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A year ago, fierce fighting started near Avdiivka, and ten...
A year ago, fierce fighting started near Avdiivka, and ten Ukrainian military men were killed in it. The immediate participants are recollecting the events. “After about a week of active battles, from an intercepted conversation we got the evidence about six rail wagons of munitions spent by the enemy in a week. Also, we learnt that they got 120 KIA. Many of them withdrew from their positions trying to avoid being killed…”
Photo: Dmytro Muravskyi
…Those who knew how the situation in Avdiivka and in Promka was developing from the very beginning, tell that in winter of 2017 the opponent seemingly prepared for an offensive. And if our military had not prevented it, even more severe battles would have unfolded either in the position that later was named “Orel” after the fallen fighter Andriy Kyzylo’s callsign, or somewhere else.
On the 29th, at 4:30 AM a group of fighters of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Brigade started the battle and counter attack. They were backed up by a mortar battery; at the same time a diversion was carried out on the left flank. Our fighters emerged in front of the enemy dugouts out of nowhere. There were six terrorists there…
“We took the position in ten minutes’ time with no losses at all”
When we imaged these positions using the UAV, we recognized three dugouts. In reality, there turned out to be four of them. We intentionally split into three groups – one dugout per each group. Took a dead tree as a landmark. But prior to our operation, mortar shelling had damaged the rest of the trees, so we missed the benchmark and found themselves in the midst of “Almaz”. Still, we did not get lost. One group headed to clear the nearest dugout while another one rushed to work on the distant blindage. We agreed to meet at the far end where there was another trench. I went to the right and found whole two dugouts there. Before entering them, we threw two grenades into each, then fired inside it. On clearing everything up we moved to the second group – they just cornered a few separs. Threw grenades into their trench; the separs responded with one, but this grenade somehow got into a hole right in front of their trench, and went off there. They got concussed. I asked Ihor Ubyisobaka to fire the RPG-18 there. He made a shot, and the rocket ricocheted off and went near us. We got down, I’m shouting: “Fire another one!”. This time Ihor hit the target, but the rocket got into a sandbag and failed to go off. So we had to throw smoke bombs to get them out of the trench. It took some time…
I decided to split the group into two parts again and went to check up the rest of their dugouts. In a distance, we found one more trench. Threw two grenades inside. Someone cried out. “Let us fire another RPG to make sure,” – I said to my guys. Roma Yurchenko launched one at them. It seems there was a munitions depot in this dugout, and a sleeper. Everything was set to fire. First we thought they started firing at us, still it was munition that began to go off. And then Andriy Kyzylo came and said: “Do you realize you have just stepped over a MON-90?” Our de-miner, Dimka Overchenko, rushed to that MON at once.
Photo: Dmytro Muravskyi
“Dima and Vova’s bodies got frozen, and their muscles hardened… But Orel remained warm…”
Sixteen Ukrainian fighters of the 72nd Brigade participated in the position’s takeover. Naturally, there was also a medic in the group – a 23-year-old guy whose name is Roman Chaika, callsign Ptitsa. He was the one who pulled our first three killed out…
We took the enemy position rather fast, and everyone was safe; no assistance needed. So on the takeover, we entered the enemy’s dugouts where I met the prisoner. Later, I even visited his court trial. He was a Makiivka native. Another two militiamen present there, were from Khartsyzsk – we found their IDs. They had loads of drugs in their trench – in their pockets and scattered in their stuff. Lots of various drugs. Everything was burnt in their heater…
The trench where we kept the prisoner, was located in the middle of the dugout structured by a transport interchange sample: there were lots of branch passages in it. I decided to look for munitions as we were running short of these. Having found the enemy supply, I noticed a few duct-taped packages with numbers indicating the amount of bullets in each. Seems, they got their munitions singly, by the piece.
When we got seated on the positions, they started to shell us actively. Enemy mines exploded here and there. No one realized that one of them landed right in the middle of our group of four soldiers. Vova Balchenko, Andriy Kyzylo, Dima Overchenko and Valik got out of the trench and were looking around when it hit. It was Valik who came running and screaming: “Orel’s been hit! Orel’s hit! And Balchenko, too!”. There was Zhenia from the 1st squadron closer to that place. He saw where everything happened. And jumper out of the trench. He took Orel into the trench. A bit later I took Dima. Balchenko got trapped under the wood stockpiled there. I started to check their pulse immediately. Nobody had it…
Then Livsha came running. We took the guys into a deeper dugout, but the trench grew shallower in just a few meters. Even one fighter could hardly hide in it, and we had to carry our killed… So I took Orel by his body armor, and Livsha took his legs. Then he said he was going to evacuate the rest of bodies and asked me to come and see whether anything could be done to the rest of wounded. It was beyond our comprehension that they were not just wounded but already dead…
While at the spot that was designated as the evacuation site, Zhenia listened to Orel’s pulse again. I was carrying Overchenko there. And Zhenia said: “No pulse”. “Check again, – I asked. – It is cold, and your hands are cold, so maybe you just cannot sense it”. “OK”, – Zhenia agreed. And chacked once again. And there was no pulse… Still I kept thinking that Orel was alive. I provided first aid for Valik in time. It was a miracle he was not severely wounded. A shell fragment just hit him on the shoulder and stuck in it.
The spot where an armored vehicle for delivery of supply and transportation of the bodies and the wounded soldiers had to arrive in, was located on the railroad leading to Donetsk, along the positions our infantry had taken. Having got over the top of the mound, the guys got into the place where one could walk full-length despite in just a few meters from them mines exploded and the battle was on. “It was scary, – the guys admit, – but what can you do?”. There was a blind spot not accessible to hits, in spite of continuous intense shelling of the railroad by the enemy artillery. And there was an about 10-minute break per an hour when the armored vehicle could reach the spot. So we had to wait for it.
– So we sat in the cold beside our fallen comrades and waited for Kolia Mushynskyi, the vehicle’s driver, and I just could not get rid of the idea it was impossible for Orel to die, – Roman continues. – Dima and Vova got frozen, and their muscles hardened… And Orel remained warm… Despite we took his body armor and equipment off when performed CPR. The vehicle arrived, and we had to quickly pass the guys over the top of the mound.
Afterwards, did you happen to provide first aid for anybody, – did you have any more wounded?
– Unfortunately, yes. Sasha Mandryhel suffered as well. Along with Typhoon, they carried Vova Balchenko. They had to stand full-length in a shallow trench. Sasha turned the right side of his body to Yasynuvata traffic interchange. A bullet hit him on the shoulder and went out near the spine. Typhoon took Vova and pulled him. And Sashka came up running to him, screaming: “I got wounded!”… Kashchei and I examined the wound. Kashchei was trying to comfort him: “It is just a minor wound, you will be fine, it is not worth worrying about!”. I immediately noticed the exit wound – the tissues gone heavily injured… We bandaged his shoulder. We were going to cut his jacket but Sashko did not allow that: he said it was unknown when the APC would come and when they were going to replace us there. So we decided not to undress the wounded. Sashko was evacuated along with Mushynskyi with the next trip. Yet before midday, out of those 16 men who took over “Almaz”, three soldiers got wounded and three killed…
I got a slight concussion for the first time when I headed to take the body of Dima Overchenko. In a distance, a mine went off in front of the shallow trench. Later, another concussion proved much heavier – it happened when I was carrying zinc boxes filled with bullets. Near the railroad, the guys unloaded a “bekha” (military slang for IFV), throwing these down on the ground out of the vehicle. The boxes were too heavy to pull them over the mound, so we had to lift the zincs up and carry them by hand. I was just heading to take up another one when it blew up nearby, on the other side of the railway. Honestly, I did not care. And the guys who stood up full-length, were lucky to remain intact. Strangely enough but I got heavily shell-shocked then. Could not hear anything at all, even the loud sounds of explosion. That is why I was transported to the hospital.
By then, everyone started to freeze. On that day, the temperature reached –25 °C. The guys were dressed in t-shirts and fleece jackets. While we were proceeding towards the enemy positions, it got so hot that we could easily fight in t-shirts alone. We advanced with our body armor and helmets on, and were carrying munitions and guns as well. But just in an hour the frost began to bite quite tangibly. It was cold. Our lips went blue, noses went red, and hands white. Ihor Ubyisobaka got his fingers frost-bitten, still he refused to leave the position. So we had to force him to withdraw for medical aid. Eventually, he lost his right forefinger… But nobody complained. Livsha ordered to defend the position, so we did our job.
Then I saw death for the first time. Literally, the arrival of death. – Roman continues. – Now, when we have a get-together, we always recollect that day. Also, we talk on all good things that happened to us. We lived in the basement of a destroyed restaurant titled “The Tsar Hunt”. Once we decided to examine the rest of rooms there, and spotted an oak table. A heavy one! We pulled it into the basement, put a laptop on it, bought a joystick and played various games when we had time for that. The other day we went to Avdiivka, bought ten pizzas at a local restaurant, got back, turned on a film and watched it like at a cinema theatre. There were sounds of shelling above, still we did not care much… It was nice.
