Scores of Russian media reported this week that the Ukrainian military fired on a passenger bus in Donbas. The alleged shooting, they report, took place in the gray zone, the swathe of neutral territory between the Ukrainian army and the Russian backed separatists. The Ukrainian military denied any responsibility for the alleged firing, while the OSCE Special Ukrainian Monitoring Mission said the bus was not in the gray zone but beside a separatist roadblock and was fired upon by small arms from a westerly direction.
One person died as a result of the shooting, another was wounded.
Representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) were quick to blame the shooting on the Ukrainian army. In an interview with the Russian propagandist Anna News DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko declared that this shooting is a sign of worse things to come. Ukrainians don’t hesitate to shoot at civilians now, he said.
Among the media who carried this fake story are Lenta,ru, REN TV, Channel 5, Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda, Vzglyad, Izvestia, Kommersant, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Russkaya Vesna, Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostey, Federalnoye Agentstvo Novostey, DNR 24, NewsFront, , Tsargrad, Voyennoye Obozrenie and others.
According to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission January 22 report from the region, accompanied by an armed DPR member at the Olenivka checkpoint, OSCE monitors recorded two bullet holes on a passenger bus. The report also states that the monitors had earlier seen the bus about 50 meters south of the checkpoint, traveling north. The report estimates that the shots came from small arms fire from a western direction.
In a video posted by a crowd-funded journalist working on the separatist side, a DPR representative says the bus was coming from Ukraine and was en-route to Donetsk. It passed the gray zone and was at the DPR customs point (3:34-3:50), he also estimates that the bullets were 5.45 or 7.62mm. These are the calibers of the two most-commonly used types of Kalashnikov rifles with a one kilometer range.
On the same video Alexander Zakharchenko points to the west as the direction from where the shooting came. According to the war zone map, area west of the Olenivka checkpoint is controlled by the DPR.
That the shooting occurred at a DPR checkpoint and not in the gray zone as Russian media claims is confirmed by one of the men wounded in the shooting, who says he was cared for at a medical tent at the checkpoint. Several comments on a Donetsk forum by passengers on the bus in question, confirm that the bus was at the checkpoint when the shots were fired. One eyewitness writes “I don’t know who was shooting and from where. I know it was machine gun fire and it could not have traveled so far from Ukraine.”
According to Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation press office (ATO – name used by the Ukrainian government, OSCE and media for the Kyiv government’s military operation against Russian supported militants in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions) the mid-day shooting of a passenger bus at the separatist checkpoint is a cynical attempt to discredit the Ukrainian military in the eyes of the local population.