a slight victory
Documents seen by Reuters show that on July 19, four months after occupying the area, the Russian occupiers faced their first serious challenge from Ukraine’s armed forces.
During the bunker’s routine morning meeting, the report to the commander, Colonel Popov, was normal: the previous night was relatively quiet and the enemy positions had not changed. Agenda for the day: some scheduled shelling of Ukrainian positions.
But by early afternoon, a group of Ukrainian soldiers, supported by tanks and under cover of artillery shells, had attacked the Russian front in the village of Hrakov, on the northwestern edge of territory controlled by the Baraklia forces.
Troops belonging to Russia’s 9th Motorized Infantry Regiment are trapped in a concrete grain elevator in Hrakov. They placed guns on top of the building. Reuters reporters who visited the facility in October saw signs of the men sleeping on grain conveyors.
At 15:00, an unknown Russian on the Khrakov front radioed to his commanders in Baraklia: His position was taken, he said, and he had to retreat. He called for shelling to destroy the outpost he had abandoned. Then the communication was cut off.
In the Baraklia bunker, the anonymous staff member wrote in a notebook: “I’m running out of ammunition.”
The commander of the Western Military District, one of Russia’s most senior officers, demanded a briefing and “ordered that Hrakov not be handed over,” a further notebook entry said. According to official records, the commander at the time was General Alexander Zhulavlev, who was later fired by Putin. However, independent Russian military analyst CIT said Zhulavlev was replaced by Lieutenant General Andrei Sicheva in July. Reuters could not reach Zuravilov. Syschevoi did not respond to a request for comment.
In the hours that followed, Russian commanders sent reinforcements and mobilized attack helicopters. At 18:00, the Ukrainians retreated, and the Russians regained lost ground. But the cost is high. The Russians lost a tank, two armored personnel carriers and other equipment. According to a report submitted to Popov on 21 July, 39 people were injured, 7 were killed and 17 were missing.
Among the Russian dead was the tank commander Corporal Alexander Yevshevlev. The casualty list inside the command bunker said he had a torn abdomen, exposed intestines and shrapnel wounds in his right thigh. His parents, contacted by Reuters, said their son was mortally wounded when his location near Hrakove was shot by a Ukrainian helicopter.
After the fight, five soldiers required treatment for “acute reactions to stress”. Next to each of their names in the medical records was written: “No need to evacuate.”
A soldier in his twenties was listed as having blast injuries. The man, contacted by Reuters, said he had no recollection but that “the battle was intense”. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
After the battle, Colonel Popov applied to his superiors for medals for 34 of his subordinates for their heroic deeds. The documents did not detail how his superiors responded. Two of the soldiers told Reuters they had yet to receive awards.
Pyotr Kalinin, a 25-year-old reconnaissance platoon commander, was also on Popov’s list. According to his social media, Kalinin is from Crimea and briefly served as a cadet in the Ukrainian armed forces before Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014. A photo shows him wearing a Ukrainian uniform. Kalinin did not respond to Reuters seeking comment.