- By Elias GrollElias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering cyberspace and its conflicts and controversies. He has written for the magazine since 2012 and is a graduate of Harvard University., Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
Just when you thought the Ukrainian conflict couldn’t get more surreal, a video surfaced on social media Friday that appears to show a Ukrainian helicopter pilot captured by pro-Russia militiamen who claim to have captured him after he had been wounded and abandoned by his colleagues in a field (obviously, a dubious claim). In the two-minute video, he appears gravely wounded and has been bandaged using a parachute. A man examining his injuries says he urgently needs to be transported the emergency room.
The video was released by an anti-government, pro-Russian YouTube account during a spate of fighting the near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk. Kiev launched the operation as part of what appears to be a last-ditch effort to prevent the region from falling into the hands of pro-Russian fighters. Earlier this week, Ukraine’s acting president conceded that his troops were helpless to control those anti-government militants. On Friday, Ukraine’s armed forces attempted to recover some of their lost dignity, launching a military operation to reclaim control of government buildings in the city and evict rebels from a loose ring of checkpoints on the main roads leading into Slovyansk.
It’s not clear if the operation will succeed. Ukrainian forces have regained some territory, but at least two of its helicopter have been shot down. One thing is clear, however: the fighting, much of which was captured on social media, makes for some riveting, if depressing, footage.
As the operation played out, video surfaced claiming to show a missile being fired at a helicopter near Slovyansk. The video in some ways raises more questions than it answers. The spread of such weapons terrifies Western officials — who worry that terrorists might one day use them to shoot down civilian airplanes — and their use in Ukraine would seem to suggest that Russia is providing highly advanced weaponry to its proxies in Ukraine. At this point, their use remains unconfirmed.
Several videos also surfaced of Ukrainian attack helicopters circling Slovyansk. Here, one can be seen firing a rocket at an unseen position:
Ukrainian authorities also announced that they made arrests associated with the use of portable anti-aircraft missiles. Here, at a checkpoint near Slovyansk, four pro-Russian militants can be seen after being arrested on the suspicion of using MANPADS against Ukrainian helicopters.
Here’s additional video of helicopters circling Slovyansk:
Residents near Slovyansk tried to halt the advance of Ukrainian forces, who in this video appear to be firing their weapons in the air to clear the crowd. It doesn’t go very well:
Elsewhere in the region, a similar scene played out. Here, pro-Russian separatists, seen in the distance at the right, block the road connecting Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, preventing the Ukrainian national guard from moving forward:
With Ukrainian soldiers having surrounded Slovyansk, images streamed out of the region showing them setting up barricades.
Inside Slovyansk, pro-Russian militants remain. They can be distinguished by the yellow-and-red ribbons.
More pro-Russian separatists in action:
Meanwhile, in the southern port city of Odessa, a city some observers consider a possible next flashpoint in the crisis, tensions between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters erupted into clashes Friday. According to Reuters, one man was shot dead.
Here, an inter-generational effort during the Odessa clashes.
Just like in Kiev, everyone helping out in Odessa to keep Putin out pic.twitter.com/O3Uu7elGw2
— bruce springnote (@BSpringnote) May 2, 2014
— Howard Amos (@howardamos) May 2, 2014
The fighting in eastern Ukraine could drag on for days and get even worse if Moscow uses it as an excuse to invade. If today is any indication, YouTube may provide a front-row seat.
Thanks to our colleague Christian Caryl for the assistance in translating from the Russian.
STR/AFP/Getty Images; GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images