Ukraine Conflict: Dzerzhynske (Donetsk Oblast)

Background: 

The War in Donbass is an armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. From the beginning of March 2014, protests by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine–together commonly known as the “Donbass,” in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, were part of a wider group of concurrent, pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine They escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR respectively) and the Ukrainian government. From May 2014 until a change of the top leadership in August 2014, some of the top leaders were Russian citizens in the Donetsk People’s Republic. During the middle of 2014, Russian paramilitaries were reported to make up between 15% and 80% of the combatants.

Between 22 and 25 August, 2014, Russian artillery, personnel, and what Russia called a “humanitarian convoy” crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Ukrainian government. Crossings occurred both in areas under the control of pro-Russian forces and areas that were not under their control, such as the south-eastern part of Donetsk Oblast, near Novoazovsk. These events followed the reported shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border over the course of the preceding month. Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said that the events of 22 August were a “direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine.” Western and Ukrainian officials described these events as a “stealth invasion” of Ukraine by Russia. Two years later, in October 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the incursion, feeling they were “forced to defend the Russian-speaking population in Donbass.”

As a result of this, DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the preceding government military offensive. A deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol, was signed on 5 September, 2014.Violations of the ceasefire on both sides were common. Amidst the solidification of the line between insurgent and government-controlled territory during the ceasefire, warlords took control of swaths of land on the insurgent side, leading to further destabilization. The ceasefire completely collapsed in January 2015, with renewed heavy fighting across the conflict zone, including the Donetsk International Airport and at Debaltseve. A new ceasefire, called Minsk II, was agreed upon on 12 February, 2015. Immediately following the signing of the agreement, separatist forces launched an offensive on Debaltseve and forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw from it.

In the months after the fall of Debaltseve, minor skirmishes continued along the line of contact, but no territorial changes occurred. This stalemate led the war to be labeled by some as a “frozen conflict.” Despite this, the area stayed a war zone with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed each month. Since the start of the conflict, there have been more than 10 ceasefires, each intended to be indefinite, with the latest having started on 25 August, 2017; both sides claim it collapsed almost instantly.

  • Date: 6 April, 2014 – present
    (3 years, 6 months, 2 weeks and 6 days)
    Locations:
    Donbass includes: Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine
    Status: Stalemate
  • Pro-Russian insurgents take control of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts
    Russian intervention in Ukraine
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down; 298 killed
  • Minsk Protocol ceasefire signed on 5 September, 2014
  • Donbass Commission established placing DNR/LNR under de facto Russian administration
  • Minsk II ceasefire came into effect on 15 February, 2015; DPR and LPR capture the city of Debaltseve shortly after, Renewed attempt to implement Minsk II came into effect on 1 September, 2015
  • More than 10 ceasefire attempts failed

Belligerents: (Donetsk Oblast)

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR)

Head of State: Alexander Zakharchenko

There have been other actors in the past that have been active in the Donetsk Oblast, and some still remain active:

  • Army of the South-East
  • Russian Orthodox Army
  • Vostok Battalion
  • Neo-cossacks
  • Caucasian and Central Asian armed groups
  • Chechen paramilitaries
  • Ossetian and Abkhaz paramilitaries

Armed Forces of Ukraine: (UA)

President of Ukraine: Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko

Other Pro-Ukrainian actors that are and have been active in the Donetsk Oblast: 

  • National Guard of Ukraine
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs
  • Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)
  • Pro-government paramilitaries.

Stated Aims of the DNR/LNR: 

The original aim of The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR or LPR) was to destabilize and disrupt East Ukraine. This would draw the Ukrainian security forces’ attention away from the annexation of Crimea. After the annexation of Crimea, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR or LPR) would seek independence from Ukraine, which would also strengthen its ties with Russia and bolster its agenda with the fight in east Ukraine.

Russian Involvement:

It’s undeniable at this stage to question whether or not Russia is involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Despite Russia’s consistent denial of its involvement in the conflict, President Vladimir Putin, in one of his Christmas speeches, said that Russia had advisers on the ground. Through a number of different sources and news agencies, there is enough evidence to support that Russia has troops in Ukraine. It is also hard to believe that the DNR/LNR could sustain the fight for 3 plus years given the intense fighting in some areas. Without a doubt, Russia is supporting the DNR/LNR and directly fueling the conflict in Ukraine.

Area overview: East Ukraine “Donetsk Oblast”

Above: the Donetsk Oblast (in red)
Country: Ukraine
Established:
June 3, 1938
Total Area: 26,517 km2 (10,238 sq mi)

Population: 4,356,392 (as of Sept. 1, 2013)
Official language: Russian (regional)

Time zone: EET (UTC+2)
Area code:
+380-62
52 Cities total:
 28 regional cities, 131 urban-type settlements, 1124 villages

Area of Interest: Dzerzhynske

 

Tips for using this map: when you click on a point, you will be presented with a picture. Some points have 2-4 images.

Towns of Interest:

  • Dzerzhynske (DNR)
  • Leninskie (DNR)
  • Zaichenko (DNR)
  • Kominrernove (DNR)

Surrounding Towns:  

  • Sakhanka (DNR
  • Oktyabr (DNR)
  • Vodyane (UA)
  • Lebedynske (UA)
  • Shyrokyne  (UA)

Area of Interest: Dzerzhynske, just 10km from the outskirts of Mariupol, is a city of regional significance in southeastern Ukraine, situated on the north coast of the Sea of Azov. It is the tenth-largest city in Ukraine and the second largest in the Donetsk Oblast, with a population of 461,810 (2013 est). It remains a key area for both sides; the DNR would like to control Mariupol, and if they succeed it would serve as a new supply route from Russian annexed Crimea.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT):

Images captured: 26th of February, 2017

A derelict farm complex, spanning 60m in width, is occupied by militants of DNR. “Position Alpha” is located on the outskirts Leninskie. Possible x2 foxholes in the front and x2 fighting positions to the rear of the building.
(47.139132, 37.850265)

A derelict farm complex, spanning approx 70m, is occupied by of the DNR with multiple trench systems and foxholes around the building, Most likely a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on the outskirts of Leninskie. This FOB is approximately 190m from DNR position (Alpha).
(47.139496,37.847201)

DNR Trench System (Alpha)
Spanning approximately 940m. Possible 3 Tank/BTR hides and 3 living areas located 600m outside the village of Leninske.
It lies at the tail end of the trench system (Alpha), with a possible hide for a Tank or drop point for APC/BMP. The living area can be located in the treeline, near two fighting positions.
(47.138195, 37.839617)

DNR Trench System (Bravo)
400m from DNR FOB (Bravo), located in the village of Leninske. x1 BTR 60–parked in the hide.
(47.144462, 37.845863); (47.144722, 37.846667)

The tail end of DNR Trench line (Bravo)
The living area can be seen in the treeline–note there are a number of track marks around the trench.
Possible Communications post is located at this trench

These single story civilian houses are occupied by fighters of DNR, and a possible Communications Center (COMSEN) is located in one of the houses.
x1 BMP located outside the complex in the village of Leninske.
Note: separate from the BMP in the trench, x2 BMP 60s in the area near Leninske.
(47.146429, 37.854252)

Military truck (KAMAZ) finishing a re-supply on the outskirts of Kominrernove; possible DNR FOB and trench system in the treeline.
(47.172950, 37.852520)

Artillery Fire positions of the DNR: Zaichenko. Possible 152mm howitzer, 120mm Mortar team.
Note: it’s behind civilian housing to prevent counter strikes.
Approx: 6.2km from the closest (UA) controlled village.
47 ° 10’50.7 “N 37 ° 51’54.5” E (47.180746, 37.865145) – 47 ° 10’53.0 “N 37 ° 51’52.9” E ( 47.181392, 37.864681)

This single story civilian house (FOB) in Kominternove is occupied by militants of the DNR. Signs of tracked vehicles in the area can be seen in the following image.
(47.180975, 37.832774)

Two story civilian houses (FOB) is occupied by militants of the DNR in Kominternove.
x1 military truck “KAMAZ.” Civilian cars: x2, most likely used by the DNR.
(47.181917, 37.832694)

Two stories civilian house (FOB) is occupied by fighters of the DNR.
x1 Tank (T-64), the main gun 125mm can be located in the village of Kominternove.
Approx: 3.7km from (UA) controlled Vodyane (Breach of the Minsk 2 agreement).
47 ° 10’41.3 “N 37 ° 48’60.0” E

 

These civilian houses (FOB) are occupied by militants of the DNR. One of the building has suffered damage from a possible mortar strike.
Movement of heavy vehicles can be seen around the the area. (UA) forces. Located in Kominternove.
(47.177433, 37.814466)

Civilian farm complex (FOB) is occupied by DNR fighters. x1 civilian cars, most likely used to transport fighters around the village. Located in Kominternove.
(47.176658, 37.810672)

Civilian houses (FOB) are occupied by DNR fighters (47.174171, 37.804305).
Trench located to the rear of the house, used as a firing position.
Approx: 2km to the town of Vodyane (UA) (47.173948, 37.804564).
In Kominrernove.

Military truck (KAMAZ) driving on MSR through Kominternove.
(47.174170, 37.810784)

All Images were collected and belong to the AUTHOR

The Minsk 2 Agreement:

At a summit in Minsk on 11 February, 2015, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany agreed to a package of measures to alleviate the ongoing war in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The talks that led to the deal, overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), were organized in response to the collapse of the Minsk Protocol ceasefire in January-February 2015. The new package of measures is intended to revive the protocol, which had been agreed upon on 5 September, 2014.

