Intense fighting sparked near Ukrainian and Russian-led separatist strongholds
Intense fighting in the Donetsk city and Avdiivka area over the weekend and early into this week led to at least five civilian casualties, including the death of one child, and extensive damage to critical infrastructure, including the precarious Donetsk Filtration Station.
Over the past week, there was a dramatic increase in shelling activity from both the Russian-led separatists and Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), near government-controlled Avdiivka and non-government-controlled Donetsk city. While there have been high levels of artillery and tank fire observed throughout the summer and autumn of 2017, this is the first large-scale multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) attack observed this year. In this case, @DFRLab observed the Minsk-prohibited BM-21 “Grad” multiple launch rocket system, which fire 122mm artillery shells with a “hail” or “rain” effect, launch up to 40 shells toward an area, and are unable to aim at a specific target.
On November 5 and 6, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s television channel, Ukraine Military TV, uploaded two videos of reported Russian-led separatist shelling near Avdiivka. The first video showed shelling south of Avdiivka, filmed from a large apartment building on the southern edge of town.
The second video showed an aerial drone view of the Russian-led separatist “Grad” MLRS attacks against Ukrainian positions near Avdiivka.
This video was geolocated by Twitter user @GlasnostGone shortly after it was shared online.
— Glasnost Gone (@GlasnostGone) November 6, 2017
Not to be outdone, Russian-led separatists published their own aerial drone video of the same base being shelled, calling it “Fiery hell for the VSU [Ukrainian Armed Forces], Zakharchenko’s [the “leader” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic] answer for Donetsk.”
— OSCE (@OSCE) November 6, 2017
Additionally, on November 5, just north of Donetsk city in non-government-controlled Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, the OSCE SMM observed “40 explosions assessed as an outgoing salvo of a multiple launch rocket system (BM-21 Grad, 122mm),” the same MLRS strictly prohibited by the Minsk agreements due to the weapon’s indiscriminate nature.
There was also shelling in non-government-controlled areas in Donetsk city, mostly in the Kyivskiy district following the reported conflict on November 5. Twitter user @666_mancer shared a Vkontakte (VK) photo album from the group “Beautiful Donetsk”, which showed damage in the area with clear signs of shelling throughout residential areas.
The “administrative office” for the “government” of Donetsk published information on the location of damaged buildings from November 5th shelling, with the majority located along Prospekt Kyivsky. Below, a map highlights the affected areas along with the location of civilian casualties confirmed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) to Ukraine in the area during the same time period. Note that the yellow icons are unconfirmed locations only reported by the Russian-led separatist “authorities,” while the orange icons have been confirmed through the OSCE SMM.
The OSCE SMM reported at least five confirmed civilian casualties in the aftermath of high levels of artillery fire on November 5. Three of the five casualties occurred when three boys (two nine-year-olds and one ten-year-old) found a piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in a school playground in Donetsk city’s Petrovskyi district.
Hug: In Donetsk’s Kyivskyi dist, SMM saw homes damaged, civilians scared & traumatized, at least 2 hurt. In city’s Petrovskyi dist, 9-yr-old boy died & 2 hurt by unexploded ordnance in school playground; 31-yr-old woman had gunshot wound. 39 children killed/injured in 2017 so far
— OSCE SMM Ukraine (@OSCE_SMM) November 10, 2017
Threat to water treatment plant
As @DFRLab previously reported, close opposing military positions lead to heavy fighting in proximity to the Donetsk Filtration Station (DFS) continues to pose a pressing threat to civilian life. According to Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) Ambassador Martin Sajdik, a hit to just one of the chlorine gas stores at the DFS can “kill people within a 200 m radius… and seriously disrupt the supply of water to almost 350,000 people on both sides of the line of contact.”
On November 7, the Ukrainian Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Press Center published three photographs showing damage to a notably dangerous chlorine pipeline at the DFS. As @DFRLab previously reported, damage to the DFS poses a potential for wider civilian and environmental impact through large stores of liquified chlorine gas at the facility. If the liquified chlorine gas were hit, it would cause clouds of poisonous gas to spread into the nearby residential areas. The Press Center reported that the pipe was damaged on November 3 after a Russian-led separatist attack.
The United Nation’s Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Nealk Walker, published a statement on November 8 regarding the hazard of ongoing fighting north of Donetsk that puts the DFS into danger.
UNICEF Ukraine has also brought attention to the issue, sharing the ATO Press Center’s photograph of the pipeline damaged on November 3.
— UNICEF Ukraine (@UNICEF_UA) November 6, 2017
Based on information in recent OSCE SMM reports, this trend of kinetic activity may continue, as over a dozen MLRS “Grad” systems spotted near Luhansk:
In violation of the respective withdrawal lines in non-government-controlled areas, the SMM observed a total of 19 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) (BM-21 Grad, 122mm) at two locations near Khrustalnyi (formerly Krasnyi Luch, 56km south-west of Luhansk).
The renewed use of unguided, indiscriminate, multiple launch rocket “Grad” artillery systems marks an escalation in an already hot conflict, with dramatically increased dangers to civilians between the cold winter approaching and potentially unsafe drinking water. On November 9, the Chief Monitor of the OSCE SMM to Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, called for “immediate attention and action” to cease military activity in eastern Ukraine due to the “onset of winter.” However, we may not see a cessation, but rather an escalation, of kinetic activity as more weapons banned by the Minsk Agreements are observed near the contact line.
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