Europe warns Putin on eve of Ukraine truce deadline

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The leaders of Germany and France warned Vladimir Putin on Sunday that Russia could be hit with punishing sanctions within days unless he forced Ukrainian rebels Moscow is accused of backing to suspend their deadly uprising.

The French presidency said Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made their case to the Russian strongman in a call that stretched for more than two hours and included Ukraine’s embattled pro-Western leader Petro Poroshenko.

The new Ukrainian president’s office said the four agreed to speak again on Monday when a truce is set to expire at 1900 GMT with no end to 13 weeks of fighting in sight.

The Ukrainian military reported losing five more soldiers over the weekend.

The second such teleconference in four days was arranged in Brussels on Friday when Poroshenko put his name to a historic trade deal with Europe that broke Kiev’s extended bonds with Moscow.

The European Union also used the occasion to issue an unusually firm statement telling Putin that he had until Monday to put explicit pressure on the separatist gunmen or face the possibility of entire sectors of Russia’s economy being cut off from the 28-nation bloc’s 500 million consumers.

The United States has promised to move in lockstep with Europe on Russian sanctions in the Cold War-style confrontation over the future of the strategic ex-Soviet state.

The French statement said Sunday’s call stressed “the importance of new concrete steps to stabilise the security situation on the ground, the extension of the ceasefire and the implementation of the peace plan presented by the Ukrainian authorities.”

It also cited Friday’s EU punitive measures threat and said the three leaders told Putin they “hoped that results are achieved by Monday.”

– Conflicting demands –

The Kremlin’s account of the conversation made no mention of the European conditions and stressed the joint call on Poroshenko not to resume his eastern campaign.

It also once again urged Ukraine to accept “immediate” Russian humanitarian aid in the conflict zone. Kiev suspects Moscow of planning to use such deliveries to smuggle arms to the rebel fighters.

The conflicting demands between Moscow and Kiev are also vividly reflected on the battlefield.

Separatist leaders say they will not engage in direct negotiations with Kiev until government forces withdraw from the heavily Russified east.

And Poroshenko refuses to meet rebel commanders who have “blood on their hands”.

The Western-backed head of state has also hinted that he may again resort to force should the guerrillas fail to disarm and cede control of state buildings across a dozen cities and towns.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of both arming and funding the militias in a bid to unsettle the new Ukrainian government as revenge for the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin president who had ditched the very EU agreement Poroshenko signed on Friday.

Ukraine’s worst crisis since its 1991 independence has now claimed 450 lives.

– Russia’s ‘big brother’ approach –

The possibility of the United States and Europe freezing access to Russia’s banking sector has already dented the country’s outlook and raised the possibility of the economy contracting for the first time since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Russia’s economy minister warned on Saturday that new sanctions could “seriously” impact growth that the International Monetary Fund believes may only reach 0.2 percent this year.

But public statements in Moscow indicate it is busy preparing an economic counter-offensive that would put up prohibitive barriers to Ukrainian trade.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia would treat Ukraine and the ex-Soviet states of Georgia of Moldova that signed their own EU deals on Friday “based on one criterium — how (the agreements) might hurt Russian trade”.

Russian and EU ministers have tentatively agreed to meet on July 11 to discuss how Moscow’s concerns might be best addressed.

Ukraine’s commissioner on European integration said he expected the consultations with Russia to be acrimonious and possibly fruitless.

“Our neighbour has this desire to always act as our big brother, a mentor, to always try teaching us something,” Valeriy Pyatnitskiy told Kiev’s Dzerkalo Tyzhnia weekly.

The commissioner added that Ukraine may have no choice but to appeal to the World Trade Organisation — a global free commerce club Russia only joined in 2012 — to step in as a broker of last resort.

“The WTO — there is no question about it,” Pyatnitskiy said.

Putin’s Ukraine Gambit Paying Off

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President Vladimir Putin’s request last week that the Federation Council revoke his right to use military force in Ukraine marks the end of the first phase of that county’s international crisis.

Russia has played a key role in those events, and so it makes sense to sum up the interim results: what was gained, what was lost and whether it was worth the effort.

