Russian Federation (RF) forces used mercenaries from Libya, Syria, and Russia in a series of unsuccessful attacks on the Donbas town of Popasna, official Ukrainian sources and military unit statements said on Thursday, April 21.
Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) units operating in and around Popasna on Wednesday destroyed a 25-man unit of probable mercenaries from Libya, based on identification documents and other evidence found with their bodies, said Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, in a late Wednesday evening interview with Novoe Vremya radio.
Although state-controlled Russian media have reported as many as 20,000 foreign fighters have been recruited to take part in the Kremlin’s ongoing offensive in the Donbas region, Ukrainian military intelligence believes no more than 500 mercenaries from Middle Eastern nations are actually on the ground in the sector, Danilov said.
Danilov suggested the mercenaries’ fighting value may be limited, saying: “We know what kind of people they are. It’s difficult to say what kind of soldiers they are. They are used to a different climate, and a different kind of war as well. I think that they didn’t really expect what they found here.”
Ukrainian military social media showed images of Libyan, Syrian identification documents, shopping receipts, and paper currency purportedly recovered by UAF troops from the scene.
A Thursday morning statement from the UAF’s 24th Mechanized Brigade claimed it killed “large numbers” of Russian mercenary soldiers from Russia during failed overnight assaults on Popasna. The unit’s Facebook page showed images of what appeared to be corpses in military uniforms in a pile, and identification documents linking the dead with the Wagner company, and mostly rural RF towns and villages.
According to widespread international and Ukrainian independent media reports, the Kremlin has operated the Wagner company for more than a decade as a front to deploy RF soldiers and officers hired as mercenaries to fight in Crimea and Syria, among other conflicts, while providing Moscow deniability that it is involved.
Danilov and the 24th Mech Brigade statement said UAF forces halted the Wagner unit attacks and inflicted heavy losses, and that Popasna remained fully in Ukrainian hands.
Serhiy Haidai, Luhansk regional defense command head, in a Monday morning video, in contrast, said heavy fighting in Popasna was still in progress.
Popasna according to Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) is one of several objectives targeted in the RF’s ongoing Donbas offensive. The 24th Mechanized Brigade has been a backbone of UAF defenses in the sector and has held positions around the town for almost two months.
On Wednesday RF forces elsewhere in the Donbas sector attempted to capture of town Rubizhne and the village Novokoshtovsk, likewise without success, Haidai said.
A Wednesday evening British Defense Ministry statement said the Kremlin’s current attacks in the Donbas sector are likely part of a larger Kremlin offensive intended to defeat UAF forces and end its war with Ukraine by May 9th, the day Russia celebrates Allied Forces’ 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
A Thursday morning situation report released by the AGS said that in the past 24 hours of fighting in Donbas, UAF forces destroyed one tank, ten infantry fighting vehicles, two armored engineering vehicles, one artillery system, and one anti-aircraft system, and a munitions depot.
Danilov said the RF was attacking methodically and trying to prevent heavy losses. UAF units should be able to contain the Kremlin offensive, but it will take at least three weeks for Moscow to run out of troops, he predicted.
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