(18+) Catalonia Referendum, and the Donbass Referendum Double-Standard

Catalonia has declared a ‘yes’ vote for independence, with just over 90% of the total of 2,262,424 votes in favour of seceding from Spain. 

With Catalonia now close to declaring independence, we now wait to see if the world will accept. However, this isn’t the only referendum on self-determination in recent times to gain over a 90% vote in favour. On May 11th, 2014, a referendum was held across Donbass, to break away from a Ukraine which had in February 2014, installed an unelected, far-right government, and in April 2014, sent in military force to Donbass to crush those who protested. 

Actually, this, just one video from Mariupol, May 9th 2014, when Ukrainian forces went into Mariupol, and opened fire on those celebrating Victory Day.

More about that later, for now, a look at the referendum itself, in which tens of thousands of people queued for hours to cast their vote, voting 90%, as in Catalonia, to be part of the Donetsk People’s Republic. I’ve had to blur the videos, because no one listened to these people, and Ukrainian forces captured the city soon after.

This voter tells me: ‘We want to live apart from Ukraine’

This man tells me ‘People want freedom, it’s a cry of the soul’

These people declare ‘We are against the Kiev government!’

This man tells me he ‘hates the Ukrainian flag’ – 

What happened after? The west simply dismissed the referendum. Ukrainian forces seized Mariupol, and other towns and cities in Donbass. And those they didn’t seize, they’ve been shelling for over 3 years, with mass loss of life. Here, Lugansk, August 2014, after Ukrainian shelling:

Here, Donetsk, January 2015 after Ukrainian shelling:

Sadly, there are many, many of these videos. Thousands killed in Donbass, and it goes on to this day. Meanwhile, Europe hasn’t just stayed quiet on this, but actively supported it. 

Here’s wishing Catalonia all the very best with their independence result. We all know, that whatever happens, what happened in Donbass will never happen there. So why did it happen in Donbass?

The Adventures of a British Freelance Photographer in Mariupol

British independent photographer Dean O’Brien recently visited Mariupol, Ukraine-occupied Donbass. Here’s some of highlights of his time there, in tweets, and Instagrams –

A fuel stop runs into a  few problems…

Dean speaks to people there – 

Finds signs of anti-Ukraine feeling there – 

Speaks with local NGOs –

And young people in, of Mariupol – 

Dean also documents in photos Mariupol as it is today –

Dean photographs a recruitment poster for the Ukrainian army on the Mariupol streets –

And with that, Dean was off, promising blog posts, and more to come! 

Mariupol, Myself and Buzzfeed Fake News

In May of 2014, Buzzfeed wrote an article about me – https://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/how-a-british-blogger-became-an-unlikely-star-of-the-ukraine?utm_term=.fcpgVZ7AD#.myRGd7Yyk – I wrote about my reaction to it here, in early 2015 – because basically, I’d been done over.

However, there were a few factors to take into account at the time – I was extremely busy working, on the scene, in Donbass, and the article was just ‘one of these things’, one of a number of articles written to try to take me down.

Also, a strong reaction from my side would have simply seen Buzzfeed go for me more, and I actually felt that the long phone calls I’d had with Max Seddon has somewhat taken the edge off what Buzzfeed really wanted to do – a full takedown. (Photo from article, here)

However, it’s an article people, who want to have a go at me, bring up even now as a first offering to ‘slap me down’. It shows up high in the google rankings. So, here, in a few points, I’ll go through what was clear fake news by Buzzfeed, before people even really used that term.

Mariupol, May 2014 (after shooting on May 9th)

Buzzfeed fake: But how many people were killed? Local news reported two deaths. Ukraine’s interior minister said 21 people died in the fighting. Human Rights Watch could only confirm seven deaths after visiting all four hospitals where the wounded were taken.

None of that seemed right to Graham Phillips, a roving Ukraine-based British blogger who films guerrilla field reports from the conflict’s hot spots for his own YouTube channel and has become a growing star on Kremlin-owned media. So he set out to investigate in the way that has made him a cult micro-celebrity in east Ukraine’s crisis: by interviewing angry people on the street for 90 seconds at a time.

Some people told him that more than 100 people had died in the fighting.

