Silent advances reloaded: Ukraine loses another village East of Mariupol

In the recent days, fighting in Eastern Ukraine intensified once again with the Russian side, starting the next round of (previously-announced) escalation. 18 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and wounded over the last 24 hours without any political actor – neither in Europe or Kiev – calling Russia’s current “Minsk 2 bluff” and declaring the treaty as broken and consequences to be implemented immediately.

But this appeasing silence doesn’t only cover up dead Ukrainian troops and daily Minsk 2 violations by the Russian side (using violence in principal and weapons, forbidden by the signed treaty) It also conceals more territorial losses by the Ukrainian side. I documented and proved the loss of Kominternove, Pavlopil, Pyshchevyk, half of Shyrokyne and two bridgeheads on the Ukrainian side of the Serversky-Donets river, just shortly after the ink under the Minsk 2 treaty dried. But the Russian advance continues with one focus being Mariupol, on which the invasion army is creepingly closing in, meter by meter over the last two months.

The last position that fell under their control is the village of Vodyane, located 2 km to the N-E of Lebedyns’ke and 7 km East of the Mariupol city limits itself. The last solid confirmation that Vodyane was under Ukrainian forces’ control appeared at March 2 and March 7 when the Ukrainian army command of sector M reported small arms and mortar attacks on the village. While there were some more reports about fighting in the area, my map from March 21 raised first (slight) doubt about who controls the village, leaving the possibility that it turned into “no man’s land” between the two parties.

Then yesterday, April 13, final confirmation came from Regiment Azov that the village was not just what the Ukrainian military calls “located in a buffer zone”, but fell back under full Russian control and now serves as an artillery firing position for 122 mm pieces, most probably Russian army D-30 systems. The Azov tank commander also said, Ukrainian forces had to attack Russian positions in the village with heavy weapons to silence the artillery fire for the moment. The “Before and After” map below show the situation as it looked before the confirmation of the loss and now, based on an informed estimate and the inclusion of all available sources.

before after

The severeness of the territorial situation becomes even more obvious / frightening, when comparing what Regiment Azov and other Ukrainian forces recaptured from the Russian occupation army in early February and what is left of these gains now after the fall of Vodyane.

mariupol 14.4.

Map source: http://slovoidilo.ua/ Own marks and insertion of Vodyane village

As it can be seen in the map, the buffer zone, Ukrainian forces created in their 3-day blitz in February to safeguard Mariupol is almost nonexistent by now. All territorial losses appeared after the Minsk 2 treaty was signed by all involved parties and are downplayed by the Western/Ukrainian side to “further deescalate the situation”. In point of fact, the opposite is the case. It remains to be seen how the situation in the last two Ukrainian strongholds in the area, Lebedyns’ke and Shyrokyne, develops over the coming weeks and months. However the Russian intention to get back into striking distance of Mariupol seems clear as well as realizable as long as Ukraine and the west hushes up the seriousness of the situation there and along the entire front.

Advertisements

Revealed: Ukraine silently surrenders more territory under the Minsk 2 agreement

Lost territory after Minsk 2

During the first days of the Minsk 2 ceasefire deal, Ukrainian forces lost some 70% of the recently regained territory east of Mariupol. However, these losses were not that dramatic as Russian forces occupied the land over the previous 5 months at that time and forces of Regiment Azov managed to hold some of the soil to establish a new line of defense east of the coastal hub of Mariupol. Ukraine also lost the city of Debaltseve plus dozens of surrounding towns and villages after the 2nd Minsk document was signed – enough reason to nullify the entire fake treaty by the way. But all this happened during the first week of the signed “ceasefire and peace deal”, when emotions and battlefield actions still ran high. Also the strategic value of all losses during that week were manageable, given the fact that Debaltseve was mostly encircled at this time anyway and the focus in the south lies on Mariupol and not villages like Pavlopil or Kominternove.

Repetition of mistakes 

At the same time, the events that took place during the last 5 days around the strategically important north eastern frontline town of Stanytsia Luhanska must be called “dramatic” and are mostly comparable to what happened during the Minsk 1 “ceasefire” deal around the new terminal of Donetsk airport. Russian forces used the time to close in on the terminal, occupying places just 50 meters away and laid ground for their offensive in January, which finally reached its goal to entirely take the strategic and symbolic airport.

Where is Stanytsia Luhanska located and why is it so important?

Stanytsia Luhanska is a former 12.000 inhabitants town which is located almost on the North Eastern very end of the Ukrainian-Russian front in the Donbas region. It’s fall would not only mean another settlement falling under Russian control, but the emergence of a strong Russian bridgehead beyond the Minsk 2 demarcation line river “Seversky Donets” and an extension of the direct Russian-Russian-occupied border inside Ukraine and thus the possibility for Russian troops to bring more reinforcements directly from Russia to the front inside Ukraine and push more effectively towards northern Luhansk region.

