Two stories of Russian military defeats near Svatove and Pavlivka
Ukrainian artillerymen on the front line on the border of Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, November 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi)
NV examines the efforts of the Russian government to disprove the true accounts of massive losses in eastern Ukraine.
These are the defeat of one of the Russian marine infantry brigades near the village of Pavlivka in Donetsk Oblast, and the destruction of a battalion of untrained Russian conscripts near the town of Svatove of Luhansk Oblast.
In both cases, Russia’s Ministry of Defense was forced to react to the resonance that these situations acquired, including a rare case of an organized appeal by relatives of some of these conscripts. The ministry continues to deny the actual rate of losses, although the evidence collected by the media proves the opposite.
NV gathered the main facts about the sky-high losses of Russian forces in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
‘You’ll come back as minced meat.’ How Russia throws hundreds of mobilized soldiers to the slaughter to hold the front line near Svatove
Why is it important for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to liberate Svatove?
A rapid ousting of the Russian invaders from Kharkiv Oblast at the beginning of autumn, and later the liberation of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast, opened the way for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to launch a counter-offensive in Luhansk Oblast, primarily along the conventional line between the towns of Svatove and Kreminna. Ukrainian forces have controlled the route between the two towns since late October and, although bad weather is slowing down their advance, they continue to put pressure on the invaders’ defensive lines, trying to break through.
This part of the front has been a zone of intense fighting for many weeks. The Institute for the Study of War mentions the offensive efforts of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the Svatove-Kreminna line in its daily reports, while Ukrainian analysts reiterate the strategic importance of a potential ousting of the enemy from Svatove.
“The fighting continues there, because both we and the enemy are aware of the exceptional importance of this area for further actions. If we break through in the Svatove area, enter the operational space, we’ll open the way for liberation of the entire northern Luhansk Oblast,” military expert Serhiy Hrabskyi told Radio NV in late October.
The front line instead of the rear: how a battalion of 500 mobilized soldiers was defeated near Svatove
More and more reports began to appear in late November about the cost with which the Russian command is trying to hold the front line in the Svatove area. Hundreds of unprepared and unequipped Russian conscripts find themselves in advanced positions in these areas of Luhansk Oblast, resulting in enormous losses. For example, only about 30-40 Russian servicemen survived from a battalion of over 500 mobilized soldiers in the Makiyivka area (Luhansk Oblast, about 30 km from Svatove) in early November. This was reported by Russian independent media (Verstka, Dozhd, Current Time, the BBC’s Russian service), which managed to talk to some surviving servicemen and dozens of relatives of those mobilized soldiers sent to the Svatove area. Their stories confirm each other and reveal many facts about why Ukrainian forces have been able to inflict such devastating losses.
According to the collated reports by these organizations, a battalion of conscripts, mainly from Voronezh Oblast was defeated near Svatove. First, they were gathered in military unit No. 2079 in Voronezh around mid-October (the Verstka portal established 46 surnames of those mobilized between Oct. 12 and Oct. 19). The Russian command assured the drafted men that they would allegedly join the “territorial defense” in Svatove, 15 km from the front line, but the reality turned out to be different.
On Oct. 31, the newly recruited military personnel were taken to Valuyki, a village in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast on the border with Ukraine, and on Nov. 1, they were loaded into KAMAZ trucks and taken to Luhansk Oblast. The number of the “fresh” motorized rifle battalion in question was estimated by the conscripts and their relatives at 500-570 people. At the same time, according to the BBC, it also included soldiers from Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk oblasts – a total of four companies, which were sent to Makiyivka in Luhansk Oblast overnight on Nov. 2 (the BBC also estimates their total number at 500).
As Yulia, the sister of one of the Russian survivors. Alexander, told Dozhd, on Nov. 1, they were brought to Luhansk Oblast and immediately sent to the front line.
“The commanders said that you are cannon fodder, that’s why you were brought here, you will be killed anyway,” Yulia told Dozhd, quoting her brother.
“They were given one sapper shovel for 30 people and told to dig their own trenches.”
After that, the commanders told the conscripts that they were supposedly going to get food for them and left. Forty minutes after arriving at the front, these draftees were shelled for the first time.
Similar data is given by Verstka.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday on Nov. 8 confirmed that the Russians were sending hundreds of untrained newly mobilized soldiers into the “meat grinder” in this area. At the same time, he reported that the Ukrainian military continues to advance in Luhansk Oblast and announced “another success in the Svatove and Kreminna areas” in the near future.
Not the first defeated battalion: why Russia throws fresh “cannon fodder” to Svatove
Numerous outlets reporting on these deaths had noted that many reports have already established that dozens or even hundreds of Russians have already died in that part o the front.
In fact, the numbers are so staggering that the Russian command has not even managed to collect the bodies of the dead.
Analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) told Verstka that the Russian command is massively using conscripts in the Svatove area to create density and complete the defensive line. They also drew attention to the abnormally large number of men in the conscript battalion defeated near Makiyivka. According to CIT estimates, 500 people is much larger than the typical Russian motorized rifle battalion.
“We observed something similar in the LPR/DPR’ rifle battalions who went into battle without armored vehicles,” CIT analysts told NV making it clear that now Russia is probably using conscripts instead of the nearly destroyed forces of the Donbas puppet authorities.
