Ukraine War Day #91: How “Vostok” Battalion Took Mariupol

Dear Readers:

Today I have for you this very interesting interview with Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) military commander Alexander Khodakovsky. The reporter is the ever-stalwart Dmitry Steshin. Readers will be interested to learn that the fall of Mariupol to the pro-Russian forces was not predestined. In fact, it was more of a nail-biter. If the Russians had been up against a better, more professional force, they could have easily lost the battle. Which feeds into the narrative, as we are learning day by day, that the Azov Nazis were not actually the great super-soldiers that everybody assumed, and which they advertised themselves to be. If they had spent more time studying in the military academy and less time in the tattoo parlor; more time reading Clausewitz and less time Mein Kampf … well, you get the picture…

A grizzled Khodakovsky sits at his desk.

Reporter Steshin has spent 100 tough days embedded in the “Vostok” (East) Battalion of the DPR army. Now, catching one moment of rest and sitting down with its Battalion Commander, Alexander Khodakovsky, the two men look back on the just-completed campaign, take stock of what happened, and draw lessons learned.

At the end of February, at the very start of the Special Operation, Vostok Battalion headed out of Donetsk and marched in the direction of Mariupol, all in a single column. Which they now realize was a dumb thing to do, but somehow they survived. After several days of battle, they crossed the border between DPR and Ukraine, then occupied several towns within the metropolitan area of Mariupol: Kalinovka, Talakovka, a section of Sartana. A series of exhausting battles ensued in the high-rise complexes of the Vostochny (“Eastern”) micro-region. The latter being adjacent to the vast Azovsteel complex. After the high-rises were captured, sometimes in literally room-to-room fighting, the Azov Nazis fled and retreated into the factory. And the rest is history.

Steshin: So, the first phase is over. What have we learned during these months?

Khodakovsky: We learned that we can beat them. We learned that we are able to carry out all the military tasks that we take on. This has been a big psychological breakthrough for us.

Steshin: How do your front lines look now? In the Republics?

Khodakovsky: In the LPR (Luhansk Peoples Republic) the guys have moved out even beyond their administrative boundaries. But here in the DPR we are still in the process of development. Taking into account that our front lines reach farther: Berdyansk, Melitopol, Kherson. Mariupol was such a problematical stain within our territories. The amount of resources accumulated by the enemy in Mariupol was a constant source of worry to us.

Steshin: The enemy could have counter-attacked from there?

Khodakovsky: Yes, and there were such attempts. Twenty-eight units of armored vehicles. Initially our perimeter around the city was quite spotty, one could expect anything to happen. And you see what happened recently, it gives you an idea [what we were up against]: Just at that one point of contact between our Battalion and Azovsteel, over 1,000 militants walked out on their own feet; in other words, they were still combat-capable. And later we saw a number over 2,000, these were the guys who were blocking up the Azovsteel plant. [yalensis: Khodakovsky is making the point that so many guys inside the plant, and still possessing so many armored vehicles, they could have made a break for it at any point.]

Steshin: When I was covering the front and we heard that they were giving themselves up, our guys were really worried, they thought [it was a trap and] they were going to try a break-out!

Famous Soviet WWII partisan, Sidor Kovpak

Khodakovsky: True. But the Azovites were not able to take advantage of their own superiority of resources, of manpower. What they lacked was boldness and cunning. They could have sneaked up on us at our rear, like Kovpak’s Brigade. But, in the end, we were able to solve a problem of a type the world has not seen in modern military history. They could have remained holed up in Azovsteel for many long months. We had questioned some of the people who used to work there, they told us there was a system of bomb shelters, communications lines, tunnels so wide you could move a tank through. But, in the end we forced them to give up, and at the same time we received a very unique war experience in these conditions.

Steshin: What kind of experience?

Khodakovsky: We learned that we can prevail over forces which outnumber us, and that we can do that with minimal losses to ourselves. We learned a lot. […] And after the fall of Mariupol, many changes took place at other areas of the front. The change [of mood] is palpable.

Steshin: What do you mean?

Khodakovsky: There were the first fiery battles, and then the sobering-up period, people got used to the new realities and conditions of the war. Lenin had a famous saying: “Do you want to learn the art of war in a real way?” Well, that’s how we learned it. We passed that stage of development where we would march in a single column onto the territory of the enemy. We learned how to properly siege cities… [At the beginning] some units were pushed into taking rash actions… But now everything has got calmer, we don’t see that chaos of the first month of war. We learned from our own losses: losses of equipment, losses of men. We started off in a war frenzy, we thought we were just going to rush out there and break the enemy, regardless how much assistance he is receiving from the West.

Even without tattoos, sometimes you can tell Ukrainian Nazis by their distinct hair-do.

Steshin: The Ukrainians still believe sincerely that the West is going to help them win.

