Ukraine reveals proof that Russian officers directed rocket attack on Mariupol in 2015

Ukraine, War in the Donbas

Today on 7 May, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) revealed more evidence of direct involvement of Russian soldiers in the rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. The artillery strike on the residential neighborhoods of this Azov sea coastal city in the winter of 2015 took the lives of 29 civilians.

The agency shared a video containing parts of the multiple intercepted phone conversations between several direct participants of the operation, including a major-general in active service with the Russian Armed Forces. The findings of the investigation are being submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as part of an ongoing legal case. 

The Bellingcat Investigation Team has also named even more Russian active officers who participated in the attack on Mariupol and announced the publication of their full investigation later this week. According to Bellingcat, their findings are based on the raw video and audio data that is being submitted by the Ukrainian government to the ICJ.

The 2015 attack on Mariupol

The 24 January 2015 rocket bombardment was another attempt by the Russian-hybrid forces to capture the strategic maritime city of Mariupol of almost 500,000 people. The attackers used the long-range Grad and Uragan rocket systems to hit Skhidnyi (also known by its Russian name as Vostochnyi), Mariupol’s northeastern borough. According to the SBU, 29 civilians were killed, 92 wounded.

Other sources mention 30 dead and 128 wounded – these figures may include one military who had reportedly also been killed in the attack and the residents of Mariupol who were traumatized but didn’t sustain wounds.

Read also: Russia’s campaign against Ukraine: Psychological warfare in Mariupol

Earlier in late August and early September 2014, the massive invasion of the Russian-hybrid forces from the Russian territory resulted in the fall of the border city of Novoazovsk 30 kilometers east of Mariupol. The Ukrainian military stopped the offensive in the area of Shyrokyne, a sea resort village just on the approaches to Mariupol.

This time, the rocket strike should be an artillery preparation for the offensive which was about to unfold in the background of two severe battles for Debaltseve and for Donetsk Airport some 100 kilometers north, significant forces of the Ukrainian Army and volunteer battalions were fixed in both battles.

This is how the local residents saw the January 2015 rocket strike:

And this footage shows some consequences of the bombardment:

The 2015 attack on Mariupol came only 11 days after the deadly bus attack near the town of Volnovakha halfway between Mariupol and the regional capital city of Donetsk, when a rocket strike targeted a Ukrainian checkpoint, hitting a passenger bus which resulted in the death of 12 civilians.

Read also: Mariupol: one month after the massacre

Earlier finds

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) had established later on the day of the attack that the Grad and Uragan rockets originated from two areas controlled by the Russian-run “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

On the day of the attack on Mariupol, the SBU published an intercepted conversation of participants of the attack on Mariupol:

By the end of winter, Ukrainian law enforcers detained a controller who adjusted fire being in Mariupol. The man remains in detention under remand by now.

What the SBU unveiled today

On a briefing in Kyiv today, head of the SBU Vasyl Hrytsak showcased the evidence that the 24 January 2015 rocket strike on Mariupol was conducted by regular Russian military personnel who deployed two standard Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) battalions of the Russian Armed Forces for the operation on the day before the attack and pulled them back immediately after the strike.

Head of the SSU Vasyl Hrytsak at a briefing in Kyiv today.

According to Mr. Hrytsak, the findings of the investigation will be forwarded “in the near future” to the International Court of Justice to support the Ukrainian case over Russia’s suspected violation of the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Read more: Full text of Ukraine’s case against Russia in UN court

As the SBU uncovered, chief of Missile and Artillery Troops of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces, Major-General Stepan Yaroschuk had personally directed the operation from the Russian territory. In the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast, the rocket strikes were supervised by Colonel of Russian Armed Forces Aleksandr Tsaplyuk, call sign “Gorets” (“Highlander”). Lieutenant-Colonel of Russian Armed Forces Maksim Vlasov, call sign “Yugra,” coordinated two Russian MLRS battalions involved in the operation.

“The hard work resulted in per-minute recording and documenting of Russian military units crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border and moving to the terrorist positions that were the source of the shelling of Mariupol,” said Mr. Hrytsak.

As of now, “11 servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces involved in the 2015 attack as well as their accomplices from the militants of DNR terrorist organization, have been served a notice of suspicion of committing a terrorist attack and conducting aggressive military action,” the SBU report reads.

Bellingcat’s finds

The Bellingcat Investigation Team backs the finds of the SBU and comes to the same general conclusions, as per the announcement of the forthcoming publication of their full investigation on the matter.

Bellingcat has “determined conclusively that the artillery attack on the Ukrainian town of Mariupol on 24 January 2015… came from the Russia-controlled territory,” and according to the post, “the shelling operation was instructed, directed and supervised by Russian military commanders in active service with the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

Bellingcat’s researchers report that they have identified nine Russian officers, including one general, who were directly involved in the operation. Three identities of the top commanders revealed by Bellingcat match those publicized by the SBU today.


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