We will analyze how it was in practice, and which fragments of the Muzhenko's interview are worth noticing.
First of all, pay attention to how he presented himself:
"VIKTOR MUZHENKO, Chief of Staff. Conducted general coordination and command of the operation in the Donetsk airport (DAP) in January 2015." (His quotes are presented here and below as translated from his interview in Ukrainian - ed.)
With this presentation, which has been recorded in the criminal case material, Muzhenko confirmed my status dated Jan. 18, 2015, when I alerted about heavy consequences of the fact that the Chief of Staff came to the front line at the heat of the battle in order to conduct operational command of the troops personally.
Unfortunately, that's what happened. At that time, the anti-terrorist operation commander was General Lieutenant Popko, and the B sector commander was Major General Dovhan. But the Chief of Staff, rather than performing his duties, took the reins of the battle command on Jan. 17. He did not know the situation on the ground, did not communicate with the officers, did not know the real level of combat readiness of the troops. Thus, the troops control had been disorganized at the most decisive moment of the battle.
Combining of functions of the Chief of Staff and operational command of the ATO were major factors of the Ilovaisk tragedy - Muzhenko was combining key positions and thus was not performing his duties at any of them.
Quote 2: "Why did you have to plan a special operation in the DAP?"
"The situation was more or less stable in January - the cease-fire. But it was difficult to hold the airport at that time, it was completely destroyed.
"On Jan. 15 Russian units and mercenaries violated the truce and began to assault the new terminal, where our military were deployed.
"In order to hold it, we needed to either create relevant conditions - to enter the flanks, unblock and take the entire DAP and areas adjusted to it. Or to pull out forces from what was left from the terminal."
This quote shows complete unawareness of the real situation and incompetence of the Chief of Staff. "What is 'a stable situation'? Letting out troops through 'Motorola's checkpoints, searches and discredit of Ukrainian soldiers by Russian mercenaries? Yes, they did use the situation in order to get closer to our positions, to fortify positions, and then attacked. The situation began to aggravate on Jan. 8. On Jan. 13 the enemy destroyed one of the key defense strongholds - a control tower. Our positions in the new terminal were hit directly by Russian tanks, all convoys were shelled, our units conducted their task in an unfavorable tactical situation, but holding under such circumstances was only possible with self-sacrifice. This is a video shot by soldier from the 122nd separate airmobile battalion of the 81st brigade Vadym Vavryshchuk on Jan. 13.
The point of holding part of the terminal's ruins was lost, and fire-swept approaches to the terminal along the landing strip made any supplies and reinforcement impossible. Holding the position could only bring more losses.
It was better to either conduct an offensive and seize a Donetsk suburb or withdraw our unit from that part of the terminal and save the lives of the defenders.
I wrote about in on Jan. 13.
It is important that Muzhenko spoke of that option in his interview - either offensive or retreat. This raises another question to Muzhenko - why did you, who coordinated and commanded the operation, not order to leave the new terminal after the assault failed? It would have saved lives of dozens of our soldiers.
"Who exactly was commanding the operation between Jan. 17 and 25?"
"I arrived at the command point of the 81st brigade in Vodiane on Jan. 17. I was planning to stay there for a few days, but it lasted for 10 days. I was conducting general coordination and general command. In the morning of Jan. 18 we launched active activities."
It's funny that the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Chief of Staff scrupled to say directly that the matters of "general coordination and general command" he took upon himself on his own. Without any grounds for that, because the B sector headquarters and the ATO commander were there.
These words of Muzhenko are important for the future hearing and investigation because they show that he did not prepare the operation that he was going to command and coordinate. He planned to spend 'some few days there'!
"The commanders elaborated major elements of the operation. We listened to them and made a decision to reach the objective, take Vesele, Zhabiache, and Spartak under control, and thus control the entire territory around the airport.
"During the day Jan. 18 an attempt failed, so we decided to withdraw the defenders from the terminal's remains."
How weird, isn't there sole command in the army? Why is there a 'we' here? 'We,' Viktor Muzhenko? "We made a decision?" This means that he, the commander, took the decisions with someone else. Not like prescribed by the regulations, but with someone else? No, responsibility demands of a commander saying 'me'!
