High ground commander: Lieutenant Colonel Kapinos tells about Savur-Mohyla assault

Author: Anastasiia Bereza

Last August battles between Ukrainian army and Donbas mercenaries for the highest point of the Donetsk region, Savur-Mohyla mount, have overgrown with legends and speculations. Lieutenant Colonel Mykola Kapinos, who at that moment had been a commander of a tactic battalion group of the 51st Volyn brigade and was ordered to seize the key elevation, told Censor.NET the truth about events at the 277.9 high ground.

Rivne region-born Mykola Kapinos graduated from Odesa college, had been promoted through his service from platoon commander to battalion commander; served in the war in Iraq, and served in intelligence. Later on, a number of unbelievable accidents and milestone events occurred to him: in 2013, Kapinos was fired by a minister from the Party of Regions for incompetency; in 2014, he became a captain at Maidan in Kyiv; subsequently, he was drafted to the army as battalion commander of the 51st brigade, was awarded an order for seizure of the strategic height - Savur-Mohyla mount, and was put up for an MP position. The military told Censor.NET about last summer events and his intentions to leave the army.


"On Dec. 2, 2014 I first arrived at Maidan, where I entered the 8th Afghan Hundred after the first assault. On Feb. 18 I quit [my job - ed.] because they wouldn't let me to Kyiv. I never regretted it.

"Since 2010, I've been carrying a black and red flag [symbol of Ukrainian nationalism - ed.], everyone knows I am a 'banderivets' [Ukrainian nationalist - ed.]. My father was like this, and I am much like him. I came to Maidan for a reason. It was not that I had been carried by a wave or a crowd - I went there consciously.

"I was offered the position in the 51st brigade after commander of the 3rd battalion had been killed. At the moment, I had been drafted to the army. I had no doubts whether I should go.

"After two weeks of operational coordination, in June, we took two trains and left for the Zaporizhia region first and subsequently to Mariupol.

"Before the war, the 51st brigade was reduced to cadre. This meant that a regular brigade before the war was composed of 800 to 1,000 contract soldiers, i.e. a main body, to which 1,000 of drafted soldiers were added. In this brigade [at war -ed.], there were only 500 of cadre military, and it was manned to 4,500 soldiers with those drafted. Who were of questionable quality - I just say it.

"We spent three weeks near Mariupol and were redeployed to Dokuchaievsk in late June. From there, part of the personnel was redeployed to Amvrosiivka, where the 72nd brigade was fighting at the moment. I and my forces of the tactic battalion group were redeployed to Hryhorivka village, next to the Russian border. Russians were moving in convoys every night, 50 vehicles in each, from Kuybyshevo to our direction - they were imitating an assault, which was a psychological attack, a provocation. It was strange first, but we got used to it. We disguised ourselves and took a favorable elevation. If anything went wrong, we could have fought. But they didn't cross the border then.

"In late July I was informed by the headquarters that Savur-Mohyla had been mopped up. In fact, it turned out that the 51st and the 30th [brigades - ed.] had just attempted to take it on July 28, but had been forced out. They were shelled with artillery from the directions of Russia, Torez, and Snizhne [cities in the Donetsk region - ed.]. All of

this was flying above me; I even saw snipers who were opening fire at them from the very top of the mount. After they retreated, they based themselves in Petrivske; by that time the fire from Russia was aimed at me, and another sabotage and reconnaissance group entered Hryhorivka. I was ordered to join others. We were a bit more than 100 people, we left Hryhorivka by assault, spend the night in a camp in Amvrosiivka, and based in Petrivske in the morning. There, I was appointed commander of the combined group of the 51st brigade. We immediately seized another village, Manuilivka, and were controlling the direction from Torez and Snizhne.

"As of Aug. 1, the configuration was as follows: Petrivske was ours, Stepanivka was ours, and they controlled Savur-Mohyla. From it, they could shell any of our convoys and see all our troops' redeployments.

"On Aug. 2, Colonel Hordiiychuk [Ihor 'Sumrak' Hordiichuk, Special Forces operative - Censor.NET.] and Yuldashev [Temur Yuldashev, commander of Temur volunteer battalion - Censor.NET] arrived with their people, several groups of the Special Forces 3rd Regiment, and a battalion of the 25th brigade. Together, we attempted to assault the elevation for the first time since July 28: we approached it with several tanks and an IFV from Petrivske. When they were in the middle of the road, mortar fire covered them. Vehicles reached the middle of the road, infantry dismounted, and accurate fire from the Russian Federation was opened. We had two '200's [killed - ed.] that time, and about two dozens of wounded from our unit, from the 25th, and from the 3rd regiment. As it turned out later, the enemy had fortified well there, and we were lacking precise information about it for we had no drones at that time.

"The second assault was different - we attempted to use a deceptive maneuver: we imitated a regular assault, while the 25th tried to encircle them and reach from Saurivka [a village near Savur-Mohyla - ed.]. This time, we lost one airborne combat vehicle and two persons, and retreated again under intense fire. It was a difficult moment - the second (or the third for some of us) unsuccessful attempt to assault with human losses. The soldiers were in a psychologically difficult state of mind.

"The third time we acted differently: we sent five tanks with ammunition to Savur-Mohyla, having equipped them with landmines. ... They used all of their ammunition in 30 minutes and left. We had no losses that time, but our soldiers saw losses of the other party. It affected the morale positively.

