Russia has been waging its war in Ukraine for nine and a half years. A lot has happened during that time, with irreparable pain and loss seared on the memories of those who can remember the gunfire; and on the loves ones – families and children – of those missing or lost. Casting one’s mind back is enough to cause breathing to become heavy and eyes to fill with tears.
One of the most painful memories of the Russian-Ukrainian war is the Ilovaisk tragedy, at which Russia barbarically killed 366 Ukrainian soldiers and captured more than 300 others. I was 14 years old at the time, but I remember it vividly – the pain every Ukrainian felt for every lost life. Even after nine years, nothing can mask it.
On Aug. 6 2014, Ukrainian military made its first attempt to liberate the city of Ilovaisk, which had been captured by Russian militants. The operation was managed by General Ruslan Khomchak. The first to enter the fray were the soldiers of the 40th battalion "Kryvbas" military training center – soldiers whom, until that day, had little or no experience of war, nor how to even hold a weapon.
To fulfil their task, the soldiers were reinforced by the equipment of the 51st separate mechanized brigade and a detachment of volunteers. The attack failed.
An assault on Ilovaisk on Aug. 10 was was also unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Russian militants managed to capture nearby settlements – the Savur-Mohyla mound (one of the upper reaches of the eastern Donbas) and Krasniy Luch. Since Savur-Mohyla is located on higher ground, Russian groups could easily cover the surrounding area with fire.
This is not the only thing that helped the Russians. On Aug. 13, the personnel of the 30th and 51st mechanized brigades, as well as part of the 72nd mechanized brigade, voluntarily left their deployment sites near the Savur-Mohyla mound. As a result, Ukrainie lost any control over that perimeter, but continued attempts to storm Ilovaisk. On Aug. 18, the "Donbas" and "Dnipro-1" battalions, the 17th Kryvyi Rih tank, 51st Volyn, and 93rd Dnipropetrovsk mechanized brigades, triumphantly entered the city. It gave them a small victory.
In the days that followed, fighting for Ilovaisk did not subside for a minute. Reinforcements arrived on both sides, but the Ukrainians lacked reserves. Furthermore, everyone was frightened by the completely unprotected rear.
On Aug. 24, coinciding with Ukraine’s Independence Day, the battle reached a turning point. Russian troops left the enemy border, taking with them about 100 units of military equipment. At the same time, the Ukrainian military of the 5th battalion of the territorial defense arbitrarily left the territory it held. Numerous battalions, as well as the combined company of the 93rd and 17th brigades, were surrounded in Ilovaisk. Fighters were fired upon by all manner of weaponry.
Negotiations between the parties continued in parallel. One of the most difficult days in terms of shelling was Aug. 28. That night, Russian President Vladmir Putin turned to the militants with a request to establish a green corridor. They set a condition – the Ukrainian military must leave without weapons and equipment. At first there were discussions. Could the Ukrainians really trust the enemy? Would any better opportunity arise if they were unable to break through the encirclement.
In the morning, the decision was made. In two columns – “Bulava” and “Witer” (Wind) – the Defense Forces of Ukraine began to leave the city without weapons. As agreed, no one opened fire. That was until around 10 a.m., at which point Russia began shooting, completely unprovoked.
Ukraine’s soldiers just wanted to live – to return to their families – their children and loved ones; to return to the peaceful life that Russia stole from them. Sadly, what they expected to be a pathway to life suddenly became a road paved with death.
On Aug. 29, Putin and his supporters dealt Ukraine one of its greatest tragedies in modern history. It was on this day that Ukraine lost the largest number of its defenders during the war before the 2022 full-scale invasion.
A total of 366 soldiers died near Ilovaisk. Some 429 were wounded and more than 300 were captured. The fate of many has remained unknown for nine years.
Everything described above might just sound like another horrible tale of battle. But not for those whose lives were cut short, nor those unable to move on psychologically from the experience, nor all the loved ones – including children – still waiting for news to this day.
Nine years have passed, and Russia continues to commit terrorist acts in Ukraine. The General Prosecutor's Office has deemed the main causes of the tragedy to be desertion, low levels of combat readiness among Ukrainian defenders, and mistakes of leadership when planning and conducting the operation.
However, the main reason for the tragedy at Ilovaisk, the wider war, and all the terrible things from centuries gone by that have taken place on the territory of Ukraine, consists of six letters – Russia.
The tragedy of Aug. 29, 2014 proves, once again, that trusting the Russian Federation means always nothing but deception, robbery and betrayal.
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