And here the lies come out - there was no order given to withdraw units from the new terminal. That's a lies. Muzhenko is making it look like he was thinking about people - but he never gave the order to withdraw.
"Why didn't you take the fog factor into account? There were weather forecasts."
"No one was planning the operation three to four weeks prior to this. The cease-fire regime was in effect. But suddenly, mercenaries started to attack the DAP - we made a decision to act relevantly and also launch an active combat. We were acting upon the fact, in those conditions and weather that was there. And made relevant decisions.
"We did not have time to wait for the sun to come out after 10 days - the situation in the airport building was difficult: there were problems with rotation, with reinforcement in the terminal, with supplying them."
It turns out that no one was planning the operation on de-blocking of the airport because … the cease-fire was in effect! In other words, Muzhenko did not see any aggravation of the situation, he believed in peace, so he started to plan the operation not when mercenaries made our solders conduct rotation through their checkpoint, and not when they again launched assaults at the terminal, and not when the tower collapsed, or there were killed and wounded, but only on Jan. 17, when "mercenaries started to attack the DAP" - it was unexpected for Muzhenko. There was no time for accumulating operable military equipment and checking the crews' combat effectiveness…
"For navigation in the fog, a map and a compass - the simplest device, as well as GPS - were required. Not everybody had them. Was it possible to use them in a hit-and-run battle?"
Muzhenko is not saying this, but it's his innuendo about the reason why the group of Serhii Kuzminykh was killed, which was sent by him and airborne forces' commander Zabrodskyi in thick fog to take the objects of the airport, but was not supplied with navigation devices, cards and route maps. Obviously, they had problems with printer as well. As a result, the group got lost, reached the enemy's positions, eight Ukrainian soldiers were killed, others were taken captive.
"But it happened that most of the planned operations could not be implemented."
"Not exactly. We inflicted serious losses to the enemy and stopped its advancement. Although a number of tasks could not be conducted.
"There were several reasons for that.
"The first was the lack of required forces and equipment. We were lacking combat vehicles for mine clearing - we had only two of them. One of them had been blown up. The other was operating, but its crew, after surviving eight explosions, could not react adequately to changes in the situation due to concussions."
None of the planned operations succeeded - the plan of the assault was not implemented on Jan. 18. However, Muzhenko's crime is that he did not order to withdraw the units from the new terminal, while in this interview he said that they needed to either de-block the airport or save the fighters. He did not conduct these tasks.
In order to stop the enemy, it was not necessary to sacrifice the guys in the new terminal.
During the truce, the airport was the hottest spot, and nothing prevented, but vice versa - obliged Muzhenko as the Chief of Staff and the operation commander to concentrate all the required forces of more than 200,000 personnel of the Army and secure that the equipment is operating, and reserve crews are available.
"What happened near Spartak, why couldn't you seize it?"
"The tanks fulfilled their task - they followed through this village up to Putylivskyi bridge and nearly reached Donetsk. They destroyed two tanks of the mercenaries there, as well as an ammunition storage.
"But they battled through at a high speed. Paratroopers were cut off by fire, and they stopped in front of Spartak. Seeing no infantry behind them, the tanks returned to the starting position. That's when we lost two tanks in Spartak. But most of the people survived."
"Did they have contact with paratroopers behind them?"
"They did, but they had no possibility…"
Muzhenko knows no details about the Spartak battle of Jan. 18, although he was running the operation, as he claims. As long as the task was ordered only several hours prior to the beginning of the operation; the tankmen had just arrived in the ATO area, it was their first battle and they did not know the area; no cooperation with paratroopers was arranged, the connection turned out to be unreliable, and the operating procedure in conditions of communication suppression had not been set, the battle command in Spartak was lost. Paratroopers from the 95th brigade were stopped at the entrance to Spartak, and they could not advance. They made no attempt to envelop the defensive post. No effort or reserve were applied, no artillery fire was opened upon the building from which mercenaries were firing - former kindergarten at around one kilometer from our front line positions, it was seen from 'Kater,' where Muzhenko himself was at the moment. Spartak was not seized - it was more of an imitation of its seizure. Tankmen conducted the order and destroyed the Putylivskyi bridge, but no one supported them and dug in. Four tanks of the 1st tank brigade passed and destroyed three tanks of the enemy under the Putylivskyi bridge, which collapsed due to detonation of an ammunition storage. Due to the lack of infantry cover, we lost three out of four tanks - Muzhenko was wrong. But the most shameful is his commentary about people - at least four Ukrainian tankmen were captured, two of them are still held captive, a year since. No measures to evacuate and save people were conducted.