The collapse of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime caught Moscow by surprise, although the steadily rising tensions in Kiev since the beginning of the year clearly pointed to such a possibility. All of the Kremlin’s subsequent actions were motivated by its deep-set fear that Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” fever might infect Russia.

The atmosphere reigning in post-Maidan Kiev and the initial decisions taken by the interim authorities confirmed fears that Ukraine was not only shifting its orientation toward a close partnership with the West, but that it was also willing to join Euro-Atlantic organizations, that Russia would lose Sevastopol as a place to base it Black Sea Fleet, that Ukraine would restructure the state along hard-line nationalist and anti-Russian principles and that a system of “soft” apartheid was forming that infringed on the rights of the Russian-speaking population.

According to realpolitik, the fact that Yanukovych was ousted despite Moscow’s strong support meant a painful defeat for Putin. What’s more, the Moscow leadership interpreted events in Ukraine as a battle for Russia’s place in the global hierarchy — the toughest and most important such struggle since the end of the Cold War.

Russia’s lightning-fast seizure of Crimea — first physically, then legally — served as partial compensation for its failure in Kiev. But more importantly, it secured the future of the Black Sea Fleet. The uncharacteristic professionalism shown by the Russian troops indicated to some observers that the whole operation had been planned in advance.

However, that is unlikely, considering that as recently as mid-February, nobody had even imagined that events in Kiev would turn so dramatically against Yanukovych. But once it unexpectedly happened, the Russian state displayed a higher than expected ability to rapidly mobilize its troops in response to the emergency.

After the annexation of Crimea and the resulting political uncertainty, Putin conducted a calculated game designed to keep a number of options open at once. Interestingly, while various Russian officials made hard-hitting and belligerent public statements, the president himself maintained a decidedly reserved tone.

Moscow’s adamant refusal to recognize the new Ukrainian leadership’s legitimacy then began shifting toward a possible recognition of the results of upcoming elections. It seems that during this period the Kremlin also formulated its policy toward the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” — that is, to provide them with support to prevent their military defeat, but to steer towards keeping them part of the Ukrainian state on terms essentially dictated by Moscow.

The Kremlin most likely came to this approach after running a costs-benefits analysis of further territorial expansion, considerations that included the effect of sanctions the West would likely impose; the direct expense of integrating Ukraine’s eastern regions or supporting their autonomy; the probability of the appearance of a far more homogenous and openly anti-Russian government in Kiev that could turn into a military and strategic springboard against Moscow; the formation of a single Western front consolidated by the “Russian threat” and the subsequent collapse of pro-Russian forces in Europe.

The negotiations in Donetsk on June 23 were the result of an intensive, mostly behind-the-scenes process that began with a brief conversation between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin in Normandy.

The starting conditions are acceptable to Moscow. Kiev has stopped referring to the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as terrorists, de facto recognizing them as participants in the negotiations — including, and more importantly, its Prime Minister Alexander Borodai, a Russian citizen.

This has legitimized the real players in Ukraine’s eastern region, including its Russian members. Poroshenko has indicated that he is serious about the talks by enlisting the political heavyweight and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to negotiate on his behalf, along with Kuchma’s former chief-of-staff Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Putin and the most pro-Russian figure in the Ukrainian political field — and himself well-integrated into that milieu.

What is Russia’s goal? It is exactly what senior Russian officials have repeatedly stated — namely, the decentralization of Ukraine with rights guarantees for different population groups and the formal declaration of Ukraine as a neutral state.

Russia is no longer willing to rely on outside guarantees and prefers creating a sort of built-in “disabling device”, perhaps a political party, that would prevent Ukraine from moving in a direction undesirable to the Kremlin. This hypothetical party has almost no chance of ever coming to power in Ukraine, but it would carry enough influence to exercise veto power over Kiev’s strategic decisions.

The Kremlin sees Ukraine’s development as a neutral state as a real possibility, and therefore used the revocation of the president’s right to use military force in Ukraine as a gracious gesture toward Poroshenko and the West.

What happens next? There is some chance that a political resolution of the crisis will succeed, although the experience of similar conflicts, such as that in Bosnia, indicates that a lasting truce will only come after several failed attempts.