Unbenannt

Until now, the town and its surrounding villages were in the comfortable situation of being located just north of the frontline-river Seversky Donets, which as a natural barrier stopped the Russian advance back in August 2014 and was – also therefore – so far defended with all necessary means by the Ukrainian army and its volunteer allies. This changed after the Minsk 2 agreement.

Futile trust in the Russian side

Ukrainian leaders – once again – were shortsighted and naive enough to pull back their forces from the river, relying on the Russian adherence to the Minsk agreement. Admittedly: Crossing bridges over a RIVER, defined as a common border, is the most flagrant and visible violation of a peace treaty imaginable and there can be some confidence, no halfway reliable partner – even enemy – would violate an agreement in such blatant way, if he wants to be taken by his word in ANY future negotiations. However, the Ukrainian side once again seems to have forgotten who we are talking about, namely the Russian expansionist regime under its ruthless leadership.

Not even 5 weeks after signing the Minsk 2 treaty, the Russian invasion command in Moscow decided to ignore the agreed on demarcation line and cross the Seversky Donets river at two points, not just to control strategically important bridgeheads for now, but also to have a springboard for their – surely already planned – attack on the town and wider northern Luhansk region in the coming months.

Losing the first bridgehead

As a logic consequence (of their “not-before-Kiev” satisfied territorial aspirations in neighboring Ukraine), Russian forces crossed the – unguarded – railway bridge west of Stanytsia Luhanska on March 16, establishing a well-fortified bridgehead on the eastern riverside, some 1100 meters from the town itself. Ukrainian forces realized the crossing of the river, but were – “in accordance with the Minsk agreement” – not allowed to attack the Russian corps and re-establish the agreed-on Minsk demarcation line. Instead, they “went to the militants and asked them to return to their side of the river”, which must be described as beyond naivete. While the talks attempt and the threat to recapture the area by force was first announced by the governor of Luhansk region, these aspects were later removed from the official news release, likely b/c the leadership in Kiev ordered a total silence and no reaction on the events.

railway bridge

No military response – not even an official complaint to the signers of the Minsk 2 deal or the OSCE – happened and the newly established line of contact on the wrong side of the river was simply pretended to never have happened in Ukrainian policy and media announcements since then.

Losing the second bridgehead

Three days later on March 19, news of a battle at another bridge, south of Stanytsia Luhanska emerged, with the official statement saying the bridge was “completely destroyed” by a large explosion, indicating this explosion was triggered to prevent the repetition of the March 16 events (described above), some kilometers to the north west.

However on the next day, March 20, Russian TV accompanied a (pro-)Russian fighter walked over the bridge, not only showing, Ukrainian forces had abandoned their side of the river and there were no defenders left, but also making it possible to geolocate the exact cut of the bridge which is not – as claimed by the Ukrainian side – over the water, but well into the Ukrainian-controlled side of the river and thus not stopping a technically advanced enemy force at all.

bridge cut

Final conclusions on the situation could be drawn today, when Ukraine’s Channel 5 sent a  camera team to the region, proving that the incredible had happened. The Ukrainian army completely withdrew from near the river bridge south of the town and “Luhansk People’s Republic” / Russian forces had established yet another bridgehead on the northern bank of the river,now controlling two of the four bridges, connecting occupied Luhansk with the still-free part in the area.

2nd bridgehead

Further geolocated Ukrainian TV footage showed that badly equipped and low-numbering Ukrainian forces withdrew some 1100 meters from the newly established Russian bridgehead, just as witnessed at the western railway bridge crossing.

Strategic consequences

Summarizing the strategic situation in the area reveals a gloomy outlook. There are now two Russian bridgeheads on the northern / eastern / Ukrainian side of the river, which saved the Ukrainian military of being overrun since more than 7 months. For no understandable reason, the Ukrainian military and political leadership decided to give up its largest strategic advance on the front, allowing the already superior invasion army to build springboards to Stanytsia Luhanska and thus nearby Shchaystya  as well as Novoaidar little more north.

2 bridgeheads

While the southern bridgehead can be used to bring in infantry troops (at least until the car bridge is repaired), the western occupied railway bridge can be used to send heavy weapons like tanks over the river. Beside those obvious advantages, the Ukrainian side also bargained away the possibility to monitor the river itself, checking for pontoon bridges to be established by Russian army sappers (as seen before). The losses themselves and no military attempts to regain the two lost positions must be called absolutely irresponsible from a military as well as political point of view. Beside the dramatic change of the military initial situation on the ground, it remains once again a riddle, if the Ukrainian political and military leadership is deliberately suicidal and actively trying to put more of its soil under Russian control or completely incompetent, making exactly those tactical errors (again and again) that worsen its situation in the gravest possible direction.

