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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Ukraine foes cast doubt on ceasefire 25 June 2014 Last updated at 03:19 ET

Pro-Russian separatist at checkpoint outside town of Lysychansk in Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. 24 June 2014

Pro-Russian fighters continue to occupy key buildings in cities across eastern Ukraine

Both sides in the Ukraine conflict have cast doubt on a newly called ceasefire, following the downing of a military helicopter on Tuesday.

Pro-Russia separatist leader Alexander Borodai said that in his view there had “been no ceasefire”.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko warned he might end the truce due to “constant violation by rebels”.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has accused Russia of failing to “respect its international commitments”.

In a statement, he said Moscow was “using a new different type of warfare against Ukraine” and he promised a “package of long-term support measures for Ukraine, including the creation of new trust funds”.

Russia denies claims by Ukraine and the West that it is encouraging and arming the separatists.

Insurgents had agreed on Monday to observe a ceasefire, proposed by the Ukrainian government, until Friday, but on Tuesday the Ukrainian military announced that separatists had shot down an Mi-8 helicopter outside the rebel-held city of Sloviansk, killing all nine people on board.

Mr Poroshenko’s office said gunmen had attacked government forces on 35 occasions since he ordered his troops to hold their fire.

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The Battle for Donetsk International Airport: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 44) – Published on May 28, 2014




Only hours after Petro Poroshenko was announced the winner of Ukraine’s presidential elections, the worst violence of the two month long crisis in eastern Ukraine exploded at Donetsk’ Sergei Prokofiev airport.

Early Monday morning, gunmen of the Donetsk Peoples Republic arrived at the airport and took over the terminal building, prompting the Ukrainian military based there to issue an ultimatum to the rebels to lay down their weapons and leave. A massive firefight broke out which both fighter jets and attack helicopters were used by the Ukrainian military. The sound of gunfire and explosions filled the air as rebels and journalists ducked for cover along the access road to the airport terminal.

VICE News found a small unit of DPR gunmen among the trees along the access road who had pulled back from their earlier positions closer to the airport. Gunfire seemed to follow them as shots hit the wall on the other side of the road and one of their wounded fighters, who had been shot in the upper thigh was evacuated in a civilian car. The gunfire intensified and the unit was forced to withdraw.

The next morning gunfire could still be occasionally heard but the situation still remained unclear. Both sides claimed they controlled the airport, though it was clear that the Ukrainians had taken control and casualty figures were fluctuating, as more bodies were brought into the local morgues. At least 33 DPR gunmen had been killed in the assault, while the government was claiming 150 perished in the fight.



Between Friends, Family And Country, Ukrainian Police Lie Low – by ARI SHAPIRO April 12, 201410:33 AM ET

Pro-Russian activists sit at a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk on Wednesday. Police have been conspicuously absent at Eastern Ukraine protest sites.

Pro-Russian activists sit at a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk on Wednesday. Police have been conspicuously absent at Eastern Ukraine protest sites.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

At occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine, there is plenty of razor wire, sandbags and Molotov cocktails.

One thing is conspicuously absent, though — law enforcement.

When protests in Eastern Ukraine started on Sunday, police were everywhere.

The forces protecting a government building stood shoulder-to-shoulder in riot gear as protesters pounded on their shields. Protesters eventually broke through, taking over government buildings in three eastern cities.

But since then, law enforcement seems to have disappeared from the barricades.

In the city of Luhansk, a protester named Boris Daronin has a theory.

“The Luhansk police support the protest in their heart, because their families live in this region, just like us,” he says. “But they just don’t want to lose their jobs. That’s why they act passively.”

More On Ukraine Protests

People on both sides of the debate agree that there’s some truth to this. The ranks of the police are still full of people from the previous pro-Russian government, and many of them likely do sympathize with the demonstrators.

It’s easy to find cops in the city and on the street, though none of them will grant interviews.

Ihor Todorov, an international relations professor at Donetsk National University, does not want to see Ukraine move closer to Russia.

“Sometimes you get the impression that the work of the police is at best a sabotage, and at worst, a betrayal,” he says.

That reflects a widely held view of the police force. According to a recent poll by a think tank called the Razumkov Centre, only 20 percent of Ukrainians trust the police.

Ukrainian cops have a reputation for being deeply corrupt. Economist Alexei Ryabchin says Russian police officers have much better lives than Ukrainian ones.

“They earn more, they have much more responsibility, they have much more authority to act,” Ryabchin says. Ukrainian police “consider maybe to join Russia, it would be a good idea.”

Police here look at the protesters, and they see neighbors, friends and relatives.

When the government took back an occupied building in Kharkiv this week, the troops who performed the operation were special forces from another part of the country.

A YouTube video from Tuesday shows people in Kharkiv throwing rocks at a bus carrying riot police to the scene of the protests. Soon after, 70 demonstrators were arrested in what the government called an anti-terror operation.

YouTubeProtesters in Kharkiv throw rocks at police on a bus on Tuesday.

But there may be also be very good reasons for the police in eastern Ukraine to remain inconspicuous. Ryabchin says these demonstrations are a tinderbox, and nobody wants them to explode — except maybe Russia.

“Lots of pro-Russian activists and basically Russian television is waiting to see casualties, to see provocation as a reason to put troops here,” Ryabchin says. “So police are trying not to escalate the conflict.”

This is also a very difficult time for cops on the front lines. Over the winter, police officers opened fire on pro-European demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square. The leaders who gave those orders were booted from government.

Now, the police who followed those orders are seen as villains, creating what a governor in eastern Ukraine calls “post-Maidan syndrome.”

Police fear that the commanders who order them to shoot today may be out of power tomorrow.