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 "The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million," - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion

Author: Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET

Censor.NET spoke to an outstanding veteran of the war for Ukraine’s Independence. Meet Ihor Lukianov, sergeant of the 25th mechanized infantry battalion ‘Kyivska Rus’, one of those who organized gunfire control system at the Debaltseve bridgehead in 2015.

Ihor will tell us in layman's terms about his unique experience of organizing artillery defense and how all of this was sustained solely by Ukrainian soldiers’ initiative and will.

A resident of Kramatorsk, Ihor Lukianov, born in 1983, has 9 years of service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He was a career officer when he retired shortly before the war. He completed 9-month training under the NATO standards held by the U.S. instructors at the Desna Training Center. He took part in pro-Ukrainian rallies when the war just started. Ihor volunteered to help Ukrainian units and was tasked by the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) headquarters to collect intelligence in Sloviansk occupied by the Russian mercenaries. When the city was liberated, he volunteered to the 25th mechanized infantry battalion and was one of those who organized artillery target intelligence at the Debaltseve bridgehead.

- Please tell us how you managed to achieve the results that you showed. Tell us how it all started and about your qualifications in this matter.

- It all started when we arrived in Debaltseve and began to secure the defensive line which was designated by the command. I appeared to be in charge of a mortar battery. Under the order of our command, our mortar detachment was deployed in a lowland area with no line of sight. We actually had no idea what to do with these mortars as we were unable to find a target. So, we sort of started tackling this issue. I started prowling around rooftops looking for a place from which it was possible to see at least something. Then we received the order to redeploy to another position. That is, we left initial position and moved to another part of Debaltseve which was in a lowland area too. I finally found a spot from which the nearby advanced position was clearly observed. The advanced position - the forefront - was some 500 meters away from me. And the whole bridgehead, everything to the north-east could be clearly observed from that point.

- You mean you could observe the entire Debaltseve bridgehead, the entire northeastern part [of the city] from the rooftop of a five-story building?

- Exactly.

- How large was the section of the forefront, the defensive line that you controlled to organize efficient artillery [target intelligence] ...

- At first it was that five-story building alone. It was called the 1st observation point.

- How large the defensive line was?

- We actually observed the entire north-eastern part of Debaltseve.

- How many kilometers [of the forefront] did you observe?

- I guess it was about 25 kilometers.

- It’s pretty impressive!

- I am talking about the forefront, not the straight line. Because some positions perfect for fire adjustment were in the territory of the neighboring units and they automatically fell under our, so to say, area of responsibility.

- This means that you - I just want to pinpoint - that you went beyond your section of the defensive line, but ensured resilience of the flank positions of other units around you.

- That’s right.

- Moreover, you took the initiative to send your people there.

- Yes. Exactly.

- In order to organize fire control in neighboring units as well. I would like to emphasize this. This is a very important point after all.

- They were very grateful to us.

- You bet they were!

- At first they did not understand why we were so eager to do this.

- I just wanted to commend the 25th battalion command, your target intelligence team that took such an initiative, responsibility. This is actually highly commendable and remarkable.

The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million, - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion 01

- This also made coordination even easier, because if our neighboring units, who also got no their own artillery and no access to artillery, if they had some welfare issues, my people helped solve them. I mean, I had two diesel generators that worked 24/7 in order to provide communication with these observation points. All the issues, starting from fuel and ending with automatic grenade launchers, were tackled virtually instantly.

- Anyway, what is the difference between the way the fire adjustment was organized by you and a commander of the neighboring unit? You simply determine the coordinates and wait for the strike.

- I can tell my personal experience. This happened when we just arrived in Debaltseve. I spotted a tank that came out of the wooded area 7 kilometers away from me and aimed its gun in my direction. He did not see me as I was in the foliage. I sent its coordinates to the battalion headquarters, requested artillery strike. The tank was over there so why not kill it?

- Absolutely.

- The battalion headquarters passed the intel on to the headquarters of the sector. The sector headquarters sent it to the artillery brigade headquarters. The brigade headquarters sent it to the commander of the army artillery group. The army artillery group commander passed the information to the gunners. The gunners committed the artillery strike. This took about half an hour.

- I guess that was quite fast?

- After that they made a shot and completely missed.

- Go on…

- It was unclear how to adjust it. I mean it was unclear how to deal with this as well. They made several more shots with the same result and we realized that we would keep missing and wasting ammunition and went directly to the firing position to talk to the gunners. As we talked to the artillerymen, it turned out that the coordinates were distorted during the transfer. Someone just confused X with Y.

- Just perfect!


- That is, you essentially created a structure that provided coordination at the local [level] ...

