Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Donbass Shelling and Russia's "Unprovoked" Invasion of Ukraine, part 1

22 January, 2023

last edits 28 Jan.

Introduction: Having looked at the shelling of Donetsk in December in great detail, and September in middling detail, I wanted to look back at the beginning of this year's shelling. I had totally focused on readings in Donetsk city, where I can easily place most impacts using street views, and where the hard pavement and walls make them easy to read. But there weren't so many of these early on, and other questions came up along the way, expanding my scope in time and space, and into who was documenting it all and how. 

It turned into a pretty deep dive, mostly on Telegram and in reports of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission, that I'm still trying to surface from. It had to split into two parts, then three, then just 2 but quite long, with the remainder to go elsewhere ... I had to learn things I just didn't know, and I decided to share most of it as usual, but edited down into a hopefully readable form. 

Here I'll relate and analyze incidents and reports from the 18th of February - a week before the Russian invasion - back to early November of 2021. Did you know the people in Donetsk were getting shelled back then? These attacks set up a humanitarian catastrophe in the region regarding access water, heat, and electricity and, in some cases, to intact homes and to life itself. Ballistic readings, including some of my own (but not as many or as detailed as I'd like), suggesting these attacks came from Ukrainian-held areas. 

Then I share some obnoxious Ukrainian and supportive sources pointing the other way, on clearly ideological grounds, blaming the Russians, the DPR and LPR for shelling themselves or their own. That's countered with some pretty visuals free but logical and detailed relation of Ukraine's foreign-backed terrorism again trying to make life unlivable in the breakaway republics.

Monitoring a Year-Long buildup to War  

For some time before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, we were told it was planned, if not imminent. In fact, we were told that Russia had invaded already back in 2014, but that was a figure of speech. As they set to actually doing it, we were told the move was unprovoked, based on Russian greed for empire and greased by Russian disinformation about imaginary Nazis and some NATO "coup". We also heard that it might be sparked by a Russian false-flag event, like an attack on civilians in the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples' Republics (DPR and LPR) the Russians would fake or carry out for real, just to accuse Ukraine and have a pretext to roll in.   

In contrast, Russia and its DPR/LPR allies reported reasons that they could hardly have fabricated. As explained below, there was an actual Ukrainian troop and weapons buildup around them in the divided Donbass region. There were various signals of hostility including, by late January, new shelling attacks that, as I'll show, tend to use Western-supplied weapons and to originate from Ukrainian-held areas. Claiming to believe this threat, DPR and LPR authorities ordered mass mobilization of fighting-age men, and they started sending many women and children off on busses to the east, for their safety. Was that all part of an elaborate ruse, as Kyiv would have us believe? 

These immediate conditions were laid well in advance, and surely by a plan. Almost a year before, on 24 March, 2021, Ukraine's president Zelensky issued a decree that might offer some clues about this plan. This decree made effective a recent decision of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council titled: "On the Strategy of De-occupation and Re-integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol." The decision itself and what it says is important, but if it's public, I haven't seen it. Here, I'll cite Zelenskyy's explanation for implementing it.

The events of early 2014 left Russia "temporarily occupying" Crimea with about zero dead, according to a democratic vote Ukraine just rejects, and all legally in the minds of many. But in Zelenskyy's decree, the need to counter "the Russian Federation's armed aggression" there was evident. Ukraine offered "a set of measures of a diplomatic, military," and other natures, to re-exert their authority over Crimea and Sevastopol. They planned to engage with "civil society" groups inside the Russian-majority Crimea, in "preparation" for a peaceful transition, like the one that happened in 2014 but all in reverse. But in case that didn't happen with their ten people in Crimea, as it wouldn't... "Ukraine reserves the right to apply all means" to this end. Military measures were included, and would probably become the main ones used. Therefore:

"23. The prerequisites for the reintegration of the temporarily occupied territory" include creating all-new "democratic institutions," something about Ukraine's economy and European living standards, and perhaps key: "strengthening the state's defense capabilities, improving the capabilities and development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, other military formations formed in accordance with the laws of Ukraine [Azov Battallion, Tornado, et al.], law enforcement agencies, development of the defense-industrial complex." 

"79. Ukraine provides special training for [the above] ... to perform the tasks assigned to them, taking into account the peculiarities of the processes of de-occupation and reintegration, as well as using the experience of Ukrainian citizens who participated in international peacekeeping operations and security." He might refer to Ukraine's "Anti-Terror Operation"  - their civil war in the Donbass thus far. It can be "peculiar" stuff. 

To physically "de-occupy" Crimea would not happen with some lobbying and promises of prosperity. It would first require ignoring the republic's autonomous will to be part of Russia instead, as overwhelmingly expressed in the 2014 ballot, along with a mass unwillingness to oppose that will. Mass defection, "actions and inactions" that allowed a nearly bloodless transition are called treason by Ukraine and - per this decree of Zelemnskyy - they hope to punish that treason very widely as part of their re-integration. 

But first, they'd have to fight and kill the Russian "occupiers" and the people of Crimea, by and large, who invited them and who would fight beside them. So from Ukraine's point of view, this was a strategy towards civil war on its own people. And from the other side, it reads like a plan for invasion and occupation. That's an alarming development. It would violate the spirit and terms of the Minsk accords, for one thing. But Ukraine and its supporters now admit to violating this the whole time; they just used the temporary peace to rebuild their armed forces for an eventual violation-to-victory.  

There's no mention in the March decree of the Donbass as a target, nor of specific plans at all, which were posed as still undecided. But from a government so willing to fight its own people, there may have been a less visible plan to invade and de-Russify the larger DPR and LPR as well. In fact, the talk of a Crimean focus could have been a distraction from Kyiv's real plans. Either task, and especially both, would take a lot of troops and weapons Ukraine didn't have in 2015, but had built up since. And interestingly, it was soon after this decree - March (probably second half) and April of 2021 - that sporadic shelling of the Donbass resumed. 

