PISKY, Ukraine – The only road that leads to the strategic village of Pisky, located seven kilometers northwest of occupied Donetsk, is a dangerous one.
It’s best to hurry when passing through this area that traverses Ukraine-controlled Karlivka and Pervomaiske, because there’s a chance of being shelled or encountering Kremlin-backed subversive groups that roam the areabehind front lines.
The road is covered with trees heavily damaged by shelling, some of them fallen.
“We’ve chopped some for firewood to use next winter,” soldiers of Ukraine’s volunteer Dnipro 1 Battalion joke.
The tense situation is exacerbated by the fact that Russian-separatist forces routinely use heavy weapons forbidden by the Feb. 12 Minsk ceasefire deal, Ukrainian soldiers say.
For their part, Ukrainian troops have no heavy weapons with which to shoot back.
Russian-separatist forces have denied the accusations despite daily reports to the contrary by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
According to the truce, all weapons with calibers of over 100 millimeters have to be withdrawn by 25 to 70 kilometers from the frontline, depending on the type of weapon.
Ukrainian servicemen showed the Kyiv Post craters left by separatist artillery, including ones from shells forbidden by the Minsk agreement.
“(Separatists) have been using tanks, (152-millimeter) self-propelled guns, 120-millimeter mortars and 82-millimeter mortars to shell us,” an officer ofthe army’s 93rd brigade said.
“We, on the other hand, don’t violate the Minsk agreements.”
The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Koba, who serves in the Dnipro 1 Battalion, also confirmed that Kremlin-backed forces were using 152-millimeter artillery.
Dmytro Isayev, another Dnipro 1 Battalion soldier, said that separatists were shelling Ukrainian positions from 120-millimeter mortars filled with napalm.
Soldiers say that Pisky is also being shelled from 125-millimeter tankguns. Kremlin-backed separatists have not used Grad multiple rocket launchers inPisky since the Feb. 12 truce.
However, Grad rockets are being used to shell Ukrainian positions near the Donetsk Airport, Isayev said.
Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for Donetsk-based Russian-backed militants,denied the accusations. “I can’t comment on nonsense,” he said.
Basurin said tank guns could not have been used because separatist tanks had been allegedly withdrawn under the Minsk agreement.
He also claimed that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had not recorded the use of 152 millimeter howitzers by separatists.
Previous OSCE daily monitoring reports however, have recorded 122-millimiter and 152-millimiter howitzers in occupied territory as late as May 29.
The OSCE observation mission constantly complains of not having “unfettered” access to occupied territories as also stipulated in the Feb. 12 peace agreement.
Ukrainian heavy weaponry, including an MT-12 anti-tank gun and two tanks,h as been withdrawn from Pisky, soldiers say. T
he Kyiv Post did not see any Ukrainian heavy weapons in the area.
Another problem that soldiers face is Pisky is supplies, which have been thwarted by an order of the army’s 28th brigade, based in the village of Karlivka northwest of Pisky, to block access to vehicles not authorized by the brigade’s commander.
The ban applies not only to volunteers helping the army and journalists but also to soldiers of the Dnipro 1 Battalion and the army’s 93th brigade.
One more difficulty is the withdrawal of the Right Sector’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps and OUN battalion from Pisky in April. The government has ordered these units to pull out because they have no legal status but the Right Sector argues that they are partisans and derive their authority from the constitutional right to protect their homeland.
Isayev said the military situation had deteriorated after their withdrawal.
“It has become hard,” he said. “They were replaced with the 93rd brigade without military experience, and they had to be trained.”
Alexander Rychkov is a freelance journalist based in Ukraine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kyiv Post staffwriter Oleg Sukhov can be reached at email@example.com.