The author of the article, Borys Lysyi, sergeant of the 128th mountain infantry battalion, participant of the battle at the 307.5 high point, is grenade launcher operator who personally hit several Russian tanks. For that, he has been awarded with order 'For Courage' of the III class.
Within several weeks, the military strongpoint camp had been shuffled several times. Anti-tank guided missile operators, tripod-mounted man-portable anti-tank gunners, and tankmen were replaced. … Sometime around mid-November, permanent staff was formed. It included our 3rd platoon, detachments of ZU-23-2 and AGS-17 from the support company, spotters from mortar battery, and a tank nicknamed 'Buhai' (Bull - Ed.).
Some geographic information. Below this place on the map there are Novohryhorivka and Debaltseve, so it shouldn't be difficult to find the spot on GoogleMap.
The fall was relatively calm. From time to time, usually once a week, separatists would send 'gifts' of 82-mm mortars of Grad packages, but they rarely hit the position. Only once in October, a tank driver got wounded in his head by shrapnel, luckily enough, tangentially. Apart from that, we had no other losses, and this 'fighting' lasted until Dec. 10, after which shelling stopped completely.
Jan. 19, 2015 was the day of the first shelling this year, right on holiday [Baptism of Jesus - ed.], so I remembered it. It was not shelling 'somewhere in our direction,' it was direct fire aimed at the platoon strongpoint. By that time we had learned to guess by sound what was flying and where it would fall, so we managed to hide. Further on, we managed to go without losses, although shelling lasted from dawn to dusk. During those days, we were joined by reconnaissance guys from the 54th separate reconnaissance battalion - they had an observation point at the 307.5 altitude, at around one kilometer from our high point. They were on duty there, four persons at a time, had no fortifications, just a dug-out to spend the night in; they were only equipped with small arms and an out of service infantry fighting vehicle, so we took the guys with us and towed their IFV to the position as well.
The first assault at 'Valera' platoon strongpoint was conducted on Jan. 23, 2015. The fog was thick; visibility had been changing from 200 to 700 meters during the day. The assault was conducted by three tanks and an IFV; we haven't seen any infantry. Our tankmen started the fight - they fired at the separatists' side by guess and by sound. We were lucky to know from which direction they would show up - several days prior to this their artillery cut a fire-break in the foliage from Sanzharivka side, trying either to reveal anti-tank mines (although there were none), or simply cleared the way for their equipment. Anyway, even this 'blind' shelling was efficient: at least one tank and an IFV retreated back to Sanzharivka after having firing at us for a while. Maybe, some also changed their mind regarding attacking us by foot, covered by the fog, who knows.
Two more tanks passed in front of our position and headed to the right. We couldn't even see them, just heard the engines. One headed somewhere to Novohryhorivka (chances are, separatists' tankmen simply lost their way in the fog). The other managed to approach the position very close. I have no idea how we could miss it. …maybe because there was a valley in front of us, and the fog was really thick there. However, separatists themselves seemed to badly understand where they were, which eventually saved us. Our 'Buhai' tank used all of its ammunition by that time, and firing at a tank with rocket anti-tank launchers only is not enough.
Thankfully, the separatists saw even less than us through their sights, which might be the reason why they didn't shoot. After being hit in a turret by Mukha RPG, they started to back (although the tank had not been damaged; only its active armor box was hit). They retreated by 400 m, ran into an extra caponier for our tank, and successfully stuck. They attempted to drive out, but after receiving another hit by PRG-7 (which wounded its spotter, as there were blood stains on the tank); the crew left the vehicle and hid in a hole under it. Our guys try to reach the tank - the separatists open fire, do not let approaching, and there's another tank somewhere in the fog… It would make no sense to fire at tankmen - bullets are flying higher, grenades from rifle-attached grenade launcher explode in front of the tank. One of the scouts fired a missile from an anti-tank guided system and hit it, but no use - the tank didn't catch a fire, and tankmen remained sitting under the vehicle. And we keep sitting, not knowing what to do. After half an hour, we heard roar first, and then saw a tank approaching from Debaltseve. It came closer and stopped at a crossroads some 500 m from us. It turns its turret but does not fire. We have no idea whose tank that is: the 40th battalion is located in that direction, they might have sent us reinforcement; or from a base in Debaltseve… Until that time visibility got better - we could only see the tank's silhouette, but could not recognize its mark signs or a flag on the turret… Platoon commander went to talk to our neighbors, came back in five minutes: the tank is not theirs, and no one passed them, so - fire! The first shot from an RPG missed, the second one and another missile from the anti-tank guided system seemed to hit, although it was not clear where exactly. As a result, the tank's turret was damaged; at least it stopped rotating it. The tank itself turned around and drove past the foliage to the one that was hit. It might be that the separatists reached their friends and they came to aid and were standing at the crossroads in order to get their direction. Anyway, the tank passed us with its side facing the position (one fire shot with RPG-7 missed, another one - misfire, and an anti-tank guided missile - misfire), then stopped, picked up its friends and successfully escaped - we did not have time to shoot… It was lucky, and good for it - it just passed like this, opening its side as a target for fire without being able to shoot back in order to save your friends, this is respectworthy, even if they were triple enemies to us. After another 20 minutes, an IFV showed up out of the fog. We did not figure out where it was heading, it must have got lost as well. The vehicle drove in front of our trenches by 450 meters and managed to get away (four shots from an RPG-7 missed and one misfired). This was the end to the battle, actually, without taking Grads and mortar shelling into consideration. In a few hours the scouts went out to the hit tank and brought back one tankman ID and a map (the guy who was in the tank was a tank division commander, and the map was of totally different area. This might mean that the tankmen had been recently redeployed to our direction.). Afterwards, they dragged the tank itself, T-64 modification with 'Tatary' (Tatars) inscription on the turret. We reloaded some ammunition from it to our 'Buhai', as we were supplied with high-explosive firecrackers, which are of no use when shelling tanks. We were also given one more tank for our platoon strongpoint and added optical sights to RPGs-7. As it turned out, real combat is different from target shooting at a field, which resulted in so many misses. We could have added another tank and an IFV to our achievements.
