The message about the artillery shelling which took the lives of dozens of our soldiers made virtually everyone realize that there is a real war in Ukraine. Five years have passed but the pain of the loss of Zelenopillia doesn’t lessen either among the relatives of the dead or the participants of that horrible night. Not everyone with whom I managed to talk wanted to see their surname in the publication. One of the commanders is convinced that he would give the interview after the war. He didn’t agree with the statement that events of Zelenopillia were the first direct and massive use of a regular army of the Russian Federation against the Armed Forces of Ukraine since they had been shelled before. Like, they suffered losses, regrouped and fought on. Sometimes it was easier to count the days when they didn’t have to fight.

The night of deaths

Luhansk region, the area near the village of Zelenopillia. According to the official data, on the morning of July 11, 2014, approximately at 4:30 am, the border guards of the 2nd moto-maneuverable group of the State Border Guard Service and the soldiers of the battalion tactical group, formed from the divisions of the 24th and 72nd mechanized brigade and the first battalion of the 79th Air Assault Brigade were shelled from the multiple rocket launcher MB-21 “Grad” from the territory of Russia. Our militaries had the task to cover the state border.

Military pensioner Valerii Kurach, ex-commander of the 79th Air Assault Brigade, call sign “Samara” told about those events. At that moment Mr. Kurach was the deputy commander of the brigade, the colonel Oleksiy Shandar, who was dismissed from the post after the events of Zelenopillia, headed the brigade. According to Mr. Kurach, on July 10 he had a phone conversation with the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko.

“Muzhenko assigned the task: on the arrival of the first battalion (he participated in the liberation of Sloviansk) to close the passage from Izvarinе village,” Valerii Kurach said. “From the one side we had already reached it, the border was under control, we had only the other side. And if we had closed it, maybe the war would have ended. The first battalion arrived, and we left for Zelenopillia on the night of 10. As we drove, mortars hunted us around the fields. We were “chased”, the information leaked. When we arrived at Zelenopillia, we had to assign the task to the 24th brigade.”

After the shelling

Soon, upon the arrival of the first battalion of the 79th brigade at the necessary place near Zelenopillia, artillery shelling broke out.

“Between Dyakovo and Zelenopillia, from the side of the Russian Federation, it was virtually the border,” Mr. Kurach specified. “The losses were enormous, they shelled directly at the 24th brigade but we were at the southern premises of that camp. Everything started from the border guards, then it was the whole camp and finally, it approached us. The general Momot died, call sign “Alien” (Ihor Momot – then Colonel, posthumously awarded the rank of Major General and Hero of Ukraine star – ed.). I stood next to him, he slept in a tent when a splinter hit his head.

Consequences of the night attackIn Wikipedia, the list of the dead of Zelenopillia includes 37 persons (20 of them are the soldiers of the 24th mechanized brigade). However, different sources provide different numbers. In the first weeks, it was said about hundreds of dead. The Russians wrote about 2 hundred of the dead. According to Mr. Kurach, 37 dead were found according to the DNA of the remains of the bodies in the Zaporizhia mortuary. The same number was confirmed by the information of the unit commanders who transferred the soldiers.

“After we suffered losses, we organized a circular defence, I thought that we would be attacked, they fired us with 120-millimetre mortars,” continued Valerii. “I reported to Muzhenko on huge losses, he ordered to return to the starting position. We began evacuation of the wounded. There were many badly wounded. In the air, there was the smell of roasted meat and blood. We collected the remains of the victims in a blanket and a cloak-tent, loaded into the car and took to Dyakovo.”

An area in the vicinity of the tragedy

“First Ilovaisk”

To perpetuate the memory of the participants of the ATO, the victims of wars and political repressions Mykolaiv published a three-volume book. One of the members of the editorial board, the people’s deputy of Ukraine Taras Kremin (in 2014, the head of the Mykolaiv Regional Council) mentioned that the inhabitants of their region showed true Cossack spirit by not allowing the “Russian world” and helping our soldiers, in particular, the 79th Air Assault Brigade, based in the city of ships.

Memorial to the deceased soldiers of 79th Air Assault Brigade in Mykolaiv

“When the 79th brigade went to Chonhar, Mykolaiv residents collected funds for the purchase of uniforms, body armour, food,” said Mr. Kremin. “Shelling near Zelenopillia became a huge tragedy for the Mykolaiv region, there was mourning that lasted for several days. We understood we had to do everything to properly perpetuate our dead. Local authorities supported the families – with money, transport, and tackling other domestic issues.

In the first volume of the mentioned book “Junctures of The War”, it goes about the battle of Zelenopillia. Serhiy Kuz, Lieutenant Colonel, at that time commander of the 1st Air Assault Brigade shared his memory, “When we arrived in the area of Zelenopillia, there was a tactical group of the 24th brigade, which, unfortunately, was not sufficiently equipped in engineering: there were no blindages, fortifications, only tents. The intelligence reported on the transfer of technical means from Russia. Around July 10, spotters from the Russian Federation began to leave. After arrival, I got out of the armoured personnel carrier and said: the air is heavy. On the march, Zelenopillia was designated as a refuelling and recreational area. I realized that the situation is difficult. Many moments have been calculated, but it’s simply impossible to take everything into consideration – ambushes, traitors. Many must be decided on the spot. The task had to be fulfilled and the lives of the fighters must have been saved.”