The CIT assumes that by using such “fresh,” albeit completely untrained, forces on the front line, the Russian army command is “trying in this way to provide a resting period to the contract soldiers who have been fighting for more than eight months.” After all, Russian forces were exhausted first in their attempts to break through to Slovyansk, and then during the retreat from Izyum and in the battles for Lyman.
“We’ve already seen, we’ll fight back:” how Russian commanders are trying to return survivors to the front line
Some of the survivors mobilized from the defeated motorized rifle battalion, having fled the battlefield, have settled in “abandoned houses” in Svatove and its surroundings.
“They’re sitting in some house, then the commander came to them and said: ‘You’ll come back from here as minced meat,’” Yekaterina Brazhnikova, the sister of a conscript who also served in the battalion that was defeated near Svatove, told Dozhd.
According to the BBC, as of the evening of Nov. 7, as many as 29 mobilized soldiers were hiding in one of the houses in Svatove, while another 21 soldiers were hiding in the neighboring one.
“They all have the same story: they were brought in, shelled, while the commanders fled,” said Dmitry Slobodchikov – one of the conscripts.
Both he and another soldier, named Alexei Agafonov, claim that there is not a single officer left in Svatove who could give them any order. Their platoon commander ended up in the hospital with a concussion, while the ensign disappeared. Agafonov declared he has no intention of returning to the front line and is ready to shoot back even from the occupying “military police.”
Several Russians who survived the battles near Svatove tried to cross the border of Belgorod Oblast and return to Russia, but they failed as were discovered by local patrol police, Verstka reported.
According to the publication, the Russians are also keeping some of the surviving soldiers of the defeated battalion in basements in the village of Zaitseve in Luhansk Oblast, two relatives of the mobilized soldiers told Verstka.
“People are called cannon fodder:” what the defeat of the Russian marines near Pavlivka showed
Another high-profile story took place near the village of Pavlivka (Donetsk Oblast) where Russian marines complained to the generals about the loss of 300 people and a large amount of materiel in just four days of fighting.
It became known on Nov. 6 that Russian servicemen from the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet sent a letter to the governor of Russia’s Primorsky Krai region, Oleg Kozhemyako, with complaints about command’s actions and their heavy losses. This letter was reported on by several Russian military bloggers and the Grey Zone Telegram channel – controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner private military company. In the letter, the Russian marines report they saw “about 300 people killed, wounded and missing” during the “inexplicable attack” on the village of Pavlivka near Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast.
The authors of the letter urged the governor of Primorsky Krai to appeal to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief with a request to send an “independent” commission not related to the Ministry of Defense to investigate these devastating Russian losses.
The scale of the invaders’ losses in the Pavlivka area is confirmed by numerous videos released by the Ukrainian military from this area in recent days.
In his evening address on Nov. 7, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed that “the ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the invaders” in Donetsk Oblast and the Russians “are dying by the hundreds every day.”
He also commented on the reaction of the governor of Primorsky Krai to the appeal of the Russian marines – the official “lied as expected” about the “exaggerated losses".
“It’s more than 9,000 kilometers from Vladivostok to Pavlivka of Donetsk Oblast,” Zelenskyy said.
“But he’s sure that the losses are ‘not like that.’ The governor can probably see better from there how many soldiers from his region are being sent to the slaughter. Or he was just ordered to lie. He was ordered from Moscow... And even the bodies of most of those killed won’t be brought back to Vladivostok. But I’m sure that Governor Kozhemyako will come out and explain why not everyone arrived, not everyone returned from those ‘not like that’."
He added Russians can save themselves from being conscripted and sent by the Kremlin regime to the full-scale war against Ukraine “not by complaining to some rags, but by their opinion.”
Why the internal Russian reaction to these events is a precedent for Russia
As the ISW recalled in their Nov. 7 summary, the Russian Ministry of Defense has remained remarkably tight-lipped about military blogger critiques of Russian failures throughout the war in Ukraine – unlike the Kremlin, which will occasionally indirectly address these narratives. However, the events near Pavlivka became a “rare case” when the ministry still found it necessary to react to the outcry.
The Ministry initially tried to refute the statements of the marines, noting that the units of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet allegedly “have been conducting effective offensive actions in the Vuhledar area for more than 10 days,” and their losses during this period supposedly “do not exceed 1% of the combat personnel and 7% wounded, a significant part of which has already returned to the army.”
However, the ISW points out the true meaning of these excuses: according to its analysts, the Ministry’s public response to this outcry indicates that some Russian military bloggers have considerable leverage to shape MoD interactions in the information space and additionally suggests that the situation in Pavlivka is dire enough to warrant a response.
Probably, similar conclusions can be drawn from the attempt of the Russian military command to refute reports about the huge losses of the conscript battalion near Svatove. Late on Nov. 7, the Russian Ministry of Defense published a message from the National Defense Management Center, in which it was claimed that the Ukrainian authorities “and their Western allies” are allegedly engaged in spreading “intentional disinformation aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces and creating a negative mood among Russian citizens.” At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense denied the losses near Makiyivka, which were reported by the conscripts and their relatives themselves. The ministry called these materials “fake news,” while the report “about significant combat losses of Russian army units, staffed by mobilized citizens, near Makiyivka” is allegedly “provocative.”
“During the analysis, it was established that the servicemen in question are currently performing tasks in the zone of a special military operation,” the Russian Defense Ministry lied.
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