Reality: Actually, I was committed to finding out how many people had really been killed on May 9th. Indeed, I interviewed some locals who told me that the figure was 100 – and I put those interviews up unedited, as with all my interviews –

And what issue do Buzzfeed have with putting up unedited interviews with locals, from the scene? In any case, this was just a part of my Mariupol reportage, I wanted to cover every side, even interviewing Ukrainian soldiers about what happened –

I explored all over the police station, at the centre of events on May 9th, just 2 of those videos here –

I interviewed people on the scene there – 

More, from a local I obtained real, first-hand events on May 9th – just some of those videos here – 

More, I visited city morgues, several times, to confirm the number – 

I questioned those who had told me the figure of ‘100’ – 

So, to another, Buzzfeed fake:  In Phillips’ version of events, Ukraine’s army was eager to cover up the massacre and so it bypassed morgues and hospitals and hid the bodies in the woods. Relatives of the dead were too terrified of reprisals to claim them missing, he said. Phillips’ interlocutors, whom he described as “well-informed local sources,” provided no evidence for these claims. He has yet to corroborate them. Nonetheless, Phillips soon appeared on Russian television promoting the unverified figure of 100 dead.

Reality: This was never my ‘version of events’. I simply uploaded videos of what people on the scene had said. And as for my ‘going on Russian television to promote the unverified figure‘, that’s just an outright lie. Here you can see me on RT at the time – 

From 1:27, I say ‘The official figure killed is 9, the Ukrainian figure is 21, some say much more.’

What happened next? I continued going to Mariupol to confirm figures – here, just one morgue confirmed 11 dead –

I carried on investigating in Mariupol until Ukrainian forces seized me, and deported me from there, on May 20th, 2014 –

And that’s reality for you, versus Buzzfeed fake news. 

The Five Spot: Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko Press Conference, Basurin Briefing

4th in the series looking at the 5 key points from a non English-language article / event

1press11. This was the 2nd Donetsk presser between the respective heads of the DPR and LPR, the first being back in early February. A gap of a few months, lots of event inbetween and inevitable questions arise as to relations between DPR and LPR, and their leaders, with a public, and perception gulf between the two of them –  Zakharchenko an ever assured, popular figure, Plotnitsky ever mired in controversy after high-profile deaths of several popular figures in the LPR.

2. The official reason for the press conference was to ask the UN to conduct a tribunal to investigate the war crimes of Ukrainian soldiers in Donbass, as announced 1press2by Igor Plotnitsky.

3. Multiple figures pertaining to war crimes had been compiled – Zakharchenko gave this information, that 3,684 citizens had been killed in Donbass in time of war, of them 523 women, 65 children, 1212 killed in 2015.

4. Relations between Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky seem reasonable. There is neither obvious warmth or enmity between the pair. This press conference was short, 13 minutes, and to the point, with no forum for questions after.  Whereas the previous presser had some levity, this was more factual, albeit covering similar ground – 1press3with Plotnitsky reiterating his earlier points that those in the USA, UK, and more, who created countries were called ‘founders’, while those in Donbass were called separatists.

5. This press conference was followed up by one today, by DPR Defence Spokesman Edward Basurin, which contained a detailed, and chronological list of those killed in conflict, and further re-iterated the request for a tribunal. With hostilities here still waging, but the situation much calmer than it was a month ago, attention for now has clearly turned to analysis, and compiling figures pertaining to losses sustained in war.

18+ Mariupol May 9th – What Really Happened (Part 2 – HRW Cover-Up)

Graham W Phillips – photos from here

The second part, looking at what really happened in Mariupol on May 9th 2014. There have been certain key dates in the ‘Ukraine crisis’. May 2nd, of the Odessa Massacre, the Semenovka Shooting of May 5th, yet where the crisis in Donbass really tipped over into Mariupol May 9 2014civil war, was Mariupol, May 9th, when Ukrainian military entered the city on Victory Day celebrations, and opened fire.

International NGO Human Rights Watch arrived in Mariupol late on May 9th, and that evening, myself also in Mariupol, I got into a Twitter argument with Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch about how many had been killed. I had earlier been to a hospital where a doctor had told me, off the record, the figure could be in excess of 100, something I tweeted on as exactly that, exactly as I always do. Anna was determined the figure was 7, and she came down in the end, perhaps inevitable, by insulting RT, with whom I was working.

Now I never said the figure of 100 was my own, and before an investigation never would. But it was a figure which came back several times in interaction with locals in Mariupol – one which deserved further examination rather than the immediate dismissal of HRW –

MariupolAnna said the figure was 7, in our Twitter exchange, rebuking any information to the contrary, when her figure was always manifestly inaccurate. The next day, Anna published a report which seemed to be aimed directly at myself, with the title Dispatches: Truth a Casualty in Ukraine Conflict. And she’d started to do a couple of things, revise her figures and bring unknown people into the dialogue. On May 9th, Anna had been determined the figure was 7, now on May the 10th it was “at least seven killed”.

And then this statement of Anna’s – “Today, a reliable source with no affiliation to either side but too frightened to be named informed me that “no more than 10 bodies” were brought to the city morgue. Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? I have seen no proof of this.”