The connection was lost, and Muzehnko's words about connection available are total lies. Tankmen and paratroopers in Spartak also lost connection with the headquarters. Participants of the battle - tankman from the 1st tank brigade Anatolii Skrytskyi and other soldiers - were saying that straight away.
"What was happening at that time in the new terminal building?"
"Two groups were conducting different tasks. A unit of the 90th battalion was supposed to enter the airport building via the landing strip. Due to thick fog and poor visibility of 50-100 meters, the unit together with combat lieutenant colonel Oleh Kuzminykh missed the airport's building. They ended up at the other side of the terminal and were covered by dense fire. They were encircled and captured. Another part of the personnel and equipment retreated. Now it is difficult to explain how it was in fact."
They are asking Muzhenko about the terminal, he is responding about the Kuzminykh's group. This is how it was in fact [article in Russian - ed.]
It is also confirmed by Vladyslav Rokochii, paratrooper from the 79th, who was wounded in that battle; he was driving his IFV right after Kuzminykh and was gravely wounded when driving his damaged IFV with soldiers from under the enemy's fire.
It's sad that Muzhenko is lying that he didn't know the situation in the terminal. He was being called by many people, who said the situation was desperate. Those entrapped also called him.
"On Jan. 21-22 militants blew the terminal up two times.
"The second floor collapsed and many of the guys were covered by stones, some of our soldiers were taken captive. We attempted to withdraw the defenders from the terminal."
For some reasons Muzhenko does not know that the terminal was blown up several times, and the most massive attacks were on Jan. 19-20, and the blows were conducted on those days. He made no attempts to withdraw the soldiers - in order to do so he needed to at least set a task to someone in the terminal. He didn't do that. Although they spoke on the phone often. He lied. This is confirmed by all defenders. On Jan. 19-20 there was no order to retreat, on Jan. 21 Russian terrorists posted a video with wounded captive defenders of the terminal who did not receive an order to retreat and fought until they could. On Jan. 22 there was no one to rescue there. It is such a shame that the Chief of Staff is openly lying to the society.
"Soldiers say that after Vodiane you were at the 'Kater' stronghold, next to Spartak, and there was a message that you were killed there. Is it true?"
"'Kater' or 'Zenit' is the position of a former radiolocation company. There were concrete underground covers there, so it was relatively safe. Although, an AN/TPQ station [movable system that calculates the number of artillery and rocket shelling - ed.] at the 'Kater' recorded 600-700 missile explosions daily. Those who were at the strong point were a bit deafened."
Yes. Muzhenko, the Chief of Staff, was commanding battles in the airport between Jan. 17 and 25 while sitting in the bunker at the front line position near Spartak, at the depth of three floors, in a room with ONE operating special communications phone. And he was commanding the units and the entire army from this totally safe basement, without sticking his head out of it. In any army, he would have been dismissed from command for doing that, at least because he lost the possibility to command the troops. Why did Muzhenko get into the 'Kater' bunker - because he was seeking publicity and wanted to report the situation to the president personally, he wanted all the information to come via him.
"You are being accused of giving no written orders during the January operation; all was communicated orally. It that true?"
"There were orders. There is certain procedure. If I am talking to other commander in person, anyone of the command is giving an order orally, it is always confirmed by a written document. Regardless of whether it is successfully conducted or not. Even if the order was given without anyone else hearing it.
"This is how trust to a senior commander arises, and that of a senior commander to his subordinate. This is the most important moment in the relationship of commanders and soldiers."
Muzhenko hopes there will be no trial of his actions at the war. Without the trial, one can lie and say there were written orders. There will be a trial, and you will have to stand accountable for what you said, Viktor Mykolaiovych.
What kind of trust are you talking about if you cannot describe a battle you were "commanding and coordinating"…
What's the price of these lies and irresponsibility?
60 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in battles in the airport on Jan. 18-20, about 30 were taken captive, and some went missing. Several soldiers are still held captive. Most of the losses were incurred in the new terminal.
Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET