Between 2014 and 2015, the Donbass war’s most ferocious battles took place. Following that, the civil war devolved into a battle over territory, yet troops and civilians alike continued to perish in Donetsk and Lugansk. Over 13,000 people died as a result of the battle. This article shows the timeline of the war in Donbass between the DPR and LPR against the Ukrainian government.
6 April 2014: Seizure of the Ukrainian Security Service Building in Lugansk
This would be a watershed moment in Ukraine’s ‘Russian Spring,’ which began in February 2014 with widespread pro-Russian demonstrations in the aftermath of a Western-backed coup d’état in Kiev. In Lugansk, young militia forces seized the Ukrainian Security Service HQ, arming themselves en masse with weapons from its extensive arsenal.
13 April 2014: ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ Kicks Off in Donbass
On April 13, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council approved the start of a “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) in Donbass, with acting President Oleksandr Turchynov – who was appointed to the position following the ouster of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych – signing it of. It has nothing to do with being ‘anti-terrorist.’ It was a military offensive against the people of Ukraine’s eastern regions who did not support the Kiev coup.
A vehicle carrying Special Group Alpha Ukrainian Spetsnaz troops assigned to administrative buildings in Slavyansk was ambushed by militias around 9 a.m. on the morning of April 13th. The same morning, Kiev proclaimed the launch of an ATO in the city. Alpha Captain Gennady Bilichenko was killed, and three other Spetsnaz fighters were injured.
2 May 2014: Assault on Slavyansk
This date is widely regarded as the official start of a full-fledged war in Donbass. Ukrainian soldiers attempted to storm Slavyansk, using air support to push into the city. Some reinforced DPR positions, as well as prominent heights in the Karachun area, where artillery batteries were stationed, were captured. Militia members, on the other hand, used MANPADs to shoot down several enemy helicopters, killing five Ukrainian military pilots.
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Ukraine’s internal troops scaled back their attack due to a lack of air support. Nine Ukrainian troops were killed in total, with one Donbass militia member killed and nearly a dozen others injured. The first military attack on Slavyansk by Ukrainian forces failed.
Russia requested that Kiev “immediately stop this punitive operation and any violence against its own people, release political prisoners, and ensure complete freedom of the work of journalists” at the UN Security Council.
9 May 2014: Bloodbath in Mariupol
Residents in Mariupol, on the coast of the Azov Sea, staged large protests against the coup in Kiev. The first serious clash between local militia members and Ukrainian nationalist battalions occurred on May 6. A militiaman was killed and the first defence minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, Igor Khakimzyanov, was taken prisoner in battle with a national battalion established and funded by Ukrainian politician Oleh Liashko, leader of the nationalist Radical Party.
On the 9th of May, Ukrainian security forces opened fire on demonstrators, including pensioners who were out commemorating the Great Patriotic War’s victory anniversary. Armed battles erupted, with pro-Russian protestors taking a local police station and Ukrainian military attempting to storm it, including neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighters. Fighting resulted in the deaths of at least 13 individuals and the injuries of many more.
The conflict in Mariupol became a crucial stepping stone on Kiev’s way to a bigger war.
26 May 2014: Donetsk Airport – Long-Running Meat Grinder
The battle for Donetsk Airport began on May 26, 2014, and lasted for 242 days, ending on January 21, 2015. Just before the battle began, the pre-coup government spent almost $875 million rebuilding and extending the airport, which was nearly completely destroyed by the time the fighting finished.
DPR militia troops entered the airport on May 26, 2014, acquiring a footing in one of the terminals. Kiev retaliated with airstrikes, deploying Su-25 ground attack aircraft and Mi-24 helicopter gunships to attack lightly equipped volunteer fighters and hitting them from the ground with anti-aircraft weapons and grenade launchers. The militiamen retreated after suffering heavy losses.
Fighting would last for eight months, with varied degrees of intensity. In January 2015, the militias eventually drove Ukrainian forces out of the area. According to the DPR, almost 600 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the battle for the airport. Kiev, for its part, reports that roughly 800 militia members were killed and 2,000 more were injured.
