (Russian soldiers) numbered 150, yesterday there were 300. I’m not including those that were here before that. These are the approximate numbers. Time will tell how many will be here tomorrow.”

Asked how the Russians managed to penetrate Ukrainian territory, Krutov said: “For a professional to cross the border is the same for a child to sneak into a movie theater.”

According to UNIAN, he emphasized that “very professional and well-prepared specially designated (soldiers) are in Ukraine who have combat experience in many hot spots (around the world).” – Mark Rachkevych

State border guards seizes $140,000 from four train passengers intended for Kremlin-backed insurgents

April 16, 12:57 a.m. -- After the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) opened a criminal case against a Russian bank for financing Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine (see below for full story) on April 15, the State Border Guard Service said that it caught four Ukrainian passengers carrying a total of $140,000 on a Dnipropetrovsk-bound train from Simferepol, the capital of Crimea.

Initially the group said they were on their way to a wedding on mainland Ukraine, but after questioning them separately, the border guards heard different stories.

Further questioning revealed that the “male and three women aged 25-30…the couriers were (allegedly) supposed to deliver the money to the anti-Ukrainian demonstrations in the eastern regions of Ukraine.”

They were handed over to the SBU for further questioning, the State Border Guard Service stated. – Mark Rachkevych

Military expert Tymchuk: ‘Too early to be optimistic’

April 16, midnight -- Dmitry Tymchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Center for Military and Political Research, stated on his Facebook page that the government’s anti-terrorist operation has only begun in eastern Ukraine, with the recapturing of the Kramatorsk airfield being the start.

Slovyansk’s airfield, some 20 kilometers from Kramatorsk, was prevented from being taken over by Kremlin-backed insurgents, some of whom, Ukraine’s intelligence and national security agency, the SBU, say are Russian soldiers.

Ukraine's Defense Minsitry late on April 15 confirmed a similar report. 

It’s still too early to be optimistic, stated Tymchuk, because the new SBU anti-terrorist chief “was appointed only hours (almost 24-hours) ago.”

In the Luhansk coal mining towns of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, coal miners, in coordination with local law enforcement, “quickly fended off all attempts of separatism by fans of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” posted Tymchuk.

He added they have organized joint patrols around the cities and control all entry points “in case of visits by ‘Russian tourists.’”

“This is a vivid example of where there are no ‘green men’ (Kremlin-backed insurgents) from Russia, then the extremists have no chances of escalating the situation,” Tymchuk wrote.

Still, the SBU building in Luhansk remains occupied by Kremlin-backed insurgents, some of whom are suspected of being directed by Russians on the ground there.

He also emphasized that all the Russian-backed “terrorist actions” in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts couldn’t have been possible without “professionally trained (invading Russian) commandos,” referring to the numerous units seen in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine who were also documented taking part in Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year and in the Georgia conflict of 2008. ­

Earlier, on April 15, First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema stated that members of a Moscow-based airborne battallion has been identified of having "hundreds of their soldiers in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts." – Mark Rachkevych

Kramatorsk: Interior Ministry repels Russian attack on airfield, Defense Ministry fends off incursion on armed forces unit 

11:23 p.m. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported that an attack by “radically inclined, armed (Kremlin-backed) people who had all the markings of being diversionary-terrorist groups to forcibly take over a military unit in the city of Kramatorsk (Donetsk Oblast)” was repelled on April 15. 

Ukraine’s armed forces body stated that to “fend off the attack warning shots were fired. To secure the perimeter military personnel and armed forces technical equipment (was used),” the Defense Ministry said.

Kramatorsk airfield

An undisclosed number of Kremlin-backed insurgents were taken prisoner at the Kramatorsk airfield on April 15 when Ukrainian forces re-took the strategic object, which lies in between the northern Donetsk Oblast cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, said Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Stanislav Rechynsky, cited by local news outlet Ukrainska Pravda. 

He said special care was taken in the military planning of the operation to overt the deaths of Ukrainians who have sided with the Russians “because a part of them are also are own people.” 

