Near Mariupol, Ukraine soldiers embittered by orders not allowing them to return Russian fire

Redheart

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Note that it's not the separatists who are being accused of escalating the conflict.
never send a boy to do a man's job apparently is Russia's new credo. They'll complete what they started. Take Maripoul then maybe start a new round of "peace talks."

Near Mariupol, Ukraine soldiers embittered by orders not allowing them to return Russian fire

Despite the Minsk II cease-fire agreement, which was supposed to take effect on Feb. 15, shelling from the Russian side has continued along the Mariupol front and Ukraine's military expect the Azov Sea port city of 500,000 people will be the target of a major Russian assault within the next weeks.

Although some Ukrainian and international media reports make it seem as if the fighting is happening in Mariupol itself, the city has not been hit since Grad missiles showered down on Jan. 24, killing more some 30 civilians and wounding many others.

The fighting has been happening seven or eight kilometers east of the city along a front line which snakes from Shyrokine on the Azov Sea in a northeasterly direction to the town of Krasnoarmiysk.

A staff officer at the headquarters of volunteer 37th Mechanized Infantry Battalion near Mariupol said that, since Feb. 20, the Ukrainian military has seen scores of Russian armor, artillery and truck-mounted missiles coming across the border from Russia. By Feb. 22, he said, a huge Russian regular force had massed on their side of the border with eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast.

They looked fully ready, he said, to cross into Ukraine at short notice and included an estimated 58,000 soldiers, more than 200 tanks and armored personnel carriers, 66 pieces of artillery and around 100 truck-mounted missile launchers for Grad, Urikan and Smerch systems (translated Hail, Hurricane & Whirlwind missiles).

He said that scouts from the 37th Battalion had reported that 26 Grad systems, each capable of launching 40 missiles, and 36 tanks and armored personnel carriers had been deployed on their side of the Mariupol front by the Russian forces. The battalion also downed a Russian drone on Feb. 13 during intense fighting and recovered it from the Azov Sea on Feb. 15.

Intelligence officers at the 37th Battalion said that that the Russians could launch an attack whenever they wanted but estimate they will delay until March to fully assemble their force. One of the officers said: "They are carrying out intensive reconnaissance to find out about our forces and dispositions. To that end they are using a lot of drones and we shot another one of them down this weekend.

He also said that there were indications of a large Russian and separatist build up towards Kharkiv, which is increasingly being seen as a probable target.

Despite announcements by the Ukrainian government and Kremlin-backed separatist spokesman Eduard Basurin that an agreement was signed on Feb. 22 to begin withdrawing heavy weapons, the Russian guns have neither fallen silent nor are being withdrawn along the Mariupol sector, according to the Ukrainian military here.

The withdrawal was supposed to start on Feb. 16, the second day of Minsk II agreement, but like so many other elements of the cease-fire, it has been ignored.

The men of the 37th Battalion and all Ukrainian military speak from trenches and bunkers reminiscent of images from World War I.

On the Mariupol front on Feb. 21, they were bitter that the high command in Kyiv has forbidden them to fire back despite the Russian side's artillery fire which has increased in ferocity around Shyrokine this weekend. On Feb. 22, the sound of shelling could be heard from the eastern side of Mariupol.

Misha, 24, is from Zaporizhya, home to most of the 500 members of the 37th Battalion. He didn't want to be identified because he doesn't want the Russian forces and their separatist proxies to be able to track down his family.

Until the conflict started, he had worked for three years as a building worker in Kyiv. Speaking from a bunker on the front line near Shyrokine, he said: “Everyone knows that the Russians will not keep to the cease-fire but we have to abide by it. We are shelled every day."

But the city is clearly within range of Russian artillery. It is also vulnerable to Russian air and sea power should that be used. It would be difficult for Russia to maintain the fiction that its forces are not directly involved in the conflict here if the planes and some of the Russian Black Sea fleet based in occupied Crimea were used.

The intelligence wing of the 37th Battalion as well as the Security Service of Ukraine intelligence service say that if Mariupol is attacked, they expect armed covert Russian-backed cells of fighters to try to cause mayhem and chaos within the city to divert Ukrainian forces. One intelligence team from the battalion told the Kyiv Post that they had identified and arrested the members of several such groups who had been handed over to Ukrainian authorities.
 

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