Considering the scale of the problems Kiev faces and its past experience, the Kremlin has little faith in the sustainability of the Ukrainian state, even if a path to peace is found now. As a result, there is a widespread belief that any settlement will be only temporary at best, and that new crises are inevitable. And in the absence of an overall strategy, the Kremlin will continue to pursue a purely reactive policy toward Ukraine.

Harsher Western Sanctions Would Shrink (Russian) Economy, Minister Says

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The Russian economy will contract if the West introduces wide-ranging sectoral sanctions over Ukraine, but that would not be a “dramatic” situation, Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was quoted as saying.

The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly called on Moscow to do more to help stop fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev is struggling against a separatist pro-Russian rebellion, or face harsher sanctions.

Ulyukayev told the “Vesti on Saturday with Sergei Brilev” television program that the Russian government has worked out an economic outlook scenario envisaging sectoral sanctions.

They could hit Russian exports from luxury goods like furs and caviar under a relatively lenient option to metals, fertilizers, gas and oil under the harshest one, he said.

“The economy can withstand such a scenario. The pace of economic growth, of course, retires to a negative area. The pace of investment is even worse, revenues are reduced, inflation accelerates, government reserves shrink,” Ulyukayev said.

“But, in general, there is no dramatic development.”

The government’s official 2014 growth forecast now stands at 0.5 percent but Ulyukayev has said it could come in at around 1.1 percent — the same as in the first five months of the year.

The EU, which relies on Russia for a large part of its energy needs, has been reluctant to press ahead with sectoral sanctions fearing they would backfire.

Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday any immediate moves could instead take the form of expanding the existing lists of people and companies targeted with asset freezes over Russia’s role in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.

Russia Will Defend Economy Against EU Agreements, Peskov Says

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President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said that Russia will take measures to protect its economy if it suffers any negative impact from the agreements Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed with the EU on Friday, RIA Novosti reported.

“The concern is not in the documents, but in the possibility of their influence on our markets, and in the case of negative influence action will be taken,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, stressing that Georgia and Ukraine had a sovereign right to sign the agreements.

Shortly after, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that Ukraine and Moldova will face “grave consequences” after signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union, Interfax reported.
“Signing such a serious document is, of course, the sovereign right of each state,” Karasin added.

Battle for Donetsk airport: the story of one Russian fighter

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Evgeny Korolenko was born in the Soviet Union in 1967 and died in Ukraine in 2014. His story sheds light on the lives of those who have crossed the border from Russia to fight – and the efforts to cover their traces

Accounts of the conflict in eastern Ukraine differ so wildly that it is often difficult to see through the propaganda and get to the truth. Authorities in Kiev suggest that there are no angry or unhappy locals in eastern Ukraine, merely “Russian terrorists”. In Moscow, the Kremlin and foreign ministry insist that brave residents are merely standing up for their rights against Ukrainian “fascism”.

The reality, as so often, lies between these two extremes. While there are many locals fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, there are also many “volunteers” who have come from Russia. How these people arrived, what motivates them, and whether they have any official Russian backing has largely remained a mystery.

But in tracking down the widow of one Russian man who died during the fighting at Donetsk airport, Elena Kostyuchenko, a correspondent for the independent news site Novaya Gazeta, sheds some light onto the murky structures organising the transfer of fighters to Ukraine. She also paints a moving portrait of loss and of the frustration of dealing with Russian officialdom apparently so keen to cover up all traces of those fighting across the border:

Border crossing

The driver of the freezer lorry crossed into Russia at the Uspenka border post in the early hours of 30 May. A black Land Cruiser met the lorry; the driver followed. He unloaded his cargo around 4.30am. He was unsure exactly where. A morgue, perhaps on a military base on the edge of Rostov-on-Don.

The border guards on duty at Uspenka that night say three people dressed in camouflage turned up, turned off the CCTV, demanded the border guards switch off their mobile phones and confiscated the handsets while the lorry was crossing the border. The guards did not see any documents for the cargo; they did not check inside the vehicle nor register its crossing.

