Battle by Yampol 6.19.2014, memoirs for the UAF side: “The separatists were few, but they did everything they could”
Battle by Yampol, memoirs for the UAF side: “The separatists were few, but they did everything they could”
Fort Russ, April 12th, 2017
Translated and edited by Tatzhit Mihailovich
The battles of summer 2014 are no longer “news” and have become recent history. Memoirs from both sides are being published investigating what really happened. Learning the truth is especially valuable because we can now confirm who lied and how – and thus, predict what lies we will see in the future.
By most measures, the battle of Yampol was the largest individual engagement during the defense of Slavyansk, and also a turning point in that campaign, demonstrating that the militia defenders can not hope to stop UAF armored columns and prevent the encirclement of Slavyansk. Moreover, the importance of the battle was already well-understood when it happened, and the engagement received a great deal of attention.
Contemporary reports of the battle were widely divergent:
Ukrainian media reported use of 15 tanks by Strelkov’s men, and the Kiev government report indicated 300 “insurgents” killed for the loss of 7 UAF soldiers (Western media didn’t spread the claims about tanks, but parroted the casualty numbers).
By comparison, Strelkov claimed that the defenders of Yampol numbered 207 men total and had no armored vehicles, and very little in the way of heavy weapons.
His estimate of the attacking force listed about 100 armored vehicles (including 20 tanks), and about two battalions of infantry, supported by a howitzer battery, Grad MLRS, and Su-25 attack jets. Strelkov also reported that in the end, the defenders succeeded in knocking out 4 BMDs and a tank, but eventually were flanked and scattered, with confirmed losses of 4 KIA, but possibly as much as 10 times greater.
For comparison, here I present a large historic study from the UAF side, examining in detail the actions of the regime forces, and drawing on a lot of evidence from both sides (while the author is a pro-UAF blogger, he is not delusional and approaches historical research rather professionally).
This study is especially interesting because it essentially confirms the militia version of events, with minor differences. The differences were in turn discussed by the members of the Slavyansk brigade, answering some of the remaining questions – I’ll add those answers after the article.
THE ACTION AT YAMPOL
(“Action at Yampol”. Pictured: advance armored group of the 25th brigade)
This article will cover one of the first large-scale, bloody engagements of the summer 2014 campaign – the liberation of Yampol. Despite the fact that a very large number of Ukrainian soldiers died in this battle, no one dared to describe it from our side, for some reason.
The first major engagement with the enemy took place two days prior, on June 17th, in the village of Metallist in the Lugansk region. In the distant future, I also plan to cover this episode, in which we lost several BMPs, BTRs, two tanks and about 20 KIA.
But for now, Yampol. The battle took place on June 19th, 2014. Units from 25th air assault brigade, 24th mechanized-armored brigade, 95th airmobile brigade, and National Guard participated in the operation. Before I discuss the UAF forces that took part in the operation in more detail, I will go a little back in time, to Krasny Liman. In this settlement, there were 40-50 insurgents without heavy weapons. Most of the fighters were Cossacks, and they retreated without putting up a real fight (History Note #1). Their losses were 8 KIA. After the liberation of the village, it became a staging area for further offensive in the direction of Yampol.
The 24th brigade, which formed an armored fist that smashed the defenses of an illegal armed groups (IAG) , sent the 1st and 2nd battalions to war. 2 battalion went to the border areas, and the 1st to Slavyansk. Formation of 3rd battalion from conscripts dragged on until after the end of Slavyansk operation.
1st mech battalion was a fully combat-ready battalion in which there was a fairly large proportion of professional paid soldiers, albeit most of them were young. There were no problems with vehicles either, they had 30 BMP-2s and 10 T-64BV tanks.
The 25th air air assault brigade spent the whole Slavyansk operation as some incredible hodgepodge of units, centered around the brigade’s 3rd battalion.
I could not find the details for the 95th brigade.
The concentration of forces occurred at the crossroads.
(25th brigade soldiers near Krasny Liman, before the operation)
(95th brigade by Yampol)
List of forces and supporting units that were involved in this operation:
– 24th brigade – 3 mechanized infantry companies and a company of tanks;
– 25th brigade – Over 16 BMDs (both BMD-1 and BMD-2) with paratroopers, three “Rheostats” (armored vehicle for correcting artillery fire – ed.), armored command vehicle, ATGM company
– Scout company from 95th airmobile brigade (the number of BTRs and soldiers is unknown)
– Special Forces group from the 73rd training center, on BTR-80s;
– 4 BTR-4s with National Guard and their SWAT team (there was also an armored van and a BTR-80, which belonged either to “Alpha”, or some other special team)
– 1 battery from 55th artillery brigade (6 MSTA-B 152mm howitzers);
– 1 battery from 25th brigade’s artillery division (5 120mm “Nonas”)
– Four “Acacia” 122mm SPGs from the 24th armored brigade;
– Six BM-21 Grad MLRS, also from the 24th;
– Nine D-30 122mm howitzers from the third battalion of the 80th airmobile brigade;
– Mortar battery of the 24th brigade (six 120mm heavy mortars, I think, although Afrikaner mentioned 82mm mortars as well – ed.)
