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From the Cyber-Trenches of Eastern Ukraine

Donetsk People's Republic commander Igor Strelkov (Girkin) on the left. Donbass battalion volunteer commander Semyon Semynchenko on the right.

Donetsk People's Republic commander Igor Strelkov (Girkin) on the left. Donbass battalion volunteer commander Semyon Semyonchenko on the right.

As the violence in Eastern Ukraine shows no signs of abating, the leaders of the the two opposing militias — the pro-Ukrainian volunteer “Donbass” battalion, and the Donetsk People's Republic armed forces — continue to use social networks to reach out with news of their military campaigns.

Donbass Batallion's Semyon Semyonchenko uses Facebook to deliver upbeat soundbites. Recently he has been engaged in recruiting fighters for his militia on the Maidan Square, the site of winter violence in Kiev. Some of the activists have yet to go home, and some of these are apparently choosing to follow Semyonchenko into battle — according to him, “Donbass” has more than 800 volunteers who are training on a Ukrainian National Guard base in Novye Petrovtsy.

Semyonchenko's messages are couched in ideological language. Yesterday he posted the following, in response to talk of potential negotiations with the Donetsk separatists:

Батальон Донбасс против проведения переговоров с террористами, признания похитителей людей, убийц, наемников воюющей стороной и любых переговоров о ” прекращении огня” . Это путь в никуда. Не верим что подобное возможно. Надеемся что имеем дело с фейком. Это наше мнение как граждан Украины.

The Donbass battalion is against negotiating with terrorists, acknowledging kidnappers, murderers, and mercenaries as military combatants, and any talk of “cease fires.” This is a road to nowhere. We don't believe that something like this is possible. We hope that this is fake news. This is our opinion as citizens of Ukraine.

Of course, with the current losses on both sides anywhere from the low to high hundreds, a cease-fire and negotiation would appear to be a sound strategy. It is unclear if Semyonchenko really believes the situation can be resolved without the two sides sitting down to talk. If anything, it might make separatist leaders, like the perennially sad-faced separatist military leader Igor Strelkov, double down on the violence.

Strelkov has continued to deliver short updates of his situation through a friendly LiveJournal account, although these sit-reps are then distributed on the RuNet through Facebook and VKontakte. In the past few days the updates have been eventful, since it appears that Ukraine's regular forces have increased pressure on the rebel center in the small, yet strategically located, town of Slavyansk. Strelkov has “confirmed” for instance, that the DPR forces have shot down several military airplanes and helicopters using anti-aircraft guns and MANPAD anti-aircraft missiles, most recently a military reconnaissance plane (the Ukrainians claim that the airplane was on a humanitarian mission).

Strelkov has also said that several regiments of “Cossacks”, who had come to Slavyansk to help the separatist cause from Russia and elsewhere in Ukraine, have abandoned ship, tailing it back to the Russian border. (Apparently it was these Cossack regiments that the infamous tomato-terrorist Murz [Global Voices report] ran afoul of several weeks ago.)

More seriously, Strelkov has claimed the use of “Grad” rocket propelled artillery against separatist positions in the town of Semyonovka. This is a serious charge, since “Grad” is a notoriously imprecise weapon used for large-scale destruction (most famously in the leveling of Grozny, during the second Chechen campaign). Strelkov, however, says that so far the weapon has not been used to the full extent:

Градами 3 июня они по Семеновке действительно стреляли. Но пускали по одной ракете, не залпами

They really used “Grad” in Semyonovka on June 3. But they only launched one rocket at a time, not salvos

Will the violence continue to increase, and if so, what is the breaking point at which Ukraine's Anti-Terrorist Operation becomes full-scale war?

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