Now, in fairness to Anna – and I won’t accuse her of dishonesty in this, although that would certainly be an explanation, and HRW has not infrequently been accused of promoting a political position at the expense of truth – the morgue was quite often closed (I went 3 times) –

But, when it was open, speaking to people there was not a problem at all – no one was frightened to be named. I showed no credentials to get in, nor was asked for any. The senior mortician told me clearly there, that 11 bodies were brought to him at that morgue, on May 9th, as a result of Ukrainian military actions, however he was more than open to the possibility that bodies had been sent to other morgues, some even not sent to morgues.

Now that interview was secretly filmed, but I feel he had some idea of it, and no problem taking a photo of exactly who that mortician was either – Vladimir Sosnitski –

Lugansk Morgue

So, the figure Human Rights Watch reported of 7, then ‘at least 7′ is entirely incorrect. As for the ‘reliable source with no affiliation to either side but too frightened to be named informed me that “no more than 10 bodies” were brought to the city morgue.’ I will try to believe that person exists, if I were being uncharitable I’d say Anna Neistat just invented that person. As for this – ‘Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? I have seen no proof of this.‘ – Anna gives no indication at all of what steps she took looking for proof.

Arriving, and sticking at ‘at least 7′ (Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov cited 21, but with his reputation for speaking nonsense, the HRW figure was given precedence in Mariupol massacremedia) was very dangerous. 7 (or ‘at least 7′, using covering journalistic terminology) was the figure cited in many news reports (with Human Rights Watch prominently referenced) – such as here, here, here. It’s a low number and that effectively ensured that there never would be a proper investigation carried out into what happened in Mariupol.

Indeed, there never was, and at the start of 2015, with the incident having hugely escalated the situation in Donbass, but never really having gone up in the international consciousness, due to the supposed low numbers, the Bellingcat agency, with a track record of white-washing actions of the Kiev government, were able to issue a report exonerating Ukrainian forces of any wrongdoing. 

Coming in the next instalment, events of that day, May 9th, in Mariupol.

Mikael Skillt Interview – 15 Key Points

Mikael Skillt

Graham Phillips

Yesterday, continuing into today, the interactive Twitter interview with Swedish citizen, Mikael Skillt, senior member of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov battalion, took place. Skillt’s prolific use of social media has made him effective spokesman for the Azov battalion, one of the battalions ever at the forefront of events in Donbass, giving him a high status as a representative of proceedings.

The basics about Skillt

Mikael Skillt AzovFull name: Kjell Mikael Skillt

Age: 38, 13th December 1976

From: Sundsvall, on Swedish coast

Employment: 7 years in Swedish army, speciality – sniper. Worked in construction industry as ‘project manager’.

Current: Officer, Senior member of Ukrainian Azov Battalion, reports himself in charge of ‘Operations of Swedish Volunteers’.

Location: Skillt spends a lot of time in Kiev, where he was during the interview. He is currently deployed by Mariupol.

Politics: Connections to Nazi Party of Sweden, National Democrats, neo-fascist National Youth, neo-Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement.

Record: Reported sentenced to two months in prison by Sundsvall District Court in 2009, for ‘vandalism, and assault with racist motives’. Again reported convicted in 2013 when he received 75 hours of community service in Solna District Court for rioting.

There was a huge response to the interview, here are the 15 Key Points – 

1. Skillt’s reason for fighting on the Ukrainian side, for the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, is that he ‘hates imperialism‘. He adds that he is not fighting for any government, but ‘fights for Ukraine‘.

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2. There seems to be some issue, or differences, between Skillt and the far-right terrorist group also fighting for Ukraine, the Pravy Sektor. Skillt stops short of fully supporting them, and has apparently never met, or spoken, to leader Dmytro Yarosh ‘That will be between me and Yarosh, if we meet‘.

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3. Skillt does not seem interested in subjects in his own country, Sweden, in which, with his far-right views, you would perhaps expect him to have an interest in. He answers ‘Not my problem, I moved to Ukraine‘ in response to a question on the ‘islamification of Sweden‘.

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4. Skillt purports to believe that he is fighting against ‘Russians’, and reports himself as 5km away from Donetsk at one point. Yet, his statement that Russia is sending ‘drunks‘ casts some doubts as to whether he really believes it is the regular Russian army.

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5. Skillt thinks that Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea, will ‘return to Ukraine‘, does not think Ukraine itself should be in Europe. Unlike the official position, Skillt believes there should be an independence referendum in Ukraine.

