However, each time Russian troops and their proxies in eastern Ukraine face battlefield setbacks, the Kremlin reinforces their military position. And Jan. 19 proved no exception. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council reported that two battalion-sized tactical groups of the Russian army crossed the Ukrainian eastern border. (A battalion in Russia reportedly can range in size from a few hundred to about 1,500 soldiers.) Earlier, Ukrainian officials reported the presence of more than 7,000 Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive allowed it to regain control over the new terminal of the Donetsk airport and advance to regain control of the territory.

As of 8 p.m. on Jan. 18, the Ukrainian troops advanced two kilometers inside Donetsk, a Kyiv Post source in 95th airborne brigade that is fighting in the airport said. To stop them, the Russian-backed separatists blew up a bridge in Donetsk, closing entrance to the city from the north.


Official sources, however, didn’t confirm this report.

“There were no tasks to enter Donetsk. Our task is only to free the airport, which has to be Ukrainian, based on Minks agreements,” Andriy Lysenko, spokesman of Ukraine’s anti-terrorist operation, told the Kyiv Post.

The Ukrainian forces took the Donetsk airport in late May and since then they have resisted the constant attempts by insurgents to take it over, becoming the pride of the nation and earning the nickname “cyborgs” for their super-human capabilities. The video filmed by drone last week showed that the Donetsk airport was destroyed almost to the ground and it now has more symbolic than strategic significance.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in its statement on Jan. 18 that the airport should be given to the separatists, according to the Minsk agreements. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed in his statement on Jan. 19 that Ukraine’s forces made six attacks with infantry and armored vehicles, but failed.     


Zakharchenko said the Ukrainian army sustained heavy losses and claimed that three Ukrainian soldiers were captured by separatists, when the tank column advanced into Donetsk. But Russian human rights activist Elena Vasiliyeva reported about 382 soldiers of the Russian regular army were killed and about 500 wounded over three last day in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers of different units claimed that there were Russian tanks used in the fights near Donetsk airport.   

Lysenko said that three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 66 wounded over the last 24 hours, without elaborating the exact losses in fights by Donetsk airport. On Jan. 17, Ukrainian troops evacuated three killed and 23 wounded soldiers from Donetsk airport, Yuriy Biriukov, an adviser of Ukraine’s president wrote on his Facebook page. The 14 wounded Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated from Donetsk airport on Jan. 18, volunteer Tetiana Rychkova reported.   

Lysenko said that now the Ukrainian troops were trying to regain control over the old terminal of the airport. The most severe fights were going on in the village of Pisky, located in 1.5 kilometers from the airport, the place, from which the Ukrainian defenders of Donetsk airport were receiving supply with weapons and people for all the months of standoff.  


Fighter of the Dnipro 1 volunteer battalion with the nickname “Sergeant Major” told the Kyiv Post that his comrades, who were defending the bridge near Pisky, were in desperate situation under fire from Russian tanks. “The tanks are directly firing to the bridge, while our guys have nothing except grenade launchers,” he said. “They need reinforcement.”

Zakharchenko predicted that separatist forces would gain total control over the village by the end of the day.

Alla Megil, spokeswoman of 5th battalion of the  Right Sector, another volunteer group that is fighting near the Donetsk airport, confirmed that the situation is very tense in Pisky and the village of Tonenke located nearby. “The shelling doesn’t stop there,” she said. Megil added that three fighters of the Right Sector were wounded over the week end and claimed that Ukrainian forces managed to burn down six tanks near Pisky over the weekend.

These grim events were happening just at the moment when Ukrainian diplomats were preparing for the new round of peace negotiations with Russian side this week with mediation of German and French foreign affairs ministers in Berlin on Jan. 21.


But the ongoing escalation could “threatened to completely unravel a hard-won September 2014 cease-fire,” Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said in his statement on Jan. 18.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at [email protected]

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