The chart above is adapted from Conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: A Visual Explainer from the International Crisis Group. Side-note: that's a think tank funded by a host of Western governments, endowments like the "Open Society Institute," and corporations like BP. The same explainer noted that "in 2021-22 two Russian military build-ups along the Ukrainian border foreshadowed an escalation, one in March and April 2021 and a second one in December 2021 through February 2022." They didn't notice Ukraine doing anything troubling on the borders of Crimea or Donbass at these same exact times.

This chart reflects President Zelenskyy initiating two ceasefires in Donbass after coming to office in May 2019. A "Harvest" ceasefire that summer gave way to renewed shelling within weeks, and that lasted for almost a year. Then another ceasefire - "additional measures" -  held. For a while, everyone on the Ukrainian side seemed to agree to save their ammo in a prolonged silence regime lasting, according to the chart, for some 8 months (August 2020 to March 2021). It's as if some military pregnancy was unfolding in seclusion, and with new attacks from April onward, it's like the birthed creature was starting to crawl. 

E.g.: "In October, the Armed Forces of Ukraine shelled the territory of the LPR 61 times. ... Over the past month, as a result of the shelling of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, more than 20 residential buildings and 5 civilian infrastructure facilities were damaged, one defender of the republic was killed. (Donbass Reshaet)

Reports from the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) partly reflect abnormal appearance of heavy military equipment and troops near the front line in this span. (all reports can be found here) They were still trying to keep tabs on prohibited weapons, and finding storage sites on both sides partly or totally empty, when they're supposed to be full. 

On 26 November, 2011: "The SMM could not access a permanent storage site in non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk region" - meaning in the DPR - "as its entrance door was locked and no personnel was present." At two other sites they were turned away, in one case by an armed guard citing “orders from superiors because the storage site is empty.” All its contents had been moved, likely to field positions in preparation for use (or maybe just to places the OSCE didn't know of, maybe to make extra sure Ukraine didn't learn where they were and destroy them.) 

But Ukraine may have led this trend. A report of 22 February notes: "At one heavy weapons holding area in a government-controlled area of Luhansk region ... The Mission noted that no weapons were present, as during the previous visit to this site on 24 August 2021." Were they fielding whole warehouses of weapons already by late August? If so, it's curious how the SMM report covering 24 August failed to mention this development. 

On 13 December: "At three heavy weapons holding areas in government-controlled areas of Donetsk region ... The SMM noted that 15 self-propelled howitzers (2S1) and 13 towed howitzers (D-30) were missing since its last visits to these sites on 3 and 29 September 2021, respectively." (PDF) The missing units were likely already seen on the 6th: "Beyond withdrawal lines but outside designated storage sites, the Mission saw 30 tanks and 17 howitzers at two railway stations in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions." 15 Self-propelled howitzer (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm) were spotted "at a railway station in Rubizhne." (PDF)

Increasingly, both sides turned the SMM away from its work of monitoring. Their reports frequently mention "armed formations" from the Peoples' Republics stopping them from visiting sites for various reasons, and interfering with their UAVs. (e.g. 22 Feb 2022-02-22). But the same reports also relate similar issues with the Ukrainian side. (e.g. Ukrainian troops threaten to shoot down SMM drones on 2 February). An extremely common phrase: "The Mission landed the UAV and left the area." A study of who was more secretive when might be interesting, but it's one of a few things I skipped for now. 

International Crisis Group noted later "reports that the OSCE Missions were denied access to the war zone by armed formations.  This means that with the invasion drawing closer, the visibility of what was going on in the Donbas conflict zone declined." Perhaps both sides feared that someone in the mission was spying, or just that military preparations shouldn't be published. The whole documentation regime was premised on no active hostilities to expose. But that was never fully the case, and increasingly, the mission's work was at odds with actors on both sides preparing for war.  Shortly after the Russian invasion, the SMM would formally disband, but things were at a whole different level already. 

In a detailed article, former NATO adviser to Ukraine Jacques Baud surmised the troop buildup wasn't just about Crimea but also "in preparation for a major operation against the Donbass" and noted the Ukrainian force placement "is why Russian forces were able to encircle it from the beginning of March in the “cauldron” between Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk." 

Probably in anticipation of war, Ukrainian forces near Hranitne (frontline, south - about midway between Donestk and Mariupol) dug several new trenches, fortifications, and a pit likely meant as the start of an underground bunker, as spotted by the SMM on 10 November. Next day's report related these in some detail and notes "The two recent trench systems east of the river were assessed as forward moves which decreased the distances between the forward positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and those of the armed formations in the area are now reduced from 1.7km to 900m." That wasn't forward in the Crimea direction, but it was some meters closer to a whole new stage in the years-long conflict.

1 November, 2021: Rehabilitated Homes Attacked

Noting the shelling of 2021 late in the game, I checked if my amateur ballistic analysis might add anything. I just scratched the surface at the later part of it, for some incidents outside Donetsk city, which is where I usually limit my serious analysis ... but I can start with one attack with some visuals that is inside the city. 

Donbass Reshaet reported on 2 November

"Ukrainian Armed Forces damaged four houses in the north of Donetsk with mines [shells]. Last night, Ukrainian militants shelled Stratonavtov Street and the adjacent village of Veseloe where a mine broke through the roof of house No. 73 on Sadovaya Street. ... (in Donetsk) Three apartment buildings were damaged - one 5-storey and two 2-storey."

"In a five-story building, a mine broke through the concrete roof, 15 window blocks were damaged. In one two-story building, slate was cut with fragments - there are about 40 holes in the roof. A total of 10 windows were also damaged in two-story buildings. In addition, two garages were broken and the gas pipeline was damaged in three places."

During the shelling, there were about a dozen families in the five-story building, including two minor children.

As a representative of the administration of the Kievsky district of Donetsk told the Donbass channel, these houses have been restored after shelling three times already. The five-story building began to be occupied two weeks ago. Repairs are also being completed in the affected two-story buildings." (luckily no one had moved in yet)

No one was killed or seriously hurt in this attack, but what message does this send? "We wreck your homes as soon as you rebuild them from the last wrecking. You cannot live here in safety anymore."

