I went to Ilovaisk for a reason - the war in the Donbas was a mere improvisation, and another pair of eyes was always needed there to assist with current problems. I was in good relations with the command of the B sector, for my information would draw attention to their problems of combat support. In Ilovaisk, intense battles were underway - I was supposed to deliver a valuable cargo: 14 Pulsar thermal goggles, 250 excellent Israeli-made Kevlar helmets, and several dozens of Temp armored vests, which had been found and bought by Fond Oborony Krainy's Hennadii Korban and Oleksii Salkoch. The military and volunteers had been asking of thermal sights, for even one such device was a deficit at that time. Combat engagements often took place after dark. Helmets were also a deficit - many soldiers were using metal soviet helmets and they preferred not to wear them. The military were asking for protection means.
The military allowed me to fly to the combat zone by helicopters; they even let me pick up two companions - Kalin Dimitrov and Chechen hero Isa Munaiev…. He, the EU citizen, had just arrived from Denmark to help Ukraine… In the morning two Mi-24 of the 16th brigade of the army aviation picked us up and we flew to the ATO [anti-terrorist operation - e.]. We landed really soon. But it was not Ilovaisk - it was the B sector HQ in Velykonovoselivka, the Donetsk region. I asked the pilots why we could not go further. They said: "This is grey area. Our [troops] do not control it in full, ambushes are possible. The day before yesterday, a Mi-24 of the 7th regiment was downed near Heorhiivka, it was done by Russian air defense. We are currently not allowed to fly to Ilovaisk." HQ officers told us that all battle-ready units of the B sector were currently near Ilovaisk, that the enemy was able to easily penetrate to our rear, and that 40 kilometers from Ilovaisk, at the border, Russian units were regularly crossing the border and bunching up on our territory.
The beginning was not very bright. The HQ said we could only go to Ilovaisk as part of a guarded convoy, for the enemy could penetrate the area unopposed - we had no troops to control the rear. But the cargo we carried was very valuable, so we were convoyed by a unit from the newly created military civil administration commanded by General Staff Colonel Oleksii Nozdrachov. In the Nozdrachov's group, we were accompanied by Dmytro Muravskyi, who carried his assault rifle and camera with him.
We had to travel for about 150 kilometers. The road was empty. There was no hassle of a front line road. We had met no military vehicles until we reached Starobesheve. No Ukrainian military, no Ukrainian flags in villages. We were passing bridges and dirt piles, and I automatically noticed dozens of spots for easy ambushes, where one detachment could stop a battalion, and a blowing up of a bridge could paralyze movement for a long time. No security at all.
The only road to Ilovaisk went through Starobesheve, it could have been cut easily, but the enemy did not do that. It was disturbing.
We nearly entered Donetsk - it was easy, the city was 20 kilometers from us. We only managed to see the front line when we saw several our soldiers sitting in bushes, one standing at the road. The soldiers had nothing except for tommy-guns. It was an advanced position. Good for us that we had noticed them, otherwise we could have entered the enemy's territory. Only one soldier went out to the road - other were either talking over the phone or hiding in the bushes from the heat. Looking at them, I was hoping that no one would attack them.
So there we were, at the command point near Ilovaisk. All battle command in Ilovaisk had been conducted from the 39-06 checkpoint. There I met B sector commander General Khomchak, Deputy Interior Minister Serhii Yarovyi, Donbas battalion commander Viacheslav Vlasenko and Dnipro battalion commander Bereza.
Meeting with soldiers was very pleasant - I was recognized by many, and people were very happy to see me there in that tense moment…. I remember seeing two Donbas battalion soldiers, Yurii Soloviov (Foks) and Vadym Savvon (Balu). I had no time to make photos; I was talking with someone all the time. But Yura was so happy and cheerful, a cloud of positive energy with his white smile, that I took photos of him. Later, he did not get out of the entrapment on 29th… I subsequently learned from Vadym that Yura was a grenadier combat medic and saved lives of many.
Our communication was regularly interrupted - a sound of an enemy Grad missile launch was heard every 15 minutes somewhere close to us, followed by an explosion. Some managed to enter a dug-out; others just squatted behind the nearest cover. Subsequently, one of strong holds' commanders reported to the commander's radio about hits. They had not hit directly so far, but it could reach us at any moment as well. Our artillery was silent.
Thermal goggles were warmly welcomed. At the moment, Donbas battalion only had two of them, Dnipro had one. Army detachments had none. 14 thermal goggles were immediately redistributed equitably.
I spoke with Khomchak about the situation - the operation continued because he was there with the troops. Officers and soldiers told about intense battles and regular assaults against strong points of the 40th battalion of the territorial defense around the city. He told that firing points were set in houses in the city itself, so frontal attacks were not possible. Obviously, the group needed reinforcement in order to take Ilovaisk - they needed to fully encircle the city. However, they no longer had forces for that. Khomchak told me and Yarovyi that Shakhtarsk battalion should be drawn out from the combat area. They had been formed only recently, in mid-July, and underwent no serious training, though had huge troubles with discipline. Khomchak was asking for combat-effective reserves.
