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Ukraine Blog

Follow the latest developments as Ukraine attempts to deal with pro-Russian separatists in the country's east.

  • Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine will deepen political divisions in the country if there is no end to hostilities and a "road map" to end the crisis is not implemented, a senior Russian official was quoted as saying.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin's remarks on Tuesday were the latest from Moscow to cast doubt on whether Russia will consider the election legitimate.

    In a report on talks between Karasin and British ambassador to Russia Tim Barrow, the Foreign Ministry underlined the importance of the "road map" drawn up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and constitutional reforms following an agreement reached at talks in Geneva.

    "Without the implementation of these agreements, and the immediate cessation of hostilities by (Ukrainian) army units southeastern regions, the May 25 election can only worsen the differences in the country," the ministry said.

    [Reuters]
  • President Vladimir Putin called the detention of two Russian journalists in Ukraine unacceptable and suggested it highlighted wider questions about the legitimacy of political power in Ukraine.

    The detention of the journalists, working for the pro-Kremlin  Internet news outlet LifeNews, has added to tensions between Moscow and Kiev,  which accuses Russia of destabilising Ukraine's Russian-speaking east ahead  of a presidential vote on Sunday.

    "It's absolutely unacceptable and of course the question arises over the legitimacy of all political procedures in Ukraine," Putin said, speaking to journalists on Wednesday.

    Ukraine's Defence Ministry said this week that soldiers had detained two unknown men who had identified themselves as journalists and were filming separatists.

    Putin also dismissed as "nonsense" an allegation from the ministry saying the two journalists had been carrying portable air defence systems.

    [Reuters]
  •  
     A pro-Russian protester raises the flag of the 'Donetsk People's Republic' [EPA]

  • A British journalist working for Russian TV station RT was reportedly detained at a Mariupol checkpoint in eastern Ukraine.

    According to British broadcaster BBC, the British Foreign Office confirmed Graham Phillips's detention on Tuesday, adding they were in contact with the Ukrainian authorities.

    Phillips worked as a stringer for Russia Today was questioned by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and was expected  to be taken to Kiev by Ukraine's National Guard, where he would be passed to the British embassy and then go free, Russia Today reported on its website.

    [Reuters]
  • Several trains carrying weapons and planeloads of troops have left regions near Ukraine as part of a massive military pullout, the Russian Defence Ministry said Thursday.

    It said four trainloads of weapons and 15 Il-76 heavy lift transport planes left the Belgorod, Bryansk and Rostov regions on Wednesday. The ministry added that the troops are to reach their permanent bases before June 1.

    NATO, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, repeated Tuesday that it didn't yet see any signs of a Russian withdrawal.

    [AP]
  • At least eight Ukrainian security personnel were killed and 18 wounded in overnight clashes with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine three days before a presidential election in the former Soviet Republic.

    Security sources said on Thursday the main clash took place about 20 km (12 miles) south of the industrial hub of Donetsk, which is now in the hands of the separatists who say they will  disrupt the election.

     Ukrainian forces also fought separatists in the neighbouring Luhansk region but there was no word about any casualties there.

    The defence ministry confirmed that several people had been killed in the firefight near Donetsk but gave no precise death toll.

    [Reuters]
  • Amid final preparations for Ukraine's presidential elections, some voters in the east of the country say they will not recognise the vote. They have destroyed ballot boxes, claiming that eastern regions are no longer part of Ukraine after declaration of independence so it should not be part of the election.

    Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from Kiev.

  • Ukraine starts voting in the country's new president after the ouster of the Russia-backed Viktor Yanukovich in February.

    There are 18 candidates competing for the top job, but polls suggest that only Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko have a chance of winning.

    About 35 million Ukrainians are eligible to vote, but almost two million of them who live in the country's east are expected to be able to cast their ballots.

    Ukraine's central election commission was unable to set up almost half of the intended polling stations in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk due to threats from the anti-government separatists, who control the area.

    Voting started at 0500GMT and will last 12 hours. Exit polls will be available at 1700GMT.

    Election commission officials install ballot boxes in Kiev [Reuters]


  • An international observer mission on Monday praised Ukraine for holding a presidential election it said was largely in line with international commitments and respected fundamental freedoms despite hostile activity by armed groups in the east.

    "Genuine efforts were made by the electoral authorities to conduct voting throughout the country, despite continued unrest and violence in the east," the missions, led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in a report setting out its preliminary findings.