Khodakovsky: No, that won’t happen. But the West can definitely make our victory that much more complicated. Earlier I was skeptical about the deliveries of those Javelins and Bayraktors. My military worldview was not broad enough. I measured everything according to positional warfare on an open field. But in the city we started to understand that, oh boy, this thing [yalensis: I think he’s talking about the Bayraktor] is really effective, it can strike at you from hidden positions, from great distances. On the other hand, even this Western weaponry didn’t help them change the course of the war. All they succeeded in doing was giving us more things to worry about; and having to endure greater losses. It was definitely a palpable factor. But a factor that can be dealt with. And that’s even adding that the enemy outnumbered us.

Steshin: So, you’re compiling all the lessons learned?

Khodakovsky: Yes. You might even consider us to be a living experimental war laboratory. We are even being visited by weapons manufacturers and vendors now, they come to us and want our help in creating and applying drones of the next generation.

Steshin: What kind of drones? If that’s not a secret. Something interesting?

Khodakovsky: Drones that can strike down singular, but very important targets. Drones working in groups, that’s called a swarm, they are connected by a neuro-network. All those [vendors and manufacturers] who are working on military equipment, they are all very interested in this. Even Russian businessmen are getting in on the act. And we have come to understand that we need to stand our ground and prepare for the future wars. Which will not be against the Ukraine.

[to be continued]

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20 Responses to Ukraine War Day #91: How “Vostok” Battalion Took Mariupol

  1. popasnij says:

    Telling piece.
    I wish him and his men much luck next to all that added and absorbed experience.
    Day one I`ve said somewhere: a drone in every platoon! Even a DJI Mavic Mini II.
    30 minutes loiter time, 10km range. 4K video, ZOOM! The whole setup with extra batteries fits in a kid`s-shoe box.
    300 dalla.
    Make a phonecall to Xi, ask for a discount.


    • yalensis says:

      I don’t know much about drones, but I noticed that some of them are really small, just like toys; and others are larger, so you could almost have a child (or a midget) seated in one. Is that an option? I mean, midget-piloted drones? Or is that just insensitive.


      • popasnij says:

        well, once the thang carries a pilot, it is not a drone by definition right? But yeah, such a “quad” can be large enough to carry people. They are out there.
        With size comes – price, noise, weight, etc…but also capabilities. – this is a ten year old vid.
        Why I like the idea of a carry-drone for recon for every platoon, squad is, that it is cheap, cheap insurance. Nothing comes close to it – short of a pair of binoculars.


  2. davidt says:

    Certainly an interesting interview. For my part I find it hard to believe that the “Russian” side was actually outnumbered. If that is true then it is very surprising. On the other hand, it is clear that the “Azovites” lacked “fight”, so to speak and it is not clear why. I rather thought that members of the Azov battalion would have been inclined to fight to the end. Perhaps they lost morale because they thought that they didn’t get the support from Kiev that they expected. For my part, I would have thought that once they retreated to Azovstal they were trapped… surely that was the advice given to Putin. My impression was that those who surrendered from Azovstal always thought that they would be treated well.. perhaps that was because they knew the Red Cross et al were involved. On the other hand, that was not the impression that I formed of many others- they seemed genuinely nervous. Perhaps they knew the stories of how their side had treated Russian prisoners, or perhaps they believed Kiev’s propaganda. One large group of Ukrainian prisoners only noticeably relaxed after a meal of kasha and bread. Another impression I formed was that once the Russian side spotted you, you were in serious trouble. That couldn’t be much fun for anyone.


    • yalensis says:

      Indeed, every account I have read, confirms that the Ukrainian troops have outnumbered the Russian side on every front, and Mariupol was no exception. Reason being, Russian leadership really does consider this to just be an “operation” not a war, and so committed only a fraction of their available troops. Russian military doctrine holds that they need at least a million soldiers ready to fight against all of NATO, once the inevitable invasion begins. So, Ukraine is just considered to be a side-show, in a way.

      Re. the Azovites: I think Khodakovsky is right that they simply lacked will and resourcefulness. There are so many different things they could have tried; and, for starters, they never should have gotten themselves into that pickle to begin with. If I were an Azov commander, I would have pulled out of Mariupol at some point, in an ordinary retreat, and formed a secondary defensive line somewhere to the North. Not for anything would I have let my troops get trapped in those catacombs. See, I’m a real armchair general now!


      • davidt says:

        You obviously have access to information that I haven’t seen. Clearly the Russians are doing all this on a budget, so to speak, and could ratchet up the violence, with an increase in the number of men and machines, if they really needed to. On the other hand, the precise number of men involved seems to be a military secret, which is why estimates for the number of Russian troops varies so much. In the olden days, I thought that Russian, or Soviet, doctrine argued for an advantage of 7 to 1 for the attacker. Today, it seems to be more like 3 to 1 (?) So I would have thought they would have cobbled together this sort of advantage at Mariupol. Your article is the first article that I have read that says otherwise. Certainly I agree with Khodakovsky that the Azovites lacked will and resourcefulness, which is surprising and not what an attacker would have assumed prior to the battle. There seems to be an broad area worth researching to explain the attitudes of the Russian speaking Ukrainians to the troubles that have seemingly made their lives miserable for the past 30 odd years. I have only a very limited understanding of this if I have any understanding at all.