People from the front line said the enemy had as much troops in the area, because they had also understood the key value of Ilovaisk. Khomchak was worried for the open rear. He had fewer than a thousand people. I asked him why he was there instead of being in the HQ in Velykonovoselivka, and he said: "If I am not here with them every day, walking around without a helmet and an armored vest, we would gain nothing here. I can only make them conduct their tasks with my own participation."
They had very few tanks - eight units, including a hit one. The tanks were repaired personally by commander of the combat vehicle arsenal of Pivden operational command, Colonel Yenhenii Sydorenko. The tanks were directed by one to threat corridors by Khomchak himself. Officers of the staff were attempting to keep the tanks in military combat readiness. It was obvious that there was not enough equipment.
Striking forces included 250 soldiers of the 40th battalion (however, most were drafted, so not all of them were ready to engage in active combat activities), and about 200 soldiers from Donbas and Dnipro battalions. The 39th battalion was covering rear positions. There was not a single regular army unit for conducting combat tasks - only those drafted, who had been previously trained for a month at most. Yarovyi said there had been some small Interior Ministry units redeployed to Ilovaisk - the ATO command had been asking the Ministry to find all possible reserves, for the army had none of its own at the moment. Even a group of 20-30 soldiers will small arms was deemed a separate unit at that time, and they were ordered important tasks. Now, some propagandists tend to forget how weak we were, how difficult it was, and how thin the thread was… A Right Sector unit commanded by Valentyn Manko was also involved in conducting assault and sabotage tasks near Ilovaisk. They had even penetrated in Donetsk many times. Army soldiers respected them, for the Right Sector soldiers were good fighters. They were the ones to provide initial information on targets in Ilovaisk and vicinity, and they went together with the 40th battalion to seize strong points around the city.
However, it was obvious that such modest and light forces of the improvised group had not enough training and cohesion level that would correspond to combat conditions. And they could not defeat the enemy on their own near Ilovaisk, for the enemy had outmanned them.
Those were great, courageous, honest people, who had not managed to become the army yet. And they were too few to dictate an initiative to the enemy.
Judging by the enemy's resistance and troops' condition, it was obvious that the enemy was not going to hand over Ilovaisk. Quite the opposite - the enemy is as numerous as we are. Ilovaisk and vicinity had to be attacked by larger units. No one of the commanders wanted to hand over the positions - everybody realized Ilovaisk was an important point for liberation of Donetsk. But the assault was not possible without reserves.
I saw that our troops were persisting and not giving up the positions. But I also saw how risky their position was without reserves. Minimum of people and equipment, a large front line.
To sum up, I left with clear understanding of a position dead-end in Ilovaisk. I realized it could not last for long. They had to redeploy more forces and assault Ilovaisk. Or they had to create a main attack force and assault Mospyne. If they had no forces, then they should have retreated to Starobesheve, for the risks were very high.
The next day after my trip, on Aug. 23 at 2:30 p.m., D sector reported of Russian troops' assault.
In the morning of Aug. 24, I started to receive messages of Russian troops' movement to Starobesheve and Kuteinykove… 36 hours later, the road I had used to return was cut by Russian tanks. I was told about this by Captain Zavadskyi, who personally witnessed Russian units.
Many of those whom I met on Aug. 22 near Ilovaisk could not make it from the encirclement; many rested there for good.
I will never forget their smiles and faces… I remember them alive.
Aug. 22, 2014. Starobesheve. I am sitting at an IFV of the 28th brigade together with soldiers, speaking on the phone. Isa Munaiev is standing second to the right, Kalin Dimitrov is standing on the far left.
Yurii Soloviov (Foks). Grenadier combat medic of the Donbas battalion, who had saved many lives. The photo was taken at the 39-06 checkpoint near Ilovaisk on Aug. 22, 2014. Behind him, Vadym Savvon aka Balu is waving his hand. Yura was an extremely pleasant and positive person - he didn't make it out of the entrapment on Aug. 29, there is no information of him up to date.
First drones that were ordered by Hennadii Korban and his Fond Oborony Krainy from Ukrainian aviation engineers and passed to troops of the B sector. The launch on Aug. 22, 2014, 39-06 checkpoint.
The 17th tank brigade's tank with the crew of Junior Sergeant Serhii Isaiev, spotter soldier Ihor Ivanchenko, and tank driver soldier Yevhenii Martyniuk after the Ilovaisk battle. The tank's turret has been visibly hit by a rocket launcher. Aug. 22, 2014.
39-06 checkpoint in Ilovaisk. I am standing next to the B sector commander, General Khomchak. To the right, Colonel Oleksii Nozdrachov is passing by in a helmet. Now he is Command commander of the General Staff on military civil cooperation.
Thermal sights of the Fond Oborony Krainy that I brought to the Ilovaisk group on Aug. 22, 2014. Before that, only three thermal goggles were available near Ilovaisk.
A drone is conducting reconnaissance of the enemy's positions near Ilovaisk. After Russian troops surrounded the checkpoint, it was covered with intense artillery fire. The commanding machine together with the drone was destroyed by a direct hit.
Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET (see full article in Russian here)
Related materials: Episodes of the Russian-Ukrainian war