- Yes. And we bypassed this long [communication] chain. They no longer required me to use this long chain, which I actually later called "statistical reports." I just reported on the results. I mean there is a war going on and an operations duty officer starts asking you who is attacking you, where from, and what weapons are used exactly? I have no time to talk to you. I'll tell you everything later. When we kill someone, I will report about it. Period. Later we just reported how much ammunition we had spent and whether we had destroyed the target or not.


- How big your unit was?

- Well, our entire unit was 27 strong.

- Well, a 27 strong combat-fit manpower is a big deal for a battalion.

- The thing is that after they saw how effective our unit was, they reinforced it with the people from other detachments.

- Could you tell us please by what means did you organize speedy artillery strikes, their accuracy and fire adjustment given the rolling terrain and multiple positions allowing the enemy maneuvering freely. How did you manage to instantly pass the enemy coordinates when it popped up in random locations to commit an attack?

- Everything was brought together in a single information field - coordination between the neighboring units, coordination between the drones – later we had our own team, even two teams of drone operators which carried out aerial reconnaissance. We received intelligence from the other side. We had contacts there as well because there were also patriots who lived there and provided intel. All of it was consolidated into a unified data system and the larger picture could be seen on the map. The map indicated various units, rotation, permanent and supplementary fighting positions.

- And the probable positions which the enemy could commit an attack from?

- Right. The map displayed a certain picture, which was quite comprehensible. At some point we brought it to the headquarters of the 128th Brigade to show what we were actually doing. They scrutinized it and said it was quite good. There were some things that we did not have and we mapped them out. They did not have some things as well and they also mapped them out. And we started living our own lives. As for the outcome, I generally focus on three parameters when assessing the effectiveness of the detachment: the amount of the destroyed enemy manpower and hardware, unit survivability and whether it successfully fulfills its combat mission in its area of responsibility.

- I would point out that the priorities are set very accurately.

- The effectiveness of the unit can be determined according to these parameters. Everything else is irrelevant. In 2014, until the very assault on Debaltseve, the enemy has completely stopped using artillery at our section of the forefront for a certain period of time as a result of our actions because their artillery squads got constantly killed. Any raids were instantly suppressed after communications interception. Moreover, we started acting proactively. At some point we were even bored as they ceased bombarding us and we were sitting around doing nothing. So we started attacking them first.


- Than we had this much-talked-about case...

- Which is actually no one knows about to begin with. Tell me, please, there is a unique photo, isn’t it? And a unique video: the most advanced Russian T-72 B3 main battle tank, a 2012 model, which was destroyed on the approaches to Debaltseve right next to your five-story building.

The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million, - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion 02

T-72 B3 main battle tank


- Could you, please, elaborate on this battle? What was the distance to that tank, how did you destroy it?

- The distance to the tank was about 1,200 meters. It was an all-out attack. Several tanks attacked Novohryhorivka [village], several more attacked the Zenit [stronghold] while two tanks moved against us. But they were not looking for us, because they did not know that we were there. Therefore, they just decided to bypass Novohryhorivka and apparently came at us. In terms of anti-tank weapons we had only a RPG-26 rocket-propelled grenade launcher and Fagot anti-tank guided missile launcher with five missiles which actually were given to us on our honor. I mean we had no our own [ATGMSs].

- Fagot is the anti-tank guided missile system capable of hitting the enemy tanks at a distance of 1,200 meters. So it was possible to engage, right?

- Yes.

- But the RPG-26 was not capable of hitting a target at 1,200 meters.

- No.

- It is used at shorter distances. This means that you had actually got only that Fagot to deal with tanks.

- And five 112-mm missiles.

- And five missiles to it.

- Exactly.

- So. Tell me how it was possible at all.

- Well, the tank came out accompanied by barrage, naturally. The tank came out and ... my Fagot squad did not keep the watch on the constant basis there. They kept vigil equally with the others on rotation basis replacing each other on the rooftop. That is why they were not on the rooftop when the tank showed up. So I sent them to the rooftop. Eventually, the tank started shooting. They were scared of something and refused to open fire. I do not remember the whole story. Eventually, Dzhekson (soldier’s call sign – Ed.) climbed up to the roof to make shots with the Fagot. He got behind that Fagot and started shooting. The missiles appeared to be outdated like the majority of them at that time. None of them was launched successfully. Five missiles blasted off which, in fact, made the enemy think that that the tank was hit with Fagot.

- And you were actually left without anti-tank weapons?

- Yes.

- But was there any position? Were there any our units?

- There was one, but it was 500 meters ahead. However, they had not seen them (the tanks –Ed.) yet because they were in a lowland while they (the tanks –Ed.) were advancing from the commanding height. I mean I could see them from the rooftop. As for our position, they (the tanks –Ed.) would eventually come at them. And it turned out that we had to deal with it somehow. As long as there were no other means I decided to try hitting it with the artillery. There was also infantry around it which had to be dealt with. We would somehow get rid of the tank if it was able to get to us. Well, I passed its coordinates with lead correction, knowing where he was heading for. Again, it was all on the map.

- Did you pass it to the howitzer battery?

- To the battery of the 55th Brigade, to Desna.

- You mean 152-mm Msta-B howitzers deployed near Debaltseve, right? The battery of Captain Denisov, right?

- Yes.

- The one who provided fire support to you?

- Exactly.

- And you made a direct request?

- I said: make a shot with the main weapon, and then adjust. I also told my guys on the rooftop: keep observing, we are going to keep bombarding this tank. I heard the artillery fired a shot. The battery was not far off, so I could hear the projectile being fired and then silence.

- They made only one shot?

- Yes, with the main gun.

- Do you mean that he made only one ranging-in shot?

- Yes.

- The distance was about ...

- About 10 kilometers, I guess.

- About 10 km.

- He made a single sighting-shot and that’s it. My guys did not report where the projectile fell. I told them to make adjustment when Kasper, Dzhekson, who were on the rooftop, said: "No need for more shots. The turret came off." Well, I thought, such miracles happen – when you constantly shoot you will definitely hit something.

- But the chance for that was slim from the point of view...

- The explanation is very simple: if your artillery is barraging something, it will hit something sooner or later.

- But in fact this is almost impossible, right? I mean during conventional exercises.

- Not a chance.

- One could try to repeat this at a live-fire range but would never make the first-shot hit.

- Another version is that its engine stalled out and it caught fire.

- But the enemy clearly says on camera that it was a direct hit.

- Yes, but they just thought it was [hit by] Fagot. They made such conclusion since they saw Fagot blastoffs from my roof.

- Naturally. They saw it being hit by a single shot which is just impossible to do using artillery. This was just a miracle, one of the accidents during the war which have a memorable impact, which goes down in history. I’d like to point out that this is actually the only irrefutable evidence of the participation of the Russian regular troops, the tank troops. This is the only advanced Russian T-72 B3 tank, which was destroyed during the battle for Debaltseve because other versions of the T-72B were models produced in 1989, as a rule, that Russia sent [to Ukraine] while the T-72 B3 is the only newest main battle tank that was captured on camera. Therefore, this is a highly significant precedent. It's great that you told these details. From a historical perspective, this is definitely a case of paramount importance.

The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million, - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion 03
The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million, - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion 04

The shot that killed Russian T-72B3 tank near Debaltseve was one in a million, - an interview with Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Lukianov who organized artillery target intelligence in the 25th battalion 05


- Why do you think it was possible to hold the Debaltseve bridgehead so long and then this sudden exodus occurred?

- Well, it was probably due to the poorly organized defense at certain sections of the forefront. I mean that my section was one of the last that withdrew. Moreover, some strongholds never surrendered even being surrounded. I am talking about the position of the 40th battalion, Kryvbas. They stayed and were captured. Vuhlehirsk was taken. No measures were taken after Vuhlehirsk to cut off this section of the frontline and organize new lines of defense. Moreover, they should not have been organized - they have already had to be there. It was stipulated by the second line of defense. Well, in general, over the period of our stay in Debaltseve, it was possible, I guess, to organize four lines of defense. But it was never done. The second point was, of course, the loss of control over troops. And the third point was failure to restore combat capability. These three major aspects have played a key role.

- And what do you mean by the control over troops? The official version, the data released by the General Staff, says that everything, including the withdrawal, was planned well in advance while the bridgehead was lost only because the enemy significantly outnumbered our troops. What do you think?

- In fact, objectively estimating the situation, I felt quite comfortable sitting in Debaltseve. I would have been there without bothering anyone and pushing around their artillery to the utmost, if I knew for sure that the Ukrainian troops would break through to the Debaltseve and rescue me soon. In the first place, this never happened, and secondly, they passed this task on to the besieged grouping for some reason. Making the besieged troops break through the encirclement is utter insanity given that the Big Land was on the other side. It's kind of wrong, to use the mildest term. Secondly, I knew for sure that this would never happen.

- You did know that no one would be able to break through?

- Either they take us all prisoner, or we need to break through.

- What made you think that no one would break through to you?

- Because I was getting intel from the other side and I was getting reports on what was going on there. About the assault on Lohvynove village. About those intense battles for Lohvynove.

- Of Feb 9-12.

- Those chaotic ones? They produced no results other than casualties.

