Massive shelling of Ochakiv from the Kinburn Spit: who among the Russian military is destroying the city?
On January 9, the Russian military shelled the civilian and port infrastructure of Ochakiv in Mykolaiv region with MLRS. The strikes on the city were so large-scale that they damaged a significant number of buildings. Sixteen people were injured, including a child. On January 17, the town came under massive shelling again, killing one person.
Russia has been striking at Ochakiv throughout the full-scale invasion, mostly from the Kinburn Spit, which is located 4 kilometers across the strait and is still occupied by the Russian military. The so-called "Cossack" Don Brigade is currently stationed there, having mined the coast and formed several lines of defense. In addition, Russian units have brought in heavy equipment such as Grad and Sontsepiks, which are used to shell Ochakiv.
The Schemes journalists found out who exactly from the Russian military is holding the Kinburn Spit and is most likely giving orders to destroy the peaceful town.
Ochakiv is located on the Black Sea coast near the mouth of the Dnipro River. It is a city of 15,000 people that has been under constant Russian shelling since the beginning of the full-scale war, as the military tries to destroy local infrastructure, intimidate residents, prevent the port from operating, and make it impossible for Ukrainian troops to land from there to de-occupy the left bank of the Kherson region.
Therefore, Russian troops are shelling Ochakiv with missiles from the sea and cannon artillery from the temporarily occupied territories. In particular, they are firing from the captured Kinburn Peninsula and the spit, which are located 4 kilometers away.
Since February 24, according to local authorities, more than 50 people, including children, have been killed in Ochakiv. The Russian military hit residential buildings, markets, medical facilities, critical infrastructure, and grain elevators. About 12,000 people remain in the city today.
At the same time, the local authorities assured that despite the almost daily shelling, critical infrastructure continues to operate in the city, there is electricity and water, and they are able to distribute food packages to people. What the community needs most right now is construction materials to rebuild the city. But most of the talk is about the prospects of driving out the enemy, who is very close - on the Kinburn Spit.
The threat from the spit
The Kinburn Spit is located just 4 kilometers from Ochakiv across the strait. It is a part of the Kinburn Peninsula, which partially separates the Black Sea from the Dnipro-Bug Estuary.
There are only four villages on the peninsula: three belong to the Mykolaiv region (Pokrovka, Pokrovske, and Vasylivka) and one to the Kherson region (Heroic). Before the full-scale war, up to a thousand people lived here, and the main source of income was tourism, as a large part of the territory is protected.
According to Ukrainian Navy Reserve Captain Andriy Ryzhenko, the Kinburn Spit and the peninsula are occupied by the Kuban "Cossack" unit Don.
The territory is mined, and Russian troops have set up observation posts near the coast, where they use thermal imagers and active sensors to monitor ships at sea.
Their grouping has recently been reinforced by representatives of Russian regular troops. According to Ryzhenko, they have self-propelled artillery systems, MLRS, tanks, Tiger armored vehicles with the Kornet-D system, and Lancet-3 kamikaze drones.
"There was also information that they have Shahed-136 drones on the Kinburn Spit. They can be deployed to bring them much closer to Odesa and other ports in the southern region. I know that our troops have launched artillery strikes at those positions. However, this is still possible, because they can quickly drive a car with drones to the coast, launch them and evacuate," Ryzhenko told Radio Liberty.
Strategically, the officer calls the Kinburn Spit "the key to the gates to the Dnipro and Southern Bug" - whoever controls it affects shipping in the area of the ports of Kherson and Mykolaiv.
"Thanks to the spit, we actually have a closed bay with a very narrow neck in the area of Ochakiv. If you have even a small unit on the spit, you actually control both the Dnipro Delta and the Southern Bug Delta, and you can also use weapons in Ukrainian ports," the expert explained.
Occupation of the Kinburn
According to Dara Shpolyanska, coordinator of the Kinburnlife public movement, the occupiers seized the Kinburn Peninsula and spit in early March - at first they sometimes "visited" it, but in June they completely occupied it.
During this time, there were three rotations of Russian troops on the peninsula. The first one was the most brutal, says Dara, when the occupiers of the peninsula began to loot houses and arrest people en masse. About 50 local residents were subjected to such "checks", and the whereabouts of ten are still unknown. The detainees were beaten and demanded certain confessions. In particular, some, such as employees of the Black Sea Reserve, were accused of adjusting fire on the spit, surrendering positions of the Russian Armed Forces to the SBU, and forced to confess to this on camera.
"We had a man on the peninsula who participated in World War II reenactments, and he played the role of a German. During the searches in his house, the Russians found relevant things - uniforms, attributes, photographs. Based on this evidence, he was arrested because he was allegedly a fascist. It is unknown where he is and what is happening to him now. His relatives are officially informed in their letters that they do not have such a person in their detention centers," Dara said in a comment to Radio Liberty.
According to the woman, up to 300 people remain under occupation on the Kinburn Peninsula. Residents of one of the four villages were forcibly evacuated by the occupiers of the peninsula. We are talking about 37 Ukrainian citizens from Pokrovka, which borders the Kinburn Spit.
