The remains of many of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 Flight victims arrived in Kharkiv, from where they will be transported to the Netherlands. The Ukrainian army re-took two towns in the north of the Luhansk region. The SMM discovered bodies in a building vacated by irregular armed forces in one of the towns, namely, Severodonetsk.
In the Donetsk region, at the main incident site of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight crash scene, the SMM observed that passengers’ belongings had been removed. There was no security perimeter. At another site, where the cockpit had fallen, the SMM noted that debris had been cut and moved. Unlimited access to all sites was provided to the SMM. (See Spot Report of 22 July).
The SMM – together with Dutch and Malaysian experts – accompanied the remains of many of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 Flight victims on a train from Donetsk city to Kharkiv city. The train, on arrival in Kharkiv city at 13:00hrs, was met by an international team of forensics experts, who are preparing the bodies for transportation to the Netherlands. Whilst a first group of bodies is expected to leave Kharkiv as early as 23 July, it is expected that the others will not be sent for another two days. (See Spot Report of 22 July).
The head of the Luhansk police informed the SMM that the Ukrainian army had re-taken Severodonetsk in the north of the Luhansk region at 05:00hrs. He said that bodies had been discovered in the State Security Services (SBU) building in the city. Later that day, the SMM observed two bodies, both with gunshot wounds, in the building. Two interlocutors said that they had been held in the building by irregular armed personnel until the arrival of the Ukrainian military in the city. They told the SMM that they had been beaten and left without food for 10 days by their captors. The SMM also visited nearby Rubezhnoe, which, according to a municipal employee, was re-taken by Ukrainian armed forces on 20 July.
Three Luhansk city-based SMM monitors were re-located to the north of the Luhansk region on 21 July, following increased shelling of the city that morning. Prior to its departure, while at their hotel three kilometres south of the city centre, the SMM heard what appeared to be an artillery exchange a further 1.5 kilometres south of their hotel. It heard the sound of out-going GRAD rockets, and, separately, the sound of impacts at the same location. The “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) has a military facility in the area, which the SMM passed on 15 July. On that occasion, the SMM observed two tanks. The SMM, in a separate incident that same morning of 21 July, also heard air-raid sirens and overhead aircraft, followed almost immediately by the sound of impacts in the area around the “LPR” military facility.
At an IDP transit camp in Oleksandropyl (150km east of Dnipropetrovsk), an interlocutor told the SMM that 20 people formerly staying at the camp had returned to their homes in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the Donetsk region. The towns were recently re-taken by the Ukrainian army.
The situation remained calm in the Kherson region. In the neighbouring Mykolayiv region, the SMM on 19 July met members of a group providing “family packages” and equipment to paratroopers of the 79th Airmobile Brigade serving in the east. About 100 people support the 5-6 person group. They receive no State funding, but regional authorities assist in providing equipment for the paratroopers, they said.
On 21 July, a senior district police officer in Odessa told the SMM that 30 people had earlier that day gathered outside his police station to protest at the arrest of a prominent pro-Maidan activist. On 22 July, the SMM observed 25-30 people protesting against the arrest outside the city police HQ in Odessa. Later that day, local media reported that protesters had blocked access roads around the building, and that the suspect had subsequently been released.
In Chernivtsi, a political analyst and former member of the Regional Council told the SMM that ethnic and religious tolerance had been instrumental in maintaining stability in the region.
The mayor of Hertsa (32km southeast of Chernivtsi) told the SMM that the town of 4,000 people had only one police officer and that there were no “self-defence” groups in the town. According to the interlocutor, the security situation in the area is stable, with no major incidents of crime to report.
In the Ivano-Frankivsk region, the SMM observed a protest in Bohorodchany (20km southwest of Ivano-Frankivsk), in which 200 people, mostly women, complained to the commander of the 5th Battalion and the regional governor about what they saw as unfair recruitment practices. They said that young men in the area had recently received letters asking them to join the army. The letters, however, also stated – according to the women – that refusal to join could entail a three-to-five year prison sentence.
In Lviv, the SMM observed Right Sector activists collecting funds. Posters on display indicated that the funds would be used to buy medical supplies, food, and ammunition for Right Sector soldiers fighting in the east. The secretary of the Right Sector in the Lviv region told the SMM that the organisation’s fundraising drive – as opposed to State efforts – would ensure there was no misappropriation of funds, and that equipment would reach the frontline.
In Kyiv, the deputy head of the Kyiv Regional Police Directorate told the SMM on 21 July that “Volunteer Battalions” – trained and equipped by the Ukrainian security services, and consisting of both police and civilians – were being used to maintain public order in areas recently re-taken by the Ukrainian army in the east.
In Kyiv, a man and a woman told the SMM that they had separately been held captive by irregular armed forces in the Donetsk region. The woman said during her six-day “detention”, she had been severely and repeatedly mistreated. She said her captors had accused her of being a pro-Ukrainian activist. The man said he had been held for 70 days in Sloviansk until 4 July, when the city was re-taken by Ukrainian military forces. He said he had initially been physically mistreated whilst in captivity but conditions subsequently improved.