The War May Be Over: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 110) – Vice News Published on Sep 25, 2015

It’s been a few months since VICE News has been in eastern Ukraine, and violence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has died down — suggesting that the Minsk ceasefire deal is finally sticking.

VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky travels from what was once the front line in Luhansk to surrounding towns that were once under constant bombardment to speak with soldiers, government officials, and residents about their hopes for the future.

Watch: Rebel Soldiers Hold the Buffer Zone: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 109) –

Inside Rebel-Held Uglegorsk: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 94) – Vice News Published on Feb 17, 2015

Despite the recent Minsk peace agreement, fighting is continuing in eastern Ukraine, with pro-Russia separatists (DNR) and Ukrainian forces engaging in combat around the town of Debaltseve, which was encircled by the DNR. The nearby town of Uglegorsk, which was captured by the rebels during their push towards Debaltseve last week, has been battered by artillery shelling, with the nearly deserted streets bearing the scars of fierce fighting.

Running Supplies with the Dudayev Battalion: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 92) – Vice News Published on Feb 8, 2015

Thousands of foreign nationals have flocked to join the fighting in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began last April. Though both sides have benefited from foreign fighters, many are Russian soldiers who traveled to Ukraine voluntarily or followed orders from their superiors, and most have fought with the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic. Their presence has helped tip the scales of the battle in favor of the separatists.

Many of the Russian fighters hail from Chechnya and are loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. A former rebel in Chechnya’s conflict with Russia, Kadyrov switched sides and eventually became head of the Chechen Republic and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Ukraine, some Chechens that never abandoned the struggle against the Russian military back home are now fighting against the separatists, using their battlefield experience to help the Ukrainians defend their homeland.

One Chechen fighter has a history of confrontation with Russia that stands out from the rest: Adam Osmayev. Educated in a private school in the UK, Osmayev was arrested in Ukraine in 2011 and accused of plotting to assassinate Putin. He managed to avoid being extradited to Russia and was recently released from prison in November.

After securing his freedom, Osmayev traveled to eastern Ukraine to join the Dudayev Battalion, a volunteer group created by former Chechen guerrilla fighter Isa Munayev to fight pro-Russia separatists in the Donbass region.

When Munayev was killed last week during clashes near Debaltseve, Osmayev took control of the battalion. VICE News met with Osmayev to find out more about the battalion, and to follow his fighters on a supply run to the frontline near Debaltseve.

On the Front Lines with the Ukrainian Army: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 89) – Published on Jan 30, 2015

Since mid-January, fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine has escalated. Dozens of civilians have died due to the heavy shelling.

The rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) have been attacking Ukrainian Army positions in an effort to reach the city of Sloviansk. In this dispatch, VICE News travels to the Ukrainian Army’s front lines in the village of Kodema to see how soldiers there, clad in German and British gear that has been donated to them, are preparing for the much talked-about DNR offensive.

We also visit the Ukrainian-controlled mining town of Dzerzhynsk to see firsthand what effects the fighting between the two sides has had on the local population.

Watch “Trapped by Artillery Fire: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 88)” –

Return to the MH17 Crash Site: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 87) – Vice News Published on Nov 19, 2014

On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 innocent people. While investigations continue into exactly what happened, representatives from the Dutch Safety Board are still recovering pieces of the plane that have been lying in fields for four months. In the absence of an official determination, pro-Russia separatists and the Ukrainian government are putting out their own theories.

VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky traveled to the site of the MH17 crash, where Dutch investigators continue their work, and spoke with a Cossack commander as well as a representative from the Ukrainian Security Services about the blame game between the two camps that will likely persist for months to come.

Putin’s PR coup – The Economist Aug 16th 2014 | MOSCOW

HELP is on the way. Or so Russian state television declared on August 12th, as nearly 300 lorries with food, medicine and generators set off from a base outside Moscow for the besieged city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Confusion reigns over what the lorries are carrying, and over how they will cross into Ukraine. As The Economistwent to press, the convoy was heading to Rostov, a Russian city close to the border. It is a measure of Ukrainian distrust of Russian machinations that an aid convoy should be widely suspected of being a Trojan horse for invasion.

