I pulled this account of the battle of Voznesensk together from snippets available on twitter of a WSJ article on the battle by Yaroslav Trofimov. For those of you who have full access to the WSJ, here’s the link. I doubt I have the full article, but you’ll get the gist of it. It’s a classic infantry versus armor tale, a glorious tale to this old light infantryman. At some point I hope Infantry Magazine does a full battle study. Even better, it could be treated as a tactical text in the spirit of “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift.”
VOZNESENSK, Ukraine — A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies—the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin’s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines. Instead the two day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now only emerging, turned decisively against the Russians.
Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces which comprised of local volunteers and the professional military eliminated most of a battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3. The Ukrainian defenders performance against a much better armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian speaking region was successful in part because of widespread support for the Ukrainian cause, one reason the Russian invasion has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday has announced it was initiating a counter offensive on several fronts. “Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Vozsenensk’s 32 year old mayor, Yevgeniy Velichko, a former real estate developer turned wartime commander who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.”
Mayor Velichko worked with local businessmen to dig up the shores of the Mertvovod river that cuts through town so armored personnel vehicles couldn’t ford it. He got other businessmen who owned a quarry and a construction company to block off most streets to channel the Russian column into areas that would be easier to hit with artillery.
Ahead of the Russian advance, military engineers blew up the bridge over the Mertvovod and a railroad bridge on the town’s edge. Waiting for the Russians in and around Voznesensk were Ukrainian regular army troops and members of the Territorial Defense force, which Ukraine established in January, recruiting and arming volunteers to help protect local communities. Local witnesses, officials and Ukrainian combat participants recounted what happened next.
As darkness fell March 2, Mr. Rudenko, who owns a company transporting gravel and sand, took cover in a grove on the wheat field’s edge under pouring rain. The Russian tanks there would fire into Voznesensk and immediately drive a few hundred yards away to escape return fire, he said. Mr. Rudenko was on the phone with a Ukrainian artillery unit. Sending coordinates via the Viber social messaging app, he directed artillery fire at the Russians. So did other local Territorial Defense volunteers around the city. “Everyone helped,” he said. “Everyone shared the information.”
Ukrainian shelling blew craters in the field, and some Russian vehicles sustained direct hits. Other Ukrainian regular troops and Territorial Defense forces moved toward Russian positions on foot, hitting vehicles with US supplied Javelin missiles. As Russian armor caught fire, including three of the five tanks in the wheat field, soldiers abandoned functioning vehicles and escaped on foot or sped off in the BTRs that still had fuel. They left crates of ammunition.
Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast. where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said ten soldiers have been captured. Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple-rocket launchers and trucks, as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.
“We didn’t have a single tank against them, just rocket propelled grenades, Javelin missiles and the help of artillery,” said Vadym Dombrovsky, commander of the Ukrainian special forces reconnaissance group in the area and a Voznesensk resident. “The Russians didn’t expect us to be so strong. It was a surprise for them. If they had taken Voznesensk, they would have cut off the whole south of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian officers estimated that some 100 Russian troops died in Voznesensk, including those whose bodies were taken by retreating Russian troops or burned inside carbonized vehicles. As of Tuesday, eleven dead Russian soldiers were in the railway car turned morgue, with search parties looking for other bodies in nearby forests. Villagers buried some others.
Mr. Rudenko picked up a Russian conscript days later, he said, who served as an assistant artillery specialist at a Grad multiple-rocket launcher that attacked Voznesensk from a forest. The 18 year-old conscript, originally from eastern Ukraine and a Crimea resident since 2014, suffered a concussion after a Ukrainian shell hit near him. He woke the next morning, left his weapon and wandered into a village. Mr. Rudenko said. There, a woman took him into her home and called the village head, who informed Territorial Defense. “He’s still in shock about what happened to him.” Mr. Rudenko said.
The Russian troops reportedly came from the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade, and the operation involved a helicopter insert for some Russian troops.