We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the so-called “Ilovaisk cauldron’, which saw the crushing of the Ukrainian army and militants of Ukrainian Nazi paramilitary groups several months into Kiev’s war on Donbass.
The battles for and around Ilovaysk began in the summer of 2014 on the eve of Ukrainian independence day, as Kiev’s military and political leadership aimed to capture the city to mark the national holiday and present post-Maidan society with a major military victory.
In the end, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Nazi battalions suffered a crushing defeat, one of the first and largest in the war in Donbass.
I visited Ilovaysk many times before the war and drove through it two months after the fighting. It is a small town halfway between Donetsk and the border with Russia (towards Taganrog, the birthplace of Anton Chekhov). The strategic value of Ilovaysk is very high: it is the largest railway junction in Donbass. Many railway routes pass through it, including those connecting Russia and Ukraine.
Ilovaysk historically belonged to the Don Cossacks and before the revolution was part of the Don Host Region. But then it was transferred by the Moscow Bolsheviks to the Ukrainian SSR. The same applies to half of Lugansk and Donetsk. Therefore, the roots of the war in Donbass go back much deeper than the events of the Euromaidan.
By order of the Ukrainian command as part of a strategic offensive on the DPR and LPR in the summer of 2014, the Nazi battalions, in particular Krivbass, and UAF units were sent to Ilovaysk. They were given the order to seize the city then held by DPR militia.
From August 18th-24th, the battle for Ilovaysk raged, and the Nazi battalions only managed to gain a foothold in the outskirts of the city. On August 29th, the Ukrainian defeat, or rather escape began, as the Nazi battalions, interior ministry units, and Ukrainian Armed Forces tried to escape.
On September 15, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine officially announced the retreat of the ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation” forces from Ilovaysk. Ukrainian officers who survived the cauldron would later claim that Russian troops came in as intermediaries between the UAF and Nazi battalions and the DPR militia forces.
These Russian forces allegedly forced the Donbass militias to allow the safe retreat of the Ukrainian military from the cauldron under the condition that they surrender their arms and equipment.
The Ukrainians refused and tried to run for it with weapons and all their military vehicles and equipment. As a result, Donbass militias literally shot at fleeing Ukrainians.
There are numerous videos that depict she sheer amount of Ukrainian troops fleeing from the cauldron. They often fled in civilian vehicles taken from the local population. Even for those who made it home alive, the battle for Ilovaisk was a sad blow to the Ukrainian army and the Nazi battalions.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine subsequently formed a special commission to prepare a report on the Ilovaisk boiler. Ukraine officially confirmed: 366 killed, 429 wounded and 300 prisoners. Most of the prisoners were exchanged back in 2014, and the last of them returned home only in December 2017.
However, independent experts and witnesses in Ukraine consider these figures of Ukrainian losses to be greatly underestimated.
Ukrainian volunteers who provided assistance to the armed forces and the Nazi battalions claim at least 1,000 dead and 300 captured Ukrainian military and Nazi militants. But I think these figures are greatly underestimated. I rely on first-hand accounts from my acquaintances – fighters of the DPR militia and military physicians from Russia and other countries who went to Donbass to afford medical care to the militias and were hot on the trail of these events.
Especially terrible things have been told by military physicians. According to them, corpses and fragments of bodies of Ukrainian troops littered both sides of the roads near Ilovaisk for many kilometers. They were thrown into the meat grinder of the Ilovaysk cauldron. The vast majority of Ukrainian military and Nazis were killed while trying to escape from the cauldron.
Of course, no accurate estimate of Ukrainian losses is likely to be released, but there is no doubt that the casualties of the Ukrainian military number a lot more than 1,000. Such is the opinion of many militiamen and military doctors whom I interviewed in the summer and fall of 2014.
If it were not for the intervention of Russia as a third party, the level of Ukrainian losses would have been even higher.
Russia provided a corridor to safely escape to its territory for approximately 450-500 Ukrainian troops fleeing from the Ilovaysk and Izvarinsky cauldrons. In my opinion, this was a gross mistake of inappropriate humanism.
The Ukrainian troops who survived thanks to Russia, of course, did not thank Russia for saving their lives, for shelter, bread, and medical care, but instead would show only hatred towards our country. Many of them subsequently went on to murder civilians in Donbass. But it remains a fact that many Ukrainian recruits sent to die as cannon fodder by their commanders, were saved by Russia.
Ukraine’s crushing, bloody, and shameful defeat at Ilovaysk became one of the reasons for the signing of the First Minsk Agreements at the urgent request of the Ukrainian side.