Reports give and/or show the addresses 123 and 139 on Stratonavtov Street. 123 is at 48.0593004,37.7366161 and 139 (by labels and deduction) is a long block or so east, the last of 3 such buildings. (Note: the numbers there don't seem to make sense.) Google Maps has a 2011 street view of the south faces, looking quite different. Another 2-story block damaged is probably one of those next to 139. 

This is northern Kyivsky district, quite near the battered airport that marks the front line. Both buildings we see are lightly or moderately damaged on what seems to be the north side (where satellite views hardly ever help), with high, scattered fragments from nearby impacts = partly from the north. The roof hit to 123 is on the west end: I don't see much of a pattern to suggest the direction, but the shell held as if coming from the north or northwest makes sense (the edge there seems to have an appearance like a serrated knife, maybe from dense fragmentation).

Investigation photos from the DPR Representative Office in the JCCC (Joint Centre for Control and Coordination on ceasefire and stabilization of the demarcation line) were published by DPR Online. One impact is shown at right, read as northwest origin. (see there also for "serrated" view)

American expat journalist Patrick Lancaster posted a video - Ukraine War Attacks Increase As Newly Renovated Apartments Hit By Shelling - filming from the area, where he says 16 122mm mortar shells landed. He shows at least 7 of the impacts, and interviews the locals. Oleg told him how another shell or 2 destroyed the roof of a 2-story building that was just repaired, but that people hadn't moved into yet. Another shell hit just inches from a gas pipeline, leaving a crater (see below). Oleg thinks the shell came from a certain direction (gestured), and the arc of fragmentation marks on the fence agree fairly well. As visible as the pattern is, the POSSIBLE peak of the arc (vertical red line) suggests a similar trajectory. With a fuller view, maybe we'd see the peak of the arc is more to the right, or more like Oleg said.

In this video report, Lancaster mentions recent drone attacks against DRP troops (admitted by Ukraine, publishing videos) and another drone strike that injured civilians in Gorlovka. And he notes the absence of OSCE investigators at the scene, calling it a common occurrence. DPR inspectors with the JCCC are there, as usual, documenting everything. 

But noting the issues with denied access, I checked if the 1 November attack might be mentioned in OSCE reports, or perhaps their access being blocked. But their 2  November report doesn't reflect the event in the text or among the tabled or mapped violations. The 3 November report maps a cluster of "low-intensity" violations in the correct, civilian area of Donetsk just across from the airport, but on the wrong day to match. A more inclusive "violations table" in the same report relates that a SMM camera at Oktiabr mine (non-government-controlled, 9km NW of Donetsk city centre)" - which is probably inside the city, just south of the airport - recorded 9 projectiles 2-4km further to the WNW, travelling N to S on 1-Nov, at 20:26. Those yellow dots are dated entries. They might be part of this attack, said to happen around 8pm (https://t.me/donbassr/7546), but the trajectory is given wrong; from 11-13 km NW of city center to due south bwould be Ukraine shelling their own side. From there to the mapped dots that are supposed to matter, any shells would need to travel southeast, like the ones that DID land there apparently travelled. 

The report text says nothing about what happened at the site of those urban violations at this same basic time - not to say they were blocked from investigating nor to suggest there was anything TO investigate. There's also nothing about the attack or any delayed visit in their reports of 4 or 5 November, 

See also on the attack: https://t.me/TK_Union/4852 - https://t.me/TK_Union/4836 - https://t.me/donbassr/7574 - another JCCC photo:

... then a final respite ...

11 November: "Consequences of the shelling of N. p. Ozeryanovka - Photo report of the DPR Representative Office in the JCCC." One impact is shown, a sizeable crater, read as northwest in origin.  (via DNR online).  If this photo was taken around solar noon, then the JCCC investigator has the arrows set about right. The lack of displaced soil in the NW quadrant (per these arrows) does suggest that's the back side. (the blast is all directions, but trajectory adds to the forward direction, slopes the side-spray, and subtracts from spray to the back, and the downward angle of the back side makes for close damage and limited spread anyway.)

Ozeryanovka is about 15km north of Horlivka. The story as told: at 7:50 am, 18 shells of 120mm caliber landed in the village, leading to damages unspecified past damaging a power line, cutting to power to many locals. After some patches, just 208 people still lacked electricity 3 hours later. (sources: https://t.me/donbassr/7825 - https://t.me/TK_Union/4960 - https://t.me/dnronline/54594)

The OSCE's 11 November report (PDF) does note: "At a checkpoint near Horlivka ...a member of the armed formations denied the Mission passage south towards Ozerianivka ... citing a “lack of notification from superiors”." So the SMM didn't get to check any of these craters themselves. Huh. One wonders where they were when homes were shelled in Donetsk a week earlier.

There were probably other reported attacks I didn't run across in my scrolling, but probably not many. Recall the OSCE's noted pause in shelling during January, after a downturn in December, but before that massive increase in February just ahead of the Russian invasion. As we'll see, even January wasn't all quiet, but there seem to be a relative lack of reports until the last week. Interestingly, it was on 1 December that, as US News reported, "Russia accused Ukraine on Wednesday of deploying half of its army or 125,000 troops to Donbass" with imminent plans, they feared, to attack the Peoples' Republics. Kyiv had no immediate reply to the charges, but Russian forces started massing near the border and the provocative shelling fell off soon thereafter, for one thing. 

US president Biden would later comment on Russia's "disinformation" that Ukraine was planning to attack Donbass:  "Well, look, there is simply no evidence of these assertions, and it and devies [sic] — it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a year-long [sic] conflict." 

This is a question worth considering - picking a fight with the Peoples' Republics could mean having to fight Russia as well. By the chart above, it seems they were trying to avoid provoking Russia back in January. But by February, Biden saw an invasion as imminent regardless of Ukraine's complete absence of provocation. Maybe the Ukrainians were just as sure they had already pushed it too far. If there was going to be an invasion anyway, they might as well get an early start attacking enemy forces within reach and also punishing the people of Donbass, as those people believe it has been ever since 2014.

