Apparent Ukrainian artillery strike in Luhansk airfield damages equipment
Since at least April 4, the authorities of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) transported a significant number of military vehicles, including tanks, artillery systems, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, to an airfield in the outskirts of Luhansk. Early on Tuesday morning, a series of explosions took place at this airfield, damaging a number of the pieces of military equipment housed there before the May 9 Victory Day Parade.
Deployment to the airfield
A number of photographs and videos emerged showing the LNR’s deployment of military equipment to an airfield near Luhansk, ostensibly in preparation for the annual Victory Day parade on May 9.
Two videos produced by pro-Russian or separatist media outlets showed a range of equipment, including T-72 tanks, Grad artillery systems, and Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile complexes.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine took a drone photograph of the equipment, highlighting the types and quantities of each system. Separatist media blamed the OSCE for giving away the location of the vehicles, but a separatist-published video from a day prior to the OSCE-SMM tweet provided sufficient evidence for geolocation.
Though there were numerous reports that this military equipment was being deployed to the Luhansk Airport, geolocation instead placed this location to an airfield in southeastern Luhansk, where the Luhansk Aviation Technical Museum is housed alongside an airstrip that used to be used by an aviation academy. The Luhansk Airport, which was destroyed during fighting since the outbreak of the war in eastern Ukraine, is located a dozen kilometers to the south of this airfield.
While this movement and build-up of military equipment does break the Minsk agreement, similar deployments have taken place in Donetsk and Luhansk over the past few years to coincide with Victory Day parades, and are relatively “light” infractions of the ceasefire, when compared to shellings and front-line mobilizations.
At around 2:00 a.m. on April 17, around ten explosions were reported near the airfield in southeastern Luhansk, leading to damage to a number of the military vehicles present.
A number of videos and photographs supplied by Luhansk authorities and pro-separatist media outlets showed the damage to the equipment and area. For example, the “People’s Militia of the LNR” YouTube channel posted a video of OSCE SMM monitors visiting the site soon after the attack.
In this video and in images from PolitNavigator, we observed the extent of the damage: artillery strikes to the northern part of the area, with damage to a tent, heavy trucks, and a World War II era T-34-85 tank.
Contrary to separatist claims that the Ukrainian artillery strike “finished off” the World War II era T-34, the tank sustained only superficial damage to its right side and part of the engine cover which had been removed for maintenance. Inside one of the damaged tents, a World War II era ZiS-2 artillery piece also took superficial damage. The trucks outside suffered a more sinister fate, however, as many of them were destroyed in the artillery strike.
Behind the OSCE monitor, we can see the more modern equipment, including armored personnel carriers and anti-aircraft missile systems, unharmed.
Responsibility for the attack
Luhansk authorities claimed that the explosions were the result of a shelling 152mm-caliber weapon conducted by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the area of Makarove, about 20 kilometers to the northeast.
The daily report released by the OSCE SMM to Ukraine on April 17 corroborates these claims, detailing how OSCE monitors observed “18 explosions” leaving government-controlled Stanytsia Luhanska — a neighboring town to Makarove — just minutes before the Luhansk airfield was shelled.
The information included in the OSCE’s detailed table of observed ceasefire violations corroborates this report.
The exact time of the shelling roughly matched Luhansk reports, with the Russian-led authorities claiming that shelling was observed from the same area near Stanytsia Luhanska at 1:50 AM — just five minutes from the time reported by the OSCE monitoring team.
While both the deployment of heavy military equipment at the Luhansk airfield and Ukraine’s apparent artillery strike against this location are flagrant violations of the Minsk agreement, there were no reported civilian casualties from the incident. Ukraine’s apparent decision to carry out a limited artillery strike against a build-up of Russian and separatist military equipment in preparation for Victory Day marks a new development in the ongoing conflict. Prior to this incident, Ukraine has not decided against conducting strikes against relatively isolated, yet very public, build-ups of military equipment for ceremonial purposes, such as with the upcoming Victory Day parade.
We will continue to monitor the Russian and separatist preparations for military parades on May 9, along with any changes of mobilization in occupied territories in eastern Ukraine.
Follow the latest Minsk II Violations via the @DFRLab’s #MinskMonitor.
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