The freezer section contained the bodies of 31 Russian fighters killed in the battle near Donetsk airport on 26 May. Alerted by the authorities of the Donetsk People’s Republic, journalists followed the lorry to the border. The journalists learned two names: Sergey Zhdanovich and Yuri Abrosimov. Later, two more names turned up in social networks – Alexey Yurin and Alexander Efremov, who did their compulsory military service in the 45th regiment of the special forces unit of Russian air force troops. That’s it.

The unnamed morgue where the bodies were offloaded seems likely to be the 1602nd district military hospital in a remote area of Rostov called Voenved. It is a sprawling officers’ town, with military units, loading stations and an airport. The hospital has a centre for receiving and dispatching the dead reconnaissance and a huge body storage facility for 400 people, a reminder of the Chechen war.

Yet when I go to investigate I’m told there are no dead bodies in Voenved. At the military forensics office Elena Volkova, the head of the administration department, says: “We do not have the bodies. We receive bodies following court decisions. I would know if we had someone here.”

The press service of the North Caucasus military district tells me military morgues only have military dead. As I am looking for civilians I should look for them somewhere else.

Two women and three men stand near the entrance to the military hospital at Voenved. They are in the narrow shade of a chapel built out of a construction trailer, scrolling through photos on an iPhone, trying to choose something suitable for a headstone. One of the men – he looks distinctly out of place in their company – with grey hair, tall, with the bearing of a soldier, steps aside to make a phone call on a giant telephone receiver.

I ask if they are here to pick up a body. They nod: yes. And yes, he died near Donetsk airport.

“Who are you?” they ask me. When I say I’m a journalist, they immediately ask me to step away, or leave altogether.

“If you have any conscience at all, you will not take any photos,” says a weary-looking young woman in a long turquoise dress. Her face looks strange. Only later I realise it was not grief but acute fear I saw in her face.

About 40 minutes later a group of tanned men in stretched out and stained vests appears. One of the men approaches me and asks, “How do you know that the bodies are here?” Then he says to some soldiers smoking nearby, “She is a journalist. Don’t talk to her.”

An hour later, one of the vested men cries out to the family members as he passes by in a jeep: “Go get some lunch. The matter is still being decided.” The family members leave.

I find out later that they managed to get the body back. Everything was solved via telephone conversations between Donbas and Rostov. The body was returned unofficially.

The following day the body of Sergey Zhdanovich from Elektrogorsk was also picked up, also in secret. For this to happen, Roman Tikunov, the head of the executive body of United Russia, the country’s main pro-Kremlin political party, who also serves as the chairman of the local “Combat brotherhood” chapter, personally travelled to Rostov.

On my request, war veteran organisations meet the leadership of the North Caucasus Military District. The leadership responds in all sincerity: there are no bodies in Rostov; there is nothing to look for.

Missing husband

There is a young woman standing near the shopping centre. She gives me a half hug, leads me up the escalator and then inside the storeroom of the Tsentrobuv shoe store. A young man is about to have his sandwich there but he quickly leaves.

The woman’s name is Lyana Elchaninova. On her colleagues’ advice, she placed a notice on the Vkontakte social network, Russia’s version of Facebook, with the name of her missing husband – Evgeny (Zhenya) Korolenko, born in 1967.

I had been given his name as one of the people who died in the fighting.

Donetsk authorities confirmed that Korolenko was dead and that his body was shipped to Rostov in that same truck.

Lyana has no more tears.

“I am just glad that he is not lying in some pile. There were many bodies left there. I was told the bodies were decomposing. And that Ukrainian soldiers wanted to burn them.”

Lyana has been looking for her husband for eight days. Briefly, she relays this hellish experience: “Zhenya left without saying anything to me. I came home from work late one evening, I work until 10pm, and there was this note. He wrote, ‘The car is at Andrik’s.’

“I found out on 30 May that this Andrik served with him in Afghanistan. He’s a friend of sorts. This Andrik saw Zhenya’s surname on the list of the dead, so I rang him. He said: ‘Yes, it’s over. He’s dead though I didn’t see the body, I’ll ring you later and tell you where and when you can collect it.’

