Last week, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office released the report on the results of the investigation of the Ilovaisk tragedy. The governmental authority says that the report was passed to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Several Ukrainian MPs got their hands on the forensics’ conclusions in this case, which are strictly classified. Last year, 112 Ukraine TV channel shot the documentary called ‘Shadows of Ilovaisk’; an interview with Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian army Viktor Muzhenko was an important part of this film. Back then, our news agency did not publish the full interview. But since the HQ of the Armed Forces did not change their position on this topic, 112 International releases the full interview now.
Part 1. Combat situation in Sector D, July and August 2014
In order to clearly understand the whole scenery in the area of Ilovaisk in late August 2014, one should take a look at what happened before these events. One has to imagine the impact line the way it was in early July 2014. Back then, it stretched from Stanytsia Luhanska to the north, to Krasnyi Lyman, Yampil, Zakotne. We hadn’t retaken Sloviansk yet, so the impact line lay to the north of it, and much to the west of Donetsk. We hadn’t reclaimed Avdiivka yet, and, what’s especially important, we didn’t have any control over the area of Dokuchaivsk, which back then posed the end of the impact line in the southern art of Donetsk region.
That is, the impact line lay to the south of Donetsk, near Volnovakha, towards Amvrosiivka. Back then, we already took certain steps to restore control over a section of the state border – the one from Amvrosiivka to Izvaryno. We managed to retake 267 kilometers in length. After that, all that remained to be re-claimed was the 60-kilometers-long strip of land from Izvaryno to Parkhomenko, to the east of Luhansk. 90 percent of that area is a forbidding terrain.
The only two ways Russians could supply arms and vehicles for the illegal armed units were via Izvaryno and Krasnodon checkpoints, or via Parkhomenko village, with a small road leading to Luhansk. As we retake control over this section of the border, it gave us an opportunity to completely block the supplies for the militants, which came in from Russia. It is exactly when we conduction operations to release Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, Dzerzhynsk. In July 2014, we also re-took important positions to the west of Donetsk – in Avdiivka, Pisky, and to the south of Donetsk – in Dokuchaivsk, Starobeshevo, Komsomolsk, and approached Ilovaisk.
This posed a huge threat to the illegal armed gangs and Russian mercenaries; they badly lacked firepower and vital supplies, including nutrition – they really were short of everything necessary to continue fighting. They were cut off the supplies almost completely, which seriously threatened the whole Novorossiya project. Under these circumstances, the Russian military decided to strike on our positions in this particular section – between Ivaryno and Amvrosiivka. The first massive artillery strike took place near Zelenopillya; the shells hit emplacements if the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Detached Mechanized Brigade. We took severe casualties. 24 men were killed, 19 of them were army servicemen and the rest were the workers of the State Border Guard. Another 76 were wounded, and 56 more received psychological traumas. In general, over one and a half days, we evacuated 156 people from the endangered area.
Another front, the front of information war, was opened in peaceful Ukraine. Certain media spread hysteria; Russian special services also interfered in the country’s political and social life, orchestrating rallies were people demanded to withdraw the troops from the border zone.
In the mid-July, Ukrainian Armed Forces held 260 kilometers of the border zone. The enemy tried to completely isolate our troops in that area; intense fights took place in the areas of Dmytrivka, Dyakovo, Kozhevnya and Mariinka.
Mariinka is the border transition area to the east of Amvrosiivka, or to the south of Stepanivka. We sent supplies for our troops in this sector; it was difficult because the Russian artillery regularly fired on our convoys and roadways that we used to deliver the supplies. We also suffered casualties when trying to drop the supplies by aircraft. The Russians shot down the plane piloted by Hero of Ukraine Dmytro Maiboroda. This was also the first time when Russians used Buk anti-aircraft missile launcher; it fired from the territory of the Russian federation.
This is why we decided to withdraw the units from the border zone. In late July and early August, we successfully conducted a raid, with the 95th Detached Airborne Brigade leading the way. They enjoyed the support of the 25th Detached Airborne Brigade and a tactical group, shaped mostly from the fighters of the 1st Mechanized Battalion of the 30th Detached Mechanized Brigade.
The raid was successful, and under the dead of night, from August 6 on August 7, we managed to withdraw over 2,100 army servicemen and 500 border guards – over 2,500 fighters in total; we also saved 300 vehicles. We suffered no casualties in the operation. During the raid, the overall operative situation improved: we took the Hill 277, widely known as Savur-Mohyla hill. The army also claimed Stepanivka, an important inhabited locality, which lay on the crossroads of all communications, in the cross-section of roads that Russians used to deliver the manpower and supplies for the illegal armed gangs.