– 2 Su-25 ground attack jets
(some of the assembled Artillery support)
The days passed and the ATO forces gathered. On June 14th, an advance armored group of the 24th, which consisted of two BTR-80s, three BMP-2s and one T-64BV, was ordered to destroy the forward checkpoint of the IAG (illegal armed groups – ed.) in Yampol. First, the target was blanketed by artillery. When the armored group approached within 400 meters, Thor’s hammer fell silent and the group began its mission, which was was successfully completed. The checkpoint was destroyed (according to Vitaly “Afrikaner”, militia suffered two KIA at the checkpoint; there might have been only two men manning it, or maybe the rest retreated – ed.).
(Advance armored group heading out. June 14th, 2014)
The battle started five days later.
The artillery barrage used all available artillery, except the mortars. Both the fortifications by Yampol and in the IAG’s defense lines in village of Zakotnoye were targeted. It is difficult to imagine the hell that opened up at the insurgent positions: you’re being blanketed with nine 122 mm howitzers, six 152 mm ones (periodically all 10), and six BM-21s.
I suggest you look at the map and the flow of combat:
(Battle on June 19th. Higher resolution – http://imgur.com/a/aenzs)
From the side of Torsky (the right-hand “arm” of attack on map – ed.), two mechanized companies of the 24th moved out (the third company stayed behind to guard the artillery), together with the command group.
Psychologically, neither the soldiers nor the platoon-level NCOs were ready for battle. They only learned about the planned offensive and their participation in it on the morning of the 19th (to prevent everyone from calling in sick? – ed). And they only found out because it looked very strange that all the forces from our checkpoints in the Kirovsk district were pulled together. The infantry were quite alarmed and anxious. But seeing a large amount of artillery supporting them inspired some confidence. The soldiers trusted their commanders, especially the battalion commander. He led them into battle personally.
The composition of the column looked like this: a tank at the head of the column, then three BMP-2s, another tank, and so on. Thus, in each of the two company columns there were nine BMP-2s and three T-64BVs. The reconnaissance platoon moved with the second armored column. As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of young guys in the battalion, who just recently signed up as paid soldiers (“contract soldiers”, as opposed to conscripts – ed.). There were also experienced soldiers who served in Iraq and Yugoslavia. It was they who were first to open fire.
Obviously, the insurgent forces were too few to contain such an armored onslaught. On this section of the front, our troops were opposed by a group of insurgents who only had small arms, they could not do anything and retreated. The armored groups of the Armed Forces fired some shots “towards the enemy” and advanced further. Meanwhile, the National Guard, or more precisely their Special Forces, conducted a sweep of Yampol, which went off without shots fired.
On this sector of the front, our side suffered no killed or wounded. I think the IAG didn’t either.
In my opinion, it was our artillery barrage that convinced the insurgents to leave the village without a fight (if they were there to begin with, of course). Just my subjective point of view.
(National Guard soldiers at a checkpoint near Liman)
If for the 24th, everything went down smoothly, the 25th met with resistance and suffered heavy losses. It was decided to attack the enemy head on, despite the fact that the two armored columns of the 24th have successfully advanced into the rear of the insurgents. I do not have exact data on what the 25th armored groups looked like, but I managed to piece an overall idea together.
So, first went two BMD-1s, and then a “Rheostat” with the commander of the 1st artillery battery of the 25th. An example of how an officer should act. The remaining BMDs followed his “Rheostat”, then drive two KamAZ trucks with Zu-23-2 autocannons on the bed.
Given that the armored groups of the 24th had only 6 out of 10 tanks, it would be logical and correct if the rest of the tanks would be with the 25th. According to the insurgents themselves, the 25th brought tanks. The videos that were made after the battles also confirm this.
The map of the IAG defense positions, drawn by one of the insurgents.
[From Vitaly’s book – links to excerpt published on FR, and Amazon page of the book:
The militants decided to let through the first two IFVs and blew a remote-controlled IED under the Rheostat. Two crew members died immediately. The battery commander and the driver were severely injured. After that, the first BMD-1 gets hit by an SPG-9, which was positioned to the front. What hit the second BMD-1 I do not know, but it was blown to pieces. The first BMD-1 was later captured by the insurgents.
(added picture of SPG9 -ed.
The design is over 60 years old, t’s essentially an upscaled RPG shoulder launcher… and the most powerful weapon used by Yampol’s defenders.)