Measures
The full text of the agreement is as follows:

  1. Immediate and full ceasefire in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine and its strict fulfillment as of 00:00 midnight EET on 15 February 2015.
  2. Pull-out of all heavy weapons by both sides to equal distance with the aim of creation of a security zone on minimum 50 kilometres (31 mi) apart for artillery of 100mm calibre or more, and a security zone of 70 kilometres (43 mi) for multiple rocket launchers (MRLS) and 140 kilometres (87 mi) for MLRS Tornado-S, Uragan, Smerch, and Tochka U tactical missile systems:
    – for Ukrainian troops, from actual line of contact;
    – for armed formations of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, from the contact line in accordance with the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014
    The pullout of the above-mentioned heavy weapons must start no later than the second day after the start of the ceasefire and finish within 14 days.
    This process will be assisted by OSCE with the support of the Trilateral Contact Group.
  3. Effective monitoring and verification of ceasefire regime and pullout of heavy weapons by OSCE will be provided from the first day of pullout, using all necessary technical means such as satellites, drones, radio-location systems etc.
  4. On the first day after the pullout a dialogue is to start on modalities of conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” and also about the future of these districts based on the above-mentioned law.
    Without delays, but no later than 30 days from the date of signing of this document, a resolution has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, indicating the territory which falls under the special regime in accordance with the law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” based in the line set up by the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014.
  5. Provide pardon and amnesty by way of enacting a law that forbids persecution and punishment of persons in relation to events that took place in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine.
  6. Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons, based on the principle of “all for all”. This process has to end – at the latest – on the fifth day after the pullout (of weapons).
  7. Provide safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy, based on an international mechanism.
  8. Define the modalities of a full restoration of social and economic connections, including social transfers, such as payments of pensions and other payments (income and revenue, timely payment of communal bills, restoration of tax payments within the framework of Ukrainian legal field).
    With this aim, Ukraine will restore management over the segment of its banking system in the districts affected by the conflict, and possibly, an international mechanism will be established to ease such transactions.
  9. Restore control of the state border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone, which has to start on the first day after the local election and end after the full political regulation (local elections in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts based on the law of Ukraine and Constitutional reform) by the end of 2015, on the condition of fulfillment of Point 11 – in consultations and in agreement with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.
  10. Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision. Disarmament of all illegal groups.
  11. Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new constitution to come into effect by the end of 2015, the key element of which is decentralisation (taking into account peculiarities of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, agreed with representatives of these districts), and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in accordance with the measures spelt out in the attached footnote, by the end of 2015. 
  12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.
  13. Intensify the work of the Trilateral Contact Group including through the establishment of working groups on the implementation of relevant aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.

2015 Minsk 2 Agreement lines of control:

Since the agreement was signed back in 2015, the lines have slightly moved with (UA) armed forces taking some ground back from the DNR.

Conclusion:

The area is known as Dzerzhynske consists of the following villages: Dzerzhynske (DNR), Leninskie (DNR), Zaichenko (DNR) and Kominternove (DNR). From the images collected and analyzed, along with Ukrainian forces reports, we can see that there is a heavy presence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the area. Clear fortification can be seen in and around the villages with the possibility of 2-4 BTRs, a T64-Tank and well-placed trench systems–the DNR has a strong foothold in the area. The BTR would provide the DNR to move troops around even under IDF, increasing their capabilities and decreasing the UA forces’ opportunities to assault. With heavy armor, artillery and infantry–not to mention that the DNR has been known to heavily mine areas of interest–if UA forces were to enter this area, their casualties would be catastrophic. Dzerzhynske is located close to Sakhanka, a stronghold of the DNR. Heavy artillery, a Grad, a mechanized brigade and fire support is close and in range.

KEY POINTS:

  • The DNR artillery location in the village of Zaichenko is questionable since it is located behind civilian houses. This would cause a lot of problems for UA forces if they launch counter attacks in the area. This is also a common tactic employed by the DNR to put blame on UA forces for killing civilians.
  • In the village of Kominternove, a T-64 tank can be seen at one of the DNR FOBs. The T-64 tank has a 125mm main weapon system, violating the Minsk 2 Agreement. While there a number of violations every day, we are still yet to see a tank so close to the contact line.
  • The area is fortified heavily and well maintained/supplied. If UA forces were to try and take back the area they would face a high number of friendly casualties. On top of what has been discussed, the area will also be littered with mines, making progress on a flat battlefield with little to no cover almost impossible.

 

Featured image courtesy of the author; images of politicians and flags throughout courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.