Ukraine suffers casualties in military escalation near disengagement zone in Luhansk Oblast

Novotohkivske city sign. Photo: radiosvoboda.org 

Russian Aggression, War in the Donbas

This morning the press service of the Ukrainian military-lead Joint-Forces Operation (JFO) reported an attack of Russia-controlled military formations on Ukrainian positions near four settlements at the Bakhmut Highway in Luhansk Oblast. An artillery preparation was followed by a break-through attempt and Ukrainian troops have suffered losses. Later the JFO Staff posted an update stating that the offensive attempt failed as Ukrainian troops suppressed it. Officially, one Ukrainian soldier was killed, four more were wounded in action.

The area is located east of the town of Zolote where one of three demilitarized disengagement zones had been established several months ago as one of the premises for December negotiations in the Normandy Format of leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany on Donbas issues in Paris.

Read more: Ukraine pulls out troops from town in Luhansk Oblast despite military activity on the front

For years, the area in question remained one of the hottest spots in Luhansk Oblast with regular short-lasting outbursts of hostilities. The ceasefire negotiated in Paris decreased overall military activity for about two months, however, as we can see it today, peace in Ukraine’s Donbas region is not among Russia’s priorities.

The approximate area of today’s attack (18 February 2019) highlighted in yellow.

Break-through attempt

The initial report published on the Facebook page of the Joint-Forces Operation’s press service reads,

Today morning, February 18, armed formations of the Russian Federation attacked positions of the Joint Forces units near the settlements of Novotoshkivske, Orikhove, Krymske, Khutir Vilnyi.

The invaders have been firing at our defenders with weapons proscribed by the Minsk Agreements. The enemy uses 120 mm mortars. The enemy also conducts fire with grenade launchers of various types and heavy machine guns.

Under fire cover, the Russian invaders proceeded to active offensive actions and attempted to advance through the line of demarcation.

As of now, the battle has been ongoing. Unfortunately, the hostile shelling inflicted losses on Ukrainian defenders.

The units of the defending Joint Forces are giving an adequate response to the armed formations of the Russian Federation, and the invaders are being subjected to deadly force in order to suppress their armed activity. The enemy’s losses are being clarified.

Pink: Russia-occupied territory. The settlements mentioned in the reports highlighted in yellow. Map: LiveUAMap

At 10:17 the JFO reported that the battle had ended, one Ukrainian serviceman was killed in action, four more received light wounds. No Ukrainian positions lost to the enemy that had one soldier killed and five more severely wounded in the battle, according to the report.

At 11:38 the JFO Staff updated,

The Russian mercenaries in their treacherous attempt to break through the positions of the Ukrainian military have met a fitting rebuff and requested a truce regime to pick up their wounded and dead from the battlefield.

The message mentions a disinformation attack that followed the military action, saying that “defeated on the battlefield, the enemy decided to hide their defeat and issued a hastily prepared statement to accuse the Ukrainian side of the attempted attack.”

The militants of the Russia-backed group “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LNR”) accused Ukrainian forces of an attempt to approach their positions and further artillery attack.

The JFO Staff denies the allegations stressing that the Ukrainian forces maintain strong commitments to implement the Minsk accords and never attack first.


The JFO Staff updates on the morning battle, mentioning that Ukrainian positions were bombarded not only near the four mentioned settlements of Novotoshkivske, Orikhove, Krymske, Khutir Vilnyi, but also near the city of Popasna that lies southwest of Zolote. In total, Russia-led forces rained down on Ukrainian positions six 152mm artillery shells, 18 of 122mm caliber, 164 heavy 120mm mortar shells, and 44 more of 82mm mortars. Various grenade launcher types and heavy machine guns were used as well, according to the report. Moreover, 56 tank shells were fired at strongholds near Novotoshkivske, and the enemy’s intelligence-subversive groups operated in the engagement area.

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Ruslan Homchak, head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, updated the numbers of casualties. He says that one Ukrainian military was killed, three more wounded, and the other two incurred concussion. Formerly, the JFO Staff reported one fatality and four wounded.


The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that the Russian-occupation forces used to conduct targeted fire at Ukrainian positions using heavy weaponry for a few weeks now in the area of today’s attack, especially next to Orikhove. The morning break-through attempt started about 05:50 in the morning and lasted until around 10:00.

Pvt Maksym Khitaylov of the 72nd brigade. Photo: Facebook

The 72nd mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has named the soldier killed in the morning attack. It was 22-year-old grenade-launcher operator Pvt Maksym Khitaylov, contract soldier from Poltava Oblast, who died defending an observation point near Khutir Vilnyi.

Meanwhile, the Luhansk Regional Military and Civil Administration reported that a civilian was killed in the attack.

Local residents published on social media several videos showing the morning military activity:

 

Reactions

The US Embassy is “deeply concerned” and calls on Russia to stick to its commitments:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “On the fifth anniversary of the Debaltseve tragedy militants and occupiers made a cynical provocation,” this instance of ongoing Russian aggression is, according to President, “an armed provocation intended to disrupt the peace process in the Donbas that has started to advance in small but inevitable steps.” The word Russia is absent from the text of the statement.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, stresses that “the armed provocations on the Donbas line of contact are conducted by the forces that are not interested in continuing the Normandy format negotiations.” Since he doesn’t name any actors, it remains unclear whether he means that Russia doesn’t want to negotiate or that the “LNR” that is under full Russian control acts independently from Russia.

Ukrainian political scientist Serhiy Taran suggests that Zelenskyy still doesn’t get that his peace plan ended up in a fiasco as pulling out troops, his promises of holding local elections and of joint Ukraine-Russian patrolling in the occupied territory did not stop Putin.

According to the UN, from March 2014 until 31 October 2019, the military actions in the Donbas killed 13,000-13,200 people.

 


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