The battle began. The insurgents’ mortars joined in (the IAG had two light 82 mm mortars – History Note #2). There was strong rifle fire, and paratroopers were peppered frequently with 40mm grenades. There were more dead and wounded. One of two KamAZ trucks was damaged. In it, two paratroopers were killed, including the brigade commander. Parallel to the armored group from the 25th, the army SF group from the 73rd center was advancing and, most likely, the reconnaissance units from the 95th brigade. The company commander was in the head BTR, and when the column was ambushed, he was killed, as well as one of the soldiers. According to the separatists, in the battle, a tank from the 24th was knocked out, but most likely it was only temporarily disabled.
You already saw the IAG forces protecting their “Yampol” checkpoint, as drawn by one of the separatists. It is difficult to estimate their number, but in my opinion, there were about 150 of them (according to militiamen themselves, there were about 150 people in the battalion on the day of battle, but not everyone was at the checkpoint, and not everyone fought; probably 50-70 militiamen took part in this engagement – ed.). As for heavy weapons, they had an SPG-9 rocket propelled grenade launcher, two light mortars and an NSV machinegun on a van (History note #2).
Perhaps the command expected that after the destruction of their advance checkpoint by our armored group, and the powerful artillery bombardment before the assault, the insurgents would at least leave the first line of their fortifications. But that did not happen.
(Wounded are being evacuated with BTRs, then by helicopter)
From the battlefield, BTRs were taking the wounded to the main camp. The losses of the 25th in this battle amounted to 12 dead and 25 wounded. Two died in the “Rheostat”, two in Kamaz, maybe someone in the BMD. The rest were killed by rifle fire and grenades. Two of the soldiers of the 95th were also killed.
It is worth noting that some of the Cossacks who fled from Liman a few days earlier joined those who were in Yampol. But as soon as the battle began, they fled from there too. Also, on the eve of the battle, reinforcements from “Prizrak” IAG came. In the summer of 2014, this phenomenon was widespread – separatists from DNR travelling to aid the separatists from LNR and vice versa. So the Prizrak guys towed away the disabled BMD-1.
But in the end, our guys outnumbered the separatists, and eventually forced them to retreat.
(Map of the retreat)
(Lisichansk. Mozgovoy on the captured BMD-1)
(the damaged KamAZ back at camp)
But the Yampol operation did not end there. While the 25th and the 95th were fighting, columns of the 24th advanced to the village of Zakotnoye. Moving along the river, they advanced to the bridge and attacked. Tanks fired at everything that seemed suspicious. The infantry moved along the BMPs, and both fired. The enemy opened fire from the other side (i.e. from across the Seversky Donets river – e.d.). BMP opened fire and destroyed the target. The goal of the 24th was to capture the hill across the river, overlooking the area. In this group in Zakotnoe, there were about 15 BMP-2s, 2 BTR-80s and several tanks, as well as National Guard in their BTR-4s.
(Map of advance to Zakotnoe)
There was a concern that the bridge was mined and would be blown when a column crosses it. Therefore, it was decided that the armored vehicles would cross one at a time, which worked. Moving to the other side of the river, we saw the defensive positions of the insurgents, which were pretty well fortified. There were several corpses, and one more insurgent bled out on the bridge. The armored group split. National Guard went to the hill, and UAF moved further along the road. I would like to note that before our guys advanced past the captured IAG positions, our Su-25 bombed the hill which they planned to occupy. Together with the BTR-4s, a tank and several BMPs drove to the hill. The main column continued to advance (I do not know all their plans) and were ambushed.
The shooting began and immediately the soldiers, which were sitting on top of a BTR-80 of the 24th, got hit. So, in a few seconds, the soldiers died. The battalion commander was hit several time and his body fell off the BTR, which was moving at speed. At the same time, the reconnaissance company commander got hit twice, but the BTR driver managed to catch him and drag him inside the BTR, where he died. The battle started, which lasted for about 3 hours (History Note #3). The losses of the 24th amounted to 7 soldiers (6 of them from the recon company) and 2 wounded. The infantry also had one wounded.
(During battle. One of the insurgent’s cars is burning)
The battle was fought in the village of Zakotnoe. In battle, two KAMAZ trucks and several cars used by insurgents were destroyed, as well as the van with NSV machinegun and crew. In the nearby grove, we also found IAG’s abandoned BRDM-2 armored car, with blood in it. But because of the deaths of the battalion commander and scout company commander, command&control were lost. Decision was made to retreat.
At that time the National Guard soldiers were fighting at the hill. The insurgents were firing on them from the houses below. When UAF retreated, so did the NG. One of their BTR-4s had a transmission failure, so the decision was made to destroy it with a tank. In that battle, another officer was killed – Vladimir Kravchuk, lieutenant from the National Guard “Bars”(Leopard – ed.) SWAT team. One of them was also heavily wounded. I want to say something about the “Bars” team. They showed themselves well and did not hide behind the UAF soldiers.
