Battle of the Bulge – Svitlodarsk

Note: The dust has yet to settle, and the front lines remain fluid, information may be inaccurate or change soon after the publication of this article, I’ll try to keep it as up to date as possible. 

As the fighting draws into its sixth day, the ongoing battle on the stretch between Rebel-captured Debaltseve and Ukrainian Government-controlled Svitlodarsk is yet without any clear winner, with no significant amount of ground gained for either side. Considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the year, the battle which pro-Russians identify as a fight for Debaltseve, and Ukrainians call the “Svitlodarsk bulge” has been perceived as a defensive operation from both opposing parties since heavy fighting commenced. The battle takes place near the same area as the battle for Debaltseve in early winter 2015 when it was in its terminal stages, and Ukrainian forces managed to make a break-out from the besieged city before being overwhelmed by Russian and rebel forces in what is held to be the greatest military loss to Ukraine since the initial Russian thrust into Donbass in August 2014, rivaled only by the battle for Donetsk International Airport.

Over the course of the past couple of days, Ukrainian forces primarily from the 1st Battalion and the 25th Mechanized Battalion “Kievskaya Rus” of the 54th Independent Mechanized Brigade have at least at one point managed to secure and entrench in key positions on hill 223,2 and 183,2. The previously contested town of Lozove now also appears to be fully under Ukrainian control. The story from Ukrainian sources is that separatists went on the offensive in the direction of Svitlodarsk, and that Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) launched a counter-offense supported by BMPs and 122mm artillery. In the apparent success of this initial counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces overran rebel trenches and dug in. Since then, fighting has been continuing at a high intensity, with UAF pushing their way southwards on the western flank of Logvynove primarily. Rebel sources mention disruptively high intensity of artillery fire, but still claim to be holding out well against UAF offensives. Although the exact situation is uncertain in terms of gains and losses, it is certain that the UAF have been met with staunch resistance and suffered many casualties, having to rotate attacking teams with fresh teams to hold captured positions due the amount of WIA and KIA during the initial counteroffensive. Many of the lost Ukrainian fighters have belonged to Right Sector’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps.

Map of the battle based on preliminary information

On the opposing side, all three mechanized battalions of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) 7th Independent Mechanized Brigade under Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) command have been the driving force in thwarting the Ukrainian advance, likely supported by fighters from the DPR 3rd Independent Mechanized Brigade. The 7th Independent Mechanized Brigade originated in DPR (as a rule, brigades with uneven numbers are DPR, even numbers are LPR), but was transferred under LPR command and tasked with the defense of Debaltseve, where it is stationed. The 3rd Independent Mechanized Brigade is stationed in the nearby Horlivka, with which it is tasked to defend. As the battle draws on, rebels too have brought out heavy artillery and made extensive use of it, but still find themselves overwhelmed by Ukrainian Artillery, which by the use of reconnaissance drones has grown increasingly accurate throughout the conflict. According to rebel sources, on the third day of fighting, separatist casualties numbered up to 28 killed and 63 wounded. 

In light of the agreement of ceasefire scheduled to go into effect on the 24th of December, there is some cautious optimism that fighting might simmer down for the holidays. It is, however, undoubtedly not a ceasefire which any party is happy with, the separatists having lost territory, and the UAF having bad experiences with separatists taking advantage of ceasefires to move strategically imperative equipment into favorable positions.