Our defenders

Serhiy Kuz believes that Zelenopillia became the first Ilovaisk. The military described the event itself, “On July 11, 2014, at 4:40 am, the 79th Air Assault Brigade was shelled from the Grad. After the Grad, there was mortar shelling. However, nobody panicked, despite the fatigue, all tried to help. Medical instructors did everything they could to save the lives of wounded soldiers. Oleh Teteria, Yevhen Denysenko – their professionalism saved many lives. The moment after the shelling when we had to evacuate wounded was most difficult for me. There were few pieces of machinery, the rest often failed. For evacuation of the casualties, there was one single armoured personnel carrier. I had to decide who to save first, who had more chances to survive, to get to a hospital. It’s difficult to look into the eyes of the wounded fellow brothers and realize that they have low chances to survive.”

Was it possible to avoid tragedy? According to Valerii Kurach, no, because everything was planned and the enemies knew where our troops moved. The weather was ideal that also means a lot for such a shelling. Moreover, the spotter targeted the artillery at a specific point.

“When I arrived at the command centre in Dyakovo, I rowed the officers and said that everyone should rest only in shelters, blindages, not in tents and cars,” Valerii Kurach said. At night, on July 11 we, already at the commander centre, were hit by another multiple launch rocket system. An anti-aircraft missile operator died, two or three officers were injured. After Zelenopillia the artillery shelling was picking up daily. In the end, it was like this – they fired for two hours, another one was a break. And everything happened from the territory of the Russian Federation. I reported on the situation to the Chief of the General Staff, the National Security, and Defense Council. At the beginning of August, we were given the command to leave the encirclement in which we were caught.”

The heroes don’t die!

In the chapter of the book “The Fatherland Remembers,” these fallen soldiers of the 79th Air Assault Brigade are mentioned. In one of the notes, it is said, “Ladyzhensky Oleksandr Vasyliovych, 16.04.1978, Oleksiivka village, Kotovskyi Region, Odesa Oblast. Sergeant of the 79th Mykolaiv Air Assault Brigade. By decree of the president of Ukraine No. 708/2014 dated September 8, 2014, he was posthumously awarded the Order “For the Courage” of the third degree for personal courage and heroism, found during the protection of state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Oleksandr Ladyzhensky lived in Kryve Ozero, Mykolaiv region. He had two children. Now, his daughter Valeriia is a student, his son Kostyantyn is a pupil. Oleksandr was one of the first who stood up for the defence of Ukraine in 2014.

“He strived for Maidan, he wanted changes in Ukraine. He was a patriot,” Veronika Ladyzhenska, the wife of Oleksandr, told. “We have children, we wanted a better future. My husband was a builder, he worked in Boryspil. He was summoned to the 79th Brigade in Mykolaiv, then they were sent to the Shyroky Lan (a test site in the south of Ukraine – ed.), and later to the Luhansk region. I even didn’t know about it. He called, told the essence, nothing superfluous: what’s at home, how are the children? It happened that he didn’t answer, I think, they were not allowed to talk. It was scary. He said, ‘It’s a real war here, you don’t understand.’ They saw and understood everything there. They had been not allowed to shoot yet. But Zelenopillia demonstrated everything.”

“Oleksandr Ladyzhensky was escorted to the final resting place by the whole region,” Taras Kremin remembered. “The tragedy was inexplicably hard for all of us. Oleksandr is my peer, a young man who honourably and honestly fulfilled its duty. It’s about true heroes. Everyone who went to defend Ukraine is already a Hero of Ukraine. And those who perished for Ukraine protect our state from the bloodshed, hatred, the Russian enemy, the terrible plague that came to our divine land in heavens.”

Ukraine remembers its heroes! And these are not empty words because people fill them with concrete deeds. Taras Kremin assured that the aid to the family is being provided till now. Veronika Ladyzhenska is grateful to Yuriy Sinchuk, the Kryve Ozero village chairman, who knew Oleksandr well and perceived his death as a personal tragedy. Mr. Sinchuk helped in the transportation of the body, which was provided for the burial after the procedure of DNA after forty days of the tragedy. Thanks to Yuriy Sinchuk, a memorial plaque was established in memory of Oleksandr Ladyzhensky at a local school, a small park with an alley and a memorial to the two fellow-countrymen killed in the war was built near the school. The cost of a monument on the grave of a warrior was offset by the district government.

P.S. As the commander, who didn’t wish to appear in the publication, emphasized, Zelenopillia was a lesson from which mistakes we had to learn. Tightly concentrated in one place, the troops had to disperse over a larger area, dig around, take care of engineering shelters, and in no case rest in beds, tents or armoured vehicles.

By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky

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