29 January: Attack on Yelenovka Electric Station

24 January: DPR Defense Minister Eduard Basurin told journalists he was alarmed by renewed Ukrainian military preparations on their border. https://t.me/patricklancasternewstoday/36

Five days later, Patrick Lancaster reported: "Ukraine Fired 9 Western supplied 60mm Mortars on an electric sub station in Yelenovka. ... (60mm not made by UA, #Russia or in #USSR)" In a video report: Ukraine Fired Western "Lethal aid" on Civilian Infrastructure In DPR (In-depth Special Report, Lancaster shows fragments of the shells used, 4 impact craters just outside the plant's walls, and 4 inside the walls. He shows how one damaged power lines, and another damaged a transformer (shown), interrupting power for the locals before emergency transformers were switched on. "What's Ukraine going to say this time?" Lancaster asks. "They're going to say it's Donetsk shelling themselves?" Implicitly, yes. That's what they always say.

Yelenovka (or Olenivka) is just south of western Donetsk city, right at the front line as it then stood. Plant coordinates: 47.8249132,37.6368912. Lancaster shows damage at a corner on the west side, deciding the shell could only be hit from the north or west where the frontline lies just over 1 km distant. By satellite views, the "west" side faces northwest (or WNW), with the impacted corner facing north, accepting fire from NNE to WNW (if the roof needs cleared - otherwise from any direction). By this, mapped out as below, Donetsk cannot be excluded. due north to due NW mapped below for reference. 

There's no clear enough pattern to say much except that both inner walls are marked pretty equally by fireball and fragments, at a decent height compared to the nearby impact, so the forward direction is mainly into that corner or to the south. That's an origin mostly from the north, likely a bit from the west, probably not at all from the east. Considering western make of weapon, motive and precedent, NNW to Marinka seems the best place to look. 

The damaged transformer is on the southeast side of the building and was probably hit with mid-level side-spraying fragments. 

The DPR-linked JCCC, documented the damage at "the Yelenovskaya traction substation" where "the enemy used 60-mm mortars. A total of 9 mine explosions were recorded: 5 on the territory of the infrastructure facility, 4 in the immediate vicinity." (via DNR Online) One impact is shown, read as almost due northwest origin - from the south of Marinka (or on that line). This should be a better reading than my estimate based on very limited views. 

Add 28 Jan. See also if allowed: Разбирательство по факту обстрела ВФУ н.п. Еленовка - Представительство ДНР в СЦКК (dnr-sckk.ru) more detailed JCCC investigation photos, and their estimated origin of fire: fields 2.5 km west of this absolutely front line village. 

The OSCE's SMM, in a report covering the 29th and 30th, mapped low-intensity ceasefire violations mostly inside the DPR border. One yellow dot is mapped on the border around Yelenovka, but nothing about this attack is mentioned in the report text, or in the table of violations (which the map is supposed to reflect). They had a station in government-controlled Berezove, 7km SW of Yelenovka, but it only observed 8 explosions, recorded from 3:22 to 3:42 am, they think 2-4km to the SE. Was the 7km NE just too far to hear? Perhaps. 60mm doesn't sound very powerful. But did no one phone it in to them? Or were they just not interested in an attack on civilian infrastructure launched with western weapons from Ukrainian areas? Their next report issued on 1 February doesn't mention any follow-up on this case either. 

To 17 February

Any Ukrainian moves on the Donbass would be planned out, and the United States would probably be informed about the plans, one way or another. But they only spoke of wicked Russian plots. On 3 February, the Washington Post passed on a Biden administration warning: “Russia has developed a plan, approved at high levels in Moscow, to create a pretext for invading Ukraine by falsely pinning an attack on Ukrainian forces that could involve alleged casualties not only in eastern Ukraine but also in Russia.” Then, as Jacques Baud noted, "On 11th February, President Joe Biden announced that Russia would attack the Ukraine in the next few days. How did he know this? It is a mystery. But since the 16th, the artillery shelling of the population of Donbass increased dramatically, as the daily reports of the OSCE observers show."

OSCE reports reflect serious shelling in the region commenced on or by the 14th of February, increased sharply and grew more widespread on the 16th, and turned heavier yet from the 18th to the 22nd. The maps show some shelling on the Ukrainian side, but that was likely defensive and provoked by the much greater shelling from the Ukrainian side. I'm citing for now a summary article withe the following graphics. How Ukraine started shelling the Donbass in the lead-to Russia's invasion of Ukraine - Seemorerocks (also the original source for the above chart)

As tracked from inside: The JCCC issued early shelling reports from at least 22 January, for a time sporadically; some days, a few RPG shells were fired in, sometimes a mortar shell or two as well, and sometimes nothing.  The 6th of February was a bit worse than usual: 

"The representative office of the Donetsk People's Republic in the JCCC reports that over the past 24 hours, the AFU violated the indefinite ceasefire six times. On the territory of the DPR, in violation of the Minsk agreements, as well as the ceasefire agreements, the following weapons were used: Donetsk direction: 120 mm mortars - 1 time (2 mines); AGS - 1 time (5 grenades). Mariupol direction: RPG / LNG - 2 times (8 grenades); AGS - 2 times (82 grenades). Spartak, Donetsk, Sosnovskoye and Oktyabr were under fire from the VFU." (DPR Online)

Early on 16 February it was about the same but, as noted, shelling escalated that day and later that morning the JCCC noted an escalation - an additional 42 grenades and 20 mortar shells fired in the Donetsk and Mariupol directions. From there, ceasefire violation talk ends and it's just shooting every day, with updates every few hours. On 17 February, between 8:25 and 14:45 they reported: 82mm mortar shells: 55 - 120mm mortar: 12 - AGS grenades: 78 - LNG grenades: 8 - RPG grenades: 10 - anti-tank missile 1. (sources: https://t.me/dnronline/57500 - https://t.me/dnronline/57513 - https://t.me/dnronline/57516 - https://t.me/dnronline/57527). 