OSCE “at work”

Last but not least, today’s footage by Ukrainian Channel 5 again showed the uselessness of the current OSCE mission to Eastern Ukraine. The TV team approached the newly established Russian ( “LNR”) checkpoint, which was obviously on the wrong side of the Minsk 2 – fixed demarcation line, together with at least one OSCE monitors jeep. When the OSCE monitors saw what happened from their car (from almost 500 meters away), they decided to turn around and not check for further details or – how odd would this be?! – ask the Russian forces to stick to the Minsk 2 ceasefire and demarcation line agreement and return to their side of the river.

osce

In the end, nobody seems to be really unhappy with the very recent Russian advances over the Seversky Donets and thus over the agreed on Minsk 2 demarcation line. Not the Russian side, not the Ukrainian side and not the neutral monitors. … Which is bound to end in disaster.

Assessment of Russia’s next military moves in Ukraine after the fall of Debaltseve

Early February 18, thousands of Ukrainian troops began withdrawing – or rather fleeing – the (almost) pocket of Debaltseve after the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko kept them deliberately inside the trap “to show the whole world the face of the bandits-separatists backed by Russia” after the Minsk “agreement”, knowing this would cost more lives of his best troops, fighting in the area since Christmas last year.

Despite Russian invaders trying to kill as many as possible of the fleeing troops, attacking MEDEVAC points with all kinds of heavy weapons, most of the Ukrainian soldiers managed to leave the area alive, even taking some 90% of their equipment with them. However, up 100 troops were killed during the two days of withdrawal, almost 200 injured and around 120 captured by the invasion army. Two days later on February 20, not only the entire city was under Russian control, but also 420 km² of Ukrainian land (a flagrant violation of the Minsk 1-agreed on demarcation line) were lost due to the overwhelming Russian army involvement as well as the incompetence and unwillingness to counterattack by the Ukrainian side.

At the end of the day, Russia achieved what Putin had already predicted after the end of the Minsk 2 talks on February 12, namely to close the gap between its two puppet regimes in eastern Ukraine and to gain total control over all train and car traffic in occupied Donbas. After that, many western politicians and media analysts were hopeful that now, Putin’s aspirations in Ukraine would be satisfied and there would be no more need for further conflict. … Way off the mark!

As both sides stopped shooting around Debaltseve, the fire reappeared and re-intensified at the (still) Ukrainian-held, well-known hot spots around Donetsk, namely Avdeevka to its north and the frontline villages around the now Russian-held airport, namely Vodyane, Opytne and Pisky.

map 20.02.

It seems obviously that further advance in these areas remains an imperative for the Russian invasion command as its largest occupied city (Donetsk) is still a “border town” and close to several nearby Ukrainian army strongholds, a situation it even could not accept if it had no further plans to advance westward during the next months.

At the same time, Russia’s thirst for more land is most visible in the south where the largest free city in the Donetsk region Mariupol remains a red rag for the aggressor. Hence, it is not surprising that multiple reports indicate strong reinforcements arrived close to the freshly retaken areas east of the city from Taganrog in Russia, preparing the next large-scale offensive. The expected push would not just be to retake the recently liberated small towns of Shyrokyne, Berdyans’ke, Lebedyns’ke, Pavlopil and Kominternove but to finally gain control over Mariupol itself, paving the way for the needed push westwards along the Azov Sea, via Melitopol towards the Ukrainian border with Crimea.

mariupol

Around February 20, the first of these Russian troops arrived to the coastal settlement of Shyrokyne, where tanks and infantry forces, backed by mortar batteries intensified their assault on the Ukrainian-held line of defense west of the town, leading to first casualties. On February 22, visual reports of new artillery rounds, releasing multiple fragmented shells appeared, leaving no doubt Russia was serious as ever to regain the recently lost 100 km² east of Mariupol and more.

While the above assessment is based on recent fighting activity on the ground, there is more reason to believe in a resurgence of fighting in southern and western occupied Donetsk oblast. Geolocated footage of Russian army troops, involved in the fighting for Debaltseve until last week indicates those forces are not – as widely hoped for in Europe – going back to Russia after their mission in Ukraine would be accomplished, but move to potential new battlefields in the two areas described above. The most memorable formation, followed via first-hand footage, involves the high tech Russian army-only T-72B3 tanks, with many more armored vehicles crucial to last week’s victory in central Donbas and probably needed in any meaningful future assault.

