Viktor Muzhenko: Battle of Ilovaisk through the prism of time. Part 2

Author : Viktor Muzhenko

Source :

Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian army told news agency about the causes of terrible loss in the bloody battle that took place in Donbas in August 2014
17:48, 23 August 2017

Press service of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

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.

Read part 1 here

Part 2. The decision of command. Fighting

August 10-11, 2014 ... In general, military operations there have been held since August: the narrowing of the ring took place in the south, in the districts of Dokuchaevsk, Starobeshevo, Mospino and so on. The 40th and 39th battalions of territorial defense, units of the 51st Mechanized Brigade of Missile Forces and Artillery, which were part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, were involved. The battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine “Donbas” was also involved by the decision of sector И leader, Lieutenant-General Khomchak.

By the way, neither ''Donbas’’, nor the other specialized battalions of militia were part of anti-terrorist forces, these were separate groupings. Battalion "Donbas" was officially introduced into the force and means in October 2014. The remaining units - much later, and some of them have never been included in the forces of the anti-terrorist operation.

On August 19, 2014, the units of the 95 separate air mobile brigade took control of an important settlement in matters of changing the operational situation and influencing the operational situation, the large railway point Yasynovata. But on the night of 19 to 20 August, the units of the National Guard, which were transferred to control this settlement, left this place. There was a question of re-taking control of the city, but there were two options - either Yasynovata or Ilovaysk.

Consequently, the appropriate groupings were created, about 600-700 men from the divisions of the above-mentioned specialized battalions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, taking into account the Donbas battalion, which were to clear the city of Ilovaisk. From the Armed Forces, were involved in this operation and already partially fulfilled their task - 39 and 40 territorial battalions for blocking the northern and western part of the city of Ilovaysk, as well as an armored group of 51 separate mechanized brigade, artillery units that were supposed to provide operations of these units. This is also one of those conditions that later influenced the situation around the city of Ilovaisk at the end of August - after August 24.

On the night of August 12 to August 13, 2014, units of 30 separate mechanized brigade - this is the 3rd Battalion, partially a tank battalion - with some other units of the brigade performed tasks respectively along the line of isolation. In addition to the first and second battalion-tactical group: 2 IFVs moved from the area of Lutugino to Krasnaya Polyana, 1 IFV through Miusinsk went to the area of Krasnyi Luch, where they just performed joint actions. The remaining units were in the area of Stepanivka, as well as at strongholds and roadblocks around this settlement up to Miusinsk.

On the same night, as a result of the panic among personnel, as a result of the bombardment of Stepanivka, these units chaotically left the given settlement and were withdrawn for the restoration of combat capability to the Melitopol district. Part of the servicemen was in the city of Novograd-Volynsk, at the point of permanent deployment.

Panic - this is the worst thing that can appear in the army, the worst what can be in the war, this is a deep psychological trauma. Some servicemen of 30 brigade, who then, two years ago, succumbed to panic sentiments, to this day cannot return to normal state.

This significantly weakened our positions, and, accordingly, tore the line of blockage in the Stepanivka-Saur-Mohyla section, Stepanivka-Miusinsk. This made it possible for the enemy to transport and approach the reserves through Stepanivka to Snizhne to provide the militants with appropriate weapons and a human resource for completing.

Later, on August 24, the 5th Battalion of territorial defense "Prykarpattya", which was being formed in Ivano-Frankivsk, also left its positions and also made an unprecedented march, literally a day or a day and a half, over a distance of more than a thousand kilometers from Amvrosiyvka to Ivano-Frankivsk, where it was met by locals, as a heroic battalion with flowers, music ...

I think that this was one of the negative conditions of this situation, which later developed in the area of Ilovaisk. I believe that the entry of Russian regular troops into Ukraine, as I have already mentioned, was a step of desperation in response to the actions that were carried out by the forces and means of the Anti-Terrorist Operation to block the corresponding armed formations and block the corresponding urbanized areas. I mean, for example, Donetsk-Makiivka, Horlivka-Yenakievo, Luhansk itself. That is, we almost completely blocked militants in these areas and in the future, by prohibiting them from delivering weapons, military equipment and replenishment, it was possible to completely finish the Antiterrorist operation in a few days or weeks.

By the way, in one of my interviews in late July - early August 2014 I noted that we must complete the Anti-Terrorist Operation. So it would be, if there was no Russian intervention and the introduction of regular Russian units on the territory of Ukraine. The complete encirclement of bandit formations and Russian mercenaries was the complete failure of Novorossia, which was then conceived as a large-scale project, and also the main reason for the introduction of Russian troops.

But one of the serious conditions that affected the deterioration of the operational situation, in particular in the Ilovaysk area, was unauthorized retreat (officially speaking) or the flight of some units from the relevant areas. This sharply aggravated the situation and worsened the operational situation for our troops.

Journalists ask me to comment on the information that Yury Butusov, one of the members of the special examination for studying the documents on Ilovaysk, claims that the information on the planning of the Russian invasion was known by us 10-12 days before its start on August 24, 2014.

Firstly, I am not familiar with the materials of the examination, unfortunately. Secondly, Butusov's fictions that the Russian invasion was planned, and we knew about it reliably 10-12 days before, remain only speculations without facts. I have no such data and such information, and at that time we did not own such information, it is unequivocal. If someone knows to whom this information was provided, then the question arises, why this person did not come to the military leadership exactly 10-12 days before the Russian invasion?

The Russian attack was sudden, unexpected, little-predictable for us. Still, we hoped that there is international humanitarian law, the right to war, the inviolability of borders and positions. And that this will stop Russian aggression. Although we saw such a threat, especially after the powerful fire strikes on our units in the borderland from Russia. That is, we did not actually have a deterrent to the aggressor: they opened the fire and falsely claimed that it was the fire of precisely illegal armed groups that the Russian Federation did not allow such violations on its territory and so on. Nobody spoke openly about this.

I believe that the crossing of the state border by the enemy troops is, by all international standards, a gross violation, which must immediately be addressed by an appropriate ultimatum, or note, or perhaps some other document that we were supposed to prove this. We did not have such intelligence information, we did not own it, it's unambiguous.  I do not know where such data and conclusions of this expertise come from, if they really exist. I am not familiar with these materials.

If we knew that the Russian invasion would take place on the night of August 23-24, 2014, then I think that there would be no parade, and, firstly, all power means would be involved. Secondly, in the parade participated those units that were not involved in the antiterrorist operation. Mostly these were higher military educational institutions, cadets and so on. The equipment immediately after the parade was sent for completing the units that performed tasks in the area of Donbas conflict.

First, we became aware of the alleged Russian invasion on the afternoon of August 24th. Really confirmed information about the invasion, that this was really Russians, we received it on August 26, when the first 10 servicemen of the Russian armed forces were captured. On the 25th the enemy column was also destroyed, two Russian servicemen were taken prisoner. Then the antitank division under the leadership of Major Serhiey Furayev of the 51st brigade defeated the group of enemy.

I received the first information about the invasion somewhere around 4 p.m. on August 24, 2014 from Colonel Petro Romyhailo: divisions were identified, perhaps Russians, we observe that they went without signs of recognition, under the flags of the DNR ... There is a journal of military operations , where all the talks by radio, through other channels, by phone, by any kind of communication are registered, and where all instructions and orders are documented. All reports that arrive. From this magazine we have real information confirmations. The originals of these documents are in the archive, such copies are, respectively, in the General Prosecutor's Office, which is engaged in the investigation of this case.

And it is clear here: when, who, to whom reported, how reported and what was the reaction. Then yes: we see the column, maybe the Russians, without signs of difference, but in composition it looks like a column of regular armed forces - and we open fire! Yes, they reacted accordingly. Yes, there was amplification.

Unfortunately, there were very few reserves. The units that emerged from the borderland were in the areas of fighting capacity restoration. The 72nd Brigade were in the Myrirny sub-district near Melitopol, and then the 30th Brigade were formed. In the Mykolaiv area, at the point of permanent deployment, the 79th Brigade was being reformed, which was also withdrawn from the border. The 2nd Battalion of the 24th Brigade was transferred to the north, to its main forces. And the 28th Brigade also practically lost its fighting capacity, it partially withdrew, partially stayed in the area of Ilovaisk and was part of this group.

Strengthening was required, because those forces were clearly not enough to withdraw us from the encirclement. To unblock the grouping, which was in Ilovaisk, it was planned to attract the 95th brigade, which restored its fighting capacity after Yasynovata battle, and the 79th brigade. The 79th Brigade according to the plan was supposed to complete the restoration of combat capability on August 24, but in fact it completed it on the 27th and arrived in the area of Donbas conflict zone only on August 29-30, because several times the train was blocked.

Why the main operation was scheduled for September 1-2? Then we could concentrate these reserves to have at least some opportunity to successfully conduct the operation. But already on August 29, a decision was made ... On August 28-29, the tragic outcome really took place, and the need for these measures disappeared.

Although there was a risk in carrying out the operation, the plan for deblocking was also worked out. It was envisaged the introduction of two landing brigades, and thus substituting, on the one hand, the left flank for the fire of militants’ stronghold from Mospino, and by the other flank we put ourselves under fire and for possible active actions of the regular units of the Russian Armed Forces.

The 92nd brigade (in the number of more than a hundred people) had previously been given a separate task, which did not concern the main plan. Part of the 42nd battalion was transferred by helicopters from Kramatorsk. It was a battalion of territorial defense, a hundred volunteers, who were transferred to reinforce this group. In particular, we planned to strengthen the grouping that operated in the Saur-Mohyla area, the group of Colonel Igor Gordiychuk.

The 92nd Brigade, for various reasons, did not enforce the main group. Then, when two days were spent searching for the team's tactical brigade, when they finally found it and established a connection with it, they began to introduce it, and artillery fire was inflicted on it. This unit subsequently turned out to be practically without losses at the point of permanent deployment of the 92nd brigadeR, that is, they banally fled from the battlefield. The technique was partially destroyed, but the full-tactical group in full force made its way without losses.

There was a problem with the 42nd Battalion. We landed them on helicopters in a certain area, and the unit partially reached this group, some groups of the 42nd battalion reached the Saur-Mohyla area, but left on August 25-26, when Colonel Gordiychuk's group was no longer there, it  withdrew, and there was no sense in keeping this strategic height in that time circumstances.

In addition, part of the National Guard unit from the southern region of the anti-terrorist operation marched to the Komsomolsk district, which was to be taken under control. Unfortunately, the 1st brigade of the operational assignment of the National Guard could not take control of the city of Komsomolsk. This also later influenced the relevant operational situation. I personally met on September 2, 2014 with the personnel of this unit in the forest near the village of Starohnativka - the detachment was stationed there, let's say, in the waiting area.

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