Ukraine Day 1041: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
One Ukrainian soldiers was injured in the last 24 hours. Ukrainian forces have now occupied Novoluganskoye. Ukrainians recount the aftermath of the Svetlodarsk battles.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Heavy Fighting Preceding Declared Ceasefire
Late last night on December 23rd, the ATO reported on its Facebook page a total of 50 attacks, Unian reported.
On the Donetsk line, there was firing from 152-mm near Krasny Pakhar and Severnoye; 122-mm artillery, mortar-launchers, an armed BMP and heavy machine guns were used near Luganskoye and at the Svetlodarsk Buldge. Avdeyevka, Novoluganskoye, Yuzhnoye, Novoselovka Vtoraya, Verkhnyetoretskoye were fired on with 120-mm and 82-mm artillery and grenade-launchers. A 152-mm artillery was used on Mironovka.
Three Attacks on Ukrainian Positions at Svetlodarsk Bulge
Translation: Today militants thrice stormed the soldiers at the Svetlodarsk Bulge.
On the Luganskoye line, there were attacks with BM-21 Grad missiles on Sizoye; 152-mm artillery on Troitskoye and Novozvanovka. Troitskoye, Novoaleksandrovka, Zhyoltoye, Lobachevo and Stanitsa Luganskaya were attacked with 120-mm mortars, grenade-launchers and firearms.
At 20:30, the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] reported on its Facebook page that while it was strictly adhering to the agreed holiday cease-fire, the Russia-backed forces attacked 28 times with grenade-launchers, heavy machine guns, firearms and in at least one case 120-mm artillery near Talakovka. One Ukrainian soldier was wounded as a result.
While Ukrainian Armed Forces have adhered to the ceasefire, given the provocative attaks, the AUF will be forced to respond in kind to prevent loss of personnel.
Unian reported that militants also fired on the town of Toretsk, damaging two homes.
The self-styled “defense minister” of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed in his briefing for December 24 that Ukrainian forces had fired “3,002 times” on DNR positions. The DNR counts each round, not each attack, by contrast with Ukrainian reports.
Basurin said Grad missiles, 152-mm, 122-mm, 120-mm, 80-mm artillery and mortar-launchers were used as well as tank rounds and other weapons. The towns said to be fired on by Ukrainian troops were those near Gorlovka (Zaytsevo, Shirokaya Balka, Zheleznaya Balka, Krasny Partizan, Mikhailovka, Ozeryanovka, Yasinovataya, Krutaya Balka, Vasilyevka, Spartak); Aleksandrovka and Trudovskiye near Donetsk and also to the south Kominternovo, Leninskoye, Sakhanka and Bezymyonnoye. Six homes were said to be damaged in Yasinovataya and five villages were cut off from electricity in Novoazovskky District.
Aftermath of Svetlodarsk Bulge Battles
The ATO reported today that Mikhail Kotelevsky, coordinator of a humanitarian group to evacuate wounded and dead at the Svetlodarsk Bulge said the group was fired on by militants as they attempted to remove the body of a fellow militant.
Civilians are assessing the damage to public buildings and homes.
Translation: Yesterday’s shelling…The Market #Svetlodarsk
Evidently, at least 10 soldiers were killed and and 2 wounded between December 18-23, as we reported. But reports of volunteers killed, who are not always included in official totals may mean the number is higher.
Reports that separatists have executed captured 3 Ukrainian troops have been challenged despite the provision by volunteer Miroslav Gai of photographic evidence. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has reported only one soldier as captured and has not announced any executions.
Translation: On the POWs of the guys from the UAF.
The account by Semen Kabakaev attached says three injured Ukrainian soldiers were captured, it was not clear by local separatists or Russian mercenaries. Negotiations to free them broke down. They were taken to Debaltsevo, tortured and mocked; two were murdered. Photos of the torturous deaths were sent to news outlets. A third was declared missing, then said to be held as a POW, then found with bullets to his head
Translation: A friend of Gyurz. Roman Yuryevich Radivilov, a Dyorgachev warrior, Right Sector, 54th Brigade. He died for us yesterday. #Svetlodarsk .
A pro-Russian member of Twitter commented on a picture of a Right Sector soldier killed, using a pejorative term for the group.
Translation: Svetlodarsk. Oil painting. A Krivosek [Wrong Sector] heads off to Bendery
As readers corrected her, she meant not Bendery, the town in Moldova, but Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian war hero and head of the anti-communist independence movement who is reviled by many Russians for his organization’s atrocities.
