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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Day 767: March 26, 2016

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
2 Ukrainian Soldiers Killed in Battle Today; 11 Wounded
Ukraine's Anti-Terrorist Operation [ATO] reported that two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 11 wounded today in fighting, reported. This is a significantly greater number than usual, and represents the general trend upward of increased fighting and casualties in recent weeks.

Aleksandr Motuzyanik, spokesman for the presidential administration on ATO issues, said (translation by The Interpreter):

"In the past 24 hours, as a result of combat operations, unfortunately, two Ukrainian servicemen were killed, and 8 of our fighters sustained injuries. Furthermore, 3 serviceman of the National Guard were wounded as a result of a blast from an explosive device."

Fighting continued to rage around Avdeyevka (Avdiivka), a suburb to the north of Donetsk where the Ukrainian Armed Forces have maintained a stronghold.

Russian-backed separatists fired 39 times on their position, said Unian.

The ATO said the militants were using 120- and 82-mm artillery, weapons mounted on BMPs, hand and automatic weapons, and large-caliber artillery which was banned under the Minsk agreement.

The Ukrainian forces opened fire 6 times in response to the attacks in order to maintain their positions, Unian reported. Last week they were able to move into an industrial zone closer to the highway. Today, medics in the industrial zone fell under fire and some were wounded, reported.

Yana Zinkevich, a medic with Right Sector, wrote on her Facebook page that Yury Skrebets, head of the group came under fire and suffered a concussion, but returned to his work later; their driver also suffered a concussion.

There was also shelling in Luganskoye, Novogorodskoye Mayorsk, Zaytsevo, Leninskoye, Peski, and Opytnoye. Ukrainian positions on the Mariupol line were fired on 6 times, including by a sniper. Grenade-launchers and firearms were used near Maryinka, Krasnogorovka, and Vodyanoye.

In Lugansk Region, Russian-backed militants tried to storm the position of the ATO at Nizhnetyoploye, but were repelled, said the ATO on its Facebook page.

TSN reported yesterday March 25 that "3,000 militants" were gathering near Yasinovataya in preparation of a storming of the industrial zone around Avdeyevka. 

President Petro Poroshenko announced today that "180 National Guardsmen had given their lives for Ukraine's "community, sovereignty and independence," Unian reported. He said 948 National Guardsmen were awarded for their valor in battle.

Maj. Gen. Sergei Kulchitsky and Lt. Bogan Zavada were awarded the "Hero of Ukraine" medal posthumously, said Poroshenko.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Savchenko's Health Worsens; Lawyer Upbeat About Prospects for Return; Kremlin Says 'She Will Serve Her Term'
Ilya Novikov, one of the lawyers of convicted Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, said that talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Vladimir Putin regarding her case were "successful," reports, citing an interview with Novikov on INTER TV.

He said "Savchenko's fate will be decided with two weeks." Said Novikov (translation by The Interpreter):

According to my information, his talks in particular concerning Nadezhda [Nadiya] Savchenko were successful. A date was publicly mentioned in the talks when the means by which she will return to Ukraine will be announced.

This doesn't mean she will return to Ukraine in two weeks, Novikov added, merely that a decision will be made regarding the means by which the exchange of Savchenko for presumably some Russian POWs.

"The trend seems good," said Novikov.

Savchenko was sentenced by a Russian court in Rostov on March 22 to 22 years of prison on charges of serving as an accomplice to the murder of two Russian state journalists who were killed by shelling at a Russian-backed separatist checkpoint. But her lawyers have presented evidence that she was already seized by forces of the self-proclaimed "Lugansk People's Republic" before the journalists were killed, and as The Interpreter has reported, the journalists were not wearing protective gear at a separatist checkpoint which was a legitimate target in war.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said today that Savchenko's health  had "sharply worsened," reported. Vitaly Moskalenko, consul general of Ukraine in Rostov, and Aleksandr Kovtun, vice consul, said that while Savchenko is coming off the dry hunger strike she declared to protest the delay in her sentencing, she is having trouble taking water or food because of severe nausea and allergies. Her legs have become very swollen.

Dmitry Kuleba, special envoy of the Foreign Ministry also said in an interview with TV Rain:

"I think that we can come to some specifics after the 10-day period for submission of an appeal passes. There will be no appeal, as we know, because Nadezhda has refused to make an appeal. The decision will enter into force. So many times we have been deceived in these expectations, therefore I can only express the strong hope that within a very brief span of time after the decision enters into force, Savchenko may return home. If everything will be normal, I think Savchenko will return this summer."

Savchenko was handed a copy of her sentence from the [Russian] Donetsk City Court today and has 10 days now to appeal. A written Ukrainian translation was provided to her, the court press office announced.

On March 25, Sergei Ivanov, head of the Russian presidential administration "allowed the theoretical possibility of a trade" of Savchenko for Russians, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. Ukrainian reporting on this statement (for example has  dropped the word "theoretically." Said Ivanov:

"Theoretically, such an exchange is possible: a) with complete adherence to the law of Russia; and b) only the president could make such a decision."

He added that such a trade would not have anything to do with the Minsk agreement because Russia is "not a side in the conflict" although Western leaders have not accepted this fiction. Russia now has an explicit negotiator in the Trilateral Group talks, Boris Gryzlov, former speaker of the Russian parliament and a leader in the ruling United Russia party.

Ivanov didn't indicate which Russian prisoners might be exchanged, but one possibility is two GRU officers, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev, captured by Ukrainian forces near Shchastye last year and awaiting trial on charges of terrorism.

Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the Batkivshchina Party where Savchenko holds a seat, also said that "an agreement about the transfer of the unlawfully imprisoned" Savchenko was already obtained, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Tymoshenko said she would either be exchanged or returned to Ukraine under international law to serve her sentence in Ukraine. But then she stepped back a bit by saying:

"There are great chances. These chances were obtained by top-level world leaders. This is the president of the United States and the Federal Chancellor of Germany who convinced Putin to surrender Nadiya."

The US and German leaders themselves have not commented on the case with the same certitude.

And today, presidential administration spokesman Dmitry Peskov threw cold water on the expectation of a release of Savchenko any time soon by saying in a TV interview that Putin had not yet announced such a plan, TASS reported:

"Regarding Savchenko, the situation is extremely simple for us and extremely clear: Savchenko is a convict, and going forward everything will occur in accordance with the law of the Russian Federation. She will serve her sentence. Other decisions may be taken only by the head of state. For now, there are no such decisions."

The EU has extended sanctions against Russia over the Savchenko case.

Today in Moscow, picketers who protested the sentencing of Savchenko were arrested, OVDInfo, the police monitoring group reported.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick