Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 30.05.2018
The first test of the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is proving to be the Battle of Horlivka. Russian invasion forces picked up their attacks when the JFO started at the beginning of May, and concentrated their efforts around occupied Horlivka. In the month of May, the Battle of Horlivka has been characterized by the volume of Russian terrorist attacks against Ukrainian defenders and civilians, and by the Ukrainian army seizing ground from the enemy as Russian forces abandon their positions.
Russia holds the city of Horlivka. Ukraine has liberated the towns and villages to the north and west of Russian-occupied Horlivka. The 1st Army Corps (so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”) of the Russian armed forces regularly fire artillery from residential areas of occupied Horlivka. Shooting from among the houses and apartment blocks of the captive population of Ukrainian citizens, the Russians shoot at defenders and citizens alike in liberated Ukraine. For example, on May 29 Russian occupation forces attacked Zaitseve and Pivdenne which are to the west of Horlivka. Pivdenne with its connected hamlet of Chyhari was liberated by the JFO recently.
At 12:45 on Monday, May 28, Russia’s 1st Army Corps (“DPR”) suddenly fired 120-millimetre calibre mortars from a location near the Gagarin coal mine in the western part of occupied Horlivka. Their target was a residential area of the village of Zalizne, to the west-north-west. One of the shells hit a yard. A 15 year old girl, Daria Kazemirova, was outside at the time and was killed in the explosion. Police have characterized this as a terrorist attack.
At 11:35 on Tuesday, May 29, Russia’s 1st Army Corps (“DPR”} fired artillery from occupied Horlivka at an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine team. The OSCE monitors were launching a surveillance drone near the village of Nelipivka, not far from Zalizne where Daria Kazemirova was killed. The OSCE SMM team members were luckier, as shellfire struck away from them and their vehicles.
The fighters on the Russian side of the Battle of Horlivka are more terrorists than soldiers. As soldiers, the Russian 1st and 2nd Army Corps (so-called “DPR” and “LPR”) are not proving to be very good at holding ground. The well-disciplined Ukrainian army, now fighting as the Joint Forces Operation, is able to exploit Russian weakness and inability to defend occupied territory. The liberation of Pivdenne (Chyhari) was a minor victory for the Ukrainians trying to rid their homeland of the foreign Russian invaders. It has been followed up in recent days by Ukrainian forces seizing Russian positions and gaining control over approaches to the city.
Ukrainian armed forces in the JFO took a new position in the “grey zone” between Novoluhanske in liberated Ukraine and Hol’mivs’kyi in Russian-occupied Ukraine. This position makes it more likely the Ukrainians will take full control of the small village of Dolomitne. It also allows the defenders to put pressure on the firing positions of the Russian terrorists in Hol’mivs’kyi – they shoot from there at civilians in Zaitseve.
Slightly farther east, in the Svitlodarsk Bulge (an area of the front on the northern approaches to Debaltseve), JFO soldiers fought a skirmish and captured Russian soldiers in a fortified position in a wood beside Hryazevskyi pond. A short distance away, the Ukrainians took from the Russians a fortified position on a height of land beside the M-03 highway that connects Debaltseve (now Russian occupied) and Luhanske (in free Ukraine). The Russians regularly shell Luhanske and Svitlodarsk from their side of the front in the Svitlodarsk Bulge.
In the Battle of Horlivka, Russia is shelling civilians and giving up its fortified positions. Ukraine never targets civilians and is taking ground from the enemy. Ukraine is now pressing the beleaguered Russian occupiers from the west (Pivdenne), from the north (around Travneve) and from the northeast (the Svitlodarsk Bulge).
Ukraine commands the battlefield. The price to pay is horrific in lives and health lost to the Russian invader-occupiers. But by advances of a couple of hundred metres at a time, facing a demoralized enemy, the Ukrainian armed forces are slowly liberating Donbas.