However, we could not take Dmytrivka, because we lacked man- and firepower in the units that already fight in this area for some time; and there was no way we could send in the reinforcements. Besides, the enemy heavily fortified this area. So, the impact line lay to the south of Dmytrivka, to the south of Dyakovo, and further on to the east – towards Biryukovo, Krasnopartyzansk and Izvaryno. After the raid and the withdrawal of our forces from Mariinka to Izvaryno, there was not a single Ukrainian unit left in that area and along that particular border’s section. But we planned to isolate this area, taking into account the location of our troops, which conducted the raid (they were stationed on the line Amvrosiivka-Blahodatne-Saur-Mohyla-Stepanivka, to the south Antracyt, on the approach to Roven’ky). Units of the 24th Brigade were supposed to move to the south to Roven’ky. In order to take this town, we had to involve the forces that we held on the state border – that is, roughly 2,500 men.
So, we planned to move the conditional border line 40-60 kilometers to the west or 50-60 kilometers to the north from the actual state border line; I mean, thus we would create the blockade line. However, the moral and psychological conditions of our group, which already faced enormous fatigue during the attacks near the border line, did lot let us do so. People simply were not ready to complete such mission. Many servicemen could not withstand the psychological pressure and gave up, crossing the state border with Russia.
In the second half of August, we had to move the blockade line much more to the west. We called in the units, which performed the aforementioned raid, except for the 95th briagede, which we moved to the area of Debaltsevo. Units of mechanized and airborne brigades took up defense on the line between Stepanivka and Miusynsk, reaching the area of Krasnyi Luch, Mykolaivka, Chervona Polyana and Lutugyno. By then, the troops already created a corridor near Luhansk airport, and they managed to extend the area under their control there. Besides, our forces took Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, which let us completely block the transportation of supplies to Luhansk.
Had we brought all these ideas to life, we would fully cut off Donetsk, Makiivka, Horlivka, Yenakievo and Luhansk. We would also hold the line from Lutugyno and on to the south, to Stepanivka, reaching Amvrosiivka. Thus, we planned to encircle the illegal armed gangs, and we could have held their activity under control – as long as they didn’t have any supplies. And this is one of the particular reasons why Russian military leadership made such a step – a desperate one, I reckon, – and brought units of the regular Russian army to Ukraine. They did it without any notions, any messages or ultimatums.
As Russian troops were deployed in Ukraine, we gradually lost control over the considerable part of the state border – over 300 kilometers in length. This created an opportunity for the enemy to freely supply the illegal armed gangs with manpower, weaponry, ammunition and combat vehicles. The so-called ‘humanitarian convoys’ fully provided them with everything they needed. It also had certain impact on the very nature of combat activity in this area; the fights became more intense, causing more serious casualties. This is why, even before the Ilovaisk battle took place, we did a lot to strengthen the combat group, which fought there at the time – or, like I said, to move the isolation line. We gathered forces and performed that raid, which I mentioned previously. That was a perky adventure, indeed. and when it was over, odds were we can make it.
Of course, we considered worsening moral and psychological conditions of our servicemen; some of them even refused to obey orders – I mean, the particular order to control Roven’ky. We also experienced certain problems with moving of our 24th Mechanized Brigade; as it was on its way from Lutugyno to Rovenk’y, the troops were forced to stop for some time near Makedonivka, suffering from Russian artillery strikes. The enemy also used multiple missile launchers. This is when we decided to move the engagement line to the west.
There never was a plan on some special, particular operation to regain the town of Ilovaisk. According to the generally approved idea, in August 2014, our forces were supposed to complete several combat missions. Taking this town under control was one of such tactical missions. It is a large railway hub, which was of major importance in terms of blocking the enemy’s supply routes. But, sadly, the first attempts to regain Ilovaisk failed. Then, our troops took Kuteynikovo, a bit to the south from Ilovaisk, which made retaking this town less important – at least, in terms of tactical necessity.
We cut off the supply route near Kuteynikovo. Then, we planned to close the blockade circle between Donetsk and Makiivka, holding control over Kuteynikovo, Stepano-Krynka, Zuivka, Zhdanivka and approaching Verkhnya Krynka. Units of our 93rd Mechanized Brigade also moved forward, from Panteleymonivka to Verkhnya Krynka.
Thus, we fully secured control over Horlivka-Yenakievo circle, and another circle between Donetsk and Makiivka. On the other hand, we failed to move on and hold the area between Stepano-Krynka and Zuivka. We could have resumed the offensive operation, but things went otherwise, eventually. On about August 20th, 2014, the Defense Ministry once again ordered to take Ilovaisk; in turn, the Interior Ministry sent a large combat group, shaped mostly of the special task force units. They are now widely known as ‘the volunteer battalions’ – Azov, Myrotvorets, Kherson, Ivano-Frankivsk, et cetera. Donbas, the battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine joined the party, too.