“I waited until 11pm and rang him again. ‘I don’t know where they are, stop asking me these stupid questions.’ Later, he rang me: ‘He’s not in Rostov. He is on one list and not on the other.’ Then he told me it’s impossible to identify anyone, it was just like things were in Chechnya, he begins telling me all these horrifying things.

“But then my head started working again. I could identify him by his hands or his feet. By his teeth, too – you can’t do anything to the teeth, he had some dentures. I can even bring his dentist along and have him look.

“I went to work but the girls could see the state I am in. They also started asking around the people they know – someone in the police force, someone at the FSB security services, but nobody had heard about so many bodies being transported to Rostov. The director knew a girl who worked at Rostov city hospital No. 2. She confirmed that the truck had arrived but they did not have any space in the morgue and the bodies were rerouted to Voenved.

“I rang them up. Stupidly, I said it was about a body from Donetsk. The moment they heard about Donetsk, Ukraine, they were all, like, ‘No, no, no…’

“If I can’t collect him, then I would like to see his body, at least. Or the photographs of the body.”

Combat Brotherhood

I ring the United Russia party member Tikunov. I know that at that moment he is accompanying the delivery of Zhdanovich’s body to Elektrogorsk, and explain to him that right next to me is the wife of a man who died together with Zhdanovich. Tikunov tells me I am mistaken and that our newspaper publishes lies and unverified facts.

“Would you like to speak to the widow who has been making rounds of the morgues for eight days?” He says, “Don’t you dare call me again” and turns off his phone.

We ring around the Combat Brotherhood, Afghan veterans, members of the armed forces. They promise help but tell us not to get our hopes up.

‘I’ll be gone for a bit’

This is a note from inside Zhenya’s notepad:

Sweetheart, I couldn’t say this to you yesterday – I didn’t want to upset you because I care about you.

You can see how messed up everything has got.

It’s very hard for me to be here, without a job. I am not really living, it feels like a dead end. So, I have gone to Donbas. They are waiting for me there. There is a future there. I will tell you all about it if I manage to come back alive.

I love you.

That’s all.

I’ll be gone for a bit, my dear.

They were together two-and-a-half years, but were not officially registered as married. During the May holidays they discussed finding out how and when they should apply to get married.

“It was absolute happiness. We never argued even once.”

Afghan veteran

Between May 1985 and May 1987, before they met, Evgeny served in Afghanistan in a motorised rifle unit as a shooter. He didn’t talk to Lyana much about Afghanistan.

“He tried to forget as much as he could,” she says. He was once inside an armoured vehicle on fire and spent time in hospital. “While he was in service, his mother received two death notifications and had a heart attack after each one.” His parents are no longer alive. His remaining relatives are Lyana and a six-year-old daughter from his first marriage.

By trade, he was a locksmith, and his military papers show he had a previous conviction for something. He used to read a lot, mostly fantasy.

He played World of Tanks, War Thunder, Stalker and World of Warplanes on the computer. Tanks, airplanes, shootouts. Most recently, he worked for his friends’ computer and office equipment repair firm – he picked up and delivered orders. Then his friends stopped paying his salary. He needed the money to spend on his daughter, he needed the money to live on.

Lyana wonders whether the financial situation spurred him on.

“People were saying on internet forums that they were being paid. Were they being paid? Why did he go there?”

“Had he said, ‘I am definitely going,’ I would get worried but then my brain would have switched on. We would have sat down and discussed what I should do if this actually happened. But he did everything without saying a word.”

Don’t worry, I am here, at the border with Rostov. We are playing sport, going on runs. Everything will be fine

Lyana said he was corresponding with people and discussing his departure on the Vkontakte network.

The correspondence lasts only a few hours on 19 May. For his login Evgeny chose Shiva Shiva. His counterpart is Fat Epiphan, one of the volunteers of “Russian volunteers/Donbass” group. Epiphan asks him to fill in a questionnaire: his call signal, date of birth, past experience of combat, specialisation, size, city, equipment, telephone.

He also enquires as to when Zhenya can make it to the deployment point in Rostov. The address is not mentioned. “If you have your uniform, bring it,” Epiphan instructs. “We prefer mountain uniforms. Boots are olive cobra. If you have the boots, don’t buy any more. You shouldn’t bring the Russian numeral camouflage uniform either.”