Roman graduated from Chornobyl medical college in his hometown of Yahotyn. He deliberately chose an occupation that would allow him to stay near his mom – he just could not leave her for long. “I imagined my prospective work as a clean and neat one, – Roman reminisces. – You just walk from one patient to another carrying your doctor bag in your hand. It is different from the job where you have to lay bricks in cold winter somewhere on a construction spot”… When on graduation he got drafted, the guy decided to join the army. “I was offered to choose among the subdivisions, so I turned on the internet, checked their locations and how far from my home they were located, – smiles the medic. – It turned out Bila Tserkva was the nearest site: only three hours and I’m home. An ideal solution. So I signed a contract with the 72nd Brigade. No one could foresee what awaited us in the future”… For his courage during the attack on a new position, Roman was awarded a third class “For Bravery” order.
“Grads” shelled us from Donetsk residential areas
“On the 29th of January, the commander of battalion Oleksandr Vdovychenko decided to re-name the taken position by the fallen Andriy Kyzylo’s callsign, and announced this on the radio: “From now on, it will be called Orel”. Since then the position is called Orel.
The enemy was aware of the fact they lost the position. That is why they made every effort to reclaim it from the Ukrainian army. But their reinforcement that was moving down the trench across the field, were stopped by the machine gun and AGS fire provided by the 3rd battalion of the 72nd Brigade from Butivka coalmine, as well as the fire from the grenade launcher operated by volunteers under command of comrades Shaman and Haidamaka. Unfortunately, both these absolute heroes were killed. Shaman was killed soon following the “Almaz” takeover, and comrade Haidamaka lost his life in the first days of 2018… Those engaged in fire adjusting and the military who followed their activities then, admit both warriors were distinguished for their smooth and perfect work. The speed of their fire correction and extraordinary accuracy in shooting at the attacking enemy groups, as well as the barrage of heavy fire organized by them in front of the Orel, was rather striking. Also, to support the army’s activities, a separate backing group formed of the volunteers of the 1st storming company of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, advanced to the area. Their commander, comrade Da Vinci, destroyed one of the enemy fortifications with his highly accurate shots from SPG. All this prove supportive for the guys in their defense of the taken position as well as in timely evacuating the wounded and transporting the bodies of the killed. Moreover, this allowed them to gain a foothold on the positions before being reinforced by the troops that arrived in the daytime.
The separs seemed worked by the book, – Typhoon explains. – First, they deployed their artillery, then their infantry advanced. They hit from three firing points, Spartak, Donetsk and Yasynuvata. Their “Grads” were shelling from Donetsk residential districts. Our army never give any response at the inhabited areas. This was an order. It was quite difficult for us to hold the positions. The upcoming IFV had to turn back and move backwards along the railways for about 200 meters. There was just no space for a turn. And where the turn was possible, the area was under fire. Once the IFV’s driver tried to turn around on the rails – the vehicle’s tracks came off. Kolia Mushynskyi somehow managed to attach it back under shelling not getting scared of it. How did he do that? Also, he drove his passengers out of the spot. Having adjusted their fire, the enemy fired with barreled weapons covering the terrain by squares. Having emptied its ammo, a vehicle got immediately replaced by a charged one. On the third day, an enemy tank started working.
Such intense firing at the captured positions did not stop until the 6th of February. Then in the daylight it seemed calmed down a bit, still closer to nighttime it was getting reinforced again. During the whole February it was exceptionally hot near Avdiivka. The very town of Avdiivka was repeatedly shelled with the enemy’s large caliber artillery. Many locals and State Emergency Service officers engaged in humanitarian activities, were killed. For certain period of time Avdiivka suffered from water, power and heating supply cuts…
– I always considered myself physically apt, but after two days and nights of such fighting I felt totally exhausted – enough! – Typhoon continues. – For all this time we did not have an opportunity to eat or drink. And the exhaustion felt like absolute indifference. Still I had to lead my people! The commander of the battalion heard me sounding tired on the radio, and then talked to Livsha sounding the same worn-out, and forced us to leave for a rest. He sent the commander of another squadron instead. Livsha left for a sleep to our dugouts, and I stayed at the “Tsar Hunt”.
– We stayed for a night at the same building with Typhoon, – the HQ commander of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Brigade Roman Darmohrai, callsign “Stryzh” (“Swift”) tells. – I took off my boots, laid down, and suddenly ka-boom! – there was an impact right near our houses’ wall. It got so dusty that the beam of the flashlight could not go through it.
– The shockwave threw the TV set from the windowsill right into my head, – Typhoon continues. – It was an old and massive one.
At 4:00 in the morning the guys got back to the positions. Ronam Darmohrai, callsign Stryzh, joined them.
– Those who fought on the new positions, constantly needed “Mukhas” (RPG-18) and grenades, – Roman adds. – The danger was that the positions could be reached only by rails. On the very first day the enemy could not realize how we got there. But later they figured this out. So their mortars and AGSs worked on us relentlessly, and finally destroyed the rails.
