Weapons Convoys Seen in East Ukraine
Published: August 27, 2014 (Issue # 1826)
KRASNODON, Ukraine — For several evenings this month, convoys of military weaponry passed with clockwork-like regularity through Krasnodon, a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine near the porous border with Russia.
The convoys were seen three times last week by Associated Press reporters, and one of them carried about 30 units of weaponry and supplies. All were coming from the direction of Russia and heading west to where pro-Moscow separatists were fighting Ukrainian troops.
One rebel fighter described how easy it was to cross into Ukraine through a Russian-controlled frontier post in a convoy that included a tank, adding that the border officer appeared unfazed at the deadly cargo.
NATO and Ukraine have accused Moscow of covertly shuttling heavy artillery and other weapons to the separatists — allegations that Russia routinely denies. NATO says since mid-August, those weapons have been fired from both inside Ukraine and from Russian territory.
A safe distance from the shelling that has scarred other areas of the separatist Luhansk region, Krasnodon acts as a hub to supply the rebels with weapons and for getting much-needed humanitarian supplies to residents.
The town of 40,000 people is only 15 kilometers from the border. Residents venture out in the morning to buy groceries, but the streets are empty by evening. Only rebels sit and drink at the few bars still open.
Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the largest rebel-controlled city, Donetsk, said earlier this month that his forces were being bolstered by 1,200 fighters who underwent training in Russia. He said the fighters have 150 armored vehicles, including 30 tanks, and have gathered near a “corridor” along the Russian border.
When asked about the military hardware, Zakharchenko insisted it was all taken from Ukrainian forces in battle — a notion scoffed at by the Ukrainian government.
On three evenings between Aug. 19 and Aug. 23, AP reporters saw large convoys of military hardware pass through Krasnodon from areas near the Russian border and head north and west, toward the fighting. They were later seen returning empty of their cargo. On other days during that period, the reporters only heard the convoys.
Supplies heading west, toward the conflict zones, are frequently seen both during the day and night near Krasnodon.
It was not the first time that AP journalists had seen heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine.
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