Lyana recalls what happened when she read the conversation: “I wrote back to Epiphan and then Zhenya personally rang me on 23 May. I started yelling at him: ‘Where are you? Why did you leave me like that?’

‘Don’t worry, I am here, at the border with Rostov. We are playing sport, going on runs. Everything will be fine.’

“I said to him: ‘Don’t get yourself into any trouble. Come home. Why did you go there in the first place?’

‘Don’t worry. I will call you. And if I don’t call you, that means we are not allowed.’ That was it.”

The phone was then switched off. Then, on 26 May, they came under fire.

VKontakte’s Russian volunteers/Donbas group has 10,000 subscribers and excellent security settings. Group managers are anonymous.

Requirements for volunteers are strict: only those with combat experience can apply. They must be over 26 years old, only certain specialisations, no criminal record. Right now they are looking for armoured infantry vehicle crew members, portable antitank guided missile launcher operators, anti-aircraft missile system operators, automatic grenade launcher AGS-17 operators, grenade launch operators, flamethrower operators. Also required are notionally civilian specialists: mechanics, drivers, command centre staff, logistics specialists, doctors and paramedics.

In addition to online mobilisation, the search for volunteers in Rostov-on-Don was conducted directly via the army recruitment centres. Veterans say that a few days before the May holidays they got phone calls from these centres with an invitation to come in for a chat – but only officers and warrant officers with combat experience were invited in.

At the meeting they were told that people were needed to prevent subversive actions, like those in Odessa. The events in Odessa had just happened. Everything strictly on a voluteer basis. The military recruitment office issued those interested with the phone number of a contact person. In other words, the military recruitment offices were recruiting the personnel.

The Rostov region is an excellent place for recruiting volunteer; 68,000 veterans of various conflicts are living here – from Afghanistan to Georgia. Practically every local Cossack was involved in the Transnistria conflict.

Pretty much everyone here is immune to the inevitable evil of any war.

Rostov residents know there are unofficial wars and they can be given different terms, too, such as a counter-terrorism operation, the deployment of limited contingents, peacekeeping missions or they can simply be called nothing at all.

Images of the dead

Many people saw this collection of photographs. It was called “Images of dead pro-Russia activists, for those aged 18+”. Dead faces on tiles.

The images were published on 31 May by a Ukrainian blogger with an introduction about a “sickening spectacle”. I quickly scroll through the text but Lyana does not care. She finds Zhenya at number 16. She finishes looking at the rest of the photos and demands to count them. There are 56 faces.

“There are pictures of those here whose bodies have not been removed. Someone still does not know that someone close to them had died.”

She returns to Zhenya’s photo.

“It does not look like him. A chain, yes, I think he had this chain. The ears are not sticking out. The head or the face does not look like him. But the tattoos are similar. Look, these ones are very well defined but his are old and smudged. No, Zhenya’s eyebrows don’t look quite like that… His hair has grown very long. This is probably him. This could be him. The chain.

He had a similar chain. Nostrils, nose. That’s him. That’s it. That’s him.”


Heat. We’re standing by a concrete slab not far from where the other family once stood. In the morning one of the veterans got through to the surgeon of the hospital number 1602 who promised to issue us with a pass.

It is impossible to get in through the reception – access to the morgue is only on the permission of the head of the hospital. The head of the hospital is not letting anyone into the morgue.

Your husband voluntarily went to the street where shots were being fired.

A security guard eventually says: “You will be given a phone number for the FSB. Give them a ring and resolve the issue. Because we were told not to let you in. Give them a call… I would like to help you from my heart but I can’t. I was told not to let you in.”

Four digits of an internal phone number on a piece of paper. The name on it is Stanislav Alexandrovich Kuznetsov. We are trying to calm Lyana down.

She stops crying. In a calm voice she speaks into the receiver. She says that her husband has gone missing that she has information that the bodies are here and that she needs to bury her husband. Or just to see him, but the head of the hospital gave orders not to let her in.

“And so what do you want from me?” I can hear the voice in the telephone receiver say, “I am not even in the military, so what do you want from me? Goodbye.”