Rechynsky also said that during forces of the (Ukrainian) Anti-Terrorist Center, Omega special unit of the Interior Ministry and Alpha Group of the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) freed the Kramatorsk airfield. Moreover with casualties (on both sides).” 

Omega played a significant role in the operation, stated Rechynsky. 

He also added that in Slovyansk, a Russian-occupied city some 20 kilometers from Kramatorsk, “no (Ukrainian) armor (like tanks and armored personnel carriers), no people (soldiers) are present although there are many panicky reports in the media about that. –Mark Rachkevych

Ukrainian troops free Kramatorsk airbase, four Kremlin-backed terrorists dead

6:30 p.m. Interfax Ukraine reports that Interim President Oleksander Turchynov has announced that Ukrainian troops have successfully freed the Kramatorsk airfield.

According to the AP, "The mayor of Kramatorsk said Ukrainian troops have now occupied the military airport and are blocking its entrance."

The freeing of the airfield is part of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's "anti-terrorist operation," which is being conducted throughout eastern Ukraine to quell Russian-backed separatist movements.

Rossiya 24 reports that four Russian-sponsored terrorists were killed as a result of the operation.  

Further, according to Interfax Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, says the Ukrainian special forces' operation has led to the detainment of Russian officers. – Mark Rachkevyvch and Isaac Webb

Yarema: Russia's 45th Airborne Regiment operating in eastern Ukraine

5:54 p.m.  – While attending the funeral of a slain SBU captain in Poltava today, First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said several hundred armed Russian military soldiers are in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv oblasts who were covertly and gradually sent there over a long period of time, reported local online news source Poltavashchyna.  

“Right now, they’ve concentrated their strength in Krasniy Lyman, Horlivka, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk (all in Donetsk Oblast); the terrorists are committing violent acts against police officers and are taking over government buildings,” said Yarema.

According to the minister, it has been determined that some are from the 45th Airborne Regiment of the Russian army based near Moscow.

The Kremlin still maintains that none of its troops are in Ukraine and that it isn’t behind the terrorist acts in eastern Ukraine that have left government buildings in 10 cities occupied and at least one SBU officer dead, including nine injured, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. – Mark Rachkevych

Ukrainian troops storm Kramatorsk airfield, Sloviansk

5:25 p.m. -- Espresso TV's correspondent on the ground at Kramatorsk airfield in Donetsk Oblast reports that the elite Omega unit of the Interior Ministry has taken control of the airfield.

Citing the Defense Ministry, Interfax is reporting that Ukrainian armored personnel carriers stormed the airfield, which lies between the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Ukrainian troops fired on pro-Russian terrorists who had occupied the airfield.

Russia Today reported that several members of armed terrorists were wounded in the attack and there "may be deaths."

Quoting "activists" at the airfield, Russia Today reported that "Other members of the militia (Kremlin-backed terrorists) have blocked the entrance to Kramatorsk and are ready to defend the city, the activists added."

Concurrently, RIA Novosti reported that Ukrainian troops had laid siege on Sloviansk.

Interfax cited eye witnesses who said that a caravan of 500 Ukrainian troops and military hardware has entered Sloviansk. -- Isaac Webb

Wife of leader of Donetsk People's Republic appeals for support

5:25 p.m. -- Ekaterina Gubareva, the wife of a detained pro-Russian leader in Donetsk, appealed in a video to citizens in eastern Ukraine, asking for support for volunteer self-defense troops to protect the People's Republic of Donetsk, which is trying to force the secession of Ukraine's most populous oblast from Ukraine.

On March 1, at a demonstration of pro-Russian citizens in Donetsk, Pavlo Gubarev was elected as "people's governor" of Donetsk Oblast.

Five days later he was arrested in his apartment by the Security Service of Ukraine and sent to Kyiv. His wife is now the acting heads of the breakaway republic.

“We've adopted a declaration of independence. We have formed our own governments, we began establishing international contacts. All Donbas cities are moving to our side,” said Gubareva, while reading a broadcast teleprompter. “Due to the fact that the Kyiv junta shipped in its military forces to the territory of Donetsk republic,  we regard it as a fact of military intervention and aggression against our people... That is why I ask people of Sloviansk and all nearby cities to support our volunteer corps with barricade materials, warm clothes, and food."

