Four Ukrainian photographers on Aug. 10 put their images of the most decisive military defeat in Ukraine’s modern history on display in Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko Museum. Chronicling Ukraine’s failed military operation to hold the strategic railroad junction town of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast, the four dedicated their exhibit to “those who fell and those who survived her tragic fire.”Ilovaisk photo exhibit. Aug. 11-30, Taras Shevchenko Museum, 12 Shevchenko Blvd.
Maxim Dondiuk and Aleksander Glyadyelov were there from the beginning to shoot the first assault on the transport hub on Aug. 10, which ended in eight servicemen being killed in the area. They would leave around Aug. 22 with a column of wounded soldiers, four days after a force consisting mostly of Donbas Battalion fighters, took half of the city.
Photographers Maksym Levin and Markiian Lyseiko arrived in Ilovaisk on Aug. 23, the same day that four battalion-sized Russian tactical units started to invade southeastern Ukraine, accompanied by some 100 military vehicles. Meanwhile, a force of mostly volunteer battalions were asking for either reinforcements or orders to retreat to avoid encirclement. Their pleas, according to a parliamentary investigation into the battle published in October, weren’t answered in time. By Aug. 24, the area was surrounded and constantly shelled by the Russian army and its proxies.
Levin and Lyseiko joined one of two military columns in an Infiniti crossover vehicle that on Aug. 29 broke through two rings of heavy artillery and small arms fire to safety. Some 366 servicemen were killed during the fierce battle, according to Ukraine’s military prosecutors, the majority of whom on or after Aug. 29 while breaking through the kill zone. Eighty three are still missing in action, Ihor Palahniuk, deputy chief of staff of the East Operational Command, told military journalist Serg Marco on Aug. 12. And some 65 percent of Ukraine’s military hardware was destroyed, President Petro Poroshenko said after the fighting had ended, a figure that the parliamentary report disputed.
The Massacre of Ilovaisk also had political consequences. Public trust in the nation’s military leadership sunk. It led to the first truce being signed on Sept. 5 in Minsk that never took hold. Also, by this time, Russia’s war against Ukraine had claimed at least 2,600 soldiers’ lives, according to the United Nations.