In March Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, sent columns of troops without insignia into Crimea while claiming only local pro-Russian volunteers were at large. Yet the aid convoy is unlikely to be cover for an invasion. Had Mr Putin decided to invade, he would not have needed a stealth fleet of lorries—he has as many as 45,000 troops on the border. Russia does not have to hide arms in aid lorries to get them to its proxy forces.

Most likely the offer of Russian aid to Luhansk, a city wracked by fighting and left without water or power, is a clever push by Mr Putin to be seen at home to be doing something to protect civilians in the east. Polling by the Levada Centre, a think-tank, shows public support for Russian military intervention in Ukraine dropping from 40% to 26% between June and July, but support for non-military aid remains high. Either the Russian supplies go through, making Mr Putin look the peacemaker, or they are blocked by Ukrainian forces, allowing Russia to appear the nobler party.

Mr Putin has taken advantage of a blind spot within the Ukrainian government and in the West: the mounting civilian death toll of the “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine. On August 13th the UN reckoned that 2,086 people had been killed in the fighting, double the number from just two weeks ago. As Ukrainian forces recapture territory from pro-Russian rebels, their shelling often ends up striking civilian areas.

Yet the convoy carries the risk of escalating tensions rather than bringing relief. Any fight at the border over the passage of the lorries into Ukraine could erupt into a wider clash presaging Mr Putin calling in the troops. After months of Russia’s backing anti-government rebels, suspicions in Kiev are high.

More probably, a break in the fighting to let the lorries in is part of a plan to slow down the pace of the Ukrainian advance, helping to turn the war into a frozen conflict. That would suit Mr Putin fine. But, however deft he may be at controlling the pictures on television, the events on the ground are harder to dictate.

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Putin’s Number One Gunman in Ukraine Warns Him of Possible Defeat – Anna Nemtsova 07.25.14

Igor Strelkov, the rebel commander many hold responsible for firing on MH17, is sending a thinly veiled warning to the Kremlin that he won’t go down alone.

DONETSK, Ukraine — Just over a week ago, Igor Strelkov, the key commander for separatist militia forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), was keeping an eye on several battles, both military and political. Strelkov was an experienced military officer, a former commander of the Russian special forces during the Chechen war in 2001; but here in Ukraine his rebel units were mostly made up of unprofessional fighters losing checkpoint after checkpoint to quickly advancing and constantly shelling troops from the Donetsk Ukrainia Anti-Terror Operation Forces sent by Kiev.
There was still no sign of the Russian army arriving to help Strelkov, who had already lost his previous stronghold, Sloviansk, earlier in the month.

And then—bodies began to fall from the sky. An anti-aircraft missile almost certainly fired by some of Strelkov’s men had reached six miles up to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and suddenly Strelkov found himself not only the leader of a rebellion but denounced as a possible war criminal.

The time had come for the insurgent colonel to roll out his main argument for more support: Losing this war on the territory that President Vladimir Putin personally named Novorossiya (New Russia) would threaten the Kremlin’s power and, personally, the power of the president.

An article published by Strelkov’s adviser, Igor Druzd, on Wednesday laid out the case that Putin, today, is facing the same choice that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych faced a few months ago: either send in the army and win control over the territories of Novorossiya in eastern Ukraine—or lose his presidency. “I hope that the Ukrainian tragedy will neither become the tragedy of Russia nor the personal tragedy of Putin,” wrote Strelkov’s adviser.

Ukrainian authorities insist that, in fact, Russian heavy weapons already are deployed and Russian personnel already are fighting in Donbass, as eastern Ukraine is known. The Ukrainian authorities say it was the Kremlin, specifically Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, that has coordinated all of Strelkov’s actions.

“We have proved beyond a doubt that Strelkov and other terrorist leaders are equipped with the most destructive weapons and instructed directly by Shoygu,” Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, told The Daily Beast. “Shoygu would not dare to send the Grad system, tanks, APCs, and other weapons to Donbass unless Putin approved of it.”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Interior Affairs reported that as soon as the rebels managed to punch holes in the Ukrainian border in May, Strelkov’s forces received all the weapons they needed, including mortars, RPGs, APCs, tanks, and rocket launching systems.

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