Russians on vacation (or lost)

In this post I will try to take you through the history and reports of Russians with their equipment on vacation (or lost) in Ukraine during the war.

The first news reports

While Ukraine already claimed that Russia was sending troops and material into Ukraine, there was no western media to confirm this.
This all changed when journalists flocked to the Russian side of the border near the Russian town of Donetsk.
They were there because the first humanitarian aid convoy from Russia to Ukraine was halted there, waiting for permission to enter Ukraine.
Two journalists from the UK claimed to have seen APCs cross the border at nightfall using a rough dirt track and clearly crossing through a gap in a barbed wire fence that demarcates the border.
They first reported this Live using their Twitter accounts and later wrote their articles.

Shaun Walker, The Guardian:
Aid convoy stops short of border as Russian military vehicles enter Ukraine

Roland Oliphant, The Telegraph:
Russian armoured vehicles and military trucks cross border into Ukraine

The same cross-border dirt track was also filmed by VICE News and can be seen in below video from 5m15s:
Published on Aug. 21, 2014 (start from 5:15)

On the Maps page of the Information analysis center NSDC of Ukraine we can see that the area around the border was not under the control of Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine Situation Map 14-08-2014

Eastern Ukraine Situation Maps 14-08-2014

Vehicle captured

On Aug. 21, 2014, journalist Roman Bochkala posted pictures on his Facebook showing a captured BMD-2 with most of its markings removed, but on the left wheelspat the number 275 was still visible. They also carried many documents with them, revealing where they were from.
Translated by Google: Photo confirmation of what has been said today about the capture of the Russian armored vehicles BMD-2 in Lutuginskom oblast. Board number 275, from the 1 St parachute companies/h 74268, the Pskov Airborne Division (Lieutenant komvzvoda Popov)

The same vehicle can be seen in this video from July 8, 2014 at 0:29 while in Russia (tvzvezda):
BMD-2 275

More and more obvious

In the VICE News video published on Aug. 21 from 3m59s Paul Picard, Acting Chief Observer with the OSCE mentions that “young men with military style dress” are crossing the border.

An OSCE update from a week later again mentions observations of men in military dress crossing their monitored border checkpoint:
Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, 28 August until 08:00, 3 September 2014

Sixteen international observers provide a permanent presence at the two Border Crossing Points of Donetsk and Gukovo.

Throughout the week, the OTs noticed a net increase of young people (both men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions but did not observe any weapons among these groups.

However, on the other side, there are organized places where they receive weapons, ammunition and equipment and are dispatched to their assigned areas on the Ukrainian side. Upon return, they hand over weapons, ammunition and other military equipment and cross back into the Russian Federation.

Note: The OSCE only monitored 2 checkpoints, over 298.5 km of the state border with the Russian Federation in Donetsk and Lugansk regions are not controlled by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. (UNIAN)

On Aug. 25th, the Russian website Slon posted an article about a closed funeral of local paratroopers, they later added photos of fresh graves of paratroopers.

Tomb of Leonidas Kichatkina in Vybuty.

Tomb of Leonidas Kichatkina in Vybuty.

Another website confirmed the report by visiting the cemetery.

On Aug. 26, 2014 the Ukranian SBU placed videos on YouTube showing confessions of captured Russian paratroopers.
The press service of Ukraine’s “counterterrorist operation,” as Kiev terms its campaign against the insurgents, on Tuesday released videos of four men who identify themselves on camera as Russian paratroopers. The men say their command sent them on a 70-kilometer march without explaining its purpose or warning that they would be in Ukrainian territory, where they were apprehended by Ukrainian forces and surrendered without a fight. (The Moscow Times)

One of the men, 19-year-old Ivan Milchakov recounts how, back home, “They told us that the Bandera crowd is bad and the uprising is good. But when we were captured, our eyes were opened and the truth of what was happening was revealed to us… we didn’t even know what we were there for, we were just told to go…we were lost, actually.” (RT)

And on Aug. 27, 2014 the incident was explained by Putin as an accident.
“What I’ve heard is that they were patrolling the border and could have ended up on Ukrainian territory,” Putin told journalists in Minsk, Interfax reported Wednesday, in line with a statement made earlier by an unidentified source at the Defense Ministry saying the men had crossed the border “by accident.” (The Moscow Times)

On Aug. 28, 2014 Donetsk Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko said in an interview that only Russian volunteers are fighting with the anti-Kiev forces.
About 3-4,000 Russian citizens joined anti-government fighters during Kiev crackdown in Ukraine’s east, says the leader of Donetsk independent republic, noting that self-defense fighters have never concealed this fact.
“They [Russian volunteers] are among us, people of Donbass [Region, eastern Ukraine] because we are blood brothers,” said the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, in an interview to Russian media.
He added that Russian volunteers prefer “to spend their summer holidays not at the seaside, but among their brothers who are fighting for the freedom of Donbass [Region, eastern Ukraine].”