She finished her speech saying “Liberty to Donetsk, liberty to Pavel Gubarev.” --  Iryna Yeroshenko

Nine cities in Donetsk, and one in Luhansk Oblast occupied by Kremlin-backed forces

Russian forces and their network of trained local agents and saboteurs have taken over government buildings, including police stations in some, in nine cities of Donetsk Oblast, including its regional capital, and Luhansk, the nation’s eastern most regional capital. 

In Donetsk they are: Donetsk – a city of nearly 1 million – Mariupol –the oblast’s second largest city with a population of 460,000, Makiyivka, Khartsyzk, Yevakiyeve, Horlivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

The nine occupied cities in Donetsk Oblast where Kremlin-backed forces have taken over government buildings, including police stations and an airport: Donetsk, Mariupol, Makiyivka, Yenakiyeve, Slovyansk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, Khartsyzk and Druzhkivka. (Source: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty.)

A strong force of at least two platoons of Russian paramilitary groups hold Slovyansk, some of whom have been spotted in the Georgia conflict of 2008 and during the annexation of Crimea, including hundreds of armed civilians to whom they issued automatic weapons. 

The nine occupied cities in Donetsk Oblast, according to military and defense think tank Information Resistance headed by Dmitry Tymchuk, all lie along key railroad routes. 

Kyiv’s leadership said it launched an anti-terrorist operation on April 15 in the region, but journalists on the ground haven’t seen significant evidence of it. – Mark Rachkevych

Interior Ministry creating special public protection units in south and east

The Interior Ministry of Ukraine, the body responsible for public order and safety, has launched a recruitment campaign to buttress its ranks in eastern and southern Ukraine. Two oblasts in particular, Luhansk and Donetsk, saw an estimated 50 percent of police personnel switch allegiance to Russian occupying forces and local pro-Russian separatists that have occupied government and police buildings.

The ministry is also creating special units to serve in Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolayiv, Odesa, Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts. – Mark Rachkevych

SBU opens criminal case into Russian bank financing terrorism in eastern Ukraine

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) says a Russian bank converted Hr 45 million into cash in March-April to finance pro-Russian terrorist groups in eastern Ukraine.

The bank wasn’t named, however. The Kyiv headquarters of the Russian financial institution, according to the SBU, transfers between $200 and $500 daily to payment cards held by terrorists in violation of the law on “Prevention and Counteraction of the Laundering of Proceeds from Crime and Terrorist Financing.” – Mark Rachkevych

Deputy defense minister: Ukraine needs to be 're-armed with 21st century technology'

2:14 p.m. -- Speaking to journalists at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kyiv on April 15, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Petro Mehed said that his ministry has mobilized more than 90 percent of its resources, and activated 23 oblast militia commissaries in response to the growing threat in the east. Mehed said that, as a result of increased unrest in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine would continue "accelerating its military mobilization."

Mehed stressed that despite the ministry's efforts, the Ukrainian military still needs to be "re-armed with 21st century technology."

He blamed the military's lack of preparedness on former President Viktor Yanukovych's administration, saying that "our military has been...dismantled," both in terms of personnel and armament. 

Mehed said that more than three thousand military personnel have moved from Crimea to mainland Ukraine.

Thus far, Mehed said that the Defense Ministry has allocated more than 90 million hryvnia (about $7.1 million) for the mobilization.

Mehed declined to comment on why the Ukrianian government has allowed Russian paramilitary forces to reinforce Sloviansk, which has become a hotbed of separatist activity in recent days. 

He said that residents in Donetsk could conceivably form independent partisan opposition groups to fight Russian troops: "There are patriots everywhere, including in Donetsk, who are not just standing by tolerating Russian occupiers."

Mehed’s report comes amidst reports from journalists on the ground that Ukrainian troops, helicopters and armored personnel carriers are amassing in eastern Ukraine.

Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky tweeted that Ukrainian troops have amassed at the Kharkiv and Donetsk Oblast borders.

BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon reported that “Ukrainians have half a dozen APCs [armored personnel carriers] and a few buses set up at a checkpoint near Izyum, 25 minutes from Slavyansk. -- Isaac Webb and Mark Rachkevych

As separatist movements spread throughout eastern Ukraine, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov announced on April 15 that Ukrainian special forces have begun an anti-terrorist campaign in the northern part of Donetsk oblast. (AFP)

SBU: a Russian military intelligence officer is in charge of Sloviansk paramilitary group

13:42 -- The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has identified Igor Strelkov as the leader of the paramilitary group that has taken control of the eastern city of Sloviansk. Strelkov is a commanding officer of a Russian military intelligence unit.

The press service of the SBU announced that they had identified Strelkov’s voice in a recording of a telephone conversation between Strelkov and a Moscow official on April 14.

The SBU said that Strelkov arrived in Crimea at beginning of March and began directing Russian troops and special forces to occupy Ukrainian military outposts and government buildings, and orchestrated the kidnappings of Ukrainian soldiers, activists, and other Ukrainian and foreign citizens.

Strelkov has reportedly recruited Ukrainian citizens to conduct subversive actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

According the SBU statement, “The saboteur personally gave orders to Ukrainian citizens “K” and “B” to occupy and hold the Kharkiv regional administration building, military outfits, and law enforcement units with the goal of seizing weapons in the Luhansk Oblast.

The SBU has already started a criminal investigation of Strelkov for “premeditated murder and committing acts threatening the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of Ukraine, conducting subversion, and organizing riots in the eastern regions” of Ukraine. -- Isaac Webb

Parubiy says National Guard troops have been sent to east

12:38 p.m. -- Andriy Parubiy, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council announced on his Facebook page on April 15 that National Guard troops have been deployed to eastern Ukraine.

Parubiy wrote that he had recently returned from a week-long trip to Luhansk oblast, where he said “The soldiers have a high fighting spirit and readiness to protect Ukraine.” Still, Parubiy, continued, “It is hard there.”

Parubiy posted pictures of the National Guard troops on his Facebook page, saying he is “sure that we'll win because God and Ukraine are with us.” -- Isaac Webb

A photo of National Guard troops being deployed to eastern Ukraine to fight separatism, posted on Facebook by Andriy Parubiy, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

Klitschko, Tiahnybok speak out against separatism

12:30 p.m. -- Vitali Klitschko, the leader the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, has called on Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky to examine the case of lawmaker and presidential candidate Oleh Tsariov.

Law enforcement officials searched Tsariov’s car on April 14 and found weapons, ammunition, and military fatigues.

Tsariov has declared his support for the pro-Russian separatists who have taken control of cities in eastern Ukraine over the past week.

“I want to ask Prosecutor General if they started criminal proceedings on the fact that he stored the weapons in his car. Or will he keep traveling around the country promoting separatists ideas? Ukrainians are waiting for stabilization – so we need to work on it,” Klitschko said while addressing deputies in the Verkhovna Rada. 

Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tiahnybok said Parliament should work harder to push through legislation that will help unite the country.

“It’s our biggest challenge now – to resist Russian aggression,” Tiahnybok said while addressing lawmakers at the Verkhovna Rada. “Russian president Vladimir Putin has a plan to divide Ukraine. We should stop that bunch of separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions.”

 Tiahnybok also called on the heads of the police and the Interior Ministry to meet with members of parliament to discuss plans for an anti-terrorist operation in the east. “I also stress we need to start the new phase of mobilization to the National Guard,” Tiahnybok added. -- Olena Goncharova

SBU conveys condolences, releases picture of killed anti-terrorist captain

11:40 a.m. -- Security Service of Ukraine Captain Henndiy Bilichenko died on April 13 during an anti-terrorist operation near Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast, reports the SBU, Ukraine’s KGB-successor agency.

Fallen SBU Captain Hennadiy Bilichenko

The 20-year veteran of the SBU’s anti-terrorism unit in Poltava was mortally wounded in a shootout with Russian paramilitary soldiers. – Mark Rachkevych

EU adds to list of sanctioned Ukrainian officials

11:30 a.m. -- The Council of the European Union has sanctioned four more Ukrainian officials in "in view of the situation in Ukraine."

The sanctioned officials are:

Serhiy Arbuzov, former Prime Minister of Ukraine

Yuriy Ivanyush­chenko, Party of Regions MP

Oleksandr Klymenko, former Minister of Revenues and Charges 

Edward Stavytsky, former Minister of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine. 

The list of sanctions, entitled Regulation No. 208/2014, "provides for the freezing of funds and economic resources of certain persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of Ukrainian State funds and persons responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine, and natural or legal persons, entities or bodies associated with them, with a view to consolidating and supporting the rule of law and respect for human rights in Ukraine." -- Isaac Webb

Turchynov: Anti-terrorist operation has begun in northern Donetsk

11:23 a.m. -- Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced that Ukrainian special forces had launched an anti-terrorist operation in the northern part of Donetsk oblast before dawn on April 15.

"Tonight an anti-terrorist operation began in the north of Donetsk oblast. It will be conducted step-by-step, responsibly, deliberately. The goal of these actions, I want to underline, is to defend the citizens of Ukraine," said Turchynov, speaking before the Verkhovna Rada.  

“I call on those who want to show their heroism – join the National Guard or the Ukrainian army or police units. But smashing the windows of the Verkhovna Rada is not a heroism at all,” Turchynov said, referring to the group of people who gathered near the parliament during the night of April 14, demanding that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov resign.

“People are asking for help now, and we need to do everything to defend them.” Turchynov stressed during the session. -- Isaac Webb and Olena Goncharova

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst says America could do more to help Ukraine

Writing for the Atlantic Council as the director of its Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said that the U.S. and NATO said that Moscow’s subversion campaign in eastern Ukraine “is now taking a paramilitary cast.”

“Thanks to our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, both the U.S. and our European allies have a great deal of experience with counter-insurgency,” wrote Herbst.  “Here too we can provide advisers, training and equipment to address this problem.”     

He cited a poll taken on April 9 that said that 66 percent of the population want to live in a unified Ukraine and 18 percent would like to join Russia.

“No wonder the pro-Russian mobs number only in the hundreds,” Herbst remarked.

But should the invading Russians sustain casualties in eastern Ukraine, the former ambassador warned, “the Kremlin might cite (them) as ‘justification’ for intervention.”

“If he (Russian President Vladimir Putin) knows that an invasion brings crushing sanctions, or if he knows that Western anti-tank and anti-aircraft equipment are part of Ukraine's military arsenal, the price of an invasion rises drastically,” he concluded. -- Mark Rachkevych

Lubkivsky: Separatist movements in eastern Ukraine directed by Russian "special-ops groups."

11 a.m. -- On April 14, Danylo Lubkivsky, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s clandestine operation in eastern Ukraine is directed by the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and military intelligence units in concert with a well-prepared network of trained agents in Ukraine. 

Lubkivsky said that the operations in Ukraine have moved into a paramilitary stage. Russia’s plan of action mirrors how it took over Crimea, he added.

First, they recruit and arm professional military, second, they deploy them on Ukrainian territory, third, they hire local radicals to pose as “pro-Russian forces”, fourth, they try to make it look like a turmoil coming from beneath,” he noted.

Lubkivsky continued: “However, it’s not a grass root movement. It’s a full-blown foreign aggression on Ukraine, and there are valid proofs of Russian “special-ops groups” being deployed on the ground, including photos of Russian weaponry, videos, radio talks, names of persons, etc.”

One thing is abundantly clear, said Lubkivsky, “that these are not Ukrainians, but professional Russian militants outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms carrying Russian-origin weapons, some of the faces have been recognized from Crimea. Saboteurs with Russian citizenship have been apprehended. We have multiple interceptions of radio traffic among Russian military units. All of this was reported to the United Nations on April 13, 2014, and not one state supported Russian claims.” -- Mark Rachkevych

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