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6. Skillt says he wouldn’t shoot me, but, in his capacity as an expert sniper, can shoot someone from 1400-1500 metres. He seems to derive pleasure from boasting about his ‘kill count’ – ‘Let’s say that I killed more soldiers then (sic) your whole family have fingers, toes and ears together.’ At one point he adds ‘my soul would give you life long nightmares‘. He seems to enjoy war, adding that his ‘soldier family‘ has been ‘waging war for 500 years‘.

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7. Skillt has abandoned his earlier plan, to go to Syria and fight for President al-Assad. As for Ukraine’s president Poroshenko, he declares that he would ‘prefer a more battle like president‘, but that Poroshenko ‘has his full loyalty‘.

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8. Skillt joined the neo-Nazi Azov battalion because they ‘had what he needed‘ – a ‘structure and armory’, and reports himself as senior in the operation. Despite numerous statements from Azov about ‘reporting to no one‘, and their links to oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, and ultra-nationalist Ukrainian politician Oleg Lyashko, Skillt states that Azov are in the National Guard, neo-Nazi Pravy Sektor founder Andrei Biletsky is the ‘supreme commander‘. Skillt would not be drawn on Azov’s oft-declared intention for ‘another Maidan’ in Kiev.

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9. It was Euromaidan which made Skillt want to get involved, and he reports himself as having only received 4000UAH, around $200, for his participation. He reports himself as having ‘lost 60,000 Euros’ fighting for Ukraine, thinks of himself as a ‘modern crusader’.

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10. Skillt expresses mixed feelings on Ukrainian WWII Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, but believes he ‘saved a lot of lives‘ (the first time I’ve heard this claim about Bandera).

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11. Despite fighting for a Ukraine going to enormous lengths to make people speak the Ukrainian language, rather than Russian, Skillt only speaks Russian.

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12.  Skillt expressed numerous, extreme anti-Russian sentiments throughout the interview, he would ‘color the Azov sea red with the blood of Russian soldiers if needed‘, yet declares he ‘likes Russians but hates what Russia has become under Putin‘. Skillt believes the recent Chernobyl forest fires were started ‘by Russia‘.

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13. Skillt does clearly not believe in ‘respect one’s enemy’, saying that Motorola and Givi, commanders of NAF forces, are ‘war criminals‘ ‘rabid dogs‘. whom he would kill with pleasure. He states that he has killed ‘over 100′ in Donbass‘. He says he has ‘no feelings when I work‘, and that when he works he ‘turns into a machine‘.

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14. Skillt is in a serious relationship with a Ukrainian woman, which seems to have heightened the lengths he is prepared to go to for his ’cause’. He goes back to his native Sweden ‘regularly‘, where he receives assistance, is prepared to take Ukrainian citizenship. As for his own mortality, Skillt seems to believe himself near invincible, on asking how he would like to be killed ‘it will never happen‘.

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15. Skillt admits that the Ukrainians shell civilian areas of Donbass, yet attempts to justify this by saying the ‘Russians‘ use them as ‘human shields‘.

Fullscreen capture 04052015 021959.bmp     Full transcript here.

12 Stories I Broke in Donbass

By Graham Phillips

Apologies for the lack of immodesty, but I broke far more stories than any other western correspondents in Donbass. Without wishing to boast, I was the best western correspondent in Donbass by miles. Of many stories broken – here are just 12 –

1. Barricades up in the centre of Slavyansk on April 13th 2014, as anti-Kiev / pro-Russia activists took control of the city’s municipal buildings. I broke it –

2.The Ukrainian army in April in Slavyansk, raiding, looting from anti-Kiev / Pro-Russia blockposts – broke it!

3. Kramatorsk’s SBU Building taken by anti-Kiev / pro-Russia activists – I’m there minutes after –

4. Lugansk’s regional admin building taken on 22nd April 2014 by anti-Kiev / Pro-Russia activists – I was there as it was happening –

5. All those stories about Akhmetov’s steelworkers patrolling the city of Mariupol etc, May of 2014? I broke …MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants‘  all that as completely false – I broke –

6. How badly Ukrainian forces were shelling Lugansk in August 2014 – I got that video, broke that story –

7. Over 1000 taken to one morgue in Lugansk in brutal 3 months of summer 2014, 15 children, 30% unidentified –

8. September 2014, Ukraine abandoning its dead soldiers, broke –

9. November of 2014, I break a Ukraine’s SBU torturing a civilian man to death –

10. December 2014 – both sides firing as the ‘ceasefire’ started a fall-apart which would see a truly deadly January in Donbass –

11. Ukrainian shelling killing a 9-year-old girl in Gorlovka, December 2014 – I broke that tragic story –

12. A warehouse full of fuselage, still human bones on the MH17 site 5 months after – broke –

These are just 12, the list goes on. Of course though, nothing happens without quality colleagues. See my new open gallery devoted to colleagues here.