Throughout the night of August 28-29, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery was open to visitors. The reason for it was sad and extremely important as well as thought-provoking. Outside the monastery’s cathedral, a memorial lane of the Ilovaisk pocket was unveiled, featuring personal belongings of Ukrainian soldiers, icons, photos, broken mobile phones, helmets, shells and other items, memorabilia of those tragic events that happened three years ago. At noon on August 29, a memorial service for the deceased Ukrainian soldiers who had not come back from that hell was held at the same location. Unfortunately, the hell of Ilovaisk was just a link in the whole chain of tragedies, ranging from the shootdown of an Il-76 near Luhansk and the attack on the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the territory of the Russian Federation near Zelenopillia to the battles for the Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve. It is noteworthy that on almost every such occasion, these events forced Ukrainian authorities to sit down at the negotiating table with the Russian side and its hired thugs.
On June 14, an Il-76 was shot down near Luhansk with 49 Ukrainian soldiers and crew members onboard. On June 27, Leonid Kuchma, joined by Viktor Medvedchuk and Nestor Shufrych and in the presence of representatives of the OSCE, sat down at the negotiating table with the thugs. The Zelenopillia attack happened on July 11. On July 17, the Russians’ rampage in the Donbas took them a step too far as they shot down a Boeing 777 near Donetsk, killing all 298 people onboard.
Following that incident, the Kremlin froze for a month, since it was clear now that the bloody waves of the war in eastern Ukraine had spilled beyond its borders. The cloud of an international scandal gathered over the Kremlin. This allowed the Ukrainian military to feel more confident, which led to effective encirclement of the occupied cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. While Donetsk was difficult to take because of its size, the relatively compact Luhansk was quite accessible and already almost emptied from the inside. It became apparent that Russian mercenaries would not last for long without sufficient support. However, the tragic incidents near Zelenopillia and in other sections of the front proved that the Russians would not shrink from firing from their territory at least, realizing that no return fire would come. Therefore, the encirclement of the occupied cities was taking place, but without reaching the border at that stage.
On August 6, 2014, the battle of Ilovaisk began, which lasted almost a month. The Kryvbas Battalion set up four checkpoints around Ilovaisk and provided for their reliable defense, which created the preconditions for the storming of the city. Ilovaisk is one of the key cities in the occupied territory, in particular since it is a railway hub. Its capture would have meant the almost total cut-off of Donetsk from supplies, including heavy weapons and manpower flowing there from Russia. However, was the possibility of additional forces from the Russian Federation becoming involved taken into account enough, given the previous experience near, say, Zelenopillia? Did not the high command overestimate the army’s strength by scattering its units along the line of contact and sending them to encircle several cities at once?
Another important factor was the level of communication between regular troops and volunteer battalions, as well as the corresponding discipline issues regarding both execution of orders and the tendency of the latter to make independent decisions. It is no secret that the liberation of small towns was a quite efficient and, for some, even alluring process. Unfortunately, given the experience of liberating larger cities, one can conclude that the enemy was not so much driven out from them but rather left these cities at the moment of its own choosing. For example, this was the case with Sloviansk, where fighting lasted for several months, but Ukrainian troops descended on the city from Mount Karachun only after Igor Girkin moved to Donetsk.
On August 24, Independence Day, almost at the same time when our troops paraded down Khreshchatyk Street, Russia sent a major military force into the Donbas in several directions, including Ilovaisk and Luhansk. The apotheosis of Russian aggression in these events came with the so-called “safe passage corridor” which the Russian side promised to Ukrainian troops to give them a chance to retreat. However, when our soldiers entered that “corridor,” the aggressor began firing on them, effectively picking them one by one. An interesting detail: on August 29, Vladimir Putin appealed to the pro-Russian militants to open that very “corridor,” showing himself a “peacemaker” of sorts.