Bloody week in the war zone: war crimes and military incompetence

Wounded Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel filmed from a Ukrainian drone. Why was the Ukrainian rescue mission in distinctive white markings attacked? Photo: screenshot from TCN report 

Russian Aggression, War in the Donbas

Escalation on the front lines in the Donbas began after Russia’s plans at the online Normandy meeting in Berlin on July 3 were not completely satisfied. By intensifying shelling and gunfire, resulting in a rising number of dead and wounded Ukrainian soldiers, Russia, through its proxy fighters, wanted to force Ukraine to comply with the Kremlin’s requirements for amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution in favour of ORDLO.

In fact, the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Kozak stated that “no breakthrough was achieved in Berlin and that “it was impossible to get a clear answer from Ukraine as to when the document with amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution would be prepared”, which is allegedly provided by the Minsk protocol.

“First of all, this concerns the Ukrainian side, which must adopt dozens of laws and coordinate them with the Donbas, Kozak said.

Events from July 13-21

In this article, we focus essentially on the tragic military events that took place in the so-called ‘grey zone’ near Zaitseve, Donetsk Oblast from July 13-21, 2020.

On July 13, 2020, a group of nine people – two JCCC* representatives, several field engineers and combat medic Mykola Ilin, wearing easily recognizable markings – set out towards the combat zone near Zaitseve in Donetsk Oblast. They were charged with evacuating Lieutenant Dmytro Krasnohrud, who had been wounded or killed in a mine blast during a reconnaissance mission (the evacuation team did not know at that time that Lieutenant Krasnohrud was, in fact, already dead). As soon as the soldiers of the brigade learned that one of theirs had fallen on the battlefield, they immediately informed Commander of the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) Volodymyr Kravchenko, who, in turn, turned to the JCCC and the OSCE. The evacuation plan was coordinated with the OSCE and a four-hour ceasefire (from 14:00 to 18:00) was approved by the “DNR” militants.

*The Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) on ceasefire and stabilization of the demarcation line is a special group controlling the implementation of the Minsk protocol, composed of representatives from Ukraine and Russia. The Centre began its activity on September 26, 2014. Since April 2015, the Ukrainian and Russian sides have kept separate records of violations of ceasefire agreements.

Illustrative photo. Open source

Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel was leading the group when suddenly the enemy militants opened fire. Both the JCCC and the 35th Brigade claim that a ceasefire for the search and evacuation period had been fully guaranteed by the OSCE. Sergeant Zhuravel, like the other members of the group, wore a white helmet, a white bulletproof vest, and white armbands.

“Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel was hit first as he was at the head of the group. The others withdrew quickly, regrouped, and, led by an intelligence officer and combat medic Mykola Ilin ran to help Zhuravel, who had crawled to the side. Suddenly, the enemy began firing grenade launchers from all sides, and medic Mykola Ilin went down and died on the spot. .. The intelligence officer was injured and was instantly evacuated by the field engineers.” stated Mykola Palas, Commander of the 35th Brigade at a press briefing on July 13.

In the wake of the second evacuation mission, the “DNR” authorities launched a fake information campaign, claiming that “mercenaries from NATO countries” had allegedly died near Zaitseve. The militants mistakenly referred to deceased Dmytro Krasnohrud as American national Sean Fuller, who actually serves in the Ukrainian Marine Corps, but in a different unit.

The Head of the JCCC, Mykola Levytsky, stated that he had never in his life seen such gross violations. In his opinion, it was an ambush, an ignoble deed perpetrated by the occupying forces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine considers that the violation of ceasefire agreements constitutes a war crime.

“We [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs] will inform about what happened. About how the occupying forces are once again violating the norms of international humanitarian law. We will do our utmost to make the enemy pay a high price for this crime,” said Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba during an online briefing.

On July 14, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the situation with the killing of the combat medic and the wounded soldier was “under his personal control”. He then dispatched Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak and Deputy Chief of the Presidential Office Roman Mashovets to the Donbas to assess the situation and act accordingly.

Yuriy Biriukov, volunteer, founder of Phoenix Wings Foundation and adviser to former President Petro Poroshenko, voiced the facts and his views live on Priamy TV channel:

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“President Zelenskyy says that he had the situation under personal control and sent General Khomchak to assess the area. At the same time, two special ops units of the 137th Separate Marine Battalion were ready and waiting for permission to evacuate the bodies of the fallen soldiers. Yes, they were waiting for official permission. But, they were given a direct order not to move forward. This was Zelenskyy’s “personal control of the situation”! So, we can conclude that they’re trying to paint a pretty picture, avoiding the facts, and not naming names.

I know the whole story, minute by minute, and I know the names of all the fighters; I know the special operations forces, I know the counter-snipers, who today, by order of Deputy Commander of the Joint Forces Operation General Viktor Hanushchak, were removed from the front lines.”

In the meantime, Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel was seen and filmed by a Ukrainian reconnaissance drone. Thus, his exact position was known to headquarters. He was still alive, and was applying a tourniquet to his wounds. Then, he disappeared from view… he may have crawled under a tree or a thick bush, or fallen into a gulley. For three days in a row, the Russian-backed militants did not allow the Ukrainian side to search for and evacuate their wounded comrade. For three days in a row, Yaroslav was left on his own in the blazing heat, critically wounded, with no food or water…

TCN correspondent Andriy Tsaplienko’s report from July 19 on the military events in the war zone (in Ukrainian, 7:09 min.)

 

“Today, in coordination with the OSCE SMM, negotiations were held with the representatives of the Russian occupation forces. Once again no agreement was reached as to the search and evacuation of our wounded defender. The enemy prevents our teams from conducting search operations,” stated JFO headquarters on July 17.