The Russian main force with many T-72B1 and B3 attacked Debaltseve from Zorynsk after passing Luhansk from Russia earlier this month. This column with not less than 30 armored vehicles was filmed at several geographical points by locals moving to the south west after the battle of Debaltseve ended, indicating its redeployment to the wider Donetsk area or further south, to east of Mariupol

tank column

In conclusion, it is Russia and the Supreme Commander of the invasion Vladimir Putin only who benefit from the latest Minsk agreement.

The necessary redeployment of hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces to new fighting theaters while ruling when and when not to show these movements to the OSCE, enables them to keep up the picture of “withdrawal in accordance with the Minsk 2 deal” while getting in a position to once again strike hard with all their available man- and firepower

The naive and dangerous Ukrainian 100% adherence of the agreed on ceasefire gives Russia the possibility to once again thin out certain frontline sectors (e.g. Pervomaisk and Kirovs’k for now) while not being under any threat that these open flanks will be used by the Ukrainian army for diversionary attacks. Hence, it is again Russia which will – just like after Minsk 1 – decide when and where to strike and advance, using all its military potential in eastern Ukraine at one or two chosen points while the Ukrainian side keeps stretched thin all along the almost 400 km long front.

As we have seen in January when Donetsk airport fell and February when Debaltseve and some 20 other towns and villages fell, the Russian side does not need an excuse to escalate its efforts for getting hold of a certain area, nonetheless claiming, it is obeying the agreed on ceasefire(s). It is most of the European media that feels obligated to report Kremlin-claimed “Ukrainian offensives” (like we have seen it for weeks in January) until admitting, it is Russia and its proxies, which advance and take more territory. And it is the Ukrainian government that feels obligated to not use heavy arms and counterattack in a meaningful way until it is already too late and another strip of important land miraculously turns “strategically unimportant” and can be given up to the Russian side and its puppet republics.

The aftermath of Minsk 2 seems to become a copy of the aftermath of Minsk 1 with the tiny difference that this time, Russia does not feel the necessity anymore to refrain from offensive military operations as it did for several months after the September 2014 agreement. The Ukrainian and European answers to its continuous and increasing aggression turned out to be mainly empty threats and too weak to frighten it anymore, leaving a gloomy prospect for the months and years to come.

The storm before the silence? Russian forces escalate their offensives in eastern Ukraine

8 hours before the agreed on ceasefire was thought to come in effect, not only the fighting on the ground escalates but Russian and “DNR / LC” representatives indicate, they will not feel bound to the deal anyways. This development once again proves western hopes for the Russian president Putin coming to his senses were unfounded and will be dissatisfied another time. Two hot spots of intense fighting along the line of contact in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions extract, with the de facto closed pocket of Debaltseve in the north and an area of some 120 km east of the coastal town Mariupol in the south.

In Debaltseve, all Ukrainian efforts to reopen the M03 between Artemivsk and Debaltseve failed since the de facto closure of the pocket 5 days ago (article), trapping an unknown number of Ukrainian troops which might be between 1500 and 5000 according to different reliable sources. Instead, Russian forces were able to widen their control over the strategically important villages of Lohvynove to the north east, controlling half the way to Luhans’ke which is the last point of Ukrainian safe control by now. Fresh Russian army special forces as well as thousands of mercenaries from all over Russian and some local anti-Ukrainian fighters flow in from Horlivka and the areas to the south east with the resupply / reinforcement line reaching directly to Rostov oblast in Russia. Coming via Vuhlehirsk and Kalynivka, they reinforce the frontline with a merely never ending volume of men and heavy weapons. Hence, all Ukrainian army attempts to reopen the M03 failed (with a lot of Ukrainian armor being destroyed) and the only – extremely dangerous and probably not usable at all – road leading into and out of Debaltseve extends some 2 km to the north of the M03 and through the village of Nyzhnje Lozove, reported to be still held by Ukrainian forces.

At the same time, troops loyal to the invasion command in Moscow, intensify their attacks on Debaltseve itself, approaching it mainly along the railway line leading to Zorynsk in the north east. They have come 3 km close to Debaltseve itself yesterday but probably further advanced overnight and stand at the Ukrainian fortifications in Novohryhorivka and the northern suburbs of the city itself by now. In Chornukhyne 3 km east of Debaltseve, Ukrainian and Russian troops fight fierce battles inside the town in what can be described as urban warfare. After the fall of the entire Ukrainian south eastern front in Mius, Ridkodub and Nikishyne, Russian forces could free more troops to take part in the assault coming from the south. The below map summarizes all important territorial and fighting-related developments around the pocket of Debaltseve, showing the desperate and probably only deteriorating situation for the Ukrainian army – in – and outside the besieged area. 

