April 15, 2024

On the first day of the full-scale war, defenders of Ukraine tried to maintain control of Melitopol, in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, but they were unable to. On the eve of the Russian invasion, the Melitopol front was entirely unprotected.

Source: Major General Andrii Sokolov, who was the Deputy Commander of Operational Command Pivden (South) at the beginning of the invasion and led the Pivden group of troops, in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda (English translation to follow shortly).

Quote: “No separate brigade was assigned to the Melitopol front. I had to take one battalion from the 59th [Brigade] and assign it there to conduct defence. It was the 9th Motorised Infantry Battalion, the best in the brigade at the time – that’s why I chose it, because its commander was experienced (unfortunately, he was later killed near Zaporizhzhia), and the battalion itself was better prepared.

But it [the battalion – ed.] did not have time to get there and take up the defence either. In fact, it went there and was surrounded.

And then we withdrew them, together with the servicemen of the 137th battalion, to Vasylivka [in Zaporizhzhia Oblast – ed.]. During the defence of Vasyliivka, they were surrounded again and we withdrew them again.”

Details: Sokolov said it had been necessary to move the headquarters to Velyka Lepetykha [a village near Nova Kakhovka – ed.] as early as the end of the day on 24 February, but Sokolov realised that the headquarters would be surrounded there as well, since there was already information that troops had landed on the Antonivka Bridge and it was under Russian control.

The major general says he changed his plan instantly: first, Pivden (South) Command went to Vasylivka, in the direction of Melitopol, and then it was deployed in the direction of Zaporizhzhia.

Quote: “At the end of 24 February, we were given additional forces: a National Guard regiment, a public order patrol unit, and the 110th Brigade of the Territorial Defence Forces. We tried to gain a foothold. Melitopol was not occupied at the time, and enemy troops had approached the outskirts of the city and were there.

We managed to inflict fire damage on the convoys [of Russian military equipment – ed.], and then our Uragan MLRS worked very well,  covering the enemy convoy with fire. That night, we marched from Vasylivka and entered Melitopol. Unfortunately, the forces we had – two incomplete National Guard battalions – were not enough. The 110th Brigade did not enter Melitopol because they did not even have any equipment.

Unfortunately, we failed to hold Melitopol. The control of Melitopol was there for the taking, as they say, and anyone could pick it up: there was no organised resistance or defence.

The enemy entered Melitopol, and the National Guard units had to leave Melitopol. Then we organised a defence along the Vasylivka-Tokmak line, but we failed to hold that too with those forces. And then we moved even further, to a place where we already had our troops reinforced – Kamianske, I think [a village a little further up the Dnipro from Vasylivka – ed.].”

Details: Asked whether the Ukrainian leadership had really expected Russian aggression only in the east and not in the south, Sokolov disagreed: “No, I wouldn’t say that.”

“We were expecting it, because we’d considered an enemy attack from the south in all the command and staff exercises and war games. And, in fact, they acted as we expected: their first task was to capture bridges and crossings across the Dnipro River, and their second task was to attack Melitopol and Mariupol so as to create a land corridor. They acted exactly as we had predicted,” Sokolov said.

Asked why the grouping was not sufficiently formed at the time and why there was a shortage of personnel, Sokolov replied: “In my opinion, we lacked the assets and personnel. We entered a full-scale war in peacetime, in a peaceful state. That is, no additional military formations were created. We had to use what we had.

Let’s count them: there were 12 brigades in the Joint Forces Operation area, 5 in each tactical group, plus reserves. We also had to cover Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv oblasts. It took a lot of effort. The command allocated as much as it could to the south,” added Sokolov, who was in charge of the South Grouping of troops on 24 February 2022.

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Background: At the beginning of February 2022, US intelligence reported that Russia was considering nine possible options for the military invasion of Ukraine and planned to capture Kyiv within two days.

Russia rapidly captured Henichesk, Melitopol and Berdiansk and besieged Mariupol on the coast of the Sea of Azov, as well as Kherson and the cities of Kherson Oblast on the Black Sea coast.

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