Ukraine is waiting for humanitarian aid that is stuck near the border between the two countries, but Russia’s military does not seem to be waiting. Armed Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Russian tanks have been seen crossing into Ukraine, with fresh sightings reported by Western journalists who are following the humanitarian convoy.
Roland Oliphant, reporter for the The Telegraph (London), and Shawn Walker of the Guardian witnessed not only the long convoy of freshly repainted white Russian army trucks, but also several columns of flatbed trucks hauling tanks and APCs which followed the convoy. Soon thereafter, Sergei Khazov from Moscow’s New Times newspaper also verified the crossing into Ukraine from his vantage point near the convoy.
London’s Financial Times reporter Courtney Weaver, who is also trekking the humanitarian convoy, verified reports of columns of green Russian military APCs trailing at a distance behind the larger column. Today’s story in The Telegraph reports sightings of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine. The newspaper wrote that the border incursion took place just outside the Donetsk area, in the late evening hours.
Witnesses said that the APCs were unmarked, but the other trucks had the standard black issue number plates of the Russian military. At one point, approximately 23 Russian military vehicles reportedly crossed the border into Ukraine by smashing border fences. The humanitarian trucks parked for the night, still inside Russian territory–yet another day of Ukrainian humanitarian aid stuck near the border.
The Ukrainian military confirmed the incursion and claims to have destroyed several Russian military vehicles, although those claims have yet to be verified. Speaking to reporters, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko stated that government forces had sighted a Russian military column crossing into Ukraine and then engaged. He said that “a part of it no longer exists.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Western intelligence sources also confirmed the sighting. Rasmussen stopped short of calling it an invasion, choosing instead to label the border crossing as a Russian “incursion.”
Western governments and NATO have backed Ukrainian reports that Russia appears to be openly supporting and supplying pro-Russian agitators. Over the past months, Ukrainian citizens have posted dozens of self-made mobile phone videos on YouTube, showing Russian military assets crossing into Ukraine, yet a team of professional UN inspectors sent to investigate those claims missed the evidence.
According to her spokesman Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel placed a phone call to Vladimir Putin, asking him to stop the supply of weapons and military trained personnel into Ukraine. Merkel is a long-time personal friend of the Russian president, but in recent months her approach has been more firm and straightforward. Merkel told Putin that he could put an end to the crisis by withholding his support of the Russian separatists.
At one stop, Associated Press reporter Alexander Roslyakov was told by officials traveling with the convoy that they were operating in cooperation with the International Red Cross. However, drivers were averted away from a Ukrainian border crossing where Red Cross inspectors had been waiting. Instead, they were directed to a different border area, this one controlled by pro-Russian rebels. No representatives from the Red Cross were in sight.
At another stop after the convoy had split into smaller units, several journalists were allowed to inspect the contents of the trucks. Journalist Olga Tokariuk described that what they found left them almost speechless: Most of the trucks they viewed were nearly. They found items like buckwheat, bottled water, baby diapers, soap, and sleeping bags, but none of the trucks opened for inspection appeared to be full.
Tokariuk tweeted photos of the nearly empty humanitarian trucks from Russia, along with the message that she “almost couldn’t stop laughing” after seeing how little was inside the large trucks. She tweeted that “Sending almost empty aid trucks is worst PR ever.” At least for now, what little there is of it, Russia’s humanitarian aid for Ukraine is stuck near the border.
By Jim Hanemaayer