Debaltseve

Over the next hours the situation is likely to further escalate with Russian commanders saying, the 14th of February (today) would be the decisive day for the battle. However, hopes that “Ukrainian troops only have to hold out until midnight” have to be given up as Russian commanders and their local puppets first said, every attempt to reopen the pocket would be regarded as a breach of the Minsk 2 agreement and met with lethal force and later made a mockery of the entire Minsk talks, saying the battle around Debaltseve was not part of the agreement reached (The “DNR’s president” Zakharchenko) and to end the fighting around the town tonight would be a “misinterpretation by western signers” (Russia’s Lavrov via Interfax). Looking at these statements and the developments on the ground, it becomes crystal clear that Putin never planned to give up conquering the city (now) and a lot of land of Ukraine later.

The second battlefield extends east of the southern city of Mariupol, where the Ukrainian National Guard Regiment Azov launched a surprise offensive several days ago, realizing the fact that most Russian invaders are active in other parts of the occupied territory. During their initial assault they managed to push weak Russian forces back around 12 km from Mariupol (article), taking a number of villages and towns along the two main roads leading to Novoazovsk and nearby Russia. However, reports of strong Russian army formations crossing the border from nearby Taganrog turned out to be true and the Russian counteroffensive took full pace this morning with virtually all cities along the front being shelled with heavy weapons leading to the death and (mostly) injury of dozens of Azov fighters as well as civilians along the line of contact. While the Ukrainian National Guard fighters yesterday stood close to the Russian stronghold of Sakhanka (another source tweet), they seemingly had to withdraw to Shyrokyne overnight where they arranged a line of defense under heavy bombardment, successfully taking out several Russian army tanks with light anti tank weapons namely ATGM. The below map gives an impression about the situation according to all reliable sources as it looked like around noon February 14.

Mariupol

It can be excluded that Russia will accept the recent loss of 120 km² in this area. It wants to remain its eyes directly on Mariupol, the largest city remaining under Ukrainian control in occupied Donbas. To achieve that goal, it will not stop the offensive until it regains the line of contact which was in place until last Monday. Doing so and possibly facing heavy resistance from well-equipped Ukrainian forces, it remains to be seen if it will stop east of Mariupol or try to go further this time.

Looking at these developments over the last 24 hours and having in mind that Russian medium range rocket artillery repeatedly bombed cities like Kramatorsk and Artemivsk, far west to the current front, are we indeed facing “the storm before the silence”, meaning a ceasefire starting after all the current fighting in less than 8 hours?

Probably not. Russia isn’t finished with its territorial aspirations in neighboring Ukraine yet. It needs to control a much wider area to secure its strongholds in the east and push Ukrainian troops back from its “Republics’ capitals” of Donetsk and Luhansk (city). Furthermore a land bridge between occupied Crimea and the currently embattled territories of Ukraine is still needed to supply the southern Ukrainian peninsula with the goods it needs for a sustainable development. While this might not happen over the next weeks or months, latest statements (from 10 days before the ceasefire should start) by its puppets in Donetsk city have already set the course for the war to continue.

The “DNR’s president” / terrorist leader Zakharchenko made clear that if not the entire Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk (of which Russia only controls 40% so far) became independent under their leadership, they would expand the war as long as necessary to reach that goal. Keeping that in mind the chance of a real truce starting tonight, not to talk of heavy weapons being withdrawn from next Tuesday, stands close to zero.

Creating the pretext for a prolonged war – Russians launch massive missile attack on Luhansk

The leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and (logically!) Russia sat together for more than 12 hours on January 11 and 12 to discuss a ceasefire amid the ongoing Russian intervention in neighboring Ukraine. In the end, a “deal” was reached in which fighting should cease – not immediately – like Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko had wished for but after a period of more than 60 hours, precisely at midnight on Saturday night / Sunday morning. This “limited continuation” was asked for by the – not participating “rebels” and formulated by president Putin as one condition for his signature.

Despite the fact that every sane person could see, this demanded prolongation of the active fighting was to create further bloodshed among the Ukrainian troops and to gain more territory – mainly around Debaltseve – until Sunday morning, it took only another 12 hours until Russian invasion forces showed what else they could “achieve” in these 66 hours, namely to create a pretext for the impossibility of the start of a ceasefire by blaming Ukraine for “massacres among the civilian population”, which demand a cotinuation of their offesnives to “save Donbas citizens from nazis”, the known Russian narrative / fake absurdity, out there since 10 months.

At 18:08 local time (19:08 Moscow time which the fake “rebel republics” implemented in occupied Donbas), the Russian-based propanda website “Russian Spring” warned:

According to intelligence reports of the Militia, in order to disrupt the agreements reached in Minsk, the Ukrainian military plans a provocation with numerous victims among the civilian population at 20:00 [19:00 Kiev time] from the direction of Stanitsa Luhanska.