Three hours after we arrived at Voenved and 10 minutes after the call to Kuznetsov, Lyana gets a call on her mobile.

The man introduces himself as Sergey.

“Your husband is dead. His body is hidden at a certain place…”

“Is it at Voenved?” Lyana says quickly. “I am here now.”

“Yes, he is here. But they won’t let you in, Lyana. They have made it into a military secret, do you understand? But we are removing a body tomorrow. We’ll remove yours, too. Someone will ring you regarding the funeral. We’ll help you with everything. But the casket will be closed.

“I want to identify him.”

“It will be a closed casket. But this is definitely him. We verified by the images of the tattoos you’ve sent.”

After two hours “Sergey” rings back and says that he can bring out the body today. Lyana wants to take the body immediately and store it in a morgue in Rostov for safe-keeping while she makes funeral arrangements. Lyana also wants to open the casket and identify her husband.

Soon afterwards, Lyana gets a phone call from someone who introduces himself as a “kommissar”.

“We have bodies which have been lying near the airport since 26 May, and we are unable to collect them. But we managed to pull him out and delivered him to Russia. And after all this you want to open the casket?

“Will this be ethical towards your husband? I think not,” he says. “They used heavy ammunition over there. Do you understand what I am saying? But you can get a red velvet casket; everything will be packaged up nicely. We have a death certificate. He was identified by his fellow soldiers. Of course, all this during military action. But he had been identified.

“You are an adult. Russia is not conducting an organised military action.

“Your husband voluntarily went to the street where shots were being fired.

“We will help you with what we can with the location of the burial and the body. We have sponsors in Russia who are helping. You have to understand that we get no state support. But we will take care of the funeral.”

(Here the kommissar takes a pause, apparently expecting to hear the words of gratitude in response. Lyana would not say anything.)

“Goodbye,” says the kommissar. “I am sorry it all happened this way.”

“Of course I want it all,” Lyana screams at her friend. “I want the medical examination. I want to identify him. I want to make sure this is him. But how?”

They do not manage to find a morgue in Rostov for the body. They have nowhere to take it. There is no place to open up the casket. The temperature in Rostov is +35C. They will receive the body only just before the funeral.

The funeral was due to take place on Monday. Lyana and Dasha go to pick up a funeral wreath. Lyana is looking at a video of volunteers. Branches scarred with shrapnel, someone is pulling a wounded man by his coat, a woman with her legs torn off is trying to get up. “He saw all of this in real life, not on a TV screen, do you understand this? He knew what it looked like. He could not but go there.”

I go to another town for a meeting and return late at night. There are two funeral wreathes decorated with roses and black ribbons standing on the balcony. Lyana is sitting on the sofa, her face raw.

“They will not give Zhenya to me. I got a phone call in the evening. They said that would not give him to me because I have spoken to a journalist. I have spoken to you.”

I break off all contact with Lyana. I spend two days walking around the city. I do not ring my sources, do not interview anyone, make no plans, and do not go to the border. I am afraid to frighten off the people hiding the bodies. But I cannot leave. I eat berries at the market, dodge kids on their roller-skates. There is thunder.

Two days later the news reaches us: Zhenya’s body had been released.

They buried him.

Ukraine shells hit Russia territory: Moscow

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Moscow says Ukrainian troops have fired three shells into the Russian territory, causing damage but no casualties.

“In the course of clashes on the Ukrainian territory, the Ukrainian military fired shells which ended up on the Russian territory,” said spokesman for the border service in the Rostov region, Vasily Malayev, on Saturday.

“One seriously damaged the building of a customs post” near the border town of Gukovo, while two shells landed in or around nearby villages, the official added.
The statements come as the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has extended the ceasefire with pro-Russia protesters in the eastern provinces for another 72 hours until June 30.

On June 20, Poroshenko announced a weeklong ceasefire plan aimed at curbing the violence in the restive east. The plan included an amnesty for anti-government protesters who lay down arms, and tighter controls over Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse the Kremlin of fuelling the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions by backing armed forces. Russia, however, has denied the allegations.

Earlier in November, Ukraine plunged into chaos after then President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the so-called Association Agreement with the 28-member EU. The refusal triggered months of unrest and clashes, which finally led to the ouster of Yanukovych on February 23.

