Tag Archives: Donetsk

A heartwarming story about a Ukrainian prisoner of war

After the incredibly sad story about the deaths of over 50 Ukrainian POWs in a Ukrainian missile attack on the prison they were housed in (see Over 50 POWs killed. A military accident or a cynical war crime?) I came across the heartwarming story about another Ukrainian POW.

It’s about a woman whose husband was captured in the fighting in Southeast Ukraine. She had done everything she could think of in Ukraine to get information on him and his status – with no help. She had travelled to Europe – still no help. Finally, she travelled to Moscow (where her mother lives) and from there to Donetsk in the DPR. The authorities there managed to locate her husband and there was a very heartwarming reunion.

In contrast journalists on a Ukrainian TV channel that interviewed her seemed to think she had no right to find out the fate of her husband and certainly had no right to travel to Donetsk to find him.

A couple of points of interest. This example shows how interrelated the Russian and Ukrainian people are – for them this war is a tragedy. Their experience also shows how Ukrainian youth have been kept ignorant about their country’s history. Her husband had to learn some of the facts from books during his time in prison. Also, it shows that many soldiers may be quite ignorant about the reasons for the war they are participating in.

Another interesting fact. I got this video from Anatoly Shariy’s YouTube channel. Shary was the head of a political party in Ukraine (the Party of Shariy which won 52 seats in the 2020 Council Elections) which was recently made illegal (like all the opposition parties there). He fled to Spain to avoid arrest and Ukraine is currently attempting to extradite him. Most opposition leaders currently face charges of treason – even the previous president Petro Poroshenko

Over 50 POWs killed. A military accident or a cynical war crime?

British mercenary Aiden Aslin, now a prisoner in the Donetsk People’s Republic, expressed real concern that he may die from the Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk. He has experienced many missile attacks that came close to the prison.
Is he still alive?

Understandably, we are always shocked about the losses of civilian lives during wars. Particularly relevant at the moment in the current war in Ukraine. But I find myself even more shocked by the news which broke last night that over 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war had been killed in a missile attack on their prison barracks prison near the village of Yelenovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

I was confused by my emotional reaction. After all, these prisoners were captured in Mariupol where Ukrainian units were using the civilian population as human shields.  Refugees from the city almost uniformly reported incidents of cruelty, looting, rape and even murder – particularly by the ultranationalist Azov Battalion in that city.

Many people might say they deserved to die. But whatever their alleged crimes they deserved their day in court, and the prisoners were being processed to collect evidence for an upcoming war crime tribunal hearing. Some of the collected testimony has been leaked in videos on social media.

But these prisoners were collected together in (presumably crowded) barracks. With no means of escape. Sitting targets shot like fish in a barrel. This explains the high casualty rate – something like 53 deaths, with 75 injuries (many serious) among 193 prisoners (as of this morning). Several prison guards were also killed. This almost seems worse than other reported cases where a smaller number of innocent civilians have died in similar attacks. And there have been many such attacks in Donetsk.

I guess the lack of freedom to take evasive action is a reason for our general abhorrence of crimes against POWs.

Collateral damage?

This could have been an accident – collateral damage inevitable in war. After all, Donetsk has been shelled continually for 8 years. Many innocent civilians, quite a few of them children, have been killed in what looks like indiscriminate shelling by the Ukrainian military.

The British mercenary Aiden Aslin, who was captured in Mariupol, was also kept in this prison camp. He has a YouTube channel which I watch. Strangely, I have got to like the guy. He makes good points. He seems sorry for his military roles in Syria and Ukraine. I don’t think he deserves the death sentence he has been handed down. I hope his appeal is successful.

But in the video above he describes some of the Ukrainian shelling near the prison and his fear that he may die from such an attack before his death sentence is carried out. Rather an ironic thought as he was fighting for the Ukrainians.

I certainly hope he survived. I understand that the prisoners in the shelled barracks were mainly from the Azov battalion or other Ukrainians who were providing evidence of war crimes. So, he may be safe – he didn’t serve in the Azov battalion and is extremely critical of it. I will keep an eye on his YouTube channel to see if he is and what his experience has been.

A cynical war crime?

I hope this is not the case. The deliberate targeting of one’s own soldiers who have been taken prisoner would be the height of cynicism. However, these prisoners were providing evidence which may have implicated the Ukrainian military or political leadership in war crimes. Indeed, some of the leaked testimony refers to soldiers receiving orders from the leadership on how they should torture or kill prisoners, etc.

Perhaps their political or military leadership decided to remove this evidence, no matter how cynical this seems. And no matter that these prisoners had been presented as heroes in Ukrainian propaganda.

One piece of evidence pointing to this possibility is the apparent use of HIMARS missiles in the attack. In the past Ukrainian missile attacks on Donetsk have not been accurate but the recent acquisition of HIMAR systems from the US has made possible pinpoint attacks which may have been the case here.

Confirmation bias is rife – a proper investigation is necessary

I follow The Military Summary Youtube channel which provided a summary of the attack and the way it was reported in Russia and Ukraine as well as the DPR. He is very objective (one could say to a fault) but at least he provides both sides. Here is his latest summary where he discusses the attack

It seems that the Ukrainian are denying their attack (they usually don’t provide reports of such attacks) and are instead going with the fantastical charge that this was a Russian atrocity. That the Russian killed the prisoners to cover up the evidence of torture.