2 July 2014: Airstrike on the Lugansk Regional Administration
Ukrainian soldiers attacked the former Lugansk regional administration building, the parking area in front of it, and the surrounding park dedicated after the Heroes of the Great Patriotic War on July 2. In total, Ukrainian soldiers launched 20 bombs and missiles. The park is flanked by residential buildings, and just behind the administration is a kindergarten and playground (which had children at the time of the attack).
At the time of the strike, government employees from the Lugansk People’s Republic were present in the building. A total of eight individuals were killed, while another 28 were injured by shrapnel. The then-leader of the republic, Valery Bolotov, and his entourage were proclaimed targets by the LPR’s leaders.
The Ukrainian side denied that an air raid had occurred, claiming that the building had been shattered by an explosion caused by militiamen’s “inept handling of small arms and explosives.” According to another account, a MANPAD missile launched at a Ukrainian plane brushed an air conditioner on the building’s façade before slamming into it.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined on June 3 that unguided rockets launched from an aircraft hit the administration building.
5 June 2014: Battles for Lugansk Airport
At Lugansk Airport in June, violence erupted between Ukrainian security troops and Donbass rebels. The airport was seen as a crucial target in Kiev’s larger aspirations to take control of Lugansk itself.
The airport was defended by between 1,500 to 2,000 Ukrainian troops by the end of August 2014. At the same time, LPR forces were beefed up, and the airport’s garrison was besieged. On the night of September 1, Ukrainian forces who had occupied the airport for 146 days detonated a bomb on its runway (a bizarre move given that the Donbass militias lacked their own air force) and retreated. Since then, the LPR has had complete control of the airport.
Kiev’s ambitions to conquer Lugansk and break through to the self-proclaimed republic’s Russian border through the hamlet of Novosvetlovka, which would have allowed them to block the Lugansk-Krasnodon route, were thwarted by the airport’s liberation.
2 July 2014: Bombardment of Stanitsa Luganskaya
On 2 July, Ukrainian air power bombed the settlement of Stanitsa Luganskaya. The first strike, according to Vladislav Bylous, chief of the local administration, occurred at 11 a.m., demolishing the police station, the courtroom, and two other structures. Three persons were killed in the attack. A second strike followed, killing nine people and injuring eleven more. A five-year-old boy and his father were among the deceased, having had his legs blasted off. Ukraine swung between denying the incident happened and blaming Donbass fighters for striking the town with artillery.
5 July 2014: Siege of Slavyansk
Slavyansk was shelled constantly during the spring and summer of 2014, killing dozens of people and forcing well over half of the city’s pre-war population of 143,000 to leave. Commander Strelkov stated in an appeal on July 4 that “over 30,000 people” were still trapped in the besieged city. The militias were forced to depart Slavyansk after three months of heavy warfare involving over 15,000 Ukrainian forces and between 800 and 1,000 militiamen. The city has since been occupied by the Ukrainian army. While some of the militia regrouped in Kramatorsk, others travelled to Donetsk.
Summer 2014: Zelenopolye and the ‘Southern Cauldron’
Lugansk militiamen gained control of around 100 kilometres of the region’s border with Russia in June 2014. Volunteers, cargo, and equipment were allowed to freely cross the border. Kiev dispatched troops from Mariupol to the border area in an attempt to reclaim control.
When a Ukrainian force of 5,000 soldiers and over 100 vehicles arrived in the area between Zelenopolye and Saur-Mogila, militiamen set up a trap, trapping Ukrainian forces in a cauldron, preventing them from retreating toward Mariupol and closing the road to Lugansk.
Ukrainian soldiers were trapped in the cauldron for a month, with militias lacking the resources to defeat the enemy but just enough manpower to keep them surrounded. They blasted the Ukrainian formation with artillery for a month while waiting for them to surrender. The Ukrainian high command forbade surrender and attempted multiple times but failed to break the encircled army free.
