#MinskMonitor: Ukraine Takes Control of Village Near Horlivka
Capture of Chyhyri highlights recent Ukrainian offensive
With the collapse of April’s Easter Ceasefire, hostilities between Ukraine and the Russian-led separatist forces escalated throughout May, including a series of offensives from the Ukrainian Armed Forces in both the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. In perhaps the most important maneuver, Ukrainian forces recaptured the village of Chyhyri, located in the northwestern outskirts of Horlivka, though separatist officials dispute whether these moves were victories or acts of desperation during a retreat.
Capture of Chyhyri
News first broke on May 10 that the village of Chyhyri was being taken by Ukrainian forces. A pro-Russian/separatist VKontakte (ВКонтакте or VK) group shared information about this on May 10 and asked for more information on the rumors.
There are rumors that the Ukrops [derogatory term for Ukrainians] have taken the village of Chyhyri (in the grey zone, west of the Gagarin Mine). Does anyone have any more information?
Two days later, on May 12, officials from the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) released a statement regarding the Ukrainian offensive in western Horlivka, including the movement into Chyhyri.
In particular, Ukrainian terrorists have attempted to move their forces from the village of Yuzhnoe by advancing two platoons in the direction of the Nikitsky district of Horlivka. This desperate move was necessary for the punishers [derogatory term for Ukrainian soldiers] to seize several positions in order to be able to move unhindered to the southeastern outskirts of the village of Chyhyri, where dachas are located.
The DNR official went on to say that the Chyhyri village is in a tactically disadvantageous position due to its proximity to DNR-controlled areas at a higher elevation. The DNR has claimed that Ukraine lost nine soldiers in fighting in northwestern Horlivka, but these claims have not been substantiated by Ukrainian casualty reports and were likely exaggerated. Ukrainian media outlets have reported that three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded on May 11.
Russian state media parroted claims from the DNR press service.
On May 12, after the Ukrainian capture of the village of Chyhyri, the DNR’s Press Service released a video of its soldiers observing the Ukrainian positions from a nearby slagheap.
The DNR forces climbed the slagheap near the Gagarin mine, directly north of Chyhyri. A rock formation on the tip of the slagheap was visible from the ground, allowing us to cross-reference photographs of the slagheap to establish the position of the camera.
With this frame of reference, we can establish approximately where the militants were walking during the video.
Once on the slagheap, the camera faced southward towards the village of Chyhyri as a DNR fighter described the positions below, captured by Ukrainian forces. The vantage point of the camera was geolocated to an area south-southwest of Gagarin mine, near the village of Chyhyri. Below, the vantage point from the DNR video (top) was matched with a clearing to the west of Chyhyri.
With the geolocated camera position (on top of the slagheap at the Gagarin mine) and the Ukrainian positions (south of the mine in and near the village of Chyhyri) together, we could see the tactical advantage held by DNR fighters on elevated positions in northwest Horlivka when analyzing the positions taken by Ukrainian forces. Reports indicated that the fortified Ukrainian positions were taken up near the slagheaps in the northern and southwestern portions of Chyhyri, rather than near the civilian housing.
After Ukrainian Forces found their footing in the positions in northwestern Horlivka on May 12, artillery duels took place between DNR and Ukrainian forces. Shelling from Ukrainian forces hit residential areas south of Chyhyri, including a pharmacy on Cherkasova Street and a residence on Stozhka Street.
Both Ukrainian and DNR officials stated that their positions were attacked in northwestern Horlivka on May 13 and 14, with no significant shifts in territorial control in the area.
On May 13, Ukrainian civil activist Yuriy Mysyagin reported that Ukrainian forces continued to hold full control over the village of Chyhyri, claiming that DNR fighters were not able to retake the village despite two days of artillery fire. Furthermore, Mysyagin claimed that Ukrainian forces were able to “entrench” in the village, and that the DNR had “lost the village of Chyhyri forever.”
On May 15, heavy artillery fire has been observed around Horlivka, but no territorial changes or ground offensives have been reported.
The village of Chyhyri in northwestern Horlivka has long been in a precarious position in the so-called “grey zone,” in territory not under full control by either Ukrainian or Russian-led separatist forces. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine documented how a civilian in the village was not able to leave Chyhyri due to the limbo state of the village.
According to Ukrainian news outlet Ostro.org, 173 civilians lived in Chyhyri as of January 2018. In January 2018, a humanitarian mission visited Chyhyri and found the civilians living in a precarious state.
The recapture of the village by Ukrainian forces marks one of the few territorial advances of 2018. The advance towards Horlivka is not an isoalted movement, as Ukraine’s Armed Forces have also captured minor positions in the Luhansk Oblast along the highway near the village of Zhelobok. With the winter thaw and the breakdown of the Easter Ceasefire, there is little doubt that Ukraine will make further advances along the front-line; however, there have been few counter-offensives from forces of the self-proclaimed separatist republics. With the reported exit of Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s counterpart of Kurt Volker in negotiating the Minsk agreements, the summer of 2018 could lead to a level of violence much higher than the relatively calm 2017.