OSCE monitors and Russian-Ukrainian contact group members during a visit to Shyrokyne
Shyrokyne is a strategic village 8 kilometers to the east of Mariupol, a Ukrainian-held city of 450,000 on the coast of the Azov sea.
Since August last year, the invaders have been probing Mariupol’s defenses. While a key port itself, some suspect Mariupol could be the first step for a land corridor to Crimea.
In January 2015 Mariupol’s eastern outskirts suffered heavy Russian shelling coming from the East. Losing Shyrokyne would put Mariupol’s residential areas under direct threat of Russian artillery attacks.
Shyrokyne has been a conflict hotspot since March despite the Minsk accord, with both sides taking casualties. According to Azov commander Andriy Biletskyi’s estimate, Ukrainian forces lost about 60 killed and 200 wounded to the enemy’s 800 total casualties.
Fighting in Shyrokyne, video by Azov battalion defending the village
80% of houses in Shyrokyne have been destroyed, all the locals have left the village
— Not a spy (@finriswolf) July 15, 2015
OSCE proposed demilitarization of Shyrokyne, mutual withdrawal of troops and weapons up to 23mm in caliber. OSCE monitors would establish a permanent post in Shyrokyne to monitor the ceasefire. There is no clear mechanism to prevent “DNR” troops from seizing Shyrokyne as soon as Ukrainians withdraw.
Locals in Mariupol as well as the volunteer battalion Donbas (defending Shyrokyne along with Azov) oppose the decision, calling it voluntary yielding of Ukrainian territory.
US ambassador to Ukraine has supported the DMZ (demilitarized zone) plan, being in line with Minsk agreement and serving towards establishment of peace.
Some refugees from Shyrokyne support the move, willing to return to normal life. Others believe normal life under Russian tank guns is impossible.
President Poroshenko stated Ukrainian troops would keep strategic heights surrounding Shyrokyne and the DMZ wouldn’t spread to Mariupol itself. The city, he assured, would remain under firm Ukrainian protection.
Ukrainian military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk believes Ukrainian troops would be unable to recapture Shyrokyne, should Russians move in upon breaking the ceasefire. He suggested a DMZ plan failure should bring a new round of sanctions against Russia.
On Tuesday, July 28, Azov and Donbas volunteer battalions (who weren’t eager to leave Shyrokyne) have been withdrawn from the village, replaced by marines.
Наши морпехи в Широкино pic.twitter.com/bgynsMzcSR
— InfoResist (@InfoResist) July 29, 2015
Ukrainian marines take positions in Shyrokyne
The trilateral contact group is expected to present a more detailed DMZ plan later today after a meeting in Minsk.