Source

warning

Statement in Russian (as it might disappear from the homepage)

Several Ukrainian-based pro-Russian VK social network sites repeated the warning during the next minutes in what seemed to be a twing of bad conscience amid the knowledge that civilians would be targeted and killed in just a short while.

warning2

warning via “Luhansk 24”

The official “rebel” reasoning that “militia intelligence agencies launched an operation called >Glasnost< to prevent imminent provocations” meanwhile can be almost precluded.

1st: It is not known that Russian spies infiltrated Ukrainian units on the frontline.A warning 1 hour prior a Grad attack is thus very unlikely.

2nd: It simply makes no sense that the Ukrainian site would be interested in a continuation of hostilities as (apart from the far south) it is either holding the line or losing ground since two months, struggling to cope with a suprior Russian invasion force.

3rd: While the Ukrainian army is widely presumed to hit back at Russian artillery and MLRS positions, no matter their proximity to residential buildings, there is no proven case, it ever started a MLRS attack with such brutality and disperion on a predominantly civilian city quarter.

At exactly 19:00 local time (20:00 Moscow / “LC” time”), a massive Grad attack was launched on the eastern quarters of Luhansk, having a radius of more than 2 km. Analysts (among them a source of mine) counted 60 impacts within 20 seconds across the area, meaning “one and a half” full BM-21 Grad missile systems were emptied on civilians in the city of Luhansk.

blasts

impact picture

The missiles did not only hit residential buildings to the north east of the camera position (there are 2 more worse quality videos of the attack) but also in the middle of a main road and electrical infrastructure leading to a total blackout in the area. The wide impact area and sheer quantity of missiles used shows, this attack was merely conducted to terrorize civilians especially against the backgrop that there are no known military targets in that area (different from other parts of Luhansk city). Only the fact that the missile attack happened at night led to a relatively small casualty number among civilians with 4 killed and 7 injured according to preliminary reports.

The obligatory geolocation and analysis of the attack prove the Russian invasion command kept all its promises about the heinous attack. (Graphic!) footage of the direct aftermath of the attack made it possible.

Step one: Identifying an impact location.

Geoloc

Step two: Determining the impact angle of the used Grad missiles.

geoloc2

Step three: Taking into account missile range and territorial possessions around the attacked area.

map2

The analysis shows, not only the Russian forecast of the time but also of the direction of the attack was correct. The attack happened from direction of Stanitsa Luhanska and certainly within the possible 3 km “window of opportunity” inside occupied Zhovtnevyi district.

To complete the Russian cynicism on the attack and once again reflecting a minimum of regret by the local – NOT by the Russian – representatives of the occupation, they posted a statement one hour after the attack, virtuously shouting out:

After all, we have warned that after 20:00 the firing will start !!!!

Source

claim

In conclusion, this is another inhuman act by the Russian invasion command to incite the local population, blame the Ukrainian army for IT’S crimes and create another pretext to prolong the war, an approach, barely surpassable in its malice.

Geolocation and analysis of today’s battles inside Vuhlehirs’k

Most recent footage of two Russian camera teams provide unique and revealing insights into the current ground property situation and the course of the battles in Vuhlehirs’k. To understand the latest development in the battle for the town and give an (as most as possible) objective picture of it, I geolocated all available footage piece by piece, gaining insightful and partly surprising results.

Snipers at the southern gas station

The first footage is mainly located in the very south west of the city, only 100 meters from the town’s entrance sign along the M04 / E50. The camera team met the Russian troops at the N-W former Ukrainian army checkpoint. The next scene shows them approaching the M04 from the east, coming from a small street and not the main road, which would have been the fastest way. This way seems not to be safe to walk. They are crossing the M04, running and obviously afraid of snipers in the area.

fuel1

Only when seeking shelter in some of the buildings nearby, they (the Russian media guys and soldiers) relax. As soon as they enter an open area with a wider sight line, they almost panic, being sure, there are Ukrainian forces in the area. Another scene shows them returning to the east of the city, starting on the other side of the read, this time with the gas station in the background. There is not much shooting audible, but the situation seems tense nonetheless. During the video, a former Ukrainian position as well as one to two dead Ukrainian troops can be seen but also seemingly disabled Russian vehicles, namely a BMP-1 and an Ural truck.

fuel2

I mapped the entire ways, the footage shows with the “outbound trip” marked in read and the way back marked in orange.

fuel map

Battle for the apartment block

Another Russian state TV team is filming in the geographical center of the city, being embedded with Russian troops, storming and Ukrainian army observation and sniper position in the highest residential building of the town, situated among the only agglomeration of large apartment blocks in Vuhehirs’k. The first scene is a brutal as unsurprising with a RF armed forces T-72 firing shell after shell into the eleven-story building, making sure, Ukrainian fire from the building ceases before the further advance.high rise 1

Shortly after, Russian ground forces advance towards the apartment block from the north, using classic motorized infantry cover tactics, moving within the protection of a BTR-80.

high rise 2

After arriving between the high rise buildings, they enter the buildings searching for surviving Ukrainian troops. There is no shooting audible, so those troops might have fled or be dead by then. Finally the officer of the Russians is interviewed. I marked this picture as it was my starting point of geolocation (comparing it with a picture from the same house on Google Earth).

high rise 3

The final map geolocates the entire path the Russian troops took to approach and storm the apartment complex, revealing further insights into the who owns what across the city.

map high rise

What does all this tell about the current situation in Vuhlehirs’k?

