Top general: Ukraine repels Russian-backed offensive, loses minor observation post
A Ukrainian soldier looks through binoculars as he stands guard at a position on the front line with Russian-backed militants not far from the town of Horlivka on March 21, 2019.Photo by AFP
Ukrainian troops successfully repelled an offensive by Russian-backed troops in Donbas, although they had to withdraw from one forward observation point, Lieutenant General Ruslan Khomchak, Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said on Feb. 18.
Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian military reported an unusually fierce clash with militants, during which both warring parties used heavy artillery.
The incident was the sharpest escalation in the Donbas in many months, amid President Volodymyr Zelensky’s struggling attempts to find a peaceful resolution to the war, which has already claimed over 13,000 lives since 2014.
Early media reports also claimed the enemy attack drove Ukrainian troops from up to two frontline strongpoints defended by Ukraine’s 72nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade.
According to a morning communique, the fighting died down by 10 a.m. Kyiv time, after which President Zelensky called a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in Kyiv.
Following the meeting, General Khomchak offered more details of the Feb. 18 offensive at the Presidential Office.
According to the general, at 5 a.m. Kyiv time, Russian-backed militants initiated a massive artillery strike — including from heavy 152-millimeter howitzers — on Ukrainian lines defended by the 72nd and 93rd mechanized infantry brigades in an area between the towns of Novotoshkivske and Zhelobok in Luhansk Oblast, some 600 kilometers southeast of Kyiv.
At 5.15 a.m., hostile assault teams attacked the Ukrainian lines from three directions. The Ukrainian forces launched a full-blown defensive operation in the affected area.
The fiercest fighting took place at a forward observation point nicknamed “The Bathhouse.” After an intense battle, Ukrainian troops left the site.
“We naturally gave an order for our people to withdraw from (‘The Bathhouse’), because we had to deliver a strike upon it, including with artillery,” the general said.
Eventually, the clash died down, with Russian-backed militants failing to make any advancements in the battlefield.
“At nearly 10 a.m., the enemy requested a ceasefire as they needed to recover the injured and the dead,” Khomchak added.
The abandoned observation point remained beyond the control of either warring party, he said. As a result of the clash, Ukraine lost one soldier killed in action, while three were wounded and two suffered concussions.
The enemy’s confirmed death toll includes at least 4 militants killed and 6 wounded in action.
As of the afternoon of Feb. 18, the Joint Coordination and Control Center, a cross-front line liaison body, was reported to be hosting negotiations over the recovery of the killed Ukrainian and Russian-backed combatants from the battlefield.
The killed Ukrainian soldier was later identified as Maskym Khitailov, a 22-year-old grenade launcher operator with the 72nd Mechanized Brigade.
Maksym Khitailov, a Ukrainian soldier killed in action on Feb. 18, 2020. (Courtesy)
The Ukrainian command believes that the militants launched the unsuccessful offensive on Feb. 18 — the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Debaltseve, a catastrophic loss for Ukraine — with the aim of capturing Ukrainian observation points and advancing 300-500 meters further inside Ukrainian-controlled territory.
A successful attack would present the militants as a combat-potent force to the population of occupied Donbas, Khomchak said.
“It’s a war, and every step forward is precious for a combating party,” he said. “In terms of the tactical and operative situation, it changes basically nothing.”
“As of now, the situation is stable and under control, the hostilities have ceased, all combat formations and reserves continue serving duties as planned.”
During the briefing, President Zelensky said his administration would continue seeking a peace deal with the Kremlin in the region.
“We have a powerful army, and provocations do happen,” Zelensky said.
“And the army gave a correspondingly strong answer. But nonetheless… I am sure that this provocation is not going to alter our course (toward a peaceful settlement in the Donbas). Because one can sit at the table of negotiations (with Russia) only with a powerful army.”
(C)KIYV POST 2020