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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Day 1036: December 19, 2016

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Heavy Casualties After What Might Be Ukraine's Fiercest Battle Of The Year

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that yesterday saw Ukraine's heaviest combat losses since July.

As we reported yesterday, heavy fighting broke out in the Svetlodarsk area, east of separatist-held Gorlovka.

Today MOD spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko told reporters that five soldiers were killed and 16 injured as a result of the attack by Russia-backed forces.

However, there are reports of much higher casualty figures.

Ukraine's TSN news reported this afternoon that 26 soldiers had been brought to a hospital near Svetlodarsk by 9:00 this morning. Medics told the channel that 21 soldiers were wounded, two of them in a critical condition.

One soldier interviewed by TSN said that one of his comrades was still missing.

Meanwhile Povernis' Zhivim (Come Back Alive), a Ukrainian volunteer group, reported on Facebook this morning that, in addition to the five officially reported dead, two more Ukrainian soldiers had been killed. At the time of writing, efforts to recover their bodies had been unsuccessful. 

The group reported that fighting continued, with Russia-backed forces deploying artillery in a concerted effort to push Ukrainian forces back from their positions.

According to Yuriy Butusov, editor at Censor.NET, the battle took place around a hill between the villages of Kalinovka and Logvinovo, near separatist-held Debaltsevo: 

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2016-12-19 16:16:55

Butusov said that he had been in contact with the commander of a battalion in the 54th Brigade, engaged in the fighting.

According to the commander, Russia-backed forces shelled the Ukrainian rear in Luganskoye and Mironovsky, causing a power blackout in the latter, while two units with armored vehicles mounted an attack on the hill near Kalinovka.

Aleksandr Syrsky, head of the Joint Operational Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told Interfax-Ukraine today that Russia-backed forces had deployed artillery in residential areas of Kalinovka, Uglegorsk and Debaltsevo so as to prevent retaliatory strikes by Ukrainian gunners.

According to Syrsky, Russia-backed forces had fired 694 mortar rounds and 34 122-mm artillery shells on the Ukrainian line over the past day. Their aim, he claimed, was to capture the strategically-important ridge and push Ukrainian forces back towards Luganskoye, to the north.

One Ukrainian soldier, known by his call-sign 'Professor,' who was being treated at a hospital in Kharkiv, told local news site that four members of his unit had been wounded during a special operation mounted in response to the attack. Under heavy artillery and sniper fire, they had been ordered to withdraw.

Meanwhile the "People's Militia" of the so-called Lugansk People's Republic (LNR) told Russian state media that it was Ukrainian forces who had gone on the offensive.

According to the LNR, Ukrainian artillery shelled separatist-held territory near Kalinovka and Debaltsevo seven times yesterday.

The Ukrainian military has indeed reported that their forces mounted a counter attack, claiming to have killed  25 Russia-backed fighters.

The death of at least one is apparently confirmed.

This Ukrainian soldier, deployed near Svetlodarsk, tweeted: 

Translation: The pig-dog came for success, Welcome to Ukrainian Donbass.

This offensive appears to have been the most concerted effort by Russia-backed forces to take new ground seen this year.

The official casualties are the highest seen since July, however, if the number is higher, as the TSN report suggests, then yesterday may have been the single deadliest day of the year.

The attack was not isolated, according to this morning's report from the Ukrainian military, Ukrainian positions near Troitskoye, not far to the northeast, were also shelled yesterday with mortars.

In the south, near Mariupol, tanks and 122-mm artillery were reportedly used to shell the seaside village of Shirokino, while mortars were used against positions near Talakovka, Vodyanoye and Gnutovo.

To the north of Donetsk, 122-mm artillery and 120-mm mortar shells fell on Avdeyevka. 

This evening, the Ukrainian military reported further mortar shelling today near Luganskoye, as well as Avdeyevka and villages near Mariupol.

-- Pierre Vaux