Colonel Kovalskyi: “We captured Russian Т-72B3 to our own surprise – it was the first engagement for most of us”

Author: Yurii Butusov

Aug. 26 a year ago, Ukrainian encircled troops near Ilovaisk captured the most modern Russian tank T-72B3 produced in 2013, equipped with radio electronic devices made in France and Belorussia. Censor.NET was told the story by Colonel Mykhailo Kovalsky, who was engineer commander of the Pivden operational command.

"I was together with the commander at the 39-06 checkpoint near Ilovaisk. In the morning of Aug. 24 information came in that Russian troops were advancing; at 1 p.m. Aug. 24 this information was confirmed - it became clear that the road to Starobesheve was cut off and we had been caught in a tactical entrapment. It became clear that we had to organize all-round defense, otherwise we would have been overrun from the rear. We had no reserves in the rear, so we had to create combined units. The commander ordered me to cover our rear near Ahronomichne village. It is some five kilometers from the checkpoint where our command center was located. In order to complete the task I gathered all I had under my command - 30 combat engineers from the 91st engineer company and combat engineers from the 51st mechanized brigade. I was also given one BMP-2 from the 51st brigade commanded by call sign Leshii.

"We have advanced towards Ahronomichne and took positions between abandoned buildings. High point 204.2 was not far from us. I organized defense as follows: we dug up a trench with an individual slit shelter for each soldier. We also sew mines for one kilometer of roads and cuts-through in forests attaching our positions. I also set a controlled minefield composed of MONs around our position. We did not entrench our IFV - it was hidden behind houses and was supposed to be maneuvering, to show up suddenly, and hit. We had no other choices - the IFV had only 100 rounds left. Our weapons included only machine guns and several grenade launchers. For most of the combat engineers it was supposed to be the first ammunition battle. So I paid much attention to position hardening in order to make soldiers more confident.

"We captured the Russian T-72B3 to our own surprise.

"At around noon Aug. 26 we saw an enemy's convoy advancing us directly. It was headed by a tank followed by six airborne combat vehicles. I gave an order to the IFV; it showed up and opened fire at a distance of approx. 400 meters. The tank stopped, and its turret caught fire. The airborne combat vehicles made a landing and, having seen that the tank stopped, turned around and started to retreat. Infantry also started to retreat along the forest. One of the airborne combat vehicles was hit by a round, but managed to retreat. No other losses were inflicted to the enemy. We mopped up the location and found no bodies. They were firing chaotically, so no one of our soldiers was hurt as well. The tank was to be blown up, but I examined it and saw it was totally operable, its damages being cosmetic. Obviously, a tank driver was wounded for there were blood stains on the turret.

"All those wounded were taken away by the enemy. When mopping up, we found an abandoned operable sniper rifle made in Russia. The tank was Russian as well - we found all documents inside. It was from the 8th motorized rifle brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. One of my combat engineers managed to start it, so we took it with us.

"After this our positions in Ahronomichne were sprayed with Russian artillery.

"In the night, reinforcement came - six IFVs. Not all of them were operable, but they had anti-tank missile systems and tripods for anti-tank guided missiles. None of my combat engineers knew how to shoot Fagot. In order to teach them I decided to fire one of the rockets.

"On Aug. 27 two Russian T-72s climbed the 204.2 elevation and started to shell our positions with case pointing. Out Fagot spotter, who had conducted his first shot a day before, opened fire at the tank. The first rocket touched the grass and headed to the sky. The second rocket hit directly. The tank drove a little from the elevation and stopped. We did not finish it for we had too few missiles. Other tanks were showing up, shelling our positions, and hiding. One of the missiles hit my command point - I got contused, but stayed in the ranks. They were spraying very intensively.

"The enemy also conducted constant harassing fire from mortars and howitzers. They were firing all night long. We saw flashes and I was spotting the fire of our artillery to the direction. We were also shelling all located targets on Aug. 27 and 28 by noon. One of our batteries was firing, but not too directly, while mortar battery under call sign Slyva located in Hrabske was hitting perfectly.

"A multi-purpose light-armored towing vehicle and a KamAZ of the enemy blew up on our mines behind the forest.

"The captured tank could not be used by us - we had no spotter. We were studying out its electronics - it had navigation system and heat vision sights. We learned how to use a machine gun on its turret, but could not learn how to shoot. So we transferred the tank to the head of the combat vehicle arsenal of Pivden operation command, Colonel Yevhenii Sydorenko (he was mentioned by Censor.NET in several articles and he became its spotter.

"The commander gave presents to my combat engineers for the seized tank - two loaves of lunch meat. The guys were happy.

"We could not hold our position for a long time. The main problem we were facing was the lack of water. Village wells in Hrabske and Ahronomichne could not supply our units with water. First, locals were taking water from them, then us, the military.

"On Aug. 28 I arrived to officers meeting to the commander, Lieutenant General Ruslan Khomchak.

"All officers advocated for recovery with weapons.

"Now, I read a lot of criticism of Khomchak. What I will say might sound unpopular, but I think so. All command had been held in place by the general, and I respect Ruslan Borysovych as a commander very much. I went through a sausage grinder, I trust Khomchak, and it had been a great honor to me to serve along him for many years and to fight with him in Ilovaisk.

"In the evening of Aug. 28 I was ordered to pass a car with wounded in the night. The car was marked with a red cross. We lit it with lanterns and left. I was in the cab. As soon as we left Mnohopillia, the car was shelled from all directions with a very intense fire. We had to return immediately. The car was riddled all over, but the wounded were not hurt, fortunately.

"In the morning we were ordered to retreat. When leaving Ahronomichne, I saw two more destroyed Russian T-72s. The turret of one of them was torn off. It was not our fire - possibly, it was the result of our artillery or mortar fire.

"Near Hrabske, I laid several booby traps - I heard subsequently in Donetsk that they caused losses to the enemy.

"We advanced in two convoys. It was hell. First we were shelled from all directions; the enemy's positions were multilayered, and a few managed to pass all military lines. I saw cars exploding around me, I saw people torn into pieces… Our convoy battled through Novokaterynivka, and we scattered among houses. No organization was left. All exits from Novokaterynivka were blocked by Russian troops. They opened intense fire against the village. I was approached by locals and they started to ask me to leave the village, for their houses were being destroyed, while there were kids and old people who could not leave the village.

"I had no ammunition and military equipment for a serious battle. We had no choice.

"I had captive Russian paratrooper from the 31st air assault brigade Ruslan Akhmetov. I left him and went to talk with Russians. I was met by one of commanders without any insignia. He acted forthputting - told me that his unit had destroyed one of our detachments that was headed for our reinforcement a day before. Subsequently I learned that he meant a company tactical team of the 92nd brigade. But we agreed with the Russian commander and he stopped shelling the village. He said he was an intelligence officer of what I thought was a battalion or a regiment. He exchanged Akhmetov for over 60 of our troops - they returned on our territory the same day.

"I was taken captive instead. That was when I noticed that our command remembered us. Our artillery started to shell Novokaterynivka area, but the hits were missing and flying far from Russian positions. Suddenly, two Ukrainian attack aircrafts appeared over Novokaterynivka. They conducted direct hits over Russian positions. Unfortunately, however, I saw with my own eyes how one of the planes was downed with a Strela-10 anti-aircraft weapon system.

"Obviously, the pilots passed precise coordinates [to the military - ed.]. For soon I and other captives were covered by an intense artillery fire against the Russian positions. Ukrainian artillery was shelling Russian positions directly for two hours. Everybody found a place to hide; I hid under a Russian airborne combat vehicle.

"Subsequently, I examined the defense of the Russian unit where I was kept. They had only one tank entrenched - airborne combat vehicles had no trenches and were supposed to maneuver. I have to admit they incurred little losses in the engagement. As far as I know, neighboring units had more losses.

"After all blood and suffering that I had seen, or maybe due to my two concussions, I lost my sense of fear. I demanded Russians to aid those wounded, and give people water and food. It was a difficult matter for them.

"Many Russian soldiers looked like beggars themselves. They were dirty and tired. Officers said they had been redeployed to Ukraine on Aug. 21, but no supplies had been organized. They were eating what they had with them and drinking what they could find. There was not enough water for them.

"I was held with my eyes covered - I was wearing my officer uniform and had all my documents with me. Once, an officer approached me. He said he was a colonel of the Russian armed forces; he sympathized with me, and would do his best for me not to be bothered. In order to take me to Donetsk, some Chechens arrived. But the Russian colonel did not give me away to them. The Russian gave me to someone else. I spend little time as a captive - just 10 days. I was then exchanged.

"Now I am in a hospital. Many thanks for your call - I thought everybody forgot Ilovaisk. Two of my combat engineers were killed there.

"They were honored posthumously. No one of those who survived was honored. This is insulting, of course. I have no decorations, and none of my guys has, although we did a lot for the war before, after, and during Ilovaisk. Although I am a colonel, my opinion means nothing. Looks like the state only needs killed heroes of Ilovaisk. Those who survived remind it of the unpleasant…

"I remain in touch with combat engineers I went through Ilovaisk with. I tell them not to get offended and keep serving: "We went to the war to perform our duties. And we did our job well, for we have received the most important decoration - we returned home alive."


Military engineer colonel Mykhailo Kovalskyi shows Russian-made Shmel flamethrower that had been seized by soldiers of the 51st brigade in Kostiantynivka.


The Russian tank T-72B3 that had been hit by Colonel Kovalskyi's unit and captured by Ukrainian troops near Ilovaisk on Aug. 26, 2014.


The Russian tank T-72B3 that had been captured by Ukrainian troops near Ilovaisk is preparing to a breakthrough on Aug. 29, 2014.


Russian paratrooper Ruslan Akhmetov, who had been captured near Ilovaisk. Akmetov was exchanged for 60 Ukrainian soldiers and officers by Colonel Kovalskyi in Novokaterynivka.

Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET

Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/r349305