Fighting in the Debaltsevo area began in the summer of 2014, when the Ukrainian army tried to build on the successes of the war called the "anti-terrorist operation." For both sides, the "triangle" around Debaltsevo (Chernukhino, Olkhovatka, Uglegorsk) was of strategic interest. For the Ukrainian military, the successful capture of Debaltsev opened up great opportunities - a small town connected two regions of Ukraine, whose residents decided to take up arms in order to protect their own lives and their homes. The two armies - Luhansk and Donetsk - had exactly the opposite task - to knock out the enemy as far west as possible and, if possible, deprive the Ukrainian military of control over another large city - Horlivka.
However, at the end of January, the Ukrainian army suddenly gets "under the gut" - unexpectedly for everyone, Donetsk militias are fighting off the new terminal of Donetsk airport. After that, the morale of the Ukrainian army and special forces, which the propaganda portrayed as "cyborgs" capable of crushing any resistance, turned out to be at a critically low level. After the capture of the airport, Debaltseve turned out to be the main point on the map of hostilities, the capture or holding of which remained vital in the near future, and after a series of incidents with shelling of civilians by the Ukrainian army, the LPR and DPR commanders decided to "cleanse" the direction from the Ukrainian military.
DPR militias during hostilities against the Ukrainian military near the village of Sanzharovka, located northeast of Debaltseve. Photo © TASS / AP
By the beginning of the operation, the "Debaltsevsky ledge" was only a small piece of land from which the Donetsk and Luhansk volunteers decided to attack. The main task was simple - to cut off a large grouping of the Ukrainian military (about 2.5 thousand people) from the main forces, surround them and force them to lay down their arms. Early in the morning of January 22, an artillery battalion of two armies, assembled from what was at the disposal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine a year earlier, began "processing" the enemy's positions. Alexander Vorona with the call sign Mayachok served in one of the hastily assembled "special forces" - a unit that conducted reconnaissance in force on the leading edge of the front immediately after the artillery shelling.
I was skeptical about prayers before. And in the morning, when everyone had gathered, someone began to read a prayer. Then they dismantled the sectors and started moving. When they began to thresh from that side, I immediately realized that there would be a second Stalingrad: behind the back - the house and the children, in front - the enemies who came to kill us, so it was impossible to surrender. We have killed ten people in three battles. How I stayed alive - I still don't understand. A miracle, perhaps, or God intervened
Former soldier of the DPR special forces
Here it is worth stopping the story for a while and recalling that the Ukrainian army knew about the advance of the Donetsk and Luhansk armies in advance. Small quadcopters regularly flew over the positions of the "Donetsk". In addition, American RQ-4 Globak Hawk drones began to appear regularly in the combat zone after the loss of the Donetsk airport, so the Ukrainian Armed Forces knew about all the movements of the armies of the two republics in advance. High-quality intelligence allowed the Ukrainian side to prepare for hostilities - fortifications in several defense zones, artillery and multiple launch rocket systems in the rear, as well as combat aircraft could attack the attackers at any second.
Realizing that there is no point in the defense of the airport, the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine transports part of the special forces to the Debaltsevo area - in addition to numerous "territorial defense detachments" formed from nationalists, Dnepropetrovsk paratroopers, part of the surviving Kirovograd special forces and tactical group of the 17th tank brigade. The total number of the Armed Forces grouping in Debaltseve before the start of hostilities is estimated at eight thousand people.
The size of the army of the DPR and LPR militias was comparable, but there were sorely lack of combat vehicles. Sergei Vovk with the call sign Matroskin (as he was named for the vest he wore), who first fought in the ground unit, was transferred to the Kalmius mechanized brigade three days before the start of the offensive. This is what he remembers about the first battles.