    The report decried forced closures of district election commissions by armed groups, abductions, death threats, forced entry into private homes and the seizure of equipment and election material, saying they were aimed at denying citizens their right to vote.

    Andreas Gross, head of a delegation from the Council of Europe, one of the bodies leading the mission said:

    The extraordinary quality of yesterday's election provides the new president of Ukraine with the legtimacy to establish immediately an inclusive dialogue with all citizens in the eastern regions, to restore their trust and confidence...
     [Reuters]
  • The final results have yet to be declared but billionaire Petro Poroshenko looks set to become Ukraine's new president, after an outright win in the first round of voting.

    The pro-European winner promises to open talks with Russia and have a weapons amnesty in an attempt to gain peace in the east.

    He's been congratulated by leaders in the West, including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.

    And as the events in Donetsk illustrate, he faces a difficult challenge in the months ahead.

    Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer reports from Kiev.

  • Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election in the first round by collecting more than half the votes, the election commission chief said on Monday.

    "We can now already draw a fairly important conclusion: there will be no need for a second round. On May 25, 2014, a new president was elected in Ukraine," Mykhailo Okhendovskyi said.

    [AFP]
  • Pro-Russian fighters in the Donetsk region have made a rap song and posted it on Youtube. Here's a translation by Oleg Pasichnyi: goo.gl

  • Russian Itar-Tass news agency reports that the situation is "relatively stable" in Donetsk city that saw heavy fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine's security forces on Monday.

    The agency says the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic announced mobilisation of medical personnel. "Attention! We urgently need doctors, volunteers, donors," the statement of the DNR's press service says. 
  • Ukraine's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, the rebel-held Donetsk region, started switching over to Russian legislation on Monday.

    Denis Pushilin, the self-declared leader of Donetsk, was quoted by Russian Itar-Tass news agency as saying on Monday.

    Today the decision was made to start intensively switching over to Russian laws.

  • Ukraine said on Tuesday it had regained control of the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk after a day of punishing air strikes and fierce fighting with pro-Russian separatist gunmen left dozens of people dead.

    Arsen Avakov, Ukraine's interior minister, said in a statement:

    The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none.
    He said however that the military was continuing its operation at the airport, and AFP journalists reported hearing explosions and heavy gunfire during the morning.
  • Vladislav Seleznev, a spokeperson for Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation", said that the government forces started an airstrike on Monday to regain Donetsk airport developments, because the rebels did not accept an offer to lay down arms and wounded one Ukrainian soldier.

    Seleznev also said:
    At the moment we have given them another ultimatum. If they do not surrender, we will strike them with special weapons [refuses to specify]. There is no information about civilian casualties at the moment... We have repeatedly stressed that the ATO is aimed at restoration of constitutional order in eastern regions, and liquidation of militants.

    Answering a question of Al Jazeera's Daniele Pinto regarding the psychiatric hospital shelling in Slovyansk, Seleznev said that "these were provocations by the militants to discredit the anti-terrorism operation." He said the rebels have shelled the hospital and residential wards, denying that Ukrainian forces have shelled civilian buildings even if the rebels were inside along with civilians. [Al Jazeera]
  • Al Jazeera's John Wendle reported from Donetsk city, where battle for seized international airport raged for more than 24 hours:

    "An unsettled feeling pervaded the city of Donetsk after a night punctuated by the echo of gunfire and explosions. The mayor recommended people stay inside and that children not go to school. Many offices were closed and traffic in the normally busy center was light. 

    Across from a car dealership in the centre of town on the road to the airport an army truck with its bed soaked in blood lay flipped over in the grass, it's rear axel snapped after crashing into a tree at high speed - it's windshield sprayed with bullets. People gathered in small groups taking pictures with their phones, and pointed towards the airport. 

    For the most part, though fighting has washed through the villages and towns surrounding Donetsk, the city has been spared the past few weeks. After last night's fight, a feeling of disbelief and shock seems to be building as an expectant atmosphere takes hold with people waiting for the next move by the armed sides.

    Some shop keepers have boarded up windows and many others are locked down in expectation of a military assault."

     
     

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  • Security watchdog loses contact with monitors near Donetsk

    European security watchdog OSCE said it had lost contact with one of its teams of monitors near the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants are clashing with Kiev government forces.

