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The Battle For Lysychansk; Ukr on the Move

The Battle For Lysychansk; Ukr on the Move

by Michael Hammerschlag
July 29, 2014

Kiev: I reached my friend Andre Samobarona (self-defense militia from Maidan) at the front Sunday- where I didn't know he was till last call 5-6 days ago, “I'm in a battle- can't talk”. He was out of touch till today, when he was on R+R from the National Guard in Artemovsk, site of largest weapons depot in Europe, and relaxing after 10 days straight of heavy fighting, just now for Lysychansk, which he says Ukr forces took Saturday, “They're still attacking us from some places, the edge of the city (probably mortars), but we control the whole city... It was heavy fighting- street to street- we (battalion of 400) lost 5 men, 17 wounded, the Seps lost 500” (maybe he meant 50, but he did repeat it-wild numbers have often been claimed by the Ukr ATO). In the 48 hours ending 2pm Sunday, 17 Ukr troops were killed.

Lysychansk was the first Donbass place to discover coal in 1710, and first to mine it in 1795. A picturesque city of 105,000 on a bluff above the Sever (north) Donets River, it is part of a tri-city complex of 350,000 with Severodonetsk and Rybizhne (where a Ukr column suffered heavy losses on May 22 in a mass attack), and a huge chemical complex (soda, glass, rubber, oil refinery, 5 coal mines)- but every plant was closed in the last 14 years through corrupt oligarchic schemes (some by Party of Regions head Alex Yefremov), leaving the place destitute and people desperate. They voted 90% for Yanukovich in 2010, blaming their troubles on Kyiv. It was a major separatist center, more so after the fall of Slovyansk and other cities to Ukraine.

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Allegedly many separatists fled July 22 in commandeered + stolen cars, but enough remained to put up stiff resistance. “The northern part of the city is 50% destroyed- the city has no electricity, water, phones” said Andre. “We are giving the people food, bread- they have nothing.” Ukr forces attacked with two 400 man battalions, 20 tanks, and 100 APCs (BMPs)- “The APCs saved our life many times. I saw 2 attack jets” (SU-25's- 4 have been downed by deadly missile fire, 2 after MH17).

Because of the reluctance to do direct close-quarter fighting both sides have engaged in distance shelling with mortars, artillery, and rockets, some very inaccurate, so civilian losses have mounted- 1130 now says UNHCR; with the 350 Ukrainian soldier dead and perhaps 1500 separatists, fatalities in this ginned up civil war are now near 3000.

He speaks with the respect of the rebels- “They are very well led- very good commanders, some of ours aren't that good, some are drunk. And all the equipment they have is top-notch, new, from Russia. We recovered 2 boxes of Iglas but they have a lot more of them. They would shoot at us and we would fire back with RPGs, and then they were just in pieces.” Ukrainians found a large arsenal of weapons and ammunition in Lysychansk, the ATO spokesman reported: “A KamAZ truck loaded with missiles for Strela 10 anti-aircraft missile systems, a lot of firearms, mortars, guns... and new-generation sniper rifles manufactured in the Russian Federation." Strela 10's are truck mounted heat-seaking (2) missiles with a 3 mile (5km) range, 1½ mi (2.3km) altitude, much less than the Buk system (14 mi) that brought down MH17.

Most Russian Sep leaders are linked to FSB or GRU Russian intelligence/spy agencies, and fought in Chechnya, Bosnia, Crimea, Georgia; where ruthless behavior, even atrocities, was the norm. In a sign that Moscow is taking direct control, DNR head Borodai went to Moscow and returned with a new deputy “PM”, hardened 20 year security chief of the breakaway Moldovan strip Trans-Dniester Vladimir Antyufeyev. Meanwhile the last Ukrainian leaders of the Separatists: Alexander Khodokovsky (who admitted to journos that they had shot down MH17), and Dennis Pushlin were forced out. With the new Russian weapons, this seems to be an indication that Putin wants a T-D like frozen conflict to bleed Ukraine indefinitely... or it could mean the opposite.

Igor Girkin (Strelkov) has directly threatened Putin, that he could wind like the deposed Czar if he failed to back the Seps (again in a recent piece by his advisor), a dangerous business considering Putin's reaction to other's meddling in politics (Khodorkovsky's 10 years in a cage). If Putin wants to pull the plug on the whole insurgency and remove Strelkov or Borodai, Antyufeyev is the type of person to do it.

The rebels now constitute perhaps 10,000 men, 60% Russian, estimates gonzo Aussie photog Demjin Doroschenko, who has been everywhere in the area for 3 months- after being taken hostage in the Donetsk Admin. Bldg (and freed miraculously), he went back to the same place to get his Donetsk People's Republic press badge, which gave him relative immunity. But Strelkov, in a recent post, bemoaned the fact he could only get 1100 volunteers from the 4.6 million of Donetsk region, so the ration of Russians is maybe far higher.