Scouts approaching the hit tank
Dragging the trophy to our place
The same trophy at our platoon strongpoint
Jan. 24, 2015
The visibility was better than on the 23rd, so we noticed the tank as it just appeared from the foliage. It fired at us, our tankmen fired at him; the separatist tank covered in smoke and crawled back to the foliage.
Whether it was hit or just covered itself with smoke, was not clear. The distance was about 2.5 km, we couldn't see. After some time, three more tanks appeared, followed by something like trucks and armored vehicles. It was quite OK against two tanks of ours - separatists approached us at some 2 km or closer, exchanged 'greetings' with our tankmen and crawled back. In one of our tanks, a retracting mechanism stuck after several shots, the crew hid inside a trench, and the skirmish with separatists was conducted by 'Buhai' only. It hit the target at least once - an explosion at a front armor of a tank was clearly seen - but the missile was fragmentation demolition, its maximum capacity was to damage devices and stun the tankmen. Anyway, the separatists retreated again, with one tank being covered in smoke. Our 'Buhai' was hurt as well, luckily, it was slight - a shape charged shot burned a line in its armor. The spotter, at whose side of the tank it happened, only noticed it when he was leaving the tank after the combat. He was lucky, so to say. Another tank's driver was wounded in his head by chipping from a close explosion after he hid in a trench, which left him with abrasions and a contusion. No one else was hurt. Later during the day, the separatists attempted to hit one of our IFVs hidden in the aircraft shelter, with a tripod-mounted man-portable gun SPG. They made some five shots, all missed. In response, we swept the foliage from which the SPG fired with automatic grenade launcher, adding some small arms. We did not know whether we hit someone or not. Nothing interesting happened until evening, except for the same firing with mortars and Grads. Although the foliage at Sanzharivka direction was literally shaking of tanks' and cars' roar, the separatists did not risk another assault on that day. We had two more tanks supplied from the sector's reserve, thus totaling in three operating ones and one with possible repair of retracting mechanism. So we went to bed feeling free.
Jan. 25, 2015.
Our first 'losses' occurred at 4.30 a.m. when an order to return the reserve tanks to the base came. Our platoon and battalion commanders tried to talk of cancellation of this order, given that the tanks were supposed to be at 'Valera' by 9 a.m., and then as the situation required. Unfortunately, representative of C sector command, who arrived to our battalion HQ, could not be convinced and insisted on abiding by the order - at around 5 a.m. the tanks left for Debaltseve. In addition, the broken tank could not be repaired by morning, so we were left with our 'Buhai' only…
I will not describe the very battle, dubbed 'Sanzharivka Stalingrad'. It will take me some 10 years to write it out clearly and briefly, given that I forget the details.
There were 38 of us at 'Valera' on that day: our 128th separate mountain infantry brigade, tankmen from the 17th separate tank brigade, and scouts from the 54th separate reconnaissance battalion from the 307.9 strong point. Another unit of the 54th came up later - they were rotating, but got directly into a fighting instead. As for the equipment and weapons, we had one T-64, two IFV-2, ZU-23-2, AGS-17, one DShK, several RPG-7, unneeded RPG-22, and small arms, including machine guns and subguns. We also had one out-of-order tank, two out-of-order IFVs (one ours, one scouts'), and a multi-purpose light-armored towing vehicle of the anti-aircraft gunners'. There were also two anti-tank guided missile systems, but we could hardly use them, especially when it's all upside down around you… The only fired missile went up to the skies, then there were a few misfires, and then it was too late. We were attacked by five tanks, IFVs, and around two platoons of infantry (I might be mistaken for we did not let them come closer than 600 m, and some of them were wearing white ghillie suits). We handled the tanks: one was hit by 'Buhai' (not lethally, but it changed its mind about platoon strongpoint ironing); three of them (two T-64 and one T-72) broke in to our strongpoint, where we killed them with PRG-7. Tankmen who attempted to get out were treated with grenades into manholes. But while we were firing at the T-64, the T-72 managed to hover over the trench and do some mischief… Another tank turned around and retreated to Sanzharivka after seeing what happened to the others. The IFV left earlier. Driver from one of the hit tanks also survived - he was taken prisoner.