On Sept. 4, 2014 Russian TV station Channel One reported for the first time officially that a Russian paratrooper died in Ukraine.
Killed paratrooper was named Anatoly Travkin (Анатолием Травкиным.), 28. He went to east Ukraine about a month ago unaware by his wife who he recently married. Officially he was on “vacation“.
In Kostroma farewell to Anatoly Travkin paratrooper who was killed in a battle in eastern Ukraine (1tv)

The ceasefire

Representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) signed the Minsk Protocol, an agreement to halt the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine, on 5 September 2014. (Wikipedia)

Published on Sep, 5, 2014, British journalist for RT interviews some separatists.

At 1m36s he asks: “Guys, who is from Russia here?”
They reply: “Me. All. Practically all here are from Russia.”

Published on Oct. 23, 2014, are photos taken on the 2nd of October and analysed on behalf of Reuters.
Exclusive: Charred tanks in Ukraine point to Russian involvement
At least one, they agreed, was a T-72BM – a Russian-made modification of a well known Soviet tank. This version of the tank, they said, is not known to have been exported.

A destroyed T-72 tank  is seen on a battlefield near separatist-controlled Starobesheve

A destroyed T-72 tank, which presumably came from Russia, is seen on a battlefield near separatist-controlled Starobesheve, eastern Ukraine, October 2, 2014.

On Oct. 11, 2014, Russian blogger Andrey Pavlovich while visiting his fathers grave notices very strange burial in Rostov-on-Don and posts pictures of it on his blog.
Translated by google: Last year, in May, when I buried my father, we were allocated a place directly opposite only that rebuilt LCD “Suvorov”, which is built for the Russian Defense Ministry troops.
He notices that there are a lot of graves of “unknown man” or “unknown female” that died in the previous years but the graves are very new and thus buried all at once.

Very strange burial in Rostov-on-Don

Very strange burial in Rostov-on-Don

On Oct. 23, 2014 there was a news item about a new Russian law granting pensions to missing soldiers’ families.
In an interview with head of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee Viktor Ozerov said:
“Our paratroopers from Pskov and any others were in southeastern Ukraine voluntarily,” Ozerov was quoted as saying.
The article continues:
The law signed by Putin, however, appears to lay the groundwork for paying military pensions to the families of missing soldiers, as long as those families keep silent that the soldiers may have gone missing in action in Ukraine. (The Moscow Time)

Modern Equipment

In April of 2014 IISS Research Analyst Joseph Dempsey, who also analysed the images from Reuters, wrote about the deployment of Russian T-72B3 tanks to the Ukrainian border in late March 2014.
On Sep 15, 2014 Russian TV station Vesti published a video that claimed to show a “trophy” tank captured by the rebels in Ukraine.

This tank was identified by Joseph Dempsey as being a T-72M3 of Russian origin.

Most telling identification mark is the use of French-made Thales Optotronique sight, seen in the screenshot below. (source: Pressimus)

T-72B3 French-made Thales Optotronique sight.

T-72B3 French-made Thales Optotronique sight.

How new the T-72B3 variant is can be found on Wikipedia, according to their sources it was first delivered in the summer of 2013:
T-72B3 – Equipped with new fire control system, new ballistic computer to reduce crew firing calculations and improve accuracy, and new thermal sight to provide night/day all weather combat capabilities. First delivered to the 20th Field Army in summer 2013 and its Armored Guards Brigade in October 2013, with the units to receive 270+ (2014)[45][25] T-72B3s in total.[46]

Usually rebel tanks have most of their markings removed, as also seen in previous images of the captured BMD-2. Many bloggers for example here, here and here have noticed that vehicles including T-72B1 and T-72B3 tanks reportedly in Ukraine, including the T-72B3 from above video, still contain markings indicating that they might have been transported by Russian Rail (markings explained on Wikipedia here in Russian).

On November 13, 2014 Putin answers questions of ARD channel’s representative Hubert Seipel, and instead of his usual denial diverted the question.
Hubert Seipel: The question or, more properly, the claim made by Kiev today is that Russia supplies weapons to the separatists and sends its servicemen there.
Vladimir Putin: Where did they get the armoured vehicles and the artillery systems? Nowadays people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons. This is the first point.
But I would like to stress that this is not the issue. The issue itself is entirely different. The issue is that we can’t have a one-sided view of the problem.