Mainly that the tactical situation is much more complicated than previously thought. The Ukrainian claim that they recaptured – or rather: re-infiltrated – many areas of the town after January 30 seems to be accurate and the Russian narrative of “full control” proven wrong (by their own footage). At the same time it can be once again concluded that Ukrainian troops in Vuhlehirs’k are severely outgunned, outnumbered and generally in a rather defensive position plus losing territory – once again, one might say. While Russian forces use BMP, BTR and main battle tanks inside the city limits, Ukrainian troops seem to rely on light vehicles (as can be seen in the footage) and light infantry units.

Finally the above and previously analyzed footage from earlier today allows to create a very current and much more founded map of today’s ground property situation among the involved parties. It shows that the situation is more complicated than 4 days ago when Russian forces controlled 90%-100% (also admitted by Ukrainian govt sources) and Ukrainian reinforcements have indeed entered almost all parts of the city. However, it also shows, they are under serious threat of losing it once again. Also the fact that Ukrainian troops seem to be mainly located in the center and southern part without heavy weapons or a stable resupply line contains the great threat of another encirclement by getting cut off from the main force in Debaltseve to the east and Artemovsk to the north west… The battle for the town continues.

map 3.2.2015

Estimate map for 03.02.2015, based on analyzed footage

Footage-based analysis of the current developments in Vuhlehirs’k

Over the last four days (since my article on the Russian storm on Vuhlehirs’k), the situation around the current battle focus town of Vuhlehirs’k was hazy to say the least with Russian forces claiming, they controlled all of it and advanced further to the north and north east while the Ukrainian army said, they dealt devastating blows to the “terrorists and Russian Federation troops” in the area. Just today, the Ukrainian army’s spokesperson Lysenko talked of a “mass death” of militants, after they “came out of the settlement” as they were “covered” with artillery and missiles – inside. However, he also said, the surviving troops were “chased” back in by their commanders to hold it. Meanwhile, what he did not say (during the last 4 daily pressers) was whether Ukrainian troops managed to re-occupy certain or all areas of the town or if all “Ukrainian counterattack” is just a matter of extreme artillery and MLRS fire from outside.

Such extremely contrary statements by both sides involved made it very difficult  to assess the situation from a fact-based perspective, not relying on claims, but veritable pictures from the ground. These pictures were not available since January 30 from neither side, making an objective evaluation of the situation virtually impossible. This changed today.

Evacuation of civilians

In the early morning of February 3, 2015, Russian media claimed, there was a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Vuhlehirs’k between the two involved parties, giving hundreds of civilians the opportunity to flee “to the safety of the DNR and Makeevka”. The Russian narrative was that all civilians in the town were “terrorized” by the Ukrainian shelling and willing to flee to Russian-held areas. Shortly after these statements, first footage appeared of what indeed seemed to be civilians lining up at the (geolocated) western railroad crossing of Vuhlehirs’k and being transported into Russian-held territory by trucks and busses. Shortly after another Russian news station reported with footage from the same area.

evacuation

evacuation of civilians

There are two possible conclusions to be drawn from the footage concerning the situation in and around the city.

It seems generally unlikely that Ukrainian civilians would cross the frontline to get evacuated – even in case of a local ceasefire for several hours. Hence, it is more likely that civilians are willing to get evacuated by the respective side controlling the territory they live in. Therefore one conclusion would be that the Russian side indeed controls much of the town as several hundred civilians via their exit points of it. Not because they would be anymore aligned to their side, but simply because it is the safest way to leave the death zone. This would support the Russian narrative of wide control over the area.

