Despite evidence to the contrary in a town that the Ukrainian military controls, some still blamed Ukrainian soldiers for the attack.
Local people at the scene, telling the Kyiv Post that the town had been shelled by the Ukrainian side, called on the media to “tell the truth.”
“If it had been the (Russian-separatist forces), they wouldn’t have left a stone standing here!” said Natalia, a 43-year-old woman who was too afraid to give her full name. She blamed those who “danced on the Maidan,” for the attack, adding that “the war will be finished and we will live in happiness as soon as the Ukrainian army is away from the Donbas.”
A dozen people around her supported her claims.
Serhiy, 56, who also wouldn’t give his full name, showed a handful of shell fragments, saying they were from small-caliber mortars shells that couldn’t have come from separatist positions, as these were too far away.
However, the fragments appeared to be from a large-caliber howitzer shell.
Stepan Makhsma, the head of Sartana Town Council, was certain that Russian-separatist forces launched the attack.
He said the shelling, which started at10:06 pmon Aug. 16, had come from the southeast, where separatist positions are located. He said 33 shell craters had been found in residential areas, and 30 in other parts of the town, which has a population of 10,000 people.
More than 50 houses were damaged, with five suffering direct hits. The water, gas and electricity supply to the town has been cut.
The 10-year-old girl was among six people injured in the attack. She is now in hospital in Mariupol, and may have to have her foot amputated due to severe shrapnel wounds.
Asked about the claims of the locals, Makhsma would not acknowledge that there are any anti-Ukrainian sentiments among the people of Sartana.
“I disagree – everything is all right. The people have a proper understanding of what happened,” Makhsma said.
But Yaroslav Chepurnoy, the military press officer for Sector M of the front line (in the area of Mariupol), said he had been shocked by the claims of the locals when he talked to him.
“Apart from people being killed this is probably the most horrible casualty of the shelling. As there are no military targets (here), there was no reason to shell Sartana but to spread panic among people and distrust in the Ukrainian state,” Chepurnoy said.
He said the attack on the town had been carried out with 150 millimeter artillery 150 millimeter mortars from the separatist-held village of Sakhana, to the southeast of Sartana.
“And I don’t know what to do to make people of Donbas not think that they’re being attacked by the Ukrainian military,” Chepurnoy said. “Actually, if it hadn’t been for the strong response of our artillery, which suppressed the enemy fire, there could have been many more casualties. We’re here to protect and defend.”
The Aug. 16 attack on Sartana is not the first to hit the town since hostilities in the area broke out last fall, and not the worst: Seven people were killed and 17 injured onOct. 14last year in a shelling attack that the local authorities in Mariupol blamed on Russian-separatist forces. The head of the town council, Makhsma, said there had been five previous attacks on his town.
“All of them had the same pattern and were conducted with the same weapons and ammunition, from the same positions,” Makhsma said.
The sound of the shelling was heard in various parts of nearby Mariupol, with locals reporting windows shuddering from the blast waves. According to people in the city, the Aug. 16 shelling was the loudest heard in the last two months.
The incident in Sartana will increase locals’ fears that a long-expected separatist offensive against Mariupol is coming. The leader of the militant groups that have seized control of part of Donbas Oblast, Alexander Zakhachenko, has repeatedly said that the forces he leads aim to take not only Mariupol, but the whole of Donetsk Oblast.
Fighting in the Donbas war zone has increased sharply in the last week. The number of daily attacks reported by the Ukrainian military hit a fresh peak on Aug. 14, with 175 incidents being reported. The number of attacks on Aug. 16 was 148.
Both sides have claimed that the other is preparing to launch an offensive, and that attacks on civilians are being carried out to justify a re-launch of full-scale hostilities.
Chepurnoy said that the attack on Sartana was one such case, and had been carried out by Russian-separatists with the aim of turning civilians on the Ukrainian side of the lines against the Ukrainian military.
“Those who conducted the shelling have achieved their ends,” he said.