Andre continued, Lysychansk citizens (freed from the robberies and extortion of the rebels), “would come to us and tell us where the Seps were- I went to one house and arrested this guy and asked, 'Why did you fight us?', and he said, 'I wanted to fight the Banderites' (Ukr WW2 independence fighter and “terrorist” Stepan Bandera).” Andre snapped back, “I AM a Banderite, am I shooting you, torturing you? What were you thinking?' ” The rebel replied ruefully, “I guess I'm stupid”. UNHCR lists 812 kidnappings conducted by the Separatists, along with demands for ransom, torture, and executions.

The Ukr offensive is continuing with great success, despite a flood of new Russian weapons across the still open border at Izvarinye- more advanced multi-missile systems than the Grads : Tornado and Uragan (hurricane) – one of many columns in the last week had 100 vehicles said the Pentagon. “They were firing at us with Uragan missiles,” said Andre, a 220 mm multi-missile (16) big truck-launched system with a 35 km (22mi) range, and apparent rocket and artillery shelling from Russia. America wheeled out satellite photos showing the rocket launch burns in Russia and impacts across the border. Grads can be pretty fearsome weapons themselves, able to pulverize everything in several US football fields- they killed 23 and 19 Ukrainians July11th + 13th - both sides have been using the inaccurate unguided rockets. All these missiles have partially negated Ukrainian air power, against which no insurgency could hold out long. But since the start of the ATO, Ukrainians have taken control of 7 of 10 TV towers controlled by Seps, and just restarted Ukr TV in Lysychansk.

Meanwhile Russia has been socked by new sanctions by EU and America, more are in the works by US, UK, Ger, Fra, Ita – going after Rus banks (est cost: $135 bil over 2 years), their stock market has taken a dive, a Dutch arbitration court awarded a stunning $50 bil to Yukos shareholders for the Kremlin/Rosneft stealing it after crushing Khodorkovsky, Britain restarted a probe on the Litvenenko murder, the MH black box shows explosive decompression from a missile strike, and there is a looming palace revolt by Russian oligarchs. Putin rattled nuclear sabres Sunday (Navy Day), celebrating the building of Russia's 4th new Borei class ICBM boomer submarine in the Murmansk shipyard.

Government soldiers have also taken Severodonetsk, Debaltseve, the historic monument hill Saur-Magila, Pervomaisk, and the crucial city Shakhtarsk, cutting the last direct road from Donetsk to Lugansk, and completely isolating Donetsk, which has little power, water, mobile service, or money, according to Demjin as explosions could be heard in the background from fighting at the Donetsk airport. “The rebels are stopping trains from leaving,” he said, cutting off egress for anyone without cars, though many have already left. Lugansk is also without power.

The cities by the Malaysian crash- Torez and Snizhne (where the Buk rocket truck was just before it shot down the airliner), are under heavy Government assault, as is Gorlivka, Sep stronghold of notorious leader “Demon” Bezler, who was reportedly behind the MH17 shootdown and the torture murder of Gorlivka city councilman Rybak who had tried to raise the Ukr flag over the council building (along with 2 college students, claimed to be Pravy Sector). Their stomachs were slit open, before they were dumped in the river. On the 27th Bezler disappeared, and by the 28th Borodai somehow escaped back to Moscow, and Antyufeyev declared himself acting PM. Girkin gave a rambling Donetsk press conference Mon night.

Then comes Donetsk (1 million pop and showplace of richest man Akhmetov), which if the rebels are as apocalyptic as they promise, could become a hellhole of guerrilla fighting- but to date they have always withdrawn rather than fight to the bitter end- somewhere in the back of their mind, they know this is all a project of the Little Big Man, not something worth dying for.

There ARE no fascists, no Nazis, in Kyiv. If America weighed in with some HARM anti-missile (anti-radar) missiles (to destroy Buks and Strelas).. this sad and unnecessary bloodletting could be over in 2 weeks. Considering the West's utter failure to enforce the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the pledge to protest Ukraine's territorial integrity in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons (US, England, Russia), it is the least they could do, considering the flood of Russian fighters and weapons. When will any other nation... like… Iran, fall for that pledge again.


Michael Hammerschlag's articles ( have appeared in NYT, IHT, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Yahoo, Hawaii Advertiser; Moscow News, Tribune, Times, and Guardian, Novaya Gazeta; Kyiv Post, Kyiv Weekly, Politics in Ukraine, and Business Ukraine. He's spent 9 years over the last 23 in Russia & Ukraine, has covered this story since (FULL COVERAGE) Nov 1st, wrote 2 long articles on the EU Association Agreement and Crimean Invasion for Yahoo, and warned of Ukraine’s loss of Independence in May 2010 after Yanukovich’s election.

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