EuromaidanPress starts republishing English-language diaries written during the siege of Debaltseve by Viktor Kovalenko, a Ukrainian journalist and a press officer of a Ukrainian battalion.
“Start your APC’s engine! You have ammo, right?!” says one of our unit commanders loudly to the armored personal carrier’s driver, while climbing on top of it. “Hurry up! Get us to the Bee!” he adds. “The Bee” is the nickname of another unit commander, who’s just started repelling a terrorists’ attack at his positions 5 kilometers from ours. A dozen of soldiers with Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers and ammo quickly jump into the APC, and then the vehicle rushes off to the north through snow-covered fields.
For several days in a row since Saturday, January 24, pro-Russian terrorists have been attacking our positions around Debaltseve town in eastern Donetsk region. From early morning till late evening, and sometimes during the nights, they have been shelling, firing and trying to break our defense lines. Their attacks couldn’t be possible without support from Russia, which sends them heavy weaponry, lots of ammunition, and military instructors as well.
Debaltseve is a strategic railway transportation hub between the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the Russian Federation to the east through an uncontrolled border. Separatists could use this hub to ship stolen coal to Russia and receive supplies in return. Ukrainian forces took Debaltseve back in July 2014. However, possession of this railway station has always been risky for Ukraine – an area of several hundred square kilometers around it is surrounded by enemy forces from three sides, and a 35 km long road to the north-west is an only connection to Kyiv. No doubt, it was a matter of time when terrorists would want to re-take such an important railway hub.
We thought Russians may start attacking Debaltseve in early spring, when snow would melt. But they launched the offensive in the middle of winter. Army intelligence reported some enemy preparations, but they looked relatively minor in scope and troops involved. So no one expected anything serious.
The activities of enemy troops weren’t massive in first several days of the offensive, apart from heavy shelling, to which we’d got already used. First, they sent 10 tanks and some APCs to our remote position, located far away from Debaltseve in the fields. The enemy probably thought that it would be easy to crush it. After 4 of their tanks were destroyed, and one of their tank drivers was captured, the enemy troops quickly retreated. On the 2nd day, the Russia-sponsored terrorists lined up in a chain and rushed with tanks at another base, but were pushed back again. On the 3rd day, we saw several random enemy tanks, which fired 3-4 shells at our positions from a safe distance of 2 kilometers and quickly drove away.
We lost 2 servicemen in 3 days. The enemy, according to information by our Sector HQ, lost much more – over 300.