After the militia garrison in Slavyansk was withdrawn, the southern cauldron took shape. Fighters from this route greatly strengthened militia positions in Donetsk and limited the area for manoeuvre available to the Ukrainian military, preventing them from breaking through to the southern cauldron, as well as Donetsk and Lugansk.
Ukraine is thought to have lost between 3,000 and 3,500 soldiers in the southern cauldron, while militias are thought to have lost between 500 and 1,000 soldiers.
Summer 2014: Battles for Saur-Mogila
Intense battle erupted in the summer of 2014 over Saur-Mogila, a key height in Donetsk’s Shakhtyorsky district, between Ukrainian forces and Donbass militia.
During the Second World War, fierce battles erupted for Saur-Mogila as part of the Donbass strategic assault, with hundreds of Red Army and Wehrmacht forces killed in harsh fighting in the summer of 1943. The strategic height – which served as an observation post and firing position during the 2014 battle – was once again of considerable value to the warring sides.
The encirclement of the 5,000-strong cluster of Ukrainian troops trapped in the southern cauldron took place in mid-July 2014, with militia forces holding the height playing a key role. The only way for the encircled units to obtain reinforcements was through the height.
The most intense fighting took place in July, with both sides announcing that they had taken possession of the strategic vantage point on a regular basis. Ukrainian forces retreated at the end of August, joining the remainder of the forces encircled in the southern cauldron.
Control of Saur-Mogila allowed DPR troops to cross the Sea of Azov and gain control of Novoazovsk, as well as a 40-kilometer stretch of the coast.
17 July 2014: Downing of the Malaysian Boeing
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in Grabovo, Donetsk People’s Republic, on July 17. The 298 passengers and crew members on board were all killed. The airliner was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile system from territory controlled by militias, according to the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team.
According to the DPR, the civilian plane was shot down by a Ukrainian Su-25 that was seen three kilometres away. Satellite footage revealed that Ukrainian soldiers had deployed a Buk to a DPR-controlled section of the region. The missile that shot down the plane was constructed in 1986 and belonged to a military unit in western Ukraine, according to a comprehensive inquiry conducted by the Russian military and Buk maker Almaz-Antey in 2018. Kiev denies all blame and points the finger at the Donbass militias and Moscow.
25-28 August 2014: Liberation of Novoazovsk
The Donbass militias launched an assault on Novoazovsk, a town in the southern Donetsk region east of Mariupol on the Azov Sea, on August 25. Russian troops were there during the war and directly involved in the fighting, according to Kiev and NATO, functioning in cooperation with militias. These assertions were denounced by Russia as false. On August 27, DPR soldiers took Novoazovsk.
5 September 2014: Minsk I
The Minsk Protocol, a ceasefire deal between Kiev and the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, was signed in the Belarusian capital on September 5. Fighting momentarily ceased when the deal was finalised, but it quickly resumed with new vigour, with the warring parties basically refusing to comply with its terms entirely by mid-January 2015.
2016-2021: Uneasy Ceasefire Punctuated by Bombs, Bullets, and Shelling
The battle in Donbass became a positional war once the Minsk agreement was reached. Hostilities erupted in the Donetsk neighbourhoods of Avdeevka and Shirokino, with Kiev forces occupying several small settlements along the line of contact, in violation of the cease-fire accords.
Over 200,000 more ceasefire violations occurred in 2019.
The Trilateral Contact Group on Donbass (Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE) reached an agreement on the terms of an indefinite and comprehensive ceasefire on July 22, 2020, which went into effect at midnight on July 27, 2020. However, OSCE monitors eventually reported that the truce had been broken 1,605 times by October of that year.
OSCE monitors recorded another 70,865 ceasefire violations between August 2021 and February 2022.
In reality, despite the Minsk Agreements, the war in Donbass has continued for the past eight years. Despite the fear of shelling, people continued to live their lives. Some people were killed or seriously injured. Others were displaced from their homes.