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.