Against the backdrop of an – again – escalating war in Eastern Ukraine, it was revealed today that Russia extended its “support for the rebels” or rather: supply of its troops by a further mean, namely by a direct train connection from Russia into occupied Donbas.
Given the fact that the Russian invasion command did everything to conquer the important railway knot of Debaltseve and seeing a steady escalation in Russian-led violence in Eastern Ukraine over the last weeks, the assumption that full-scale hostilities will resume until summer seems rather obvious. Thus, it is no surprise that the Russian army needs to create a strong and steady supply line to its forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Rumors that such line was established popped up here and there over the last 2 months, however, solid evidence was missing so far.
This changed today, when the Ukrainian Twitter user “Lenz Gottfried” uploaded a picture of two Russian “hybrid” troops, hugging at an undosclosed train station in front of what seemed to be a (state-owned) Russian Railways cargo train, packed with ammunition boxes.
According to the uploader of the picture, the boxes contain ammunition for the «Акации» / 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled artillery, however this type of artillery system is not known to have been deployed by Russian forces so far. While this description might be a (rather unimportant) mistake given the clearly military cargo inside the wagons, the exact geolocation of the picture inside Ukraine was crucial to verify the claim that the scene played inside Ukraine. This process needed no less than 2 hours, in which I matched more than 50 train stations inside occupied Donbas with the picture, searching for a facility with the properties and objects that can be seen in it. Finally, I found the right one and was able to confirm that despite the small ammunition type error, the scene indeed shows what it claims, namely a direct Russian army supply line into Ukraine’s Luhansk region via railway, more precisely the town of Sukhodil’s‘k, around 10 km from the border with Russia. The below picture shows the analytical chart that verifies the location as well as the way, the train probably took to get there.
As it can be seen in the chart above, the train likely entered via the Russian-occupied Izvaryne border crossing, which (despite claims to have done so) the Ukrainian army was never able to reach since the start of the invasion in April last year. Thus, it served as a safe passage for Russian troops and equipment, crossing it in vehicles as well as the notorious “humanitarian aid convoys”, since then. However its use for the illegal entry (aka invasion) of Russian army-organized and -stuffed trains hasn’t been proven so far. This changed today.
Where does all this lead?
The emergence of the train in Sukhodil’s’k, 18 kilometers of tracks into Ukraine, is – for sure – only the tip of the iceberg. At this very location, no Russian arms are needed right now and the town only serves as a transit point for that kind of carriage. Instead the tracks, lead towards the front near Stanytsia Luhanska in the north and practically endlessly towards the west, where fighting increased over the last 4 weeks. More such deadly cargo, transported by train, should and will be found along these axes, then however, probably not in Russian Railways wagons anymore.
Finally, the first appearance of Russian state trains, filled with ammunition, inside Ukraine, is another stark reminder that this conflict is far from over. Instead the Russian side takes a – well-documented – deep breath to come back with all its “hybrid” force and take more territory inside Ukraine; probably before this summer. The usage of Russian trains to facilitate that carefully and long-planned move is just another logical step in Russia’s escalation ladder and thanks to the “media friendly” invasion troops, its revelation was just a question of time.