Battle of Ilovaisk

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Battle of Ilovaisk
Part of the War in Donbass
Burned car in Ilovaisk, August 18, 2014.jpg
Burnt civilian car in Ilovaisk after shelling
Date 7 August – 2 September 2014[3]
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Location Ilovaisk
Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Result Decisive DPR victory[4][5] and signing of the Minsk Protocol
Belligerents
 Ukraine Donetsk People's Republic
 Russia (denied by Russia)[1][2]
Commanders and leaders
Ukraine Col. Gen. Valeriy Heletey[6]
Ukraine Lt. Gen. Ruslan Khomchak[7]
(Sectoral commander)
Ukraine Semen Semenchenko (WIA)[8]
Ukraine Yuriy Bereza (WIA)[9]
(Dnipro Battalion commander)
Ukraine Ruslan Storcheus [9]
(Kherson Battalion commander)
Russia General Valery Gerasimov
(claimed by the SBU)[10]
Aleksandr Zakharchenko
Alexander Khodakovsky
Mikhail Tolstykh ("Givi")[11]
Russia Arseny Pavlov ("Motorola")[12]
Units involved

Armed Forces of Ukraine:

Геральдичний знак - емблема МВС України.svg Internal Affairs Ministry:

Donbass People's Militia:

Russian Armed Forces (denied by Russia)

Strength
1,200[16] 4,000–4,100[17]
Casualties and losses
366–459 killed, 158 missing, 429–478 wounded, 128–545 captured (acc. Armed Forces of Ukraine)[18][19][20]
1,000+ killed (acc. Verkhovna Rada & People's Front)[17]
150–300 killed,[21][22] 20 captured[8] (acc. government & Russian opposition)
100 civilians killed[12]

The Battle of Ilovaisk[note 1] started on 7 August 2014, when the Armed Forces of Ukraine and pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries began a series of attempts to capture the city of Ilovaisk from pro-Russian insurgents affiliated with the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).[4][23] Whilst government forces were able to enter the city on 18 August, they quickly became encircled by the insurgents.[24] After days of encirclement, government forces made an agreement with the insurgents, favoured by Russian president Vladimir Putin, to allow them to retreat from the city.[25] This agreement was not honoured, and many soldiers died whilst trying to escape.[8][26]

Events

Ilovaisk is an important city between the insurgent strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. Government forces hoped to cut-off insurgent supply lines between these two cities, and hence intended to rout insurgents from the city. Government forces made their first attempts to breach the DPR-controlled city on 7 August 2014.[4] Artillery fire was reported in the town on 10 August 2014. Over the next few days, government forces made multiple attempts to enter the city, but were bogged down by heavy fighting with the insurgents.[23]

Government forces enter Ilovaisk

DPR fighters and BTR-80 assault the Azov and Dnipro Battalions
Motorola's Division fighters in Ilovaisk

Government forces made an attempt to enter Ilovaisk during the day on 18 August, but failed. Led by the Donbas Battalion, government forces made another attempt to storm the city on the night of 18–19 August.[24][27][28] This attempt was successful, and they raised the Ukrainian flag over the city administration building without any casualties. Ukrainian media viewed this victory as an example of the strength and effectiveness of the government "Anti-Terrorist Operation" (ATO) against the insurgents.[24] As government forces entered the city, Donbas Battalion commander Semen Semenchenko was wounded after being struck by mortar fire[29] and was evacuated for medical treatment. Following the flag-raising, the Internal Affairs ministry said that volunteer territorial defence battalions, including the Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, were "clearing" the city of "terrorists", specifically mentioning that they killed "a great number" of insurgents from the Oplot Battalion of the Donbass People's Militia.[28] They also said that reinforcements from the National Guard of Ukraine were forthcoming.[24] After a day of fighting, roughly fifty percent of Ilovaisk was under government control. Governments forces also captured six insurgents, including one Serbian volunteer.[30]

On the following day, 20 August, government forces said they took complete control of Ilovaisk. This was denied by DPR officials, who said that they remained in control. Over the course of the day, government forces fought off numerous insurgent counter-attacks.[31] Street battles took place across the city, and at least nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the fighting. Following this, the Donbas Battalion requested reinforcements.[32] By 21 August, amidst heavy and constant fighting, the Internal Affairs ministry stated that twenty-five percent of those from volunteer paramilitary battalions killed since the ATO began were killed in Ilovaisk.[24] No reinforcements for government forces arrived. According to commander Semenchenko, some members of the Donbas Battalion were killed when insurgents flying the Ukrainian flag attacked an ambulance. Semenchenko described this act as "medieval savagery".[24] He also said that the Donbas Battalion had been "abandoned" by both the Ukrainian government and the other volunteer paramilitary battalions, both of which largely withdrew from the city.[24]