    "We have been unable to re-establish communication until now," the group said on Tuesday. "We are continuing with our efforts and utilising our contacts on the ground. The Ukrainian government as well as regional authorities have been informed of the situation."

    The four-strong international team was on a routine patrol east of Donetsk when contact was lost around six p.m. (1500  GMT) on Monday evening, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement. 

    In early May, pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's east freed seven European military observers from a separate OSCE-linked mission after holding them hostage for eight days.

    The 57-nation OSCE - which seeks to prevent conflict and promote democracy on the continent - decided unanimously in March to deploy civilian monitors across Ukraine to try to help defuse the crisis there, so far without much success.

    The mission consists of about 282 people, including 198 civilian international monitors from 41 OSCE countries, according to the Vienna-based organisation's website. [Reuters]


  • Dozens dead as Ukraine retakes Donestk airport

    At least 40 people, including two civilians, have been killed in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk following a day of heavy fighting, in which the government forces used combat jets and helicopter gunships to reclaim the regional airport.

    "The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none," Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement on Tuesday.

    He said however that the military was continuing its operation at the airport and AFP journalists reported hearing sporadic gunfire and explosions during the morning.

    The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also reported being unable to establish contact with a four-member observer team based in the restive city since Monday evening.



  • Unpaid debts problem for Russia-Ukraine gas deal

    A top European Union official said Ukraine's debt for gas Russia delivered between November and May remains a hurdle to reaching a deal on energy supplies between the two countries.

    EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Tuesday that Russia's state-owned gas company, Gazprom, is willing to discuss a new gas price for Ukraine on condition the country pays its existing debts first.

    Oettinger said Ukraine wants to talk first about a new market-based price for gas and would only then be willing to pay its outstanding bills.

    He said Tuesday that negotiators have been trying to convince Ukraine to pay part of the debt so the talks can start.

    The prospect of a possible cutoff in gas supplies to Ukraine has worried EU countries that receive Russian gas piped through the country. [AP]
  • Lavrov: Visit to Moscow by new Ukraine leader 'not being considered'



    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that a visit to Moscow by Ukraine's newly elected president Petro Poroshenko was not under consideration.

    "The question of a visit to Russia by Poroshenko is not being considered and is not being discussed through diplomatic or any other channels," Lavrov said at a televised news conference in Moscow. [AFP]
  • Raw footage from the Associated Press news agency shows the gun battle between separatists and Ukraine military in Donetsk on Monday.





  • Obama to meet Poroshenko next week in Europe

    President Barack Obama plans to meet next week with the candy tycoon elected over the weekend as Ukraine's new president.

    The White House said that Obama congratulated President-elect Petro Poroshenko in a phone call on Tuesday. 

    A statement also said Obama offered the United States' full support to unify Ukraine after weeks of fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

    The White House said Obama will meet with Poroshenko while in Europe June 3-6. Obama's aides would not say when or where the meeting would take place.

    The statement said Obama stressed to Poroshenko the importance of quickly bringing reform to unite the country, bring transparency and accountability to the government and strengthen its economy. [AP]




  • Ukraine moves step closer to visa-free EU travel

    Ukraine moved a step further closer to visa-free travel to the EU on Tuesday when the EU's executive ruled it had put  in place the required legislative reforms.

    Ukraine "meets the first-phase requirements," a European Commission statement said. 

    "The second phase where the Commission will be checking the implementation of these rules can therefore be launched."

    This will see the EU checking whether laws on issuing secure documents or controlling illegal immigration, for instance, are actually in place.

    "While important work still lies ahead, this is a very concrete sign to the Ukrainian authorities and citizens that with perseverance the benefits of a closer association with the EU are real and tangible to all," Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said.

    Improved travel ties are part of wider EU efforts to cement political and economic links with Ukraine.

    Former Ukraine president Viktor Yukanovych ditched an EU association accord in November under intense Russia pressure but Brussels has since extended many of its provisions to the government in Kiev.


  • European Union leaders are calling on Russia to do what it can to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

    In a statement, the EU heads of state and government said Moscow should "use its leverage on the armed separatists to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine".

    They said that as a priority, the Russian government should prevent separatists and weapons from crossing the border into Ukraine.

    [AP]
  • French President Francois Hollande has announced that he will hold "face to face" talks with President Vladimir Putin on June 6.