On the first day we prepared to deploy our armored group because we reckoned that the enemy would advance their tanks. I was getting ready for this scenario. But when I heard the news about Orel’s death, I asked the commander of the battalion to move me nearer to “Almaz” to provide support for our guys. I was allowed to relocate. First, I fought at the “Tsar Hunt”. We did not expect that the defense would last for so long. On my arrival to the “Hunt”, the first IFV took munitions, supplies and hand warmers for the guys. Having organized the provision of ammo, I went to the position myself. There was lots of work, and few people. Sometimes, a fighter who had just arrived by the IFV, after his climbing onto the mound was immediately taken back due to the injuries he just got there.
Roman Darmohrai graduated with honors from Lviv Ground Forces Academy, the same as Andriy Kyzylo, Andriy Verkhohliad and Vasyl Tarasiuk. The young officers started their service with the 72nd Brigade and immediately found themselves at war
In an interception, I heard Givi panicking: “how that came you cannot kick them out – you must flatten them!”. He was screaming and could not give any clear instructions, only repeated: “Go flatten them! Bury them down!”. Then he gave the coordinates for “Grads” attack, and it turned out to be they shelled their own position. It was so nice to learn about their accuracy.
Right there, during those battles, we tried out new field rations for the first time. They just had been supplied then. Even frozen, they were good. They brought us Cola, and it was frozen. So we ate that ice from the bottles.
“And we failed to take our field rations in time, so we found a packet of dried fruits in a wounded soldier’s backpack – volunteers used to supply these, – Livsha recollects. – It was in the morning of the 30th of January. I remember I tried the dried orange. Gosh, it was delicious! Later, amid some rublle, we found a tin of separs’ canned meat. Ate it up. We were supplied with lots of water, but it went frozen immediately. When we arranged watches and guarded by hours, we agreed the following scheme. The group that entered the dugout, had to bring the empty munition box. We broke it, and the wood was enough to warm the trench up for an hour. And we store our water near the stove. Slowly, it got unfrozen and warmer.
We started to fortify the positions, and dag more trenches, made more underground passages leading to each position. The situation was, nobody used to move between the positions on the surface. There are underground ways under the rails as well. Everything was arranged in a way that allowed a soldier to spend minimum of time exposed to fire and to be protected as much as possible. Over time, we got a whole underground settlement there.
Once, when we were setting communication with this position, we got short of the field cable – we needed about 15 extra meters of it. What would you do? Should I turn back? Oh no. So I moved nearer to separs’ positions and borrowed some of their cable. Honestly, I was lucky then. I struck an OZM (a “toad” mine), but luckily they had forgotten to pull the pin out… So it did not go off, just broke. I brought the stolen cable, and it was enough to fix the connection…
After the takeover, separs lost the space for maneuvers near the industrial zone. Which made big difference for us.
In a few months, while defending the “Orel” position, Vasyl Tarasiuk stopped an enemy tank. At this, he ordered his subordinates not to leave their dugouts… When they tried to stop them, he cried out: “Andriy Kyzylo was killed here, and his blood still remains on this soil. We cannot depart!”… That time, Vasyl got a heavy concussion. In August, on the Independence day, he was awarded a Hero of Ukraine title. Later, Vasyl retired from military service.
Photo: Dmytro Muravskyi
Today the guys from the 72nd Brigade are remembering their fallen comrades who were killed a year ago. At 11:00 Andriy Kyzylo’s friends and family got together near his grave in Uman.
At the beginning of January, 2017, Andriy Kyzylo was on a leave. Together with his wife and little son they travelled to the mountains and were so happy…
Andriy Kyzylo was promoted to the rank of major and awarded the Hero of Ukraine and People’s Hero of Ukraine titles. He was survived by his wife who now has to bring their little son on her own. Oksana cannot accept her loving husband’s death and comes to visit his grave from Lviv every month.
Fighters of the 72nd Brigade killed during those fierce battles in February, 2017:
Volodymyr Ivanovych Balchenko, a corporal of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. He was survived by his mother, brother and sister.
Dmytro Oleksandrovych Overchenko, a soldier of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by his parents, two brothers and two sisters.
Volodymyr Oleksiyovych Kryzhanskyi, a sergeant of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by his wife and son.
Oleh Vasyliovych Burets, a soldier of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by mother, brother, two sisters, wife and three children.
Yaroslav Yaroslavovych Pavliuk, a soldier of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by his two brothers and daughter.
Vitalyi Volodymyrovych Shamrai, a soldier of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by mother, sister, wife and little son.
Leonid Valentynovych Derhach, a lieutenant, commander of the 9th mechanized company of the 3rd mechanized battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by his parents, sister and two sons.
Roman Volodymyrovych Bublienko, a soldier of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. Survived by his parents, sister, wife and a little son.
Roman Robertovych Klimov, a senior soldier, a spotter of the 1st battalion of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade. He is survived by his mother and sister.
Author: Ms. Violetta Kirtoka