Friday, March 24, 2017

Ukraine munitions blasts prompt mass evacuations

March 24, 2017 (BBC Europe) Some 20,000 people are being evacuated after a series of explosions at a massive arms depot in eastern Ukraine described by officials as sabotage. The base in Balakliya, near Kharkiv, is around 100km (60 miles) from fighting against Russian-backed separatists. The dump is used to store thousands of tonnes of ammunition including missiles and artillery weapons. Rescue teams are overseeing a huge evacuation effort for people living in the city and nearby villages. The total area of the dump spans more than 350 hectares, the military says. Everyone within a 10km (6 miles) radius of the dump is being evacuated, the Interfax news agency quoted an aide to President Petro Poroshenko as saying. Munitions from the depot are used to supply military units in the conflict zone in nearby Luhansk and Donetsk, reports say.

A huge cloud of smoke could be seen billowing above the ammunition depot of the Ukrainian armed forces on Thursday

Read the full article and see the video at

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ukraine says saboteurs blow up arms warehouse in east

March 23, 2017 (Reuters) The Ukrainian military said unknown saboteurs blew up a warehouse storing tank ammunition at a military base in the east of the country early on Thursday, but nobody was hurt. The base, which contained about 138,000 tonnes of ammunition, is located in the city of Balakleya about 100 km (60 miles) from the frontline of Ukraine's war against Russian-backed separatists. 
Rescue teams were evacuating nearby villages in the eastern Kharkiv region, the military said. "According to preliminary data ... as a result of sabotage, last night at 2.46 AM (0046 GMT), fire and explosions caused the detonation of ammunition at several sites storing rockets and artillery weapons," Ukraine's chief military prosecutor Anatoly Matios wrote on Facebook. 
Military spokesman Oleksander Motuzyanyk said security around other bases was being beefed up. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was due to fly to the area later on Thursday. Saboteurs previously tried to destroy the same base using drones in 2015, another military spokesman, Yuzef Venskovich, told the 112 TV channel. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukraine and the separatist rebels since 2014.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Remains of World War II pilot returned after seven decades

March 16, 2017 (Tampa Bay Times) Seven decades after he was shot down during World War II, Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. John Donald Mumford came home Thursday night. A flag-draped coffin holding his remains was carried out of the cargo hold of Southwest Airlines Flight 4599 from Chicago shortly after 8 p.m. Standing on the tarmac on the chilly March night at Tampa International Airport, Mumford's family watched the dignified transfer ceremony.
Ronald Woolums, an Air Force veteran, saluted. His brother, Lynn Woolums, held his right hand over his heart. Mumford was their uncle. "I just realized we have a family war hero," said Lynn Woolums of St. Petersburg. "He paid the ultimate price for our freedom." "This is very impressive," Ronald Woolums, also of St. Petersburg said of the ceremony. "He is finally home." Mumford was born in upstate New York and eventually moved with his family to 3490 Queensboro Lane in St. Petersburg. The Woolums brothers know very little else about their uncle, who, according to military records, grew to be nearly 6 feet tall and 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. So they were both amazed and grateful to read the details compiled by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in an 80-page, plastic-bound report about the incident and the search for his remains.
Mumford enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to fly a P-51 Mustang fighter. On the morning of June 6, 1944, as the allies were launching the invasion of Normandy, Mumford, 22, was making what turned out to be his final flight. It was to escort B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers in an attack on a German airfield. The mission was successful, destroying buildings, ramps and aircraft. But afterward, he was pounced on by German fighters and shot down over what is now Ukraine.
For years, because of fighting during World War II, followed by the tensions of the Cold War, there wasn't much that could be done. But in 2007, the DPAA's predecessor organization got some new information about Mumford from the Ukrainian government. Over the years, teams visited the crash site, interviewing witnesses and examining the location where Mumford crashed.

Based on the witness statements and aircraft wreckage, the team recommended that the Defense Department excavate the site to search for Mumford's remains. From July 16 through Aug. 5, 2016, a combined team from the DPAA and the Ukraine Armed Forces went looking. Investigators used standard archaeological techniques and eventually found a partial, broken skeleton that included parts of the cranium, ribs, vertebrae and leg and arm bones. The remains were sent back to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where they were eventually identified as Mumford's. It was those remains that were returned to Tampa on Thursday. A funeral service for Mumford will be held at 10:45 a.m. March 23 at Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, 7820 38th Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Interment of his cremains will follow at the Bay Pines National Cemetery.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Heavy fighting with Grad, tanks near Ukraine's Mariupol