"We had been planning the fourth assault for 24 hours. I and Hordiichuk commanded jointly. We were located at the battle headquarters right next to the mount. General Nazarkin [Viacheslav Nazarkon, Major General, ATO deputy commander at that moment - Censor.NET] was also there. He was letting us know he was there, but he didn't interfere. According to documents, I was the one responsible for the assault - I had been ordered to seil;tze it.

"No one called me personally, but this was war of nerves - "do it faster, faster!" We ourselves realized that the elevation had to be seized, for the ring was being tightened. The command decided to redeploy the troops away from the border, where they had been shelled from Russia, and to advance depthward. I considered it totally justified.

"As a result, we selected volunteers, a required number of vehicles, and formed two assault groups. We planned that the tanks would fire at the first pillar until paratroopers are climbing it, and then do the same for higher levels. It was very difficult to do. An artillery battery was located in 15 km and covering the spot with direct hits to the mount and the monument on it. We covered all dirt piles and elevations around Snizhne and Torez with smoke so that the enemy could not see from there what was going on at the mount. After that, we ordered to stop the fire, and an infantry battle commenced. At the same time, my soldiers reached administrative buildings, where separatists were located, with IFVs. The 25th brigade had its first killed one and retreated. This was the most dramatic moment. After that, their battalion commander personally led them into the combat, while I and Hordiichuk remained at the battle headquarters. They noticed us there and started to shell. We didn't expect that, but it was good - they were firing at us instead of those who were attacking. My group was led by a sergeant, although there were officers among the personnel. He was the first to be wounded in his leg. He was replaced by my platoon leader, Valik. He could not get the separatists out, so he asked for a tank, but I was not able to reach tankmen - our communication was jammed. For a wonder, I managed to find a signal by my cell, contacted a company commander in Petrivske, dictated him the order and he sent it via a text message over the phone. Thus, a tank went where it was needed and destroyed the building. Valik was directing it personally.

"It was a turning point - the 25th brigade's commander took the soldiers for an assault for the second time, and the separatists realized it was the end to it, and started to retreat. Our special forces reported that two mini buses of people had left the spot. 50 hotshots remained at the high ground, although 30 would suffice for such elevation covered by artillery fire. We started our assault at 4 p.m. Aug. 7, and at 6 p.m. raised the flag of the 25th brigade over the high ground.

"The assault lasted for one and a half hour - they were conducting electronic combat and adjusting fire at us for one and a half hour.

"As I calculated, we had one killed in the first assault, on July 28, it was a communications officer, Major from the 51st brigade. At the next assault, we lost two persons; two more at the next one; the third assault was conducted with no losses, and two more persons were killed in the fourth one. One of them was my platoon leader Valik - he was wounded there and died in a hospital. Many were injured. We incurred significant losses while defending the elevation, not while assaulting it.

"After we seized Savur-Mohyla, the victory was in the air. All of us were feeling it.

"It has not happened only due to Russia's intervention, which was behind us at that moment. In order to successfully repulse the assaults from its territory, we were lacking forces. In theory, we could have responded, but it could not be done - for it would have been a huge provocation. And they knew it. … Of course, they are more powerful - their electronic intelligence is stronger, their tanks are newer, salaries higher, and they have more drones. But even with all of this they were not able to advance more - trust me, they would have if they could. Speaking
of locals, there is no one to fight with. If we had just one or two weeks without Russians, we would have mopped it all up. If they leave now, we will finish it in several weeks.

"It had been quiet at the mount for a few days. Now I understand - the enemy was taking decisions. Starting from Aug. 10, they opened continuous fire, and on Aug. 12 they hit us. There were two direct hits into my dug-out. We managed to jump out - I and two more communications men were wounded. We moved to another one - they moved the fire along; then to the third one - the fire followed us. Eventually we managed to reach the village, although everyone thought we had been killed. I held on there until noon of the next day, and was evacuated. My head was bandaged all over, and I thought I had lost my eye. I was replaced with executive officer Ivanov, a real hero. This is how the saga of Savur-Mohyla defense started. I cannot speak of it, I was not there, but it had been defended heroically.

"Nazarkin, Sumrak, and Yuldashev had been encircled there and fighting. It was necessary to realize that as soon as the mount had got at the front line and encircled, it had lost its function of an effective observation point, which was its value. There was no sense to hold it under constant fire. In the end of August, we left the elevation. Next assault of Savur-Mohyla will me more difficult morally - the enemy has erected a chapel there.

"If we had had at least three or four brigades of contract soldiers deployed at the area at the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation, there would have been no war in the Donbas. We have lost the initiative to Russia, and it has used it. Now we need a professional army with adequate selection. … And we have a potential for that - there have been six waves of mobilization, each leaving a backbone for becoming the very army in the future, the one that will be able to confront the neighbor.

"On Jan. 3, 2015 I was awarded for the combat near Savur-Mohyla. I do not put it on until others are awarded. … Any medal is important for a soldier, even if it has no financial burden on the state.


"After the brigade was discontinued, we have formed a new unit, now conducting tasks in the ATO area. When it all is over, I will quit. When I understand I am no longer needed, and my unit leaves the ATO, I will quit immediately. There are many young adequate men in the army now, while all of us had served in paper troops previously. They should whip us, Lieutenant Colonels, away from there. I will be more useful in community service in Rivne than in the army. And I really want to change my life."

Anastasiia Bereza, Censor.NET

Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/r349609