17 February Kindergarten Attack

As shelling of the Donbass accelerated - especially north of Lugansk - western leaders and media were silent. Then the Canadian government for one implicitly denied tit on the 17th, when they condemned an "unprovoked" attack the other way, damaging a kindergarten in a Ukrainian-held town north of Lugansk on the morning of the 17th, injuring 2 teachers but luckily none of the students. 

Canada's foreign minister Melanie Joly said her nation "strongly condemns the unprovoked Russian military activity in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Innocent civilians were put in danger by this clear effort by Russia to escalate the crisis. We commend the restraint shown by Ukraine." A CTV News report passed that on and added "Ukrainian military command said shells hit a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska, wounding two teachers, and cutting power to half the town. Ukraine blamed separatists for shelling its forces but said they didn't fire back." That's not presented exactly as factual, but it seems like we're supposed to read it that way, and to assume they also did nothing to provoke the attack.

Someone within the blamed LPR did some interesting OSINT work in this case. They mapped the location of the kindergarten, analyzed the damage shown, and finally concluded the strike could only come from the east (or SE, actually), showing a red arrow aimed straight into that wall. The suggested line runs entirely on the Ukrainian side of the front line (red & blue, along the Siverskyi Donets river). "All this proves that the farce with the destruction of the kindergarten is a provocation by Kyiv in order to destabilize the situation in the Donbass." (my source: https://t.me/millnr/7122)

Destabilization and provocation do kind of seem to be the UAF's early goals. But was this really an example? I used the LPR graphic to set the spot (which seems correct, checking Google and Yandex maps): Дитячий садок-ясла №21 "Казка" - Google Maps - 48.6737313,39.4506425. As shown, the building faces southeast, and the impact is into the wall near the eastern corner. 

I recall looking at this then, and reviewing now, I still say it's not the clearest impact to call. However, one direction I'd say it didn't come is straight in, like it's shown above. The asymmetrical outer damage argues for an approach somewhat from the left or right, depending, and I think it's from the left, or south. On the left, the outer cladding was torn away by fragments packed on the acute-angled side of the shell (what I call a splash pattern when it happens on pavement). This has an arc shape to it, describing close to 180 degrees, and is narrowly defined, with a ragged edge showing dense fragmentation, while the intact cladding further out shows the more scattered, oblique marks. 

On the right, there were probably very few fragment marks on the cladding and insulation as it was blown off, mainly in big chunks, with forward blast force scraping along the wall beneath while expanding in all directions. Another photo I saw (and have?) shows insulation in big square chunks to the right, and more shredded on the left, where the frags were directed right into the wall.). 

From the left of southeast means SSE or south, where the front line lies nearby, at the river. Depending on the exact angle, this could be a Ukrainian provocation as claimed, launched from just on their side of the line, or perhaps by a team that had snuck across the river. But at least as likely, it could be LPR fire, most likely trying to respond to Ukrainian attacks but missing its target. The kindergarten is some 120m south of a rail yard that could make a good firing position. And a day earlier, as shelling north of Lugansk really flared up, it was reported "militants of the 79th brigade from positions in the area of the settlement Stanitsa Luhanskaya" - this same village - "(fired with) 82 mm mortars on the area of the settlement Veselenke" about 10km SW. https://t.me/vrogov/1479

This sets a recurring theme for this post: false-flag explanations don't pan out so well. Some who assumed the LPR shelled the school just because it was in a Ukrainian-held area, and that does seem likely. But then many of the same people will assume all such attacks inside the Peoples' Republics are internal false-flags and self-provocations. Such things are possible for either side, and they happen more often than most realize - see Kherson, December 24 vs. Mariupol, 2015. But with Donbass shelling, I've seen very little reason to doubt that, in general, an attack on the Ukrainian side probably comes from the Russian/separatist side, and vice versa. 

That same day (17 Feb.) American expat Patrick Lancaster reported from Donetsk, sharing the sound of flying shells and explosions in the mid-distance to the west of city center. "Terror Alarm" shared this on Twitter labeled "False Flag Alert: It looks like #Russia is shelling its own militia in #Donetsk. Explosions are being heard near the Ukraine frontline." As I said, false-flag stuff tends to fail here. 

18 Feb. Biden was shifting his prediction of a Russian attack, but still saw it coming: "we have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week. ... Over the last few days, we’ve seen reports of a major uptick in violations of the ceasefire by Russian-backed fighters attempting to provoke Ukraine in the Donbas." There's no mention of Ukraine firing first, second, or ever. "For example, a shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten yesterday, which Russia has falsely asserted was carried out by Ukraine.  We also continue to see more and more disinformation being pushed out by — to the Russian public, including the Russian-backed separatists, claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbas."

Ukraine would deny provoking or being provoked as shelling of the LPR and DPR escalated in the following days. They'd say it was all "Russians" shelling them, and their own forces, and their own people, to give themselves reason to try again to provoke Ukraine. According to the OSCE maps, they dished out some 3 or 4 self-provocations for every attempt to goad Ukraine, and allegedly failed every time, but they allegedly kept trying anyway, as they had allegedly been shelling the region themselves for nearly 8 years. They must have had a lot of alleged artillery shells to spare.

18 February: Two Electrical Substations Attacked 

On February 18th, Patrick Lancaster reported on the shelling two electrical substations in the DPR - he believed by the Ukrainian military - knocking out electricity for multiple villages. This, he said, showed the "increasing theme" of Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) attacks on civilian infrastructure in the republics. Youtube video posted 19 Feb. but some clips were on Telegram the day before: https://t.me/patricklancasternewstoday/248 - https://t.me/patricklancasternewstoday/249 

18/2 substation area video, with more views of other buildings I didn't even try to locate https://t.me/nm_dnr/6202 

I geolocated the first plant substation visited in the village of Verkhnotoretske, which, as he says, is just north of Donetsk. Unless there are 2 near-fits in this small town, this is the spot, in the northwest, at 48.2279657,37.8578306. I'm not 100% sure about the view lineup, but this might be it, minus skew variation for taller vs. shorter objects (below). Either way, note how the square frame things (sorry - they're marked yellow) and the punctured canister (magenta) line up.

