After being shelled. Illustrative photo
Article by: Anatolii Shara, Kyiv-Avdiyivka-Kostyantynivka-Pokrovsk-Kyiv
Over the last week, Ukrainian media were full of fierce discussions regarding the removal of military units’ at three hot spots at the Donbas frontline – in Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote, and Petrivske. This process kicked off after the regular and mostly inconclusive meetings of the Trilateral contact group in Minsk on 21 September 2016 in Minsk.
The negotiations parties signed a Framework Agreement on the military units and hardware removal and agreed that Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists should draw back for 1 sq. km from their current positions. This is done allegedly with a noble aim: to decrease the level of suspense and danger at these very places.
When intentions to do so were declared the local patriots in Stanytsia Luhanska and Volnovakha came out on the streets to express their disagreement. They fairly fear that when the units of Ukrainian Armed Forces fall back the terrorists will enter this city right away and kill all those who have been supporting Ukraine these bloody 2 years.
A lot has been spoken about this dubious initiative but the question remains: who will guarantee that the terrorists comply with the Framework Agreement? Notably, after the first meeting in Minsk on September 2014 regarding the ceasefire, the terrorists continued their full-scale attacks and seized some important spots like the 32nd roadblock near Frunze, tried to force out the units of Ukrainian Army near Shchastia, Pisky, Maryinka, and Mariupol.
Another example of the separatists’ non-compliance is Debaltseve. Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Russian President Putin agreed to bring to stop the military operations in Minsk on 11 February 2015. However, the militants persistently continued their offensive of this city and finally got control over Debaltseve, as it remains to this day in breach of the Minsk agreements.
Despite the protests of people living in the above-mentioned areas, the process of Ukrainian Army units’ removal is underway, and this is being done without taking into consideration that the Russian-backed separatists are not going to stop their provocations. Especially this can be easily seen and heard at the current hottest spot at the frontline – Avdiyivka. This city has suffered a lot from the very start of the war. The terrorists used heavy artillery, tanks to dislodge the units of the Ukrainian Army out of here.
When we came to this war-wearied city the first thing catching the eye was the total indifference of the locals to the non-stop battles at the Promzona. The sounds of shooting were pretty clear and not that far away from the city center.
People standing near the shops were talking about their routine, some of them drinking beer, the children were riding bicycles. They just get used to these sounds of war. We stopped near the last roadblock before the Industrial Zone itself. Here we waited for the soldier with nom de guerre da Vinci, a well-respected young volunteer in the Ukrainian Volunteer Army.
Right behind the roadblock stands a nine-story building which was shelled during the battles for Donetsk Airport. All of its inhabitants had to leave it, but now some have returned. These people have no other options because they run out of money, have no jobs in the places they escaped, and, regrettably, the state authorities did not provide them with the proper facilities.
Now some families are living in areas that are too near to the battleground. The Promzona is a place equally important for Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Russian-backed separatists. In February 2016, the Ukrainian forces pushed the terrorists back from this spot because of the increased activity of the reconnaissance and diversion groups of the latter. They constantly entered this spot and tried to attack the Ukrainian forces in Avdiyivka.
This was actually a tactical victory for the Ukrainian Army – the Promzona is sided with the Yasynuvata junction, which allows the Russian-backed separatists to freely supply their garrison in Horlivka if they control it. After losing access to Promzona, they also lost access to the garrison.
While waiting for Da Vinci, we listened to the sounds of the “ceasefire.” Then we put our helmets and vests on and moved forward. The road to Promzona is full of mine splinters, so the drivers must be very careful – otherwise, there is a chance to get stuck in the middle of a cross-shooting.
The positions of the confronting units are close to each other, with sometimes only 50 meters in between. We came just in the middle of a battle – the militants had been shooting with small arms and large-caliber machine guns. Being here one may unambiguously say there is no ceasefire at all. The bullets from the militants whizzed over our heads over two and a half hours. Of course, the intensity of fire is different – during the day, the separatists do not use mortars, but in the night they don’t restrict themselves. The sabotage and reconnaissance groups of the militants do not diminish the level of their activity. It is clear that all those Minsk agreements mean nothing to them.
Avdiyivka is an unusual place. When we were leaving Promzona, we saw people pottering about in the gardens just in 400 meters from the battleground.
It is very hard to guess what will happen in the near future concerning the situation at the frontline, but one thing is clear: Russian-backed separatists carry out a dangerous game. They pretend they are decreasing the level of provocations, but are ready for the same dirty tricks as we witnessed in the autumn of 2014 and in the winter of 2015.