Mistakes and Mass Desertion: Report Identifies Causes of Ukraine’s Largest Military Defeat
18 August, 2017

It was likely Ukraine’s most brutal military loss in over three years of war with Russia, a battle so deadly it became known as the Ilovaisk Cauldron.

Between August 24 and 26, 2014, Ukrainian forces found themselves encircled by Russian forces while attempting to recapture the city of Ilovaisk from separatist control. On August 29, government forces made an agreement with the Russian insurgents to allow their safe retreat.

However, the separatists did not honor the agreement. In the ensuing chaos, hundreds of Ukrainian fighters died while trying to escape.  

For three years, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office (GPU) has been investigating the Ukrainian defeat at Ilovaisk. This week, the GPU presented the results of its report.

Hromadske outlines the investigation main conclusions on Russian troops’ most extensive incursion into Ukraine to date.


According to the GPU’s report, the Ukrainian armed forces suffered the following losses over the course of the battle:

— 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

— 429 received wounds of varying degrees of severity;

— 300 were captured;

— Ukrainian forces  lost $11.7 million worth of weapons and military equipment.


The investigation identified three main factors behind the Russian army’s large-scale invasion on the night of August 24, 2014.

Mass desertion. The GPU established that numerous Ukrainian military forces deserted or otherwise abandoned military positions without authorization.

Errors in military management. The report emphasizes problems in the planning and execution of military operations in August 2014. However, it does not mention the names of specific Ukrainian generals. At present, the GPU has only reported that Nikolai Bogdanovsky, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ General Staff, is under suspicion of committing a criminal offense.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ low levels of combat capability. According to the GPU, the defeat was also caused by the army’s low preparedness for combat. The report places the blame for this on former President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as the leadership of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces General Staff Command from 2010 to 2014.

Enemy Forces

The report also states that this was the war’s largest incursion by Russian troops into Ukraine. The Russian forces consisted of nine battalion-tactical groups, 3,500 personnel, up to 320 infantry combat vehicles, up to 60 heavy artillery guns, up to 45 mortars, and 5 anti-tank missile complexes.

Since the Russian Federation’s forces dominated in the battle, Ukrainian troops were easily surrounded. The leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine held talks with the Russian side to organize the safe withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from around Ilovaisk on agreed routes. The Russian leadership guaranteed this withdrawal, but, in the end, the agreement never materialised.

Background: Ilovaisk Cauldron was but one deadly episode in the ongoing war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Since the war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists began in April 2014, over 10,000 people from both sides have lost their lives, including around 2,700 civilians.

/Reporting by Maria Ivanovska

/Translated by Anna Zakrevska