        • yalensis says:

          Hi, David, well, I don’t have access to any secret or even special information, I just read a lot of open sources, focusing on Russian mainstream media. It’s pretty much standard lore out there that the Russian government deliberately committed only a fraction of its resources to this “operation”, including manpower. And is avoiding mass conscription like the plague.

          The whole idea was that DPR/LPR forces would carry the lion’s share of liberating Donbass. Having said that, Russia has a lot of wiggle room and can slyly insert other forces where needed, for example the “Wagner” mercenaries or the Chechens.

          Regarding that standard equation of ratio of attacker:defender, ALL the analysts that I read, including the pro-Ukrainian ones, have discovered that this common wisdom was one of the first casualties of the war. In fact, this war is almost an “opposite” from everything people expect from a war. From the very start, the ratio was heavily in favor of the Ukrainians, probably still is in many areas, even though they have been losing something like a small battalion per day since the start, so maybe those losses have added up by now.

          In conclusion, this is sort of a “Bizarro World” war, where the regular rules don’t apply. One reason why things are upside down, and this makes sense if you accept the “theory” that the Ukrainians were poised to launch a massive invasion of Donbass and Crimea in early March. So, they were in offensive formation. Putin shocked them and scared the pants off them when he preempted and invaded first. Still doesn’t explain why Russians committed such small and mostly irregular forces instead of just charging in with everything they had. The most reasonable theory is that they needed to hold back most forces, wait to see if NATO came in with everything, so they had to make sure they had enough troops to defend Königsberg, the Baltic coast, Kursk, other frontiers, etc.

          In conclusion: Forget everything you ever knew!


          • FatMax says:

            That would be KALININGRAD, thank you very much. Not even die-hard Kraut nationalists (very few of them there are ATM) claim it anymore. They know the horrible price they’d have to pay to get it.
            Die-hard Polak nats, on the other hand…


            • yalensis says:

              True, the Germans don’t claim this city any more, and it’s far away from the German borders. It’s strategic importance would be the target of a NATO invasion to cut Russia off from the Baltic Sea. This would be a 2-pronged attack against Königsberg (okay, Kaliningrad) and Belorussia, starting from Poland and Lithuania.


  3. Earl says:

    Good read.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, Earl, glad you enjoyed it. I’ll finish translating/summarizing the interview in tomorrow’s post. It was just too long for a single post, plus I ran out of time and didn’t want to be late for work.


  4. the pair says:

    “learn while you earn” can be stressful at any job, but this is an extreme case. i wish we could see this kind of modesty and reflection from anyone in the NATO/US blob. (i can’t help but think about – and laugh at – the constant israeli refrain that they have “the most moral army in the world”.)

    also enraging – though i knew of it in the abstract – to hear first hand that these soldiers were performing and learning so well under such a stress test while the west’s “i’ll kill you with a joystick from a comfy room in vegas” armory constantly attacked them. this all reminds me of a joke saying (attributed to scotland, of course): “let’s you and him fight”.


    • yalensis says:

      I know. I have a lot of respect for these DPR/LPR guys, probably most of them never formally studied at a military school, they just had to learn on the job. In a previous comment I mentioned one of those youtube channels that I try to watch on a regular basis, it’s the pro-Ukrainian guy who does battle mappings and sometimes has interesting things to say. But on one of his videos he angered me when he contemptuously dismissed Separatist troops as “collaborators who are third-rate cannon fodder.” I almost wanted to shout at my computer screen: “Those 3rd-rate cannon fodders just kicked your ass in Mariupol, and are about to kick again in Lisichansk!” I personally think they deserve a lot of respect for what they have been through, and what they have accomplished.


  5. popasnij says:

    I am such a rube: Thanx for the proper translation.


  6. peter coughlan says:

    yes…agree…i remember Givi and Motorola… you think Vlad would consider doing a swap for Assange?…..would make british and australian govts heads explode….would endear Mr Putin to millions in the west….make people look more closely at what has and is occurring…….great blog …

    Liked by 1 person

    • popasnij says:

      Great idea – it`s just that nobody in the west cares any if ukranians live or die…Actually, I am convinced, they want as many of them dead as possible:


      • yalensis says:

        Not that long ago, I would have just laughed and thought, “What a nutty conspiracy theory!” (I mean, this bit about Ukraine being the “New Israel”.) But nowadays, it seems like, the crazier the theory, the more true it has to be! What else could explain Zelensky’s bizarre behavior except some kind of craziness? You literally can’t make this stuff up.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, peter, I’m glad you like my blog! I read in Russian press a few days ago that Motorola was awarded some posthumous medal (can’t remember at what level) by the Russian Federation. In addition to being the right thing, this medal will probably also be of help to his widow and children, maybe it includes a money pension, although I am pretty sure that DPR are also taking care of their own widows and families.

      I would like to see Russia award a medal to Givi as well, he was my personal favorite, what a great guy, really brave, and a great sense of humor.

      Your idea of swapping [?] for Assange is a brilliant one, I only wish that could happen.


  7. Pingback: May 26, 2022 - Situation Report: The World

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