Skip to main content

Ukraine says it destroyed much of Russian military convoy

By Victoria Butenko, Jason Hanna and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
  • NEW: Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France to meet Sunday
  • Ukraine says it destroyed part of Russian military convoy that crossed border
  • British media outlets report they saw military vehicles cross from Russia into Ukraine
  • Ukrainian border guards are examining Russian aid trucks at a checkpoint, authorities say

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- Ukraine claims its artillery destroyed much of a military convoy that crossed from Russia into Ukraine this week -- an incursion that two British newspapers say they witnessed.

If true, Ukraine's account and the British reports appear to give credence to what Kiev has long alleged -- that Russia has been sending troops and arms into eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels have battled the Ukrainian military for months.

A diplomatic row was brewing Friday over the reports, with the United Kingdom's foreign office summoning Russia's ambassador in London to explain the incident.

Russia's foreign ministry has denied any such incursion, and its foreign minister will meet in Berlin with his counterparts from Ukraine, Germany and France on Sunday, state-run news agency RIA-Novosti reported. The meeting's agenda wasn't immediately released.

Meanwhile, a separate Russian convoy -- more than 200 trucks that Moscow says contain relief goods for civilians in war-torn eastern Ukraine -- remained parked on the Russian side of the border, waiting for Ukrainian and other inspectors to decide whether to approve the aid's entry.

Ukrainian servicemen walk past an armored personnel carrier in the village of Peski, Ukraine, on Wednesday, November 19. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 4,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations. Ukrainian servicemen walk past an armored personnel carrier in the village of Peski, Ukraine, on Wednesday, November 19. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 4,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations.
Crisis in Ukraine
Photos: Crisis in Ukraine Photos: Crisis in Ukraine
Map: Location of Russian convoy  Map: Location of Russian convoy
Map: Location of Russian convoyMap: Location of Russian convoy
Convoy: Humanitarian aid or Trojan horse
Ukraine suspicious of Russian convoy
Ukraine turns back Russian convoy

That Ukraine so far has blocked the aid reflects Kiev's concerns -- held even before Thursday's reported military incursion -- that Russia might try to smuggle more military supplies.

Ukraine: Majority of vehicles destroyed

Those concerns took on a new light when British media outlets The Guardian and The Telegraph reported that armored personnel carriers, along with other vehicles with Russian military plates, crossed the border near Donetsk, Ukraine, on Thursday night.

The Guardian reported that it witnessed 23 armored personnel carriers, in addition to other vehicles with Russian military plates, cross into Ukraine through a gap in a barbed wire fence. "Armed men were visible in the gloom by the border fence as the column moved into Ukraine," the Guardian report reads.

This is the first time foreign media recorded such an incursion, though it illustrates what Kiev has said has been happening for months -- that Russia has been sending troops and equipment to help the rebels -- Ukrainian military Col. Andriy Lysenko told reporters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Ukrainian forces destroyed "the majority" of the Russian vehicles, Poroshenko's office said.

Poroshenko "expressed concern over the situation on the border, particularly over the fact that the inflow of Russian arms and military machines in Ukraine through the open part of the border continued," his office said.

Lysenko said he didn't know exactly how many vehicles crossed the border, or how many Ukraine's artillery managed to destroy.

Purported humanitarian convoy still in Russia

Back in southern Russia, across the border from Ukraine's Luhansk region, 59 Ukrainian border guards and customs officers were inspecting the scores of trucks that Moscow says contain aid for civilians affected by fighting, the Ukrainian military said.

Despite Ukraine's suspicions, Lysenko said that the aid is needed and that Ukraine would allow the Red Cross to distribute it if Ukraine and the aid group find the material suitable.

Months of fighting has killed hundreds of people and, aid groups say, left thousands in eastern Ukraine without access to water, electricity and proper medical aid.

The Red Cross is trying to establish what exactly is in the trucks, Andre Loersch, a Red Cross spokesman in Kiev, said.

The Red Cross "will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Ukraine and Russia for the purpose of this operation and is already in the process of identifying its staff ready for deployment," Loersch said. "A four-member team is already present today in the vicinity of the convoy, and more staff are on their way."

Moscow says the trucks contain grain, sugar, baby food, medical supplies and sleeping bags.

Ukraine, meanwhile, says it is distributing its own aid through the Red Cross.

The Kiev-recognized governor of Luhansk, Irina Verigina, said this week that she doesn't want aid from Russia.

"They send us tanks and Grads (rocket-launching vehicles) overnight and offer to send humanitarian aid by day," she said.

Battle rages on

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops have recently stepped up efforts to retake areas in and around Luhansk, Donetsk and Horlivka, three cities held by rebels for months.

Donetsk has been the scene of intense shelling for days as rebels try to hold off Ukrainian forces. Eleven civilians were killed in a 24-hour period straddling Thursday and Friday, the Donetsk mayor's office said.

Many districts were without power and water, the mayor's office said. A CNN crew that was in Donetsk earlier noted that the shelling had pushed some residents underground into cellars and half-built basements.

Five Ukrainian troops were killed in the past day, Lysekno said Friday, adding that some rebels were retreating, trying to dig in closer to the Ukraine-Russia border.

The ongoing fighting -- sparked last year with a political crisis over whether Ukraine would seek closer ties with Europe or Russia -- has left more than 2,000 people dead and just under 5,000 wounded in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, according to estimates from U.N. officials.

The United States and the European Union have applied steadily increasing sanctions against Russian officials, banks and other interests since March, when Russia annexed the Black Sea Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Russia's move came a month after Ukraine's parliament ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych left office after violent protests against his government in the capital, Kiev. Those protests were motivated in part by his decision to back out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Aid or invasion? Question looms as Russian convoy nears Ukraine

Opinion: Why Vladimir Putin isn't going to make peace

Journalist Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, CNN's Jason Hanna reported and wrote from Atlanta, and CNN's Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Radina Gigova, Diana Magnay, Will Ripley and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:17 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Donetsk's neediest line up for food handouts. There are long queues at the bus station as people try to leave town. There are no banks left open.
updated 5:25 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Barking overwhelms the thud of artillery fire. An animal shelter is crammed with 1,000 dogs, many orphans of the conflict with owners who have fled or been killed.
updated 3:51 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
updated 10:36 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
updated 5:58 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The Commander of NATO forces in Europe says Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian troops -- all heading into Ukraine.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.