- Lohvynove was located on the main supply route of the Debaltseve grouping. That is, the capture of Lohvynove actually caused the need to withdraw from Debaltseve.

- This was never the reason. It was possible not to withdraw from Debaltseve at all. It was possible to stay there.


- The General Staff published a formal report, which says that Debaltseve was lost because of the treason of the 40th battalion that struck a deal with the enemy, surrendered a section of the frontline, its soldiers at two strong points surrendered which caused a gap in the defense line in Debaltseve and our troops retreated. What can you say about this formal position of the Armed Forces?

- This is a blatant and cynical lie. First, they were receiving reports about the entrapment well in advance – about two strongholds that could have been encircled. I do not know whether these reports reached the General Staff or not. At least, I saw those advanced positions in front of me and realized that they were about to be surrounded. I reported that their battalion commander repeatedly reported that the area captured by the enemy needed either to be mopped up, or the troops needed to be withdrawn... from the envelopment that was not still solid at that time. Eventually they were just left there. And as for their surrender, they were still holding the line when everyone had already left Debaltseve. It’s not that they surrendered but were simply abandoned. This probably sounds more logical, at least. They had no other option. Zakharchenko (chieftain of the breakaway "Donetsk people’s Republic" – Ed.) was already giving an interview in the heart of the city when their positions on the outskirts of Debaltseve were still not taken.

- This means that the 40th Battalion members were not traitors, but heroes.

- Absolutely. They are double heroes given their further fate in Ilovaisk.

- Tell me, do you think we could hold the Debaltseve bridgehead and what we needed to, say, keep this line of defense?

- Well, firstly, not should, but were obliged. We are talking about nine human settlements from which neither civilians, no pro-Ukrainian population, no property, actually nothing, were evacuated. Thus we handed over nine settlements to the terrorists and actually deliberately betrayed them by doing so. Were we able to hold it or not? Of course we were! We were sitting around Debaltseve and successfully fighting. The only thing we needed was to replenish ammunition supplies and make up losses. That’s it! There was nothing else we needed. But we never got it.


- Tell me, please, was Debaltseve still under our control when the withdrawal started? If so, what part exactly and how long?

- Up to the city police station building, I suppose.

- Was this the smaller part of the city?

- Yes, this was the smaller part.

- So were we actually on the outskirts?

- The most ironic of all was that the command of the sector ordered - before the very withdrawal, I do not remember the exact date – to take up the defensive dispositions in the city within specific location, specific streets. I suspect that they probably took a sort of a plan B from the shelf to rescue us, which was drafted by some smart ass, and decided to implement it. Moreover, these streets and lines, along which they were supposed to take up defensive dispositions, they were already deep in the enemy territory. This means that the enemy had to be forced from this territory which in fact required an offensive operation. That is, they had no handle on the situation at all. The only thing they could do was to take some piece of paper with an outdated plan from the shelf and give a completely senseless order based on it.

- Was it ever executed?

- It was just impossible to execute it as I just happened to pass by that place two hours before and saw the enemy with my own eyes. This was utter nonsense.

- Tell me, please, was this breakthrough organized by someone?

- It was organized by mid- and low-rank commanders.

- Which means it was done not in accordance with the top-down plan?

- There was no top-down plan. There was a decision ... and everyone chose for himself. Moreover ... I chose my own route. Firstly, the commander of the 101st Brigade did not know which way to go at all.


- Why did you decide to retire from the army anyway?

- Why did I decide to leave? Well, firstly, I was already very tired of it. Three years is way too much. Secondly, I started occasionally realizing that I lost grip on reality. It was replaced. I felt it. I mean I stopped being scared. There was no fear anymore. That was a bad sign. Maybe I just reasonably felt that the time had already come as it was no longer possible to give orders to the personnel being an insecure commander distancing oneself from it.

- Would you have returned to the army?

- Actually no, given the current developments, what is happening there.

- And if there is any strategy, more intense actions?

- There is no common strategy. I mean you can create a whole bunch of combat-ready units, you can train a bunch of soldiers how to fight efficiently, but if there is a diplomatic move to hand over Debaltseve, it will be surrendered. The question is what would I do there?

- But is there still any chance, if hostilities increase? If, for example, an operation to liberate the Donbas is launched, would you come back?

- Depends on the situation. Depending on who will be in charge. Because, as a rule, our liberation operations turn into some kind of entrapments.

- But you still do not rule out such a possibility of returning to the army?

- Of course I don't. I mean if Russians launch undisguised onslaught, I would have to teach them a lesson once again.

- Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, Ihor, for your words. It's a great honor for me to have a talk with you. May you be well!

Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET (translated by Denys Almendieiev)

Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/r3080557