March 20, 2017 (UNIAN) Ukrainian civil volunteers report Russia's hybrid military forces are attacking Ukrainian positions near the Ukrainian-controlled strategic port city of Mariupol with all available weapons on Monday. "According to preliminary reports, an enemy fortified position has been completely destroyed together with the terrorists. The enemy has been intensifying the shelling and is already firing on its former positions. Enemy main battle tanks are also engaged in the fighting," the People's Project volunteers' center reported on Facebook on Monday, March 20.
Later, the center shared an update, saying that the hybrid troops are using Grad multiple rocket systems, tanks, banned 122mm and 152mm artillery systems and mortars. "At least nine Ukrainian troops have been wounded in action. Information about the casualties is being verified," the center wrote. In turn, volunteers from the Povernys Zhyvym [Back and Alive] project report that the fighting in the Mariupol sector goes on: the enemy continues to intensively shell the advanced positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), using large-caliber mortars and cannon artillery systems. 
"There is confirmation that around 12:00 Kyiv time, the terrorists fired Grad MLR systems," the volunteers said, adding that, according to unconfirmed information, there were wounded among the AFU fighters.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ukrainian language set for media boost in new law

March 17, 2017 (BBC Europe) A new law in Ukraine requires at least 75% of national TV broadcasts to be in the Ukrainian language. It is a very sensitive issue for the country's many Russian speakers, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine partly about ethnic Russians' language rights. The language quota for local TV and radio stations has been set at 50%. The law is still going through parliament and requires presidential approval. President Petro Poroshenko has called for more Ukrainian language use on TV.
Ukrainian sociological research last year found Russian to be the main language of Ukrainian TV, press, the services sector and Ukrainian websites. The language issue is at the heart of the Ukraine conflict. Even though there had been little tension between Ukrainian and Russian speakers before hostilities erupted, the Kremlin said Russians in Ukraine faced "genocide" and deserved protection, by military means if necessary. Kiev, on the other hand, has been saying that it is the Ukrainian language that needs to be protected following decades of Soviet rule. Russian-language programming on TV has to have Ukrainian subtitles - even though it would be hard to find anyone in Ukraine who did not understand Russian. Any TV programmes that are seen as Russian propaganda are banned outright.

Kiev, May 2014: The annual Vyshyvanka march is a patriotic occasion for Ukrainians
The latest move has divided opinion in Ukraine. Critics say it will do nothing to win the hearts and minds of Russian speakers. "This law will violate the rights of millions of Ukrainian citizens whose mother tongue is Russian," said a statement by Inter, Ukraine's most popular TV channel which mostly broadcasts in Russian. But Oleksandr Tkachenko, the head of another popular Ukrainian television channel - One Plus One - supported the new law, calling it "a historic event". The full article is available at

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rada ratifies FTA agreement between Ukraine and Canada

March 15, 2017 (Interfax) The Verkhovna Rada has ratified the free trade area agreement (FTA) between Ukraine and Canada. Some 272 people's deputies voted for this decision on March 14. Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy after voting said he would urgently sign the document. The agreement was signed in Kyiv on July 11, 2016. According to an explanatory note to the document, the ratification of the agreement will promote the development of bilateral trade and economic relations between Ukraine and Canada, will allow Ukrainian producers to benefit from customs-free access to the Canadian market, will open new markets for Ukrainian enterprises. 

First Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Stepan Kubiv said in parliament that the results of the analysis conducted by research institutes show that the annulment of imports duties by Canada would help Ukrainian manufacturers of food, light, chemical, petrochemical and engineering industries to have the best advantages on the Canadian markets. On the other hand, the agreement would open opportunities for imports of raw materials and advanced technologies, which would prompt Ukraine's economic growth. Full article is available at:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ukraine-Russia court battle over "terrorism" claims

March 8, 2017 (Euronews) In a case that started on Monday, it accuses Russia of violating UN anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination conventions. Ukraine says separatist forces, backed by Russia, have carried out terrorist acts including the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, which killed 298 passengers and crew. It also accuses Russia of illegally annexing Crimea.
“Today I stand before the World Court to request protection of the basic human rights of Ukrainian people,” Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said on the first of four days of hearings. Zerkal requested an immediate court order to stop what she called Russia’s abuses until the judges have heard the case in full. The UN court takes years to hear cases. International Relations Professor Andrea Stavitskiy from the Moscow State University branch in Sevastopol, believes the ruling by the UN’s highest court could be significant. “All the talk about Crimea’s return to Russia being a bad thing hasn’t yet had any legal proof,” he said. “The Hague tribunal can solve that issue, giving the West a sort of ‘legal proof’ of accusations that Russia is an aggressor and Putin is a tyrant.”

The International Court of Justice holds a public hearing in the case Ukraine v. Russian Federation, on March 6, 2017 in the Hague
Despite Ukraine’s claims of Russian racial discrimination, notably against Crimea’s minority ethnic Tatars, some people in the Black Sea peninsula spoke out strongly in favour of Moscow. “I want the world to understand that there wasn’t any annexation,” said Sevastopol resident Lada Litvak. “It was the legitimate will of the Crimean people. We really wanted to return to Russia and we managed to achieve it.” “I think the Hague tribunal should dismiss Ukraine’s claim,” added Aza Azamatova, another resident of Crimea. But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko took to Facebook, making no secret of his feelings on the matter.
Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine. It also denies downing MH17. The UN court’s rulings are final and binding. But it has no means of enforcement.