In this operation, the officers of the UAF showed what an officer’s honor is, and where the officer’s place is. They led their soldiers into battle. In this battle, 22 of our soldiers died the death of the brave. In this battle, nobody panicked or run away, everyone performed their tasks.
The separatists showed themselves well too. They were few, but they did everything they could. Our people are not Arabs and we do not run when things turn sour.
The body of one soldier from the 24th brigade was left on the battlefield, and he was later buried by the locals.
(Destroyed cars of the insurgents)
Perhaps the command planned to take Zakotnoe and advance to Seversk. I do not know. But after the battle (and retreat of the UAF), the IAG blew up the bridge. Why didn’t they do it earlier, when UAF were crossing it, I do not know either (History Note #4)… Estimating the losses of IAG is difficult. In Zakotnoe there were at least 7 dead separatists, in Yampol, judging by the photos, at least two. Recently, “Black Tulip” NGO dug up two more. That is, the separatists suffered about 11-15 KIA. 25th brigade captured one 82 mm mortar and some small arms. 24th captured several machine guns and RPGs.
That day, just the 152mm howitzer battery fired 500 shells.
(Separatist dugouts in Yampol)
FROM THE TRANSLATOR
So, what have we learned here?
The propaganda lessons are rather obvious – the Kiev government reports about the battle were completely divorced from reality (and they still are, and Western mainstream “news” still parrot them).
We can also see that initial militia reports were slightly inaccurate, but remarkably close to the truth considering the lack of training and communication in early militia units.
From a military standpoint, the results of Yampol clash (and many other engagements of early 2014) can be considered miraculous, as the Kiev government forces outnumbered the defenders maybe 5-10 times in men, and about 50-100 times in firepower (based on my estimate of the total weight of lead the sides could put downrange in a period of time) 
Not much else to add here. Guess I’ll finish this with a very roughly translated/reworked poem by Aleksandr Morozov about Debaltsevo battle, reminding us that civil war isn’t all about numbers and places.
Tanks rumbling through the fog
I’m down in some hole, with a gun
On a nearby fence hangs a dog
Or rather, a half of one.
Their mortars are landing ahead
Kicked-up dust blots out the skyline
Sparks are filling the air overhead
From short-circuited power line
Hate the mortars, their echoing “bangs” –
This place suffered so much from them.
Half a dog’s guts on a fence
Spread, like roots growing out of a stem.
Someone wrote about it in a blog –
Numbers, tactics of our defense.
But for me, it was all – half a dog
Staring into my eyes from a fence.
TERMINOLOGY AND NOTES
 Feldherrnhalle is term with a connection to Nazi Party history, AFAIK. As I said, the author is pro-UAF…
 Illegal Armed Gangs is a common term used to refer to insurgents/terrorists in post-Soviet countries. It’s kind of funny because it implies there is such a thing as Legal Armed Gangs.
The author uses a milder version of the expression, Illegal Armed Groups
 Quick note on the difference in firepower.
Modern battles are generally described using some variation of Lachester’s Square Law.
What this means is that, unlike medieval battles where people fought one-on-one and having more forces did not always come into play, in modern battles soldiers can engage the enemy from large distances all at once, meaning that having a larger force with more firepower actually matters a lot more. In a situation when one side has 100 times more firepower than the other, the casualties on the weaker side should be far, far greater.
Early Cossack units of spring-summer 2014 were often viewed as the least capable and determined of the militia units (with the exception of Dremov’s “1st Cossack regiment”, with their dogged defense of Pervomaysk).
While there is, unfortunately, quite a bit of truth to these claims, one must also remember that Cossacks had the least resources even compared to other militia outfits, frequently composed mostly of inexperienced volunteers, and lacking any means of fighting armor at all. As far as I understand, their retreats were in a large part due to inferior weaponry, rather than inferior morale.
In fact, according to militia, they had two SPG-9s, but one was destroyed by a direct tank hit fairly early on. SPGs are essentially a larger RPG on a tripod, and are by no means a match for modern tanks, especially not in a face-to-face battle. Nevertheless, they managed to inflict some losses on the advancing armor.
As for the 82mm mortars, they were indeed present on the other side of the river, but lacked a competent spotter and crews. Thus, their effect was mostly psychological.
The forces that stopped UAF armored column in Zakotnoe were likely reinforcements from Slavyask, dispatched when it became clear that the advance in Yampol was a real all-out offensive, plus some of the retreating militiamen from Yampol battalion. Motorola’s antitank platoon fought there apparently, as well as other small units.
Strelkov commented, roughly – “We simply had no explosives to mine the bridge beforehand. Had to urgently scrape some together to destroy it that evening”.