Following this, pro-Russia protests broke out in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions. The protests gained momentum after independence referendums in eastern parts of Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have been carrying out military operations since mid-April to crush pro-Russia protests in the east of the country.

The violence intensified after the Donetsk region together with Lugansk declared independence on May 12 following local referendums, in which the two provinces’ residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Ukraine.

Putin Adviser Calls Poroshenko Nazi Leader of ‘Frankenstein’ Country

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A senior economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin has slammed Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko ahead of the country’s signing of an EU deal on Friday, calling him an illegitimate president and a Nazi.

In an interview with the BBC published on Friday, Sergei Glazyev said Ukraine had a “clear Nazi government,” which was employing force against its own people in the country’s east.

“As for [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseni] Yatsenyuk and Mr. Poroshenko, their coming to power is closely related to the government coup, which happened in Ukraine on the basis of Nazist slogans,” he said.

Glazyev added Moscow did not consider Poroshenko a legitimate president, saying: “There is no official recognition, we speak with him, but we speak with him as a person who is leading a part of Ukraine […] by effect, not by law.”

Glazyev’s comments came just hours before Poroshenko signed an association agreement with the European Union, marking a significant turn westwards for a country that has historically and culturally aligned itself with Russia.

Asked whether he thought the agreement would remove Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence, Glazyev said a surprise awaited the European public, “when this Nazist Frankenstein … will knock [at these] countries’ doors.”

The country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in February following months of unrest after he turned his back on an EU association agreement, days before he was due to sign it, in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Since then, Ukraine has all but split into two — with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the new Kiev leadership and setting up self-proclaimed republics. Hundreds of people have died in the ensuing violence, with the Ukrainian government employing armed forces in an attempt to regain control of the eastern regions.

Speaking after the signing of the agreement on Friday, Poroshenko said Ukraine had “paid the highest possible price to make her European dreams come true,” Reuters reported.

Ukrainian President Extends Truce In East

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced his government will extend by 72 hours a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

The announcement came shortly after Poroshenko returned to Kyiv from Brussels, where he signed a landmark free-trade deal at a European Union summit.

On his website, Poroshenko said the truce had been extended in line with a deadline set by EU leaders for Ukrainian rebels to agree to a mechanism to monitor a cease-fire, return border checkpoints to Kyiv control, and free hostages including four monitors of the OSCE rights and security watchdog.

The truce will now run until 10 p.m. local time on June 30.

Earlier, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine expressed a willingness to abide by the extended truce.

But Donetsk rebel leader Aleksander Borodai said the separatists would not hand over control of three captured border posts.

Despite the cease-fire, isolated incidents of violence were reported in the Donetsk region on June 28. The military accused the separatists of shooting at soldiers at Kramatorsk airfield. The military said there were no casualties among the troops.

Earlier on June 27 in Brussels, EU leaders warned Russia of fresh sanctions if there was no easing of tensions in eastern Ukraine by June 30.

EU leaders warned that punitive measures have been drawn up and could be levied immediately.

EU leaders also expressed frustration that the weeklong cease-fire announced by Poroshenko had not ended the fighting.

In Brussels at the signing ceremony, Poroshenko said Ukraine had “paid the highest possible price to make her European dreams come true.”

Failure to sign the accords last November had sparked the Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

European Commission experts estimate the deal will boost Ukraine’s national income by 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) a year.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Russian interference in Ukraine had failed.

“I think it is noteworthy that exactly what President [Vladimir] Putin was trying to prevent from his interfering in Ukraine has now happened,” she said.

Georgia and Moldova, two other former Soviet republics, also signed trade and political accords with the EU in Brussels on June 27.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said the signing would have “grave consequences” for Ukraine.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called such threats “unhelpful.”

The State Department, meanwhile, cast doubt on a report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees claiming that 110,000 Ukrainians had fled to Russia so far this year.

Spokeswoman Harf said the UN figures had not been confirmed by the United States.

Harf said it was credible that thousands had fled the conflict, but also noted there is constant human movement along the porous border between Ukraine and Russia.