Computer Crime Research Center


A Ukrainian Town Deals Russia One of the War’s Most Decisive Routs

Date: March 16, 2022
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Yaroslav Trofimov

VOZNESENSK, Ukraine??”A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies??”the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin’s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines.

Instead, the two-day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now emerging, turned decisively against the Russians. Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces, which comprised local volunteers and the professional military, eliminated most of a Russian battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3.

The Ukrainian defenders’ performance against a much-better-armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region was successful in part because of widespread popular support for the Ukrainian cause??”one reason the Russian invasion across the country has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday said it was launching a counteroffensive on several fronts.

“Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Voznesensk’s 32-year-old mayor, Yevheni Velichko, a former real-estate developer turned wartime commander, who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.”

The Russian military says its Ukraine offensive is developing successfully and according to plan. Moscow hasn’t released updated casualty figures since acknowledging on March 2 the death of 498 troops, before the Voznesensk battle.

Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 vehicles??”tanks, armored personnel carriers, multiple-rocket launchers, trucks??”as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned-out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.

Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast, where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said 10 soldiers have been captured.

“We didn’t have a single tank against them, just rocket-propelled grenades, Javelin missiles and the help of artillery,” said Vadym Dombrovsky, commander of the Ukrainian special-forces reconnaissance group in the area and a Voznesensk resident. “The Russians didn’t expect us to be so strong. It was a surprise for them. If they had taken Voznesensk, they would have cut off the whole south of Ukraine.”

Ukrainian officers estimated that some 100 Russian troops died in Voznesensk, including those whose bodies were taken by retreating Russian troops or burned inside carbonized vehicles. As of Tuesday, 11 dead Russian soldiers were in the railway car turned morgue, with search parties looking for other bodies in nearby forests. Villagers buried some others.

“Sometimes, I wish I could put these bodies on a plane and drop them all onto Moscow, so they realize what is happening here,” said Mr. Sokurenko, the funeral director, as he put Tuesday’s fifth Russian cadaver on blue-plastic sheeting inside his van marked “Cargo 200”??”Soviet military slang for killed in action. A Ukrainian military explosives specialist accompanied him, because some bodies had been booby trapped.

About 10 Ukrainian civilians died in Voznesensk during the combat and two more after hitting a land mine afterward, local officials said. Ukraine doesn’t disclose its military losses. There were fatalities, mostly among the Territorial Defense volunteer forces, local residents said.

The Russian operation to seize Voznesensk, 20 miles from the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant, was ambitious and well-equipped. It began after Russian forces fanned out of the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow severed from Ukraine and annexed in 2014, and thrust northward to seize the regional capital of Kherson on March 1. They pushed to the edge of Mykolaiv, the last major city before Odessa, Ukraine’s main port.

About 55 miles north of Mykolaiv, Voznesensk offered an alternative bridge over the Southern Bug river and access to the main highway linking Odessa with the rest of Ukraine. Russian forces raced toward the town at the same time as they made a successful push northeast to seize the city of Enerhodar, where another major Ukrainian nuclear power plant is located. Voznesensk’s fall would have made defending the nuclear plant to the north of here nearly impossible, military officials said.

Mayor Velichko worked with local businessmen to dig up the shores of the Mertvovod river that cuts through town so armored personnel vehicles couldn’t ford it. He got other businessmen who owned a quarry and a construction company to block off most streets to channel the Russian column into areas that would be easier to hit with artillery.

Ahead of the Russian advance, military engineers blew up the bridge over the Mertvovod and a railroad bridge on the town’s edge. Waiting for the Russians in and around Voznesensk were Ukrainian regular army troops and members of the Territorial Defense force, which Ukraine established in January, recruiting and arming volunteers to help protect local communities. Local witnesses, officials and Ukrainian combat participants recounted what happened next.

Missile strikes
The Russian assault began with missile strikes and shelling that hit central Voznesensk, destroying the municipal swimming pool and damaging high-rises. Helicopters dropped Russian air-assault troops in a forested ridge southwest of Voznesensk, as an armored column drove from the southeast. Mr. Velichko said a local collaborator with the Russians, a woman driving a Hyundai SUV, showed the Russian column a way through back roads.

Ukrainian officers estimate that some 400 Russian troops took part in the attack. The number would have been bigger if these forces??”mostly from the 126th naval infantry brigade based in Perevalnoye, Crimea, according to seized documents??”hadn’t come under heavy shelling along the way.

Natalia Horchuk, a 25-year-old mother of three, said Russian soldiers appeared in her garden in the village of Rakove in the Voznesensk municipality early March 2. They told her and neighbors to leave for their safety, and parked four tanks and infantry fighting vehicles between the houses. “Do you have anywhere to go?” she recalled them asking. “This place will be hit.”

“We can hide in the cellar,” she replied.

“The cellar won’t help you,” they told her. Hiding valuables, she and her family fled, as did most neighbors.

Outside Rakove, Volodymyr Kichuk, a guard at a walnut plantation, woke to find five Russian airborne troops in his hut. They took his phone and forced him to lie on the ground, said his wife, Hanna. “Once they realized there was nothing to steal, they told him: You can get up after we leave,” she said. By day’s end, the couple were gone from the village.

Russian soldiers took over villagers’ homes in Rakove and created a sniper position on a roof. They looked for sacks to fill with soil for fortifications, burned hay to create a smoke screen and demanded food.

A local woman who agreed to cook for the Russians is now under investigation, said Mr. Dombrovsky. “A traitor??”she did it for money,” he said. “I don’t think the village will forgive her and let her live here.”

Downhill from Rakove, Russian forces set up base at a gas station at Voznesensk’s entrance. A Russian BTR infantry fighting vehicle drove up to the blown-up bridge over the Mertvovod, opening fire on the Territorial Defense base to the left. Five tanks, supported by a BTR, drove to a wheat field overlooking Voznesensk.

A group of Territorial Defense volunteers armed with Kalashnikovs was hiding in a building at that field’s edge. They didn’t have much of a chance against the BTR’s large-caliber machine gun, said Mykola Rudenko, one of the city’s Territorial Defense officers; some were killed, others escaped. Russian troops in two Ural trucks were preparing to assemble and set up 120mm mortars on the wheat field, but they got only as far as unloading the ammunition before Ukrainian shelling began.

Phoning in coordinates
As darkness fell March 2, Mr. Rudenko, who owns a company transporting gravel and sand, took cover in a grove on the wheat field’s edge under pouring rain. The Russian tanks there would fire into Voznesensk and immediately drive a few hundred yards away to escape return fire, he said.

Mr. Rudenko was on the phone with a Ukrainian artillery unit. Sending coordinates via the Viber social-messaging app, he directed artillery fire at the Russians. So did other local Territorial Defense volunteers around the city. “Everyone helped,” he said. “Everyone shared the information.”

Ukrainian shelling blew craters in the field, and some Russian vehicles sustained direct hits. Other Ukrainian regular troops and Territorial Defense forces moved toward Russian positions on foot, hitting vehicles with U.S.-supplied Javelin missiles. As Russian armor caught...
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