Encirclement of government forces; Ilovaisk under siege

The remaining government forces in Ilovaisk became completely encircled by DPR insurgents and Russian reinforcements on 24–26 August, and the fighting continued to take its toll.[8] Ukrainian soldiers started seeing Russian regular army troops on 24 August, and their presence increased over the next few days.[2][25] According to the DPR, a large number of Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitaries were trapped in the town.[33] During the fighting, the Ukrainian commander of the Dnipro Battalion suffered a concussion, while the commander of the Kherson Battalion was killed.[9] In response to commander Semenchenko's pleas, many Euromaidan activists in the Ukrainian capital Kiev protested what they saw as the government's "abandonment" of the volunteers fighting against the insurgents.[34] Repeated artillery barrages launched by insurgent forces from nearby villages caused heavy casualties amongst the trapped government forces.[8]

Government forces retreat and massacre

After days of being under siege in Ilovaisk, commanders of government forces in the city attempted to negotiate an agreement that would allow them to withdraw from the city.[8][11] Russian president Vladimir Putin said in the early morning on 29 August that a "humanitarian corridor for besieged Ukrainian soldiers" should be established, allowing the trapped soldiers to leave Ilovaisk.[25] Yuriy Bereza, a commander in the Dnipro Battalion, managed to quickly reach an agreement with Russian commanders in Ilovaisk to establish such a corridor.[8] DPR prime minister Alexander Zakharchenko confirmed that an agreement had been made, and also said that Ukrainian forces were required to leave their armoured vehicles and ammunition behind as a condition of the agreement.[35] Government forces regrouped at Mnohopillya, just south of Ilovaisk proper, and prepared to withdraw.[36] As this was happening, the Russian commanders attempted to change the terms of the agreement, suggesting a new route out of Ilovaisk, demanding that Ukrainian forces surrender all weaponry, and that they leave behind the volunteer battalions. Lt. General Ruslan Khomchak, commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Ilovaisk, replied that his troops would leave as agreed previously, and ordered them "to march in full battle readiness".[36]

At 06:00, government forces began to move out of Ilovaisk in a column of sixty vehicles.[8] The first lorry in the column, carrying dead and wounded soldiers, was flying a white flag. The column advanced 10 kilometres (6 14 mi) along the corridor, about an hour's drive, but was then surrounded by Russian and insurgent troops.[8][25] These troops opened fire on the column with mortars and heavy machine guns. Vehicles exploded, and the column was obliterated.[8] Soldiers attempted to flee, but many were captured by Russian and insurgent forces. One fleeing Ukrainian soldier described the situation as "a real meat grinder".[25] At least 100 soldiers were killed in the ambush, with many more injured or taken prisoner. The Ukrainian government described the events as a "massacre".[9][37] One insurgent commander said he had taken 173 Ukrainian soldiers prisoner near Ilovaisk, in the aftermath of the ambush. He said that he would use them as laborers to rebuild destroyed Donbass cities.[25] A Ukrainian official said that, in total, more than 500 Ukrainian soldiers had been taken prisoner by pro-Russian forces.[2] Commanders and soldiers of the pro-government volunteer paramilitary battalions, blamed the Ilovaisk incident on Ukrainian army leadership, and felt "betrayed by Ukraine" in its aftermath.[25] According to an advisor of Internal Affairs minister Arsen Avakov, 97 Ukrainian soldiers managed to escape from Ilovaisk on 1 September.[38][39]

Aftermath

A criminal probe into the failure of government troops in Ilovaisk was opened 4 September.[6] Two months after the battle, many bodies of Ukrainian soldiers were still being found around Ilovaisk. According to head of the Verkhovna Rada's Iloviask investigative committee Andriy Senchenko, up to 1,000 soldiers died in the Battle of Ilovaisk. Defence minister Valeriy Heletey was forced to resign on 14 October, in part because of his responsibility for the failure of military coordination during the battle.[6][40]

Notes

  1. In the Ukrainian language, the battle is referred to as the "Ilovaisk Kettle" (Ukrainian: Іловайський котел, Ilovays'kyy kotel). The word "kettle" refers to encirclement by enemy forces, which is termed "falling into the kettle". The word is also used to refer to battles during the Second World War, such as the "Kiev Kettle". It is also applied to the early 2015 Battle of Debaltseve, which has been described as a "Second Ilovaisk".

References

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External links

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