When the Donbas Battalion stormed Russian separatist-held Ilovaisk on Aug. 18 and raised the Ukrainian flag without a single casualty, the Ukrainian media quickly reported a victory for the country’s anti-terrorism operation against Kremlin-backed insurgents.
The Interior Ministry announced that four volunteer battalions along with the regular army were clearing Ilovaisk, a city of 17,000 residents southeast of Donetsk, of Russian-backed forces, and promised that more back-up from the National Guard was on its way.
That version has turned out to be mostly spin that is likely to rebound on its state and media creators.
A week later, 10 men from the Donbas Battalion have been lost and more than 20 injured through what could be incompetence of the army command or even deliberate abandonment. Stranded as they struggle to keep control of city, the Donbas volunteers are reinforced by just one company from the army’s 93rd brigade and some fighters from the volunteer Dnipro Battalion.
Both Donbas fighters and three Ukrainian photographers embedded with them are enraged with what they call the lies and prevarications of both government and Ukrainian media, and want to put across their side of the story.
“It’s an absolutely shameful situation,” said Alexander Glyadelov, who was evacuated from Ilovaisk on Aug. 21 with a shrapnel injury.
An experienced and respected photographer, Glyadelov has covered many wars, including the Moldovan Transdnistria and Russian Chechen conflicts. Exasperated with the heavily restricted access to the front granted by the Ukrainian government’s press service, he joined the Donbas Battalion to see what was really going on.
He found that while volunteers motivated by principle and with a high fighting spirit are stranded in desperate circumstances, government and media claim the situation is under control and reinforcements are on their way. “They are frightened of the truth,” he said. “First, they need to actually provide the help they keep promising. And second, they need to stop lying.”