Burning T-64 of the separatists. This is the only photo made on combat day
The same Т-64, next day
Т-72 - the 'hero' of the fighting
Wounded: our battalion commander Andrii Slota got a bullet under his knee. A separatist who jumped out from under the hit tank managed to muck up before his death… Another two guys got amputations caused by the same T-72 - Sasha Zozuliak and 'Buhai' spotter Vova Myronets (he lost his foot). In addition, there were many light wounds and contusions, but that does not count.
Equipment: one IFV of ours had been burned down at the beginning of the fighting, but it was empty - luckily, it was wise enough not to put the crew into it. Also, our AA mount was hit, and automatic grenade launcher and anti-tank guided missile systems kicked by shrapnel (the separatists were targeting them on purpose). 'Buhai' was also hurt - its turret stuck due to the hit, and the tankmen retreated behind the position and kept fighting as infantry. Another IFV lost half of its cannon and got holes in its body- nevertheless, the vehicle managed to reach a neighboring platoon strongpoint with gravely wounded soldiers. More equipment, including a tank and some out-of-service vehicles, stood behind the high point and were not shelled by the separatists - obviously, they noticed what was worthy and what was not. Moreover, that fighting was the last for our Ural truck. Although it was hidden in the aircraft protective shelter, it was crushed by the tank turning the position. The tank, however, rested there for good after receiving a shot from PRG-7 into its active armor (that's it burning at the only image we have dated Jan. 25).
This is the tank combat outcome. Infantry which stepped out some 20 minutes later looked boring and hollow. It was repelled without losses on our side. The only bright episode was when our machine gunner Serioha 'Kachan' was running around a burning IFV and gathering ammunition boxes that flew out after ammunition detonation, for we had used all ours by that time.
After that some of our comrades retreated to 'Zenit' (the 40th battalion position) and further to Debaltseve, a car with wounded left for a neighboring position closer to our base in Luhanske village. Later, 'Pastukh' aka Alexey Chaban came with two tanks, they managed to move the hit T-72 and get Sasha Zozuliak from under its cat. Together with them, a multi-purpose light-armored towing vehicle of our anti-tank grenade launcher operators arrived. Later, our company commander Dima 'Medved' arrived by an IFV from a neighboring strongpoint, two tanks that were taken from us in the night were returned, paratroopers of the 80th brigade in Debaltseve came (one of them subsequently shot the very video), and it suddenly became crowded at 'Valera'. However, there were no more attacks that day, and no more shelling. They started to nail us with 'regular' mortars and Grads, as well as howitzers and even tanks next day. The tanks would come out for direct pointing but did not come close. Largely, the 307.5 was not attacked anymore, only shelled and fired at with artillery from dawn to dusk. There were '300s' (wounded - ed.) and '200s' (killed - ed.), and more of equipment burned down (our equipment, unfortunately). After the separatists got between out platoon strongpoints and seized 'no-man's' 307.5, moving towards those who occupied Lohvynove and thus encircling Debaltseve, 'Valera' was nailed from its rear, using anti-tank guided missiles and whatever they had. For real, holding that position did not have any sense… The last guys defending 'Valera,' those from the 2nd company of our battalion (commanded by Captain Lysyi I.N.), were leaving it in the night through the fields… They abandoned the high point on Feb. 18, after the wide-advertised cease-fire, of which no one inside the 'nonexistent' trap heard (maybe it was explosions that prevented us from hearing).
This is it. We were awarded with four orders 'For Courage' of the III degree for those fightings. I do not know whether and how were tankmen and scouts awarded. Later in the end of May, all those killed were awarded with the same orders posthumously. And we are still waiting for bonuses for the destroyed tanks. Other guys from our brigade are waiting as well, except for those artillerists who managed to swipe a sound T-72 from the separatists. That case was widely reported in media, so the command did not risk 'saving' on it.
This is the story of one high point. The story is far from complete… I wish I could tell more details about the fighting on Jan. 25, and about weeks that followed. However, I haven't seen what was going on there in February, only heard it from my comrades. The story after Feb. 18 should be told by the separatists, who took the position after we left. I came across their video showing T-72 and T-64 'Tatary'. They said those were Ukrainian Army's tanks destroyed by the "brave Novorossia army."
What else should I say… Almost all guys of our brigade who participated in those combats returned to the anti-terrorist operation after rotation. At the moment, we are in Stanytsia Luhanska district of the Luhansk region. 'Buhai's commander Sashka is fighting somewhere near Popasna. I know nothing of the scouts from the 54th brigade.
Borys Lysyi, sergeant of the 128th mountain infantry brigade