    The meeting will take place in northern France, during events to mark 70 years since the World War II Normandy landings, Hollande told reporters.

    "I have invited Mr Putin on June 6" and "We will have discussions" notably on the situation in Ukraine, the French leader said.

    [AFP]
  • Ukraine's military says it is back in control of the country's second-largest airport after a major operation in which dozens of people were killed.

    Armed pro-Russia separatists stormed Donetsk airport on Monday.

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reports from the city.

  • A day after fierce fighting broke out at an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, local officials began counting the cost of a clash that left at least 33 dead and forced many others to flee their homes.

    The area around the airport was strangely calm on Tuesday. The day before, government troops attacked the opposition militia who had taken control of the airport and drove them back after a bloody battle.

    One side of the road leading to the airport was packed with city traffic, while the other remained blocked. A truck destroyed in the fighting sat in an empty lane a few hundred meters along the road.

    Morgue officials said the body count stands at 33 and will undoubtedly go higher. Some of the dead are locals, and others are believed to be Russian.

    A senior official with the Donetsk police said: 
    Forensics experts are currently analyzing DNA samples to determine the men's identities.

    The fight erupted near a residential area, and most of the residents fled when the fighting began.

    One resident, who identified himself only as Sergei, took refuge in an underground shelter with his wife and two young children during the assault. When the fight was halted five hours later, his wife took the children and fled to relatives living outside Donetsk.

    Sergei plans to remain in his home. He said his family will return when the area is safe.

    But with rumors of rebel reinforcements on the way to Donetsk, he might be on his own for a while.  [Reuters]


  • Thousands of Russian troops have withdrawn from near the border with Ukraine, but tens of thousands remain, a NATO military official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

    A number of (Russian) units have now withdrawn from the border. The activity we are observing continues to suggest a slow withdrawal of forces. At present, much of the previously deployed Russian force remains in the vicinity of the border and continues to be capable of operations at short notice. Thousands of troops have withdrawn, but tens of thousands remain.

  • Al Jazeera's John Wendle reports from Donetsk:

     
     

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  • A Polish Catholic priest has been abducted by pro-Russia rebels in the eastern Ukrainian flashpoint city of Donetsk, the government and Polish media reported on Wednesday.

    Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, said:
    Our consular services have been working on securing the release of our citizen, we are also in touch with Church officials.

    He declined to provide further details on the case but Polish media named the priest as Father Pawel Witek and said he had been nabbed on Tuesday by separatist rebels.

    The clergyman is said to be held at the Ukrainian SBU security services building occupied by the rebels in Donetsk.

    Poland has been one of the staunchest supporters of the new pro-Western government in neighbouring Ukraine. [AFP]
  • The OSCE said on Wednesday it had no news of a four-member team gone missing in crisis-torn Ukraine and might consider pulling out of the country if the situation got worse.

    "We don't their exact whereabouts but they are, according to everything one can surmise, in the hands of some rebel, separatist groups," German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, the OSCE's negotiator for Ukraine, told German ZDF public TV.

    He was referring to a team of OSCE monitors who were detained at a checkpoint Monday in restive eastern Ukraine amid deadly fighting between government forces and pro-Russian gunmen.

    Ischinger added: 
    If the security situation is such that one has to fear for the lives ... of personnel, then one must, I fear, in effect withdraw them.
    [AFP]


  • Poroshenko wants to talk with Putin 'to ease' Ukraine crisis

    The president-elect of Ukraine told a German newspaper Wednesday that he planned to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to "ease" the crisis in Ukraine.

    "We will hold talks with Putin in order to ease the situation and make peace. When and where these talks will take place, is not yet decided," Petro Poroshenko told the Bild daily.

    He was responding to a question on whether direct talks with Putin were planned for next week's D Day commemorations in France to which both he and the Russian leader are invited.

    French officials announced earlier Wednesday that President Francois Hollande had invited the Ukrainian president-elect to join the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day.

    Putin, US President Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also due to attend the June 6 ceremonies in Normandy.

    "We are very happy about the possibility to be able to take part in this special event in France," Poroshenko told Thursday's Bild, according to excerpts released ahead of publication.

    He added he had already received several invitations to make state visits and said his first official foreign trip would be to Poland. [AFP]

  • A pro-Russian rebel stretches while manning a barricade near the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Wednesday. [Reuters]




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