"Cossacks" are the occupiers. Who gives and executes orders to "iron Ochakiv"?
The volunteer brigade "Don named after Archangel Michael", which seized the Kinburn Peninsula and the spit, was created in early spring last year. It consists of such units as Don, Terek, Iset, and Listan, as well as the military of the so-called Union of Cossack Warriors of Russia and Abroad. In addition to the occupation of the Kinburn Peninsula, members of this group fought near Mariupol and Izium. For this, 48 "Cossacks" received medals from Russian President Vladimir Putin in August.
Social media posts announcements of recruitment to this brigade. It is noted that they are ready to recruit for the war against Ukraine without military experience and with a criminal record. The contract is offered for at least six months with a salary of more than $3,000 per month. Among those they are looking for are UAV operators, medics, artillerymen, tankers, and air defense personnel.
During the occupation of the peninsula, many propaganda media outlets visited the peninsula and reported on the life of the so-called "Cossacks" in the occupied territories. According to the video, the military settled in recreation centers and hotels near the coast. They organized several defense lines with trenches, concrete blocks and anti-tank hedges, and brought in heavy equipment. In an interview with propagandists, one of the soldiers himself said that they were "ironing" Ochakiv with various weapons, including Grad and Sontsepiks.
"We burn them from the fifth to the first floor," is how a "Cossack" of the Don unit confesses to the camera about strikes on a peaceful city. Another says that they still have tanks, mortars and anti-aircraft guns for this purpose, so they will continue to "protect the Russians" on the Kinburn Spit.
Schemes journalists were able to identify the leaders of the Don Brigade. These people are not only connected with the current government in Russia, but also participated in the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.
The Don Brigade is headed by the former mayor of Tambov, Alexei Kondratiev, with the call sign "Partizan," who personally appeared in the occupied peninsula in a number of stories in the propaganda media.
From 1998 to 2010, Kondratiev served in special forces units of the General Staff of the Russian Defense Ministry, according to the United Russia website and the TASS propaganda agency. He fought in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Georgia.
In 2010, he topped the United Russia party list in the Tambov City Duma elections. For the next five years, he was the mayor of Tambov, and until 2020, a senator in the Federation Council and a member of the Defense and Security Committee.
Kondratyev's deputy is Nikolai Dyakonov, who goes by the call sign Ataman. Propaganda media note that it was Dyakonov who initiated the creation of the Don Brigade in March 2022. He was also identified thanks to a story from the Russian newspaper Izvestia.
From 1998 to 2009, he served in the Russian Armed Forces, and from 2011 he was an assistant to State Duma deputy from the United Russia faction Viktor Vodolatsky, according to the website of the Union of Cossack Warriors of Russia and Abroad.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote that in 2014 he participated in the seizure of Crimea: he was engaged in the repression of Crimean Tatars, set up checkpoints around Sevastopol and patrolled the coastline. Later, he fought in Donbas and became a member of the so-called board of the "Union of Donbas Volunteers," as listed on the Myrotvorets website. Currently, he is listed in the Russian Federation as the supreme ataman of the Union of Cossack Warriors of Russia and Abroad. He has received a number of awards from the current Russian government, including a letter of gratitude from Putin, an order and a weapon of honor - a "Cossack" saber "For Loyalty and Diligence."
The artillery platoon on the Kinburn Spit is commanded by 26-year-old Yevhen Deli, call sign "Rus". The man was born in Kemerovo and studied at the local school No. 46. In recent years, he lived in Novosibirsk and worked in a car parts store. In 2018, he did his military service - judging by the chevron posted on his social media, it was the 10th Separate Special Forces Brigade of the GRU. On camera, he tells propagandists that he has "never seen the sea before" and actually perceives the occupation of the Kinburn Spit as a kind of "vacation." It is likely that Yevgeny Deli is included in the register of terrorists and extremists of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service of the Russian Federation, as all personal data match this person.
The Terek detachment is headed by Vitaly Kuznetsov, a Russian who is also close to the current Russian authorities.
"Kuznetsov graduated from the Military Aviation Technical University and fought in Chechnya. He worked in a helicopter squadron of the 325th Independent Transport and Combat Helicopter Regiment of the North Caucasus Military District, later in the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Stavropol Territory and the National Guard. Now he is also assistant to the "plenipotentiary representative of the President of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasian Federal District" and the former Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Yuri Chaika. In August this year, Putin awarded Kuznetsov the highest rank of the so-called "Cossack" general," say the authors.
"The commander of the fire support platoon of the Terek detachment is Alexei Kireu, call sign "Cheh," who worked as a construction worker before the full-scale invasion. According to a job search ad, the man is from Kaliningrad, graduated from a local college and was trained as a gas welder and plumber. Since 2003, he had worked in the construction industry - making repairs to apartments and offices. As of 2018, he was looking for a job with a salary of 70 thousand rubles, which is just over a thousand dollars. Two years later, according to the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation, closed his business", - write "Schemes".
Journalists identified Kireu in a recent video from the Kiburna Spit, where the peninsula occupants showed their positions to propaganda journalists and assured them that they "continue to hold the spit and repel the landing of the AFU. Kireu was signed as a "volunteer Cossack."