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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Liveblog Day 218
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Despite Ceasefire, Both Sides Continuing Artillery Exchanges In Debaltsevo
6 years
Ukraine Signs Arms Trade Treaty In New York
Grad Rockets Fired By Russian-Backed Separatists East of Donetsk

In reports for the Kyiv Post and The New Republic, Christopher Miller and Noah Sneider both report on the ongoing exchanges of fire between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed fighters around the town of Debaltsevo (Debaltseve in Ukrainian), lying on a strategically important route between Donetsk and Lugansk.

The town was retaken by Ukrainian forces in late July but is now nearly surrounded by Russian-backed fighters.

Sneider writes:

The situation is in Debaltseve is disturbingly reminiscent of the situation in Ilovaisk, where Ukrainian forces were surrounded in late August and suffered a devastating defeat, shifting the tides of the war. A similar disaster in Debaltseve could lead to the complete collapse of the Minsk accords. The highway to the city runs across two crucial bridges. If the Ukrainians lose those bridges, a retreat will be near impossible, and troops could be trapped, left to fight to the death or surrender en masse. Ukrainian officials nonetheless insist their men in Debaltseve are safe. "They have a way out," Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told reporters last week. "A repeat of Ilovaisk will not be allowed.”

Control over the exit route, however, remains tenuous. The first bridge is already partly blown up, its innards exposed, a thorn bush of rusted cables. To pass, cars must drive over two rickety metal plates that lie across the gap. At the second bridge, Ukrainian soldiers keep close watch—dozens of them are spread along the road and through the surrounding fields. 

In their report published today, the OSCE describes hearing and seeing evidence of artillery and grad rocket attacks on positions near the town on September 21. 

Christopher Miller writes that Zhenya Gorbochov, a Debaltsevo resident whose home was destroyed by a rocket attack last week, described recent attacks:

According to Gorbochev and several other residents, the city was bombarded late Sunday by rocket fire. He said seven civilians were injured in the assault. The Kyiv Post could not confirm the information. The city’s police department said three residents had died from rocket fire since Sept. 5.

Sasha, a soldier from the 25th airborne brigade, painted a darker picture in describing the horrific scenes he’s witnessed during his time in Debaltseve. Distraught and apparently drunk, he said “many” of his comrades here had been killed in battle and in surrounding towns, their positions hit by rockets and armored vehicles blown up, since they moved into Debaltseve in early July.

Miller also writes that the Kyiv Post witnessed outbound grad fire by the Ukrainian military while visiting on September 22, noting that on that day, there had been, according to both civilians and soldiers he interviewed, no incoming fire:

The Kyiv Post witnessed Ukrainian troops firing these weapons on Sept. 22, despite a cease-fire agreement with the separatists signed in Minsk last weekend.

Instead of pulling back like Kyiv promised to do so within 24 hours, artillery was seen and heard firing in a westerly direction toward the separatist stronghold of Horlivka, and south to the heart of the inchoate statelet they call "Novorossiya."

The Kyiv Post observed some artillery being repositioned but not driven back 15 kilometers as outlined in the Minsk protocol. Otherwise, there was no movement of artillery.

Both journalists describe the conditions in the town as severe, with water and electricity long cut off. Both quote Gorbochov as saying "we live like rats."