For the first time since February this year, when the village of Shyrokyne came under the control of Ukrainian forces after an advance by the Azov regiment, the main forces defending the village will no longer be the volunteer forces but troops of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In particular, this will be the Ochakiv Marine Battalion. Up till now the defensive positions have been held by the Donbas battalion and the Azov regiment, which rotated every 5 days.
The last current rotation of the Donbas battalion ended on July 28. The Azov regiment no longer received orders to move to the front position and (the Azov fighters) do not know if they will be able to return to Shyrokyne. According to Azov press secretary Stepan Baida, the leadership of the sector has provided no explanations regarding the changes.
“All the units that are under the Ministry of the Interior have been withdrawn from the front lines. Azov has received the orders when it was not even there. Even though we do not support this decision, we have to obey the orders. The responsibility will rest with the Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko and the president,” Baida said.
Lightly-armed troops to remain in Shyrokyno
The volunteer soldiers believe the new orders are connected to agreements regarding the demilitarization of Shyrokyne. As has been reported, the tripartite Contact Group to resolve the Donbas conflict will soon sign an agreement to establish a 30-kilometer buffer zone from which the parties to the conflict need to withdraw under 100 mm caliber heavy weapons.
According to ATO headquarters, the military will not leave Shyrokyne. The defense will be maintained with small arms.
Andriy Lysenko, ATO spokesman for the presidential administration, stated that meanwhile preparations are being made for possible violations of the agreement by the Russian-separatist forces.
“Given the threat that exists now based on the monitoring of the situation as well as information on the presence of heavy equipment and artillery on the part of the (Russian-separatist) forces, the Ukrainian command has decided to create an immediate response reserve force that will be used in the case of active offensive actions by the enemy,” Lysenko said.
Marines lack equipment — journalist
Meanwhile, soldiers of the Mykolayiv Marine Battalion have already experienced their first battle in Shyrokyno. Military journalist Andriy Tsapliyenko, who visited the marine frontlines, described the situation to Radio Svoboda. Small arms were used by both sides, he says, and there were no casualties.
However, the marines have certain problems in the new location. According to Tsapliyenko, they lack certain weapons and knowledge of the area. He believes that for the first few days in Shyrokyne it would be more appropriate to rely on compatible military rotations with the volunteer forces so that the marines have a chance to adapt to the new location.
“However, this was not done and, as I understand it, the marines need to learn the topography and hazardous areas of Shyrokyne by themselves and to settle in the existing fortified districts,” he said.
Demilitarization and the surrender of territory
Over all, the volunteer troops view the idea of demilitarizing Shyrokyne with some skepticism. The commander of the Donbas battalion Anatoliy Vynohrodskyi believes that the withdrawal of weapons from the frontline positions could lead to the loss of control over Shyrokyne.
“To talk about demilitarization now is to talk about the surrender of our territories. We have already demilitarized Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk instead of taking measures to free them. This year there hasn’t been a single instance where agreements with the Russians and their allies have been kept,” Vynohrodskyi said.
Meanwhile, the Donbas commander pointed out that if the separatists take over the elevated areas near Shyrokyne, then Mariupol, which is located twenty kilometers from the village, would be exposed to artillery attacks by the Russian-separatist forces.