The cylindrical object that's punctured on both sides is strange; it's like a single bullet entry on one side, showing a downward angle, suggesting a deflection off the canister's concave bottom, then out the other side at an upward angle. The scale of it isn't clear, and there are some small added marks on the way out, as if an artillery shell just partly detonated inside, concave surface are harder to punch through (?), and only a few did right where the spent shell punched through and blast itself partly melted the metal. The line from one punch to the other is roughly across the tank (magenta above), which traces a line back to the north-northwest. Lancaster explained Ukrainian positions were about 600m to 1km away to the north and west of here, and of course on the land further out in both directions.

Could it be DPR fakers in the narrow span before the border? Unlikely. The canister penetration also gives an idea of vertical impact angle, something like 45 degrees. An extremely short-range use would probably give us a far more vertical approach.

Reported: 18/2 9:39 am https://t.me/dnronline/57545
18 Feb, late https://t.me/dnronline/57559
"Today at 8:00, the Kyiv security forces shot at the 35 kV Razdolnaya substation, which feeds the villages of Krasny Partizan and Verkhnetoretskoye, Yasinovatsky district. Here, the VFU militants damaged a power transformer with a direct hit.
Settlements are de-energized, electricity was lost at a school, kindergarten, boiler house and 438 household subscribers.
Due to ongoing shelling by the VFU, DPR power engineers cannot proceed with the restoration of the damaged substation – DPR Ministry of Coal and Energy
Razdolnaya substation, which provides electricity to several settlements in the Yasinovatsky district, was damaged as a result of shelling from the side of the VFU — Dmitry Shevchenko, head of the administration of the city of Yasinovataya

Lancaster also visited a larger electrical substation in nearby Horlivka that was shelled the same day, cutting power to more locals, and some damaged buildings near the sites. But I didn't try to place or analyze that other footage, aside from the plant. The Horlovka site shown at right - not much visible damage anyway. 

https://t.me/dnronline/57565 (compressed photos) The consequences of the shelling of the substation - photo report of the DPR Representative Office in the JCCC. As a result of the shelling of N. p. Gorlovka damaged substation "4-5" -110 kV. The transformer was pierced by fragments (about 20 tons of oil leaked out), the ventilation shaft was destroyed, the inputs (insulators) were broken, the wires were broken, the glazing was damaged. In addition, an unexploded 120mm mine was found on the territory of the substation, which was disposed of outside the substation. 

Location: this post from the JCCC on Telegram: https://t.me/DNR_SCKK/5996 - giving the same details, refers the Horlovka attack to this post: https://t.me/online_dnr_sckk/9858
Only saying 07:25 - N.P. Shumy - n.p. Gorlovka (mine named after Izotov): 2 mines with a caliber of 120 mm were fired.
Mine named after Izatov = "шахта им. Изотова" and leads to Shakhta Izotova on Google Maps, near Shumy just NW of Horlivka, where there is a sizable electric substation. This is probably the place. 

Did the OSCE SMM look at these attacks?
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) Daily Report 39/2022 issued on 19 February 2022 | OSCE: no mention of either substation attack in the report's text. But the table of violations might reflect both of them, with discrepancies: 
Verkhnotoretske: A SMM position "about 500m NE of Kamianka (government-controlled, 20km N of Donetsk)" heard 4 Explosions of undetermined, nature, estimated "4-5km NE" at 11:05." Verkhnotoretske is about 7km NE of Kamianka. Their map has a dot just about that far south of the plant I geolocated. This sounds like a different version of the same event, half the size, maybe reported late, and all undetermined. 
Horlivka: I didn't geolocate the substation, but Shakta Izotova was reported, and I mapped that substation there with a red star below. In the table of violations, different estimated km from SMM positions in and NW of Horlivka, 105 explosions were heard that day. Only one yellow dot is mapped near the western edge of Horlivka, but just on the Ukrainian side. Is that where all 105 explosions happened? The earliest entry is at 9:02 am: about 2km NW of Horlivka, heard 15 Explosions, undetermined nature, 2-3km to the NE. (2km NW + 2-3km NE = 4-5 km N of Horlivka). That might line up with the reported spot, but the SMM's map has a dot ~2km NW of Horlovka, as if they mapped the observation post instead of the violation. Time: substation attack by 7:25 am vs. SMM observation at 9:02. This might be the same event with some time zone issue and a delay.

Both mapped: SMM violations map for 18 February, overlayed on Google Maps, with located substations indicated pretty exactly. Both had Patrick Lancaster and the JCCC show up, pointing to the northwest where the frontline was nearby. But by this, the village of Verkhnotoretske and its substation were on the Ukrainian side of their "estimated line of contact." 
It seems they observed the same impacts Lancaster and the JCCC did, but there was some dispute about the border, or how it should be mapped? The SMM's estimate wasn't so good? How many of those other impacts "on the Ukrainian side" in all their maps were actually on the DPR side? 

Deniers decry a humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass

Former spokesperson for president Zelensky, Iuliia Mendel, on Twitter (24 March): "Only in Donetsk region 200 thousand people do not have access to drinking water due to the military actions of the Russians. Now there is a threat that in the next few days the Donetsk region may be disconnected from water supply at whole." Also by the Russians? 

Self-described journalist Zarina Zabrisky, onTwitter: #Humanitarian crisis. In #Donetsk region, 11 settlements remain without water after #Russian shelling of infrastructure. 

Ukraine's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security - SPRAVDI, 12 May on Telegram, bemoaned the conditions engineered in the breakaway areas: "At the same time, in the occupied areas of the Donetsk region and in Donetsk itself, the self-proclaimed authorities have not been able to establish water supply for several months. ... In Donetsk, drinking water was initially provided only for a few hours according to the schedule. Then in some areas of the city it simply ended. Technical water, unsuitable for drinking and cooking, is transported in tanks. But even behind it there are queues. It comes to the point that people collect rainwater." 

SPRAVDI had already decided, with no explained reasoning, "The occupiers, like real barbarians, are trying to cut off electricity and dehydrate the peaceful cities of Ukraine. Let's give a worthy rebuff to the enemy!" (24 March) That might have only referred to those in Ukrainian-held ("peaceful") areas, some of which also faced shortages from the same cause, but which were mostly inhabited by ethnic Russians under occupation anyway. Maybe SPRAVDI is beyond even pretending to care about the people of the DPR and LPR.

Recall that cutting water supply to Crimea was one of the first things Ukraine did after their 2014 vote to become Russian, damming the Dniepr River. People managed to drink, but agriculture, etc. suffered as it remained blocked for 8 years, until Russian troops finally conquered the area of the dam and blew it up in 2022. (Reuters) Another thing Ukrain did, with a bit more deniability but over and over and followed by celebrations, was to cut their electricity (2014: New York Times) - 2015: AFP via Yahoo News).

Such denier-decriers perhaps don't realize they're gloating under their bemoaning. They claim to care about the people of the Donbass, but they could hardly explain how these "Russian" "barbarians" could keep wrecking the infrastructure of Donbass from the inside, whatever their twisted motive, and to mainly do it from the outside, mostly the northwest, shoulder-to-shoulder with Kiev's massed ultranationalist forces. That is quite strange. And why are the anti-Russian punisher brigades never able to locate and stop the criminals operating in their midst, in 2022 or anytime in the preceding 8 years? Maybe in 2023 Ukraine can wise up and shut these "Russians" down. But it will probably be down to the actual Russians, and the residents of reality they're working with, to hammer the Banderites further and further west, at great cost to all. 

Here's a more level, if partial, record of how this water and power crisis unfolded. As noted above, electrical substations were hit on 29 January and the 18th of February, at least. Some other developments, not exhaustive, from 19 February to 12 March, about the time of the above comments. 

19 Feb. ICRC alert 
"In the last two days, at least two major pumping stations in the Donetsk region were rendered inoperable by the hostilities. The two stations, the 1st Lift Pumping Station and Karlivska Filtration Station, serve more than 1 million people on either side of the line of contact with potable water, including hospitals and other crucial services."

Oh, the Red Cross is running Russian propaganda now?

19 Feb - one of those, or maybe a third pumping station? "As a result of the shelling from the UAF of the fifth lift, radiators were damaged at the facility, inputs were broken, oil leaked out on TR-1, and one of the transformers caught fire. ⚠️ While fixing the consequences of the NRPO, the operational group of the DPR Representative Office in the JCCC in the direction of the Southern Far East again [came under] fire from heavy machine guns from the UAF." Includes photos from the site, but not very clear, and it's not clear where it is. https://t.me/dnronline/57636

"Ukrainian Armed Forces shelled Vasilyevskaya pumping station. On February 19, a group of Ukrainian saboteurs from the 24th separate assault company of the Right Sector DUK attacked the transformer substation of the Vasilyevsky pumping station of the first rise of the YuDV. As a result of the sabotage, the work of the pumping station of the first rise of the YUDV was stopped, which created a threat to the water supply of FIVE filter stations of Donbass on both sides of the line of contact, which provide water to more than FORTY settlements." Video from site includes inset map. https://t.me/nm_dnr/6213

“This jeopardizes the water supply of five filter stations in Donbass on both sides of the line of contact, which provide water to more than 40 settlements,” said Eduard Basurin. https://t.me/donbassr/11471

Loc as mapped: 48.1295176,37.8356162 - not an obvious match - or ma better match nearby that I didn't find - no mapping, no directions set, no analysis.

For some time, the OSCE's SMM "continued to facilitate the operation of the crucial Donetsk Filtration Station (DFS)" 15km north of Donetsk, an installation that supplies drinking water to some 400,000 people, and was a frequent target of attacks from 2014 onward. From at least December 2021, the area (broadly - in a 5km radius) was regularly shelled, especially during worker shift transfers with the nearby town of Yasynuvata, when injuries were more likely. Just some of the many such reports I ran across: 

"On 4 December, while positioned on the western edge of Yasynuvata... the Mission heard one undetermined explosion, assessed as within a 5km radius of the DFS, during the transfer of DFS workers." On 10 December, they observed "ten ceasefire violations (including one undetermined explosion and nine shots of small-arms fire), all of which occurred when a bus with DFS workers was in transit between Yasynuvata and the DFS." This seems to be a near-daily event to the end of the SMM's watch. Their 21 February report, covering 2 days plus, said:
"On 19 February, while positioned at three locations near the DFS, the SMM heard 46 
undetermined explosions and 78 burst of heavy-machine-gun fire, assessed as within a 5km 
radius of the DFS. Out of these, 14 undetermined explosions occurred during the transfer of 
"On 20 February, while positioned at the railway station in Yasynuvata, the Mission heard four 
undetermined explosions and three shots of small-arms fire, assessed as within a 5km radius 
of the DFS. All of these ceasefire violations occurred during the transfer of workers..."

Finally, this report closes, "On 21 February the SMM received reports on suspension of DFS operations due to damage caused by shelling. The Mission will follow up on reports."

Their report on the 23rd says "The SMM monitored the security situation in the area of the [DFS], which was reportedly non-operational due to alleged damage to power supply lines." They hadn't learned any more, and don't continue to facilitate its operations when there are none. 

"The SMM continued to facilitate the operation of the Donetsk Filtration Station (DFS) (15km 
north of Donetsk). While positioned at two locations near the DFS, the SMM heard 25
undetermined explosions, assessed as within a 5km radius of the station, 14 of which occurred 
during the transfer of workers" Why are there operations and shift changes if the station was shut down? Is that a dated entry somehow included as their first "follow-up"? 14 shells during shift change happened on the 19th, for what it's worth. From the next day to the end, it all seemed shut down and they continued to "observe" nothing worth mentioning. 

Today, February 21, at 2:25 p.m., the operational dispatch service of the Central Control Center of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the DPR received information from the dispatcher of the Voda Donbassa checkpoint that the high-voltage power line "Vl 110 kV Makeevskaya - DFS" was damaged as a result of hostilities, as a result which the Donetsk filtering station was de-energized.

