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Pro-Russian Forces in Eastern Ukraine Apparently Fire on Another Civilian Vessel by Accident

A rebel fighter stands in front of a damaged pedestrian crossing in separatist-controlled Horlivka, Donetsk region. Photo by Petr Shelomovskiy from Demotix.

A rebel fighter stands in front of a damaged pedestrian crossing in separatist-controlled Horlivka, Donetsk region. Photo by Petr Shelomovskiy from Demotix.

A shelling attack in Eastern Ukraine hit a civilian bus driving near a Ukrainian army checkpoint and resulted in over a dozen casualties. Online, pro-Russian rebels boasted of hitting an enemy target in the area, but then claimed it was the Ukrainians who did the shelling.

At 4:09pm Kyiv time today, the “Novorossiya First operative” VKontakte page posted a message reporting that a “Ukrainian checkpoint at the exit from Volnovakha to Donetsk has been destroyed,” with information received at 3:53pm Kyiv time (4:53pm Moscow time). Soon after, tragic news emerged: at approximately 2:30pm, a shell had struck a passenger bus near the Ukrainian military checkpoint at Volnovakha, Donetsk region, killing at least 10 people and wounding at least 13 others.

As soon as the news emerged, the finger pointing began. Ukrainian authorities immediately blamed separatist forces for shelling the bus while attacking the Ukrainian army-held checkpoint with a Grad multiple rocket launcher. The “Donbass News” independent news website also accused pro-Russian fighters of attacking the Kyiv-2 battalion checkpoint and killing civilians.

The tragedy with the bus came about as a result of shelling of the “Kyiv-2” checkpoint by fighters.

In response, Donetsk People’s Republic authorities departed from the initial messages on affiliated social media accounts and said that they had not opened fire. A DPR representative later told pro-rebel media that an “out of control” Ukrainian battalion has been shelling Donetsk and was “provoking [rebel] militia to respond.” In other words, Donetsk authorities accused Ukraine of carrying out a false flag attack on its own location in order to then blame separatist forces.

This is not the first time we have seen a declaration, or perhaps even boasting, of an attack by separatists online, quickly followed by an assertion that the attack was actually carried out by the Ukrainian military. Thirty minutes after the tragic downing of flight MH17 last summer, the “Strelkov Info” VK account—ran by pro-Russian separatists, but not Igor “Strelkov” Girkin himself—posted a message bragging about shooting down a Ukrainian AN-26 transport plane. The post warned Ukrainians to “not fly in our skies.”

Soon after, the separatists denied their role in shooting down the MH17, instead pointing to Ukraine, claiming that Kyiv used an air-to-air missile, SU-25 machine guns, a combination of both, or even their own Buk anti-aircraft missile system to shoot down MH17. When the bus attack news spread, many RuNet users found immediate parallels between the boasting-turned-retraction in the two events:

The bodies in the destroyed “Bogdan” bus were not fresh. (referring to an absurd claim from rebel leader Strelkov that the 295 passengers on MH17 were dead long before it was shot down)

It is possible that the bus at the checkpoint near Volnovakha is the same Bogdan that disappeared in Kyiv a half-year ago. (referring to conspiracy theories that MH370 and MH17 were the same plane)

‘We hit the occupants’ checkpoint!’
‘That was a passenger bus’
‘Then it wasn’t us!’

They shot at a Ukrainian transport plane—hit a Boing. They shot out a Ukrainian checkpoint—blew up a bus. Is this terrorism or idiocy?

In the same way media and citizen journalists worked to uncover clues in the MH17 tragedy, the evidence from this shelling—the trajectory of the artillery, the type of shell used, any intercepted communications—will reveal the culprits of the attack that led to the loss of civilian lives. But once again, the initial online messages, social media posts, and subsequent reaction of the Donetsk separatists on social networks may be a giveaway of how and why the incident occurred.

  • Cripton Spinney

    Missing Spanish bus driver said attack consistent with 30mm cannon, no ciertamente cohetes.

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