How Russian proxy forces are attempting to provoke the Ukrainian army and are lying about a new Ukrainian offensive

18 February, 07:21 PM
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Soldiers of the Russian proxy army in the Donetsk Oblast (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Soldiers of the Russian proxy army in the Donetsk Oblast (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

On Feb. 17, Russian proxy forces opened fire along nearly the entire front line, blaming the Ukrainian army for their own shelling. The occupiers’ propaganda has reached an abnormal level.

As of 2000 on Feb. 17, Russian proxy forces in the Donbas had violated the ceasefire fifty times. There were wounded both among the Ukrainian military and civilians.

The proxies fired at schools, kindergartens, and residential buildings – and blamed Ukraine.

Amid the numerous provocations and fake news spread by the Russian proxies, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that reports anomalous military activity by Ukraine in the Donbas are an attempt by the Russian government to fabricate a pretext for an invasion.

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The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia’s statement about the beginning of the withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian borders a lie, adding that Russia instead deployed an additional 7,000 troops there. Later, they stated that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “very high.”

NV explains the events of Feb. 17 in the Donbas, and how the proxy forces and the Russian media have lied about the shelling and manipulated local sentiment.

The shelling of Feb. 17

At about 1000 on Feb. 17, during the shelling of the town of Stanytsia Luhanska by the Russian occupying forces, a shell hit a kindergarten.

The Return Alive Foundation was the first to report on this, posting a photo from the scene. They stated that children were inside the building during the shelling, but were luckily uninjured, but that three people had received concussions.

It turned out that Russian proxies had fired at a joint kindergarten and nursery, No. 21 “Kazka” (“Fairy Tale”). It is located in the Kindrashivka district in government-controlled Stanytsia Luhanska.

At the same time, media outlets and Telegram channels in non-government-controlled areas started publishing reports that the kindergarten was located in non-government-controlled territory and was shelled by the Ukrainian army.

Supporters of the Russian occupational regime in the Donbas commented on these reports in social networks, sometimes sympathizing with the children who were inside the building during the shelling.

The Joint Forces Operation Headquarters (JFO HQ) confirmed the fact of the shelling of the kindergarten, posting the relevant footage and video.

After that, some Telegram channels from non-government-controlled areas removed their previous posts, and some reported that the Ukrainian media and the JFO HQ had stolen their photos of the shelled building.

Later on, Russian proxy forces admitted that the kindergarten was located in government-controlled territory, but they still blamed the Ukrainian armed forces for the attack. They settled on a version where the shelling of the kindergarten was allegedly “a fake pre-prepared and staged by the Ukrainian Army.” In particular, they argued that the windows of the building were not broken despite the shell hitting the wall, as their evidence of this being a “false flag” attack. Later, this news was picked up by the Russian media.

Denys Kazansky, a journalist and member of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) for a peace settlement in eastern Ukraine, told NV that no one had provided a rebuttal to this lie.

“I haven’t seen any rebuttals. Some have deleted this post or just edited it. (At first) it was – about a kindergarten in the non-government-controlled territory, (later) it became – Ukraine itself shelled a kindergarten located on its territory,” Kazansky said.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the shelling of the kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska is a major provocation.

“It’s important that diplomats and the OSCE remain in Ukraine, as their monitoring activities are an additional deterrent,” he tweeted on Feb. 17.

However, that wasn’t the only fake news created by the Russian proxies.

They also reported that the Ukrainian military had shelled many civilian structures in the non-government-controlled territory.

Kazansky draws attention to the fact that the enemy did not provide any evidence of this.

“In case with the kindergarten, there is a specific place, photo, video,” he said.

“If we look at other information about the shelling of civilian structures, there is no evidence, except for the photos of the destruction they have inflicted on the Ukrainian side, which they openly falsify, claiming that it was the Ukrainians who fired.”

Another fake is information about alleged offensive actions of the Ukrainian Army.

The JFO HQ officially reported that the Ukrainian military returns fire in response to enemy activity only if there is a threat to life.

Andriy Rymaruk, head of the Return Alive Foundation’s military department, told NV that the Ukrainian servicemen have been order to hold their fire in many areas, since the enemy often shoots from emplacements near civilian facilities, including kindergartens, schools, and residential buildings.

“We have never responded and will never respond in that direction,” says Rymaruk.

“In other directions, where the enemy was moving into an open field to fire toward us, they suffered casualties.”

The JFO HQ said that shelling Ukrainian positions near civilian structures is immensely provocative, and Russia needs to spread propaganda as information warfare to blame the Ukrainian military for shelling civilians.

Oleksiy Danilov, the Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council seconded the statement.

According to him, there are no signs of a full-scale military operation by Russia at the moment, but there are provocations aimed at forcing Ukraine to fire back.

Additionally, on the night of Feb. 18, some Russia-controlled media outlets in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas reported that local residents in some non-government-controlled settlements would be evacuated due to a possible escalation.

While the evacuation orders were given by the self-declared authorities, Ukrainian army chief Lieutenant General Valeriy Zaluzhny denied any such Ukrainian offensive was possible.

He said the Ukrainian military was not planning any offensive actions in the Donbas, while any damage that might be caused to people or infrastructure in the temporarily occupied territories was a provocation.

On the night of Feb. 18, residents of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts were disconnected from mobile service, namely Ukraine’s Vodafone and Kyivstar. At the same time, the LifeCell mobile service worked normally.

Two weeks in one day

Over the past 24 hours, Russian proxy forces violated the ceasefire 50 times, including 39 times with weapons banned by the Minsk peace agreements, JFO HQ said.

One member of the Joint Forces was wounded and is in a moderately severe condition. Another received a combat injury, though his condition is said to be stable. According to preliminary data, two more civilians were wounded as a result of the shelling.

In addition to the kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska, a local school in the town of Vrubivka (Popasna district, Luhansk Oblast) came under fire.

A 122 mm caliber shell hit a playing field of a local school during lessons. Fortunately, there were no casualties among the pupils and staff.

However, the school’s windows were broken and the doors of some classrooms were damaged as a result of the attack. The boiler also caught fire.

Stanytsia Luhanska was left without power as a result of the shelling.

According to Rymaruk, he last saw this high a number of attacks was in 2016.

“Everything started at night, just before 0400. Provocative shelling began on almost half of the front. However, proxy forces reported to the JCCC that it was we who were violating the ceasefire,” he said.

“Targeted shelling began from 0400 to 1000. It lasted until midday. Now we have intelligence and evidence that the occupying forces tried to intimidate the local population. They defiantly evacuated schools and kindergartens, drove out lots of military equipment.”

Rymaruk added the quantity of shelling on Feb. 17 matched the amount of attacks that had previously occurred over an entire two-week span.

Kazansky believes that this was not a one-off event.

“What is happening now indicates that Russia has proceeded to escalate, i.e. we will definitely see another round of shelling,” he said, adding that large railway trains had arrived in the non-government-controlled territory, according to an OSCE report.

“Most likely, they brought ammunition, i.e. they’re preparing to shoot,” Kazansky said.

He believes that each new shelling attack further excludes the possibility of both a “special status” for the Donbas, and any progress in the Minsk peace agreements that Russia is striving for.

“It only provokes aggression and rejection. (The Russians) know only one tactic – threats, blackmail and escalation,” Kazansky said.

Amid the recent shelling, Ukraine has initiated an extraordinary meeting of the TCG.

“To prevent such provocations from being a ground for escalation, we have offered and continue to offer the involvement of representatives from the Normandy format countries (Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany) in all mechanisms for monitoring and verifying compliance with the ceasefire,” the Ukrainian delegation said.

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