As the weekend approached, it became clear that Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel had either died of his wounds or had been executed by the enemy militants.

According to war correspondent Andriy Tsaplienko, when questioned about the tragic events, the OSCE SMM absolved itself of all responsibility for Russia’s failure to comply with the ceasefire during the evacuation of the dead and wounded near Zaitseve. The OSCE SMM stated that “security guarantees are agreements between the parties on the ground, and it is the parties who are responsible for initiating, complying with and implementing such agreements.”

On July 15, the body of Lieutenant Dmytro Krasnohrud was returned to the Ukrainian side.

On July 17, the Russian terrorists returned the mutilated body of combat medic Mykola Ilin. His body was unrecognizable. The body had been slit open and carelessly sewn up. Bones and organs had been grossly removed from some parts of the soldier’s body, probably to prevent Ukrainian experts from identifying the prohibited weapons that had killed him. DNA testing was required to identify the body of Mykola Ilin.

On July 21, the body of Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel was finally handed over to the Ukrainian side.

Questions that need to be answered

In 1949, the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as contained in the four 1949 Geneva Conventions was officially ratified by 196 countries. The law promoted medical neutrality and non-interference with medical services for people in war zones. The breach of medical neutrality became regarded as a war crime.

Combat medic Mykola Ilin, who was wearing recognizable markings, was killed in cold blood as he attempted to reach his wounded comrade, Yaroslav Zhuravel. Will the Ukrainian government take the necessary measures to report this heinous crime to the international community and the relevant courts of law, and follow it through to the very end? Will Ukraine submit a war crimes claim to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands?

As for the suffering and tragic death of Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel… Why was a rescue operation with heavy military hardware not launched to save the wounded soldier? Why were the specialops units not immediately deployed to the site marked by the Ukrainian drone? Will President Zelenskyy and the Commander-in-Chief Ruslan Khomchak take responsibility for failure to act?

On July 14, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made a statement on the killings at the U.S. Department of State:

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“I want to express the United States deep sadness at the reported killing yesterday of a Ukrainian military medic. We join the people of Ukraine in condemning the ongoing brutal aggression of Russian-led forces in Donbas.”

The European Union delegation in Kyiv pointed to direct violations of the Minsk agreements:

The escalation of violence in Donbas, including the killing of medical officer, is a breach of Minsk agreements, Normandy Summit commitments and international humanitarian law. Imperative that all parties respect ceasefire and fully implement their commitments.”

In addition, Nabila Massrali, EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy called on Russia to take responsibility for the murder in a comment to Radio Liberty.

We need to show maximum restraint in order to de-escalate the situation and restore respect for international humanitarian law. We expect Russia to take responsibility, use its influence on the armed groups that it supports, and fully fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreements.

Besides the statement on having the situation “under personal control”, there was no official reaction from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or the Office of the President. The names of the fallen Ukrainian soldiers were not announced and Russia was not named as the aggressor.

They died for their country

Dmytro Krasnohrud, call sign “Myr” (Peace), was killed by a mine blast during a reconnaissance mission near Zaitseve, Donetsk Oblast on July 13, 2020. Despite a ceasefire agreement, the evacuation team failed to reach him when the enemy opened fire from three sides. On July 15, the Russian-controlled militants finally handed over Dmytro’s body to the Ukrainian side.
Dmytro was born on October 18, 1978. He lived in Kharkiv. He served as lieutenant, commander of a reconnaissance unit in the 137th Marine Infantry Battalion of the 35th Separate Marine Infantry Brigade. In July 2017, he and his team captured Russian soldier Viktor Ageyev near Zholobok, Luhansk Oblast.
Вічна Пам’ять! Eternal Memory!
Герої не вмирають! Heroes Never Die!

Mykola Ilin, call sign “Estonets”, was killed near Zaitseve, Donetsk Oblast on July 13, 2020.
In conjunction with OSCE and enemy approval, a Ukrainian evacuation team wearing white helmets with identification marks moved into the battlefield to evacuate the body of Ukrainian soldier Dmytro Krasnohrud. They were only a few metres from the body when the enemy opened fire. Sergeant Yaroslav Zhuravel fell to the ground, seriously wounded. The unit withdrew and regrouped, and Mykola rushed to help his wounded comrade. At that moment, the enemy started firing grenade launchers & machine guns from three sides. Mykola was killed, and an intelligence officer was wounded. The OSCE SMM began negotiating with the Russian mercenaries for evacuation.
Mykola was from Belarus, but emigrated to Estonia where he studied and worked. He moved to Ukraine when the war began; he lived in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast. He served as army medic in the 137th Marine Infantry Battalion of the 35th Separate Marine Infantry Brigade.  Mykola’s mutilated body was handed over to the Ukrainian side on July 17.
Вічна Пам’ять! Eternal Memory!
Герої не вмирають! Heroes Never Die!

Yaroslav Zhuravel died in the war zone some time between July 13-17, 2020. Despite an agreement with the OSCE and the Russian mercenaries, the evacuation team, which was charged with evacuating the body of Lieutenant Dmytro Krasnohrud, was forced to withdraw due to heavy enemy fire. Medic Sergeant Zhuravel was seriously wounded and left behind in the blazing heat, with no food or water. No efforts were deployed to save him. The Russian occupying forces finally handed over his body on July 21, 2020.
Yaroslav was born on March 8, 1980 in Andriyivka, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. He served as commander of a reconnaissance unit in the 137th Marine Infantry Battalion of the 35th Separate Marine Infantry Brigade.
Yaroslav leaves behind his grieving wife and 2 daughters.
Вічна Пам’ять! Eternal Memory!
Герої не вмирають! Heroes Never Die!

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