At a second glance, something seems odd about the footage and queuing people especially as both Russian channels use exactly the same way to follow the line from its end to its start and the ready-to-go buses and Ural truck. If these people really would come from the main inhabited areas of Vuhlehirsk, they would line up from the east or south east, where two larger streets lead into the city. Instead, they seem to have come from the north, a direction where almost no residential buildings are situated, but the frontline between Russian and Ukrainian positions, thus two reasons speaking against taking that way to seek safety. The below map visualizes this setting.

fake

the “evacuation” setting

This raises the question, if all of those refugees really come from the city and left it via the most dangerous way and from a direction where only few people live. Or if some of them were only moved their for the sake of some positive PR for the involved Russian army. Another possible reason is that such a “humanitarian gesture” could be a good pretext to regroup or hide own repositioning efforts in the area. In the footage, some 300-500 civilians can be seen lining up and several civilian busses as well as military truck are waiting to pick them up. This could mean that only a smaller part of the formerly 7000 inhabitants counting town is under control of the Russian army, however there is no conclusive evidence for that in the footage. In conclusion, the shown “evacuation” footage leaves some questions open while indeed showing, Russian forces control the western entrance of Vuhlehirs’k and there was no fighting before noon today. (parapgraph updated due to new footage and information) Also see Update at the end of the text.

Scenes from inside the city

Beside the scenes from the far west of Vuhlehirs’k Russian media footage included more pictures, giving a deeper insight into the situation. There is one video, summarizing all that footage, which will be analyzed in the following paragraph. The first scene shows a T-64BV with its turret blown off by what must have been caused by a major impact. Another destroyed truck can be seen as well in the picture. The wreckages can be geolocated some 100 meters to the N-W of the main intersection of the town.

T-72

destroyed T-72 close to the center

Two more geolocated images show the central intersection, which was already the scene of fighting on January 29.

center

the center of Vuhlehirs’k

From this footage, several conclusions can be drawn about who controls what in the town. At first, the Ukrainian claim that “all militants were killed and destroyed” in Vuhlheris’k can be falsified. Russian forces control at least the western and central part of the embattled city as the footage shows. Moreover, no military vehicles or defensive positions can be seen which means the actual frontline should be further to the east, leaving the center with the M04 behind the front and in Russian hands. However, it is also telling that Russian TV crews could not take any footage at the formerly held train station or the northern end of the town with its distinctive church (as shown several days ago). The below map shows what can be regarded as surely under Russian control in the city, taking into account the above stated reasons (e.g. safe to record by Russian TV, safe roads to get their plus the lack of real frontline positions).

who controls what

overall situation map

Conclusions

So what can be concluded from the available footage?

1. There is still no proof that Ukrainian forces control any territory in or around Vuhlehirs’k. Due to the lack of available footage, recorded by the Ukrainian army or embedded media branches, the claim that “heavy fighting is ongoing across the city” can not be verified, however also not totally falsified. It is possible that Ukrainian units are still fighting inside the town, but such claim should be backed by at least one datable and geolocationable picture or video.

2. Russian forces hold major parts of the city. The analyzed footage shows that Russian forces still have a foothold in Vuhlehirs’k. Despite being hit hard by Ukrainian artillery and missiles, their presence in the west, center and thus surely also in the south can be verified.

3. It remains unclear, how much exactly the Russian army controls of the town. As stated above, the observed footage lacks the final proof, Russian forces control the entire regarded town, despite several indication is there, this might be the case. However, the situation at the real frontline seems to be regarded as too dangerous to film for Russian media or there are other reasons, why the Russian leadership is not willing to publish footage from the northern and eastern parts of Vuhlehirs’k.

Last but not least, two more images from the latest footage should be considered. The first shows what appears to be a unexploded BM-27 missile, stuck in the mud, just beside the destroyed T-64. It is not unreasonable to infer that the Ukrainian army is shelling the Russian-held center (and possibly other parts) of the town Vuhlerhirs’k with 220 mm calibre missiles from the type “Uragan” despite the certain possibility that civilians may still be residing inside the town. Footage of such an attack could be seen in the January 29 footage and the fact that the Ukrainian army is “covering” the Russian invaders in the town is emphasized almost daily by the Ukrainian army command.

BM-27

Unexploded BM-27

The second picture is another piece of evidence that no one but the regular Russian army is leading the fight vs. Ukrainian forces across Donbas. It shows the hit wreckage of a Russian army Ural-4320 truck, still bearing the typical unit identification mark at the vehicle’s bumper. This is another reminder to European media that no “separatists” are battling the Ukrainian army, but the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Also and especially at the battlefield of Vuhlehirs’k.

ural 4320

Russian army Ural-4320

Please support my work, producing independent and fact-based analysis on the situation in Ukraine with 1$ per month or more. Click here.

Update

Pictures that appeared after this article was published indeed show, queuing civilians were likely asked to do so, facing the pick-up point from the north and the rail tracks. However it appears they originally came from the south east, so from the city itself. They were probably asked to take this “odd” 400 meter detour to keep the main road clear for other refugee cars and military vehicles passing by. This means that the chance, some of them were only “moved there” for any purpose is much less likely. – New facts bring new insights. That’s the way it is.

detour

Route of fleeing civilians towards the buses and trucks