Russian convoys, often under the guise of ‘humanitarian aid’, have been flowing into Eastern Ukraine regularly since the start of the conflict. Far from carrying relief for the besieged Ukrainian citizens of the Donbas region, these convoys instead carry Russian arms and equipment.
145 trucks crossed the border into uncontrolled Ukrainian territory in August 2014 without any kind of agreement with the Red Cross and Kyiv. This was the first of the so-called humanitarian convoys to eastern Ukraine from Russia. Journalists, including Shaun Walker of the British “Guardian”, Andrew Roth of the American “New York Times” and Timur Olevskiy of the Russian “TV Rain/Dozhd” noted that before crossing the checkpoint the convoy was twice as large. However, half of the trucks did not reach it. Instead, they recorded a column of armored vehicles entering controlled Ukrainian territory.
“A column of armored personnel carriers, 23 vehicles (one broke along the way) passed through Donetsk absolutely in the open after sunset. My colleagues, for example, from foreign papers, assure us that they were following the column by car and the GPS told them, that they are already Ukrainian territory, while the column continued on its way,” says Timur Olevskiy, Journalist (Russia).
The Kremlin has since sent more than 60 similar convoys to Ukraine, which amounts to almost 7 thousand trucks with mysterious contents.
“Initially, all the vehicles entered the country by roads. Beginning in January 2016, the railway connection with the occupied territories was restored and railway transportation became the most actively used one. Military echelons transported vehicles, ammunition, and fuel needed for the operation of occupational army corps,” goes into details Vadym Skybytskyi, Spokesman for the General HQ of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.
“I mean that now the railway is used to transport whole trains of ammunition. Platforms with vehicles, passenger cars with soldiers. Then again, ammunition and soldiers get here by wheeled transport too, including those humanitarian convoys,” says Yurii Karyn, Coordinator of “Informational Resistance” Group.
The supply line mainly goes through the “Izvaryno”, “Gukovo” and “Kuibysheve” border crossing point, which were captured by Russia.
Skybytskyi says that the transportation is done at night because the OSCE monitoring mission does not work at this time. Moreover, it is easier to avoid detection by Ukrainian reconnaissance or by the local populace, which often reports the sightings of the Russian occupational army.
According to Ukrainian army scouts, during the last year alone, the Kremlin has supplied the hybrid forces in Donbas with more than 19 thousand tons of ammunition.
“In February, after the escalation of the fighting near Avdiivka and in the direction of Mariupol, we have found around a ton and a half of ammunition delivered right into our country. This is confirmed data. Since the beginning of March, the enemy began to transport multiple rocket system ammunition for the BM-21 Grad,” says Skybytskyi.
At the same time, the Kremlin uses the Donbas as a combat testing ground for the latest developments of the Russian military industry complex. Evidence for this claims abounds. In the summer of 2014, a Ukrainian aerial surveillance and photography airplane An-30 was shot down over Sloviansk. The pilots managed to evacuate.
“He was hit by MANPADS Verba system. MANPADS are portable anti-aircraft missile systems. This took place in early June. On June 7, according to regulatory documents, this MANPADS Verba system was only to go into service at the Ivanovo Division of the Airborne Troops of the Russian Federation,” explains Karyn.
Sdkybytskyi say that deliveries from Russia also include small arms with bullets previously unknown to Ukrainians, new drones, and electronic warfare devices:
“Infauna, Svet-KU, Resident are systems of electronic warfare. That is, all the newest means which are used by the army of the Russian Federation, from 2010 to 2014. They use our territory as proving grounds. We did not produce this equipment, it was not even on our territory until the start of Russian aggression.”
The Russian occupational forces do not hesitate to flaunt Russian equipment even at public parades in occupied Ukraine.
In addition to new equipment, Russia is also actively transporting old equipment to the occupied territories and the area has become a dumping ground for outdated Soviet munitions.
“This is all actively used. This way, Russia is also utilizing its ammunition, including its own human material, say, the unnecessary material, and here they are getting rid of the old technology,” says Karyn.
Up to a third of old shells used so far in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have not exploded. And thousands of them remain in the ground. Sappers will need many years to find and neutralize them, even after the end of Russian aggression. The echo of the war will sound for decades in mines, forests, and fields.