ATO ends, Bellingcat proves Russian involvement in 2015 attack, opinion polls, and more: Weekly Update on Ukraine #56, 1-7 May 2018

Situation in the combat zone

ATO ends, Joint Forces Operation starts. On April 30 the Anti-terrorist operation (ATO) concluded and the military operation in Donbas was reformatted into the Joint Forces Operation. Check out our recent material to discover what will change:
“Old war, new rules: what comes next as ATO ends and a new operation starts in Donbas?”

Residential areas under attack. Over the last week, Russia-backed militants proceeded with highly intense combat actions in Donbas and were actively using Minsk-proscribed weapons including 82-mm and 120-mm mortars, 122-mm and 152-mm artillery, and tanks. Additionally, militants shelled the populated areas seven times over the last week. On May 1, the residential area of Troitske came under fire, on May 3 hostile attacks damaged six houses in Zaitseve, on May 5 residential blocks of Luhanske were shelled, on May 6 Luhanske and Mykolayivka were bombarded upon, Zaitseve came under fire twice. In addition to the ruined infrastructure in the populated areas, one civilian was wounded.
Schools at the frontline: a UNICEF report. Over the last 16 months at least 45 schools were damaged by combat actions in eastern Ukraine, a UNICEF report says. “UNICEF and partners have recorded at least eight instances where military and armed groups’ sites are within 500 meters from a kindergarten or school, and two separate locations where schools and these sites are only a few meters apart,” the report proceeds. More than 700 schools have been damaged since the conflict started, UNICEF concludes.

Bellingcat and Ukraine’s Security Service present evidence of Russia’s involvement in the shelling of Mariupol in 2015

Thirty civilians were killed and over 100 wounded on January 24, 2015, resulting from an artillery shelling of Mariupol’s Skhidnyi district. Three years after the incident there comes new evidence proving the involvement of Russian officers in the attack.

Bellingcat: nine Russian officers named. Investigators of the international OSINT group Bellingcat confirmed that on January 24, 2015, Mariupol was shelled from the Russia-controlled territory. In their report, Bellingcat also released the names of the regular Russian troops and militants responsible for the shelling. “Bellingcat has also determined that the shelling operation was instructed, directed and supervised by Russian military commanders in active service with the Russian Ministry of Defense. Bellingcat has identified nine Russian officers, including one general, two colonels, and three lieutenant colonels, involved directly with the military operation,” the report says. Bellingcat were granted access to raw video and audio data that is being submitted by the Ukrainian government to the International Court of Justice as part of an ongoing legal case against Russia. The investigators claim to have “conducted detailed cross-referencing of events, names, and locations, as well as metadata from the calls, to open source data, including satellite photography data, social media posts, and voice samples from public statements of some of the identified persons.” Bellingcat announced the release of the full version of the report later this week.
Ukraine’s Security Service: “The 2015 artillery strike on Mariupol was organized by Russian military”. The operation conducted from the territory of the Russian Federation was led by Major General Stepan Yaroshchuk, the missile troops chief of the Southern military district of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, reported Vasyl Hrytsak, Head of Ukraine’s Security Service during a press briefing on May 7. “Thanks to the meticulous work, it became possible to record and document a minute-by-minute crossing of the Russian-Ukrainian state border by the Russian units as well as their way towards the positions of the terrorists, from which the attack on Mariupol was actually made,” Hrytsak emphasized. Ukraine’s Security Service discovered that in course of the attack two divisions of BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems in service with the Russian Federation Armed Forces made over 120 launches of unguided high-explosive/fragmentation warheads S-21OF upon the peaceful city.

Civil society in Ukraine: an opinion poll and expert opinions

In December 2017 Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation teamed up with the sociological service of the Razumkov Center to conduct a public opinion poll on civil society and its efficiency. The research also foresaw interviewing experts. Here are the main findings.
Civil society underdeveloped. Ukrainians assess the level of development of the civil society in the country as low. Thus, about one-third of the interviewed said the level of its progress is average, another one-third of respondents said they consider it being low. About 10 percent of the interviewed assessed its advancement as generally high or high.
Active youth. Seven percent of the interviewed note that they are engaged in civic activism, while 87 percent say they are not. Youngsters consider themselves to be more active – over 10 percent define themselves as civic activists. The east demonstrates the lowest level of engagement – two percent.
Volunteering: age and regional differences. About 12 percent of the respondents said they had volunteered over the past year. This percentage has been stable since the first poll made in 2012. The highest level of engagement in volunteering is observed among the young people (18 percent), region-wise – in the west and in the center of the country (15 percent).
Charity. Forty-one percent say they supported a particular person or an organization with money or provided another type of support. This number equals to the one from the previous year. Charity reached its peak in November 2015 when 47 percent said to have donated for charity. At the same time, much more people are involved in charity than before the Revolution of Dignity. Thus, in December 2012 about 29 percent said they had donated for charity.
Expert assessment: increased impact on authorities. The same research suggests that experts see the chances of the civil society organizations to produce an impact upon the decisions of the authorities drastically increase after the Revolution of Dignity – from 2,1 to 3,5 points on the five-point scale. In the years that followed the Revolution, the influence started to gradually decrease, although it remains at a higher level than it was before 2014, in 2017 it reached 3,2 points.
Experts name effective ways for civil society to make an impact. Among the ways to influence the authorities the interviewed experts name active interaction with media in the first place (71 percent), uniting forces with other civil society organizations (joint associations and movements, 63 percent), appealing to the international community and international organizations (60 percent), public discussions (round tables and public hearings) of the topical social problems as well as elaborating own suggestions as to how to resolve them (58 percent), delegating civil society representatives to civil service (to the central government and local self-government etc., 54 percent).

Culture: GOGOLFEST gets a new life in the frontline Mariupol

This year GOGOLFEST – a multidisciplinary contemporary art festival that has been on for more than 10 years – has for the first time changed its location from Kyiv to the frontline city of Mariupol in Donetsk region. The founder of the festival is theatre director Vlad Troitskyi, so the event’s theatrical and performance programs are traditionally the strongest. In autumn 2017, Troitskyi said that it was probably the last festival’s edition, mostly due to the lack of financing. However, in 2018 the festival was reformatted and took place in Mariupol on April 27 – May 1 under the name GOGOLFEST [Startup]. Cultural decentralization of a kind – when artists chose the locations other than the established cultural centers especially the ones that are close to the frontline – comes as a certain trend. The festival brought to Mariupol theatrical, music, literary, cinema programs as well as the ones on visual arts and events for children. Headliners of the musical program were DakhaBrakha and Dakh Daughters – the acclaimed projects started by Vlad Troitskyi; theatres Dykyi Teatr, Practicum, Mizantrop, and Publitsys presented their plays. The festival did not just engage the city’s locations that, among other, are unique as the city lies on the coast of the Sea of Azov, but also actively cooperated with local cultural initiatives, such as the Platforma TYU.