Water supply to the population will be carried out from Verkhnekalmiusskaya filtration station. As a result, it is possible to reduce water supply by 20-25% in the Kirovsky, Kuibyshevsky, Petrovsky and partially Kievsky districts of Donetsk.

video https://twitter.com/ferozwala/status/1495735205063188481
#Donetsk Filtration Station Left Without Electricity Due to Shelling, Water Supply Has Stopped, DPR Says  

THEN, after a second attack, "damage to water conduits with diameters of 1,000 and 1,400 millimeters in the area of the Northern water supply unit" left "more than 128,000" without water in Donetsk. "from February 22, for the duration of emergency and restoration work, water supply to the Kuibyshev, Petrovsky, Kirov water supply units has been stopped. Repair work to restore power supply to the Donetsk Filtration Station will begin after agreeing on safety conditions for repairmen,” the Ministry of Construction said.

Interestingly, overnight 19-20 Feb. DPR forces engaged in a strange battle at a house in Donetsk city, where they claimed undercover Ukrainian Special Forces saboteurs had holed up, plotting acts of terrorism. Dramatic video posted online shows 2-way weapon fire at the blazing house, with the DPR side winning. Readovka reported "two special forces soldiers were wounded, one saboteur was "liquidated" and another was "taken alive." No other data, except for frames with militants shouting "help", is given."  

If that's true, Kyiv might be angry. The interrupted mission? As reported by the Ministry of State Security of the republic, today in Donetsk: "an enemy sabotage and terrorist group was blocked, which planned to blow up electrical substations, gas pipelines and filter stations on the territory of the Republic." (Readovka, same link) A day later someone attacks the DFS anyway, remotely with artillery, first taking out a key power line, then damaging the water pipelines. 

To the north, the spigot to Lugansk was always in Ukrainian hands, apparently, and it was just then - the 21st - that they apparently chose to turn it off. LPR diplomat Rodion Miroshnik said this day “We are already seeing the disconnection of Lugansk from the Western Filtration Station, and there will still be a whole set of actions that will have an extremely negative impact on the vital activity of the security of our republics.” https://t.me/donbassr/12002 Both capitols cut off at once. That must be Russia's doing, eh? Their little provocation? 

Donbass Reshaet, 21 February: "The situation at the front in Donbass is simply critical.... A civilian was killed, 3 schools were damaged, hospital No. 14 in Donetsk, 2 residential buildings, a power line, a 35 kV substation were damaged, the Donetsk filtering station was de-energized, the water supply of the republic was limited." Considering all that, DPR Defense Minister DNR Eduard Basurin said “In order to protect the civilian population, our defenders are forced to return fire from weapons not prohibited by the Minsk agreements, suppressing enemy firing points."

Also on the 21st Donetsk mayor Aleksei Kulemzin on Telegram: "As a result of today's shelling of the village. mine "Trudovskaya" there was a shutdown of 6 transformer substations. Residents of 814 houses of the private sector, an outpatient clinic on the street "Renaissance" were left without electricity." 

"As a result of the shelling of the Petrovsky district by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, shrapnel damage to a low-pressure gas pipeline was recorded. 35 private sector houses were left without gas supply along the streets: Amosov, Lutugin, Roborovsky, Krasnaya Zvezda."

22 Feb. "As a result of shelling by Ukrainian security forces, a transformer located in the gray zone, west of the village of Vasilyevka, Yasinovatsky district, was damaged. As a result, the 1st rise of the South-Donbass water conduit was stopped, which led to the cessation of water supply in the Olenovka village." https://t.me/kulemzin_donetsk/3337

23 Feb. https://t.me/DNR_SCKK/6080

The consequences of the use of 122 mm artillery (https://t.me/DNR_SCKK/6079) by the VFU at the Severny waterworks in Donetsk. (photos - one inset)

25 Feb. As a result of shelling from the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the 3rd lift of the Seversky Donets-Donbass channel was de-energized. The pumps have stopped. - Representation of the DPR in the JCCC. https://t.me/donbassr/13066

Tass, 28 Feb: "The central water supply station in Donetsk was damaged and 19 boilers lost power as a result of shelling by Ukraine, city Mayor Alexey Kulemzin said on Monday. Some areas in the city lost their heating supply, he said on Telegram."

28 Feb. "Ukrainian militants shelled the area of the filtration station No. 2 of the Water of Donbass checkpoint and the village of Pobeda. This was stated by the official representative of the NM DNR Eduard Basurin. In addition, according to him, as a result of the shelling of Dokuchaevsk, a 6 kW overhead power line, distribution and transformer substations were damaged. About 1000 subscribers were left without electricity.  The water conduit was also damaged, due to which 32 thousand subscribers and 21 boiler houses were left without water supply." https://t.me/donbassr/13599

By March 3, the mayor was issuing periodic messages to residents of the Kirovsky, Kuibyshevsky, Leninsky and Petrovsky districts of the city had to receive water their pipes no longer delivered, at given times and places. These notices continued into the spring and summer, later including more districts and reportedly with greater rationing.

12 March The reserve reservoir, which currently feeds Donetsk, has become shallow, the water in it remains for about a month, after which the water in the city can be completely turned off. https://t.me/militarydonetsk/7668 

12 March "Vitaly Kizhaev, director general of the Water of Donbass state enterprise, told the Donbass decides channel that there is about a month left in the reserve reservoir." This was used since the 25 Feb. attack. "According to Kizhaev, in order to repair the power lines, it is necessary to request a silence regime from Ukraine, which is hardly feasible in the current conditions of aggravated hostilities. Therefore, there is only one way left - to free the territory through which the power line passes from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and then repair it. “Besides the Seversky Donets-Donbass canal, we have no other sources of water supply,” Kizhaev emphasized." https://t.me/donbassr/15270


Part 2 - will cover geolocated and ballistic analysis, just in Donetsk city limits and starting on 17 February and continuing through the Russian invasion, continuing to 12 March to show - in clearer and greater detail than I could here - how this contested shelling also came from the logical (enemy) side. Good news: it was already close to complete before I started on this separate part 1.

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