I have been shocked how, during this war, people have been ready to believe anything to protect the honour of their “own side.” They will invent fantastic stories to explain away unpleasant evidence.

But this incident certainly raises the possibility that a very cynical and massive war crime has been perpetrated. The appropriate bodies should collect evidence and enable a proper investigation of the event.

Surely the victims of this attack are owed this – whatever other own crimes in the past.

 

Flight MH17 tragedy in Ukraine – new evidence

New evidence presented at Russian Ministry of Defence press conference, 17 September 2018.

In July 2014 the Malaysian Airline Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. A Dutch-led international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been investigating the tragedy with the aim of determining criminal blame.

Update: Facebook took it upon themselves to censor my timeline and remove the Facebook post of my article. It seems their fact-checkers at the Atlantic Council have judged this information as “not following community standards”

Bit of a lesson there.

 

The JIT produced a preliminary report in 2016 (see But will it stand up in court?) and updated this with new evidence at a press conference last May 24. At the conference they revealed the serial number of the missile which shot down the plane and made a general appeal for people who might have information on this to come forward. At a Press Conference this week the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the Russian Federation has responded with information from the manufacturer’s log books about this specific missile.

This appears to be the most concrete evidence to date which could be used to lay credible blame for the tragedy.

The JIT reveals serial numbers of the missile and appeals to the public for information about it.

While the JIT May 24 statement laid the blame on the Russian Federation, their evidence was rather subjective – relying on subjective interpretation of markings on vehicles in videos available online. “Open source” evidence. In contrast, the Russian MOD was specific and taken from archived information from the missile manufacturer.

In a way, this is rather unique because this information was understandably classified. Presumably, Russian officials have been active in the period between May and September locating the log books, interviewing relevant staff members from the time of production and going through the bureaucratic procedures required to declassify the material.

The new evidence

The video of the Russian MOD press conference above summarises three pieces of evidence the Russians have made available:

1: The most convincing evidence is the date of manufacture of the specific missile (December 1986) and its transport to the military unit where it was deployed. The records show it was deployed to a unit based near Lvov in the then Ukrainian Socialist Republic. It had never been returned to Russian territory.

I think that evidence is solid. The MOD spokesperson said the information has been passed onto the JIT and if they ask to inspect the archives they will be invited to Moscow to do so. He also made the point that the Russian side has asked the JIT to request the log books of the Ukrainian military unit which has been in possession of that missile and reveal its movements and location during July 2014.

2: Analysis of the video material the JIT had relied on to support their conclusion that the missile came from the Russian 53rd Anti Aircraft Missile Brigade based near Kursk in the Russian Federation. That video material had initially been compiled by Bellingcat, a suspect internet group now allied with NATO. The JIT conclusion relied on subjective tracking of markings on a BUK unit and its transporter and claimed to track it through its journey.

JIT open source video evidence supporting their conclusion that the BUK unit came from Russia

Russian experts have analysed these videos and shown problems with lighting and perspective indicating they have been faked. Something as simple as placing an image of a BUK unit into an existing video.

Their analysis seems credible, but obviously, this is the sort of thing which could be debated between experts in a court.

3: A recording of a telephone conversation made in 21016 where Ukrainian Armed Forces Col. Ruslan Grinchak refers to the tragedy in a way that implied it was caused by the Ukrainian armed forces. This person was in charge of airspace over the Donetsk region at the time of the tragedy.

This evidence relies on interpretation so is less convincing by itself.

Conclusion

The new evidence resulting from the discovery of the missile serial numbers by the JIT looks conclusive. As Russian Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin told reporters the archives show:

“the missile was assembled on December 24, 1986, and delivered by rail to the military unit number 20/152, officially named the 223rd Air Defense Missile Brigade. It was deployed to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s Ternopol Region, which was part of the Subcarpathian Military District.”

Unless archive evidence in the possession of the Ukrainian armed forces can show that the missile was subsequently exported back to the Russian Federation there seems no doubt that Flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile.

However, much more has to be done to apportion blame. There is still the possibility that this particular BUK unit was in the hands of the separatist forces in the Donetsk or Lugansk regions (although Dutch Intelligence reports at the time indicated any BUK units in the hands of separatists were not functioning -see Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?).

What is clear is that the ball is now back in the hands of the JIT, and more specifically, the Ukrainian armed forces. The JIT should now demand archived information on the locations, servicing and possession of this specific missile in the period between 2086 and July 2014.

Of course, as in other aspects of this investigation, the Ukrainian side may claim that records do not exist or have been destroyed. I do not think that is good enough and such lack of cooperation has already damaged the reputation and reliability of the JIT. Ukraine, as possibly one of the suspects, should never have been given membership of the JIT where it can influence the investigation and exert veto power over the dissemination of findings.

Perhaps reporters should now be asking the Ukrainian military to go away and find this specific missile and hold their own press conference where they can expose the serial number of the one they have in their possession.

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