Viktor Muzhenko: Battle of Ilovaisk through the prism of time. Part 3

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
20:03, 23 August 2017


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

Part 2

Part 3. Withdrawing from the encirclement. Conclusions

When the question about the encirclement of our grouping in the Ilovaysk area arose - it was significantly strengthened by units that retreated, grouped in the area of Ilovaisk. There were only about 1200-1400 people. This figure is exemplary, because, unfortunately, we cannot clearly assess the quantitative composition of the volunteer battalions - the specialized battalions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and others. And every day these numbers changed. Specifically, it is impossible even now to establish this number. Probably, this should have been done by the officials of the government structures.

As for the Armed Forces, there are real figures according to reports and calculations - the grouping was about 1200-1400 people. As an option, I personally suggested that General Ruslan Khomchak go to Ilovaysk, take a round-robin defense until the readiness of the reserves intended for release is good. There was such an opportunity. Those groups - more than a thousand people - were enough to really solve this issue. He told me: I cannot do this task, because I have received an ultimatum from volunteer battalions - either we all go out together, or we leave by ourselves, and you stay here, if you want, and act as you want. General Khomchak said that he had decided to withdraw the entire group.

During the withdrawal, different options were considered. It was proposed to use small columns of 10-15 cars in different directions on a wide front, in particular to the south, because there was a space for traffic with access to the Mariupol district or, possibly, to the Granitna area. But the option was chosen for accessing the routes agreed with the leadership of the Russian General Staff: the Russians offered these routes as a "green corridor" for the exit of our units.

This was Putin's initiative, he announced this on August 26, and within two days (!!!) we agreed with the Russian side on how to implement this exit. The first condition was acceptable for us - exit in the "green corridor" with weapons and military equipment. No questions. But on the night of August 28, somewhere around 22:00, General Bogdanovsky, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, came to me and said: "The conditions change, we can only let you go, without weapons and even without small arms. " This was unacceptable for us, it generally created a serious danger for our servicemen. There were no other conditions after this conversation.

I immediately spoke about the final conditions of the Russians to General Khomchak. He also noted that in such an environment it is necessary to plan a breakthrough rather than an exit. At the local level, in Ilovaisk, the decision to withdraw was taken collectively, including with the leadership of volunteer battalions, unit commanders. They chose for themselves a version of the exit agreed with the Russians, clearly and step by step, the routes with access to the Starobeshevo area.

By the way, one of the conditions was that only after leaving the area of Starobeshevo we should return the captured Russian servicemen who were part of our convoy. Now it is common knowledge that the column was shot, including the Russian soldiers shot by another Russian servicemen.

I constantly contacted the Russian general Bogdanovsky, because on August 28, General Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, was on a business trip, but on the 29th he was at the place where I talked with him in the afternoon.

By the way, at night, I talked with General Kartapolov, chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, and with his deputy, General Yevstratov, who is now the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff. None of them wanted to take responsibility for the actions of Russian troops at Ilovaysk, because everyone understood that this was a war crime, and that someone would have to answer for this. Russian generals transferred communications from one to another, from the first to the second, then to the third-rate ones.

We did not have a choice; we needed to communicate in order to solve the security issue of our people who had to leave this environment. This, by the way, is documented. In the materials of investigation, such a document, where it is confirmed clearly in time, day by day - with whom, when, how many minutes, even to a second, negotiations were held with the Russians. However, some politicians, "experts" say that Muzhenko says untruth, to put it mildly, that Muzhenko is lying and that he did not communicate with anyone at that time.

We considered different options for getting out of the encirclement. In particular, moving in the northern direction, for which we also did not have enough strength and resources. But this was also one of the existed options. Indeed, such maneuver would be unexpected for both the Russian side and for the so-called "Novorossia" formations. This option was also offered to the command of sector "B".

By the way, the command of sector "B" turned out to be in the area of Ilovaisk. This was not the main task of General Khomchak - to organize the implementation of the tactical task of taking control of the city of Ilovaysk, because the sector had much more tasks. This is the fulfillment of tasks in the western and southern parts of Donetsk, near Horlivka, Makiivka and others. However, the arrival of head of the sector to Ilovaysk is his decision. Although, in my opinion, it would be sufficient to send a representative or one of his deputies to ensure, at this level, the interaction between units of the Armed Forces with the relevant special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Of course, there was a representative in the group, and by August 22 there was directly the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, General Serhiy Yarovyi.

It should be noted that the so-called "expert" Yuri Butusov was also there on August 22nd. I have a question: why then he was there? What did he have in common with the planning of this operation and the presence in the war zone? ..

Regarding losses. To date, we clearly established losses of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In August, the month of 2014, the losses of the Armed Forces were: irrevocable - 427 people, 781 - sanitary (injuries, concussions and so on, including psychological trauma).

According to the confirmed data and the list of the dead and wounded, in the period from August 21 to September 5, 2014, including in the area of Ilovaisk, 150 servicemen of the Armed Forces were killed, and 90 were injured. These are real figures.

Regarding the number of deaths - from 366 to 500 people – as said the General Prosecutor's Office, the military prosecutor: two requests were sent to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to confirm the relevant figures and compare the records of the Armed Forces with the document that exists in the General Prosecutor's Office. But neither for first, nor for the second request, we did not receive an answer...

Therefore, it is necessary to operate only with such data: 150 dead and 90 wounded from August 21 to September 5, 2014. I stress that this is the loss of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As for the volunteer battalions, I believe that such losses should be registered in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the National Guard of Ukraine. These are their units, and let's hope, that every person is accounted or there, and name of everyone killed is known, as it is done by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

I think that my activity should be evaluated not by the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine. For this, there are relevant courts that will make appropriate decisions on real facts. And as regards responsibility for inaction, we must compare how the antiterrorist operation began, how it continues, what led to the encirclement of the group in the Ilovaysk area and tragic consequences. And then we can talk about who acted and who was inactive during the period from April to August-September of 2014. It is necessary to evaluate not only Ilovaisk, but all the activities of the operation leadership, in particular, taking into account the powers that were granted to them, and the regulatory framework that existed at that time, and possibly the correspondence of this base, the conformity of certain decisions and responsibility in general, which was taken by the military leadership, even taking into account the imperfection - I'll say so – of our regulatory framework, the legislative framework.

The most important reason for Ilovaisk tragedy is the invasion of Russian troops. This is also the main reason for such large losses. Another reason is inconsistency, randomness and, apparently, insufficient competence in planning an operation to withdraw from the encirclement.

I am ready to be responsible for all my decisions and orders, which I gave, including for those that caused losses. I am ready to justify each step. But there are levels of responsibility of various officials for the operation as a whole, for the specific fulfillment of tactical tasks. It must be divided. Including you need to understand the composition of the interdepartmental grouping, it’s connection with the antiterrorist operation. Why those volunteer battalions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs weren’t included in the forces of the operation? Why did they allow themselves to make decisions at the level of some leaders and, possibly, even individual heads of units: to carry out a combat mission or not to carry it out?

Yes, there were facts of leaving military positions, even panic flight. So, when evaluating actions, decisions or inaction, we hope that all these conditions will be studied and an appropriate decision will be made.

The headquarters of the operation received information from all the sites, including Ilovaisk and Luhansk. By the way, the events in the area of Luhansk airport occurred, perhaps, in less tragic way, but no less heroic than in Ilovaisk. A huge heroism was showed by servicemen of the Armed Forces, who carried out tasks there, including from volunteer battalions, such as the 24th Battalion of Territorial Defense (later reorganized into the 24th Aidar Assault Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) and they acted right in the area of Novosvetlivka, Khryashchevate with respect to the expansion of the control zone in the area of Luhansk airport. The units of the 80th airmobile brigade heroically defended the airport.

By the way, there was such a fact: when our units successfully left the encirclement, for another three days the Russians were afraid to enter the territory of the Luhansk airport, they suffered such losses there. And one of the commanders of the Russian army, of the regiment of marines, instructed to withdraw the units of his tactical group to the territory of the Russian Federation without agreement with the top leadership. The reason for such actions was that they suffered very serious losses: almost one company of the 76th Airborne Division of the Russian Armed Forces was destroyed in the Luhansk region. This also indicates the situation at that time, firstly. Secondly, we understood and were responsible for every operation that was conducted at the level of the operation leadership, but there were also leaders at other levels. And we understood and were responsible for the whole country, because the threat was not only in the southeast of Ukraine. The composition of the grouping of Russian troops along the state border created such a threat both in the north, and in the east, and in the south and it is not known what further development this situation could get.

Perhaps in some actions someone can blame me. But to blame me for inaction, I believe, no one has even the moral right for this, the headquarters of operation, the unit commanders, or the servicemen of the Armed Forces, who took part and performed the corresponding tasks.

You can blame me in expediency or inexpediency of these or other decisions - it is possible, yes. However, the question arises: who are the judges? Who are the experts? Do any of them have experience of fighting? Do they all have a higher military academic education? Are they all clearly versed in, let's say, the principles and the bases on which the troops work? In general, is there a theory of this hybrid war and its specifics? Or was the antiterrorist operation in theory written? Today, yes, some practice and directions of realization of this operation have already been worked out. So on what basis they can accuse us of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of those or other actions?

I started and end my thoughts with a quote from Colonel Vyacheslav Vlasenko, commander of the Donbas-Ukraine Armed Forces of Ukraine: "This is not only a history of tragedies, it is also a history of deception." It’s also the history of demonstrated heroism. People should remember this. We were not sheep in the slaughterhouse, you should consider us like this. We fought, and the guys fought heroically, and caused considerable losses on the Russian side, while being in a losing position. That's what the people of Ukraine should remember about the guys. "

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