Photo from the events near Ilovaisk of the project After Ilovaisk (FB). Author: Maxim Dondyuk
Article by: Olena Makarenko
On 29 August 2014, Ukrainian forces found themselves entrapped by Russian-separatist forces.These Russian-separatist forces on the request of Vladimir Putin himself organized a so-called “green corridor,” through Ukrainian forces were promised a safe exit but were in fact shelled with heavy weapons.
This battle turned around how the war in Donbas was seen outside of Ukraine, as during the battle undeniable evidence of Russian intervention emerged.
On 21 August 2020, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Office informed that it transferred the evidence Russian military crimes near Ilovaisk in August 2014 to the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court. However, the cases of responsibility of Ukraine’s commanders in the bloody August 2014 seems to have dissolved in time.
The city of Ilovaisk had strategic importance. First, it was a key railway hub. Secondly, it was the northern gates to Donetsk, the capital of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”). Even now, six years after, propaganda resources of the so-called “republic” refer to the “victory in the Ilovaisk battle” as “fateful for the establishment of the ‘DNR’.”
The fights for Ilovaisk were ongoing since the middle of August 2014. Ukrainian forces almost managed to take control of the city. However, at this point, Russia engaged its regular army units.
Instead of a “green corridor,” Russians organized a deadly trap
The Ukrainian forces that got trapped were mostly from volunteer battalions. At the end of August 2014, Vladimir Putin, who previously denied any Russian involvement in the Donbas armed conflict, finally decided to play the role of peacemaker, appealing to the “militia forces” to open a “green corridor” for Ukrainian forces.
The conditions put forward for Ukrainians included leaving behind their arms and hardware. There was to be only one column for the escape, the route was determined by the Russians. As it turned out later, the route was laid through pre-arranged ambushes.
When the column gathered for the escape, the Russian side started playing for time. The columns were shelled by mortars. They were divided in two and started moving through the identified route but were ambushed. The units which managed to get to the Chervonosilske village organized a defense. There was almost no connection with the commanders. The battle in Chervonosilske lasted 36 hours.
Those who survived the events of that day escaped by foot through corn and sunflowers.
Prosecutor General Office names Russia as the only reason for the tragedy
The recent Prosecutor General’s report says the Office is supervising the pre-trial investigation into the fact of Russia waging a war against Ukraine.
“According to the conclusions of experts and a set of other evidence, the only factor that led to the tragic events near Ilovaisk is the military aggression of the Russian armed forces. On the night of 23-24 August 2014, the largest direct invasion of the aggressor country’s armed forces into the territory of Ukraine and their subsequent commission of war crimes took place. At that time, the forces of Russian Armed Forces consisted of nine battalion tactical groups: 3,500 personnel, up to 60 tanks, up to 320 fighting machines, up to 60 cannons, up to 45 mortars and 5 anti-tank missile systems.”
Referring to the escape through the the “green corridor,” the report says that Russian forces, following the direct orders of Russia’s General Staff, in violation of Article 37 of the Additional protocol of the Geneva convention from 1949, shelled with heavy weapons at point blank a column of Ukrainian servicemen, together with three captured Russian paratroopers.
In addition, back then Russian servicemen and irregular illegal armed groups killed wounded Ukrainian servicemen who did not resist because of their injuries.
“Thus, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were treacherously killed, 429 were wounded to varying degrees, and 300 were taken prisoner.”
The report also says that 110 people in total have been prosecuted for committing these crimes, including 68 Russian citizens, of whom 21 are high-ranking officials. These persons are wanted.
48 indictments were filed against 51 people. 35 people have already been convicted by Ukrainian courts, including 13 Russian citizens, including 3 servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces.
The discussion on Ukrainian commanders’ responsibility fizzled out
While Russia’s responsibility can hardly raise doubts, the no less role of Ukrainian commanders at those events remains unknown.
Meanwhile, the war is still ongoing and the top brass who were involved in Ilovaisk battles still remain in the system.
Witnesses who survived the Ilovaisk tragedy had opined that volunteer battalions were sent to their death on purpose.
“Donbas, Ilovaisk. Let’s be honest. We’re witnessing the very thing which was discussed ad nauseum – that the volunteer battalions will become disposable,” Maks Levin, a journalist covering the Donbas war, wrote on 20 August 2014 on his Facebook page.
Referring to other journalists being directly in the hotspot at that time, as well as to soldiers, Levin assessed the situation thus:
“Everyone understands that the guys were sent to Ilovaisk by purpose, so they wouldn’t come back. I am worrying a lot about whether all of them will live until morning. Arsen Avakov [the Minister of Internal Affairs to whom the volunteer battalions were subordinated], it is hard for me to imagine the irreversible process which starts. If the guys were really abandoned, the consequences will be inevitable,” Levin wrote in 2014.
However, there were no consequences. Avakov keeps his office despite the numerous attempts of activists to have him dismissed.
Yuriy Butusov, editor-in-chief of the media Censor.net and the member of the commission of the investigation of the Ilovaisk tragedy in 2017, repeatedly addresses the issue of the responsibility of Ukrainian generals. On the fourth anniversary of the start of the Ilovaisk operation, he published documents proving that it were Ukrainian generals who gave the orders to start the disastrous endeavor.
Six years after the tragedy, there has been no progress in the investigation of Ukraine’s commanders’ responsibility for the tragedy. Discussions about Ilovaisk have all but vanished from public discussions.
Controversial ex-commander Semen Semenchenko, who headed the Donbas volunteer battalion at the time of Ilovaisk, but who was for some reason not present there in the most critical moments, remains among the few who speak about the commanders’ responsibility nowadays.
He castigated the new Prosecutor’s General report, saying that it totally copies the Prosecutor’s General report of 2017. Semenchenko also stressed that the materials of the investigation of the criminal case on the Ilovaisk tragedy still were not declassified and that in fact no one is brought to real criminal responsibility.
He added that no one is going to direct the case to the Ukrainian court.
As well, Semenchenko said that in fact the commanders of Russia’s Armed Forces and 21 Ministers were declared wanted only in Ukraine, not internationally.