This soldier’s account refers to 28 wounded and calls the soldiers “Cyborgs,” the nick-name of those who defended the Donetsk Airport in 2015.
Translation: Andriy Shirokov, friend of Simyanin, volunteer from the 5th battalion Volunteer Ukrainian Corps, a Cyborg, sniper, soldier from the 54th OMBr [Separate Motorized Brigade], killed December 18 in battle.
The pro-Russian blogger Colonel Cassad has posted a number of videos made of Russian separatist fighters about the Svetlodarsk battles.
In an interview with Zhurnalistkaya Pravda, a young separatist fighter with the call sign “John” said on December 18, Ukrainian forces attacked the Russia-backed positions on the hills by the Svetlodarsk Bulge. A voice off-camera tells him not to divulge “war secrets”.
Translation: the strongholds at the Svetlodarsk Bulge. LA: ‘Pegged correctly. The last is the coordinates of the Abrikosovaya Rail Station.’
The hills are called Kikimora [House Spirit], Zvezda [Star] and Krest [Cross], and were originally held by the Russia-backed forces of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR). “John” said the positions were taken with great Ukrainian losses both in the battle on the hills and in mined fields around the area. He said while official counts of deaths were 20, “they should be doubled.” LNR fighters retaliated, cutting off UAF troops from the rest of their battalion.
He then recounted how the hills were taken back by LNR forces on December 19-20.
An account in the pro-Russian strana.ua purporting to be from an anonymous soldier from the 54th, which the news site said they corroborated with other sources in the 54th, describes the failed attempt to take the hills.
He said that the area had been a constant trial to Ukrainian forces as the separatist forces could use the elevations and surrounding forest cover to constantly shoot at them on a kilometer-long line; “the front line really does remind you of an inverted bulge in the direction of Svetlodarsk and the reservoirs”.
He described how they were able to take the hills but were unable to hold them because of the enemy’s heavy artillery; he believed the operation was poorly planned as the separatists’ artillery on the flanks was not taken into account. Then the Ukrainians were unable to fire on these positions because they couldn’t be sure that their own troops were still there trying to hold them. Ultimately, they had to abandon the positions they had scarcely won.
Ukrainian Forces Take Novoluganskoye Near Svetlodarsk Reservoir
When Ukrainian forces reported seizing back Novoluganskoye, there was some confusion and mockery on social media because the town was already technically under Ukrainian control.
A war reporter from the pro-Kremlin LifeNews wrote:
This blogger links to another post reporting Donbass Ukraine successfully liberated Novoluganskoye without losses, then readers express surprise because they thought the UAF already controlled this suburb of Svetlodarsk.
Censor.net journalist Yury Butusov explains the contradiction in a report on his Facebook page of how divisions of the UAF 46th Battalion took the village of Novoluganskoye north of Gorlovka, near the Svetlodarsk reservoir. He discusses the significance of this operation (translation by The Interpreter):
“Novoluganskoye was officially a ‘black hole’ in the front for more than two years of war and the symbol of a ‘fixed game’ among the top brass. Here there was Ukrainian government, but Ukrainian force structures didn’t exist. I wrote about this here.At Novoluganskoye there is a pig farm that supplies meat from the only meat-processing plant on the occupied territory of the Donbass. Trade in Ukrainian goods went through Novoluganskoye. Many issues with ID documents for those who remained on occupied land were resolved through Novoluganskoye. A bus comes here from Gorlovka regularly and business is done. It’s a kind of “porto franco” where people go around not with machine-guns but with cash, and that’s why there was no war there.Battles have been underway in the 1st and 25th zones of the 54th Brigade battalions for many months now. But the 3rd battalion of the 54th, near Novoluganskoye, nearby, has not been shelled.Various ATO chiefs raised the issues of occupying the village, but each time, Kiev prohibited it. And now finally such a command came down. Novoluganskoye was not occupied by the enemy and its taking did not present any risk. But Novoluganskoye is divided from Gorlovka by one ridge of elevations. These hills dominate the north outskirts of the town. And that then already presents a certain interest and creates new tactical opportunities. Now the Russian mercenaries no longer have a resort there.Well, what of it, the 46th battalion will not let the lovers of the ‘Russian world’ to roll calmly into Novoluganskoye. That’s a positive. But they will offer a lot to preserve this ‘offshore’. I think the guys in the 46th Battalion are reliable, and with their help this absurd hole on the front will be closed. They will not allow the enemy to sleep soundly.
The area referenced can be seen here on Google Maps.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick