Lieutenant Colonel Serhiy Koval, a 43-year-old career officer, has served with Ukraine’s military for the entirety of his adult life.
He was a top minesweeper with Ukraine’s 143rd Landmine Defusing Center. He had served as a peacekeeper in Afghanistan. And he had been at the front lines of Russia’s war in Donbas since its very first days. He was one of the best of his kind in Ukraine.
His field mission on March 26 close to the town of Shumy promised to be risky though not unusual. Russian-backed militants had dropped several POM-2 anti-infantry landmines close to the Ukrainian lines. A team of minesweepers led by Koval was supposed to remove them.
But the seemingly routine mission ended in a bloodbath.
As the group was working, Senior Sergeant Serhiy Barnych suddenly collapsed, hit by a sniper bullet. Koval tried to recover his wounded mate to a safe place, but another bullet got him too. Two more of the group got badly injured in the open. Two other soldiers rushing to help the minesweepers got killed on the run.
This was a death trap arranged by militant snipers. The marksmen were firing from behind a water station nearby, knowing that the Ukrainian forces would be reluctant to destroy it to avoid harming civilians.
It took a 1.5-hour combat clash for Ukraine’s 128th Mountain Infantry Brigade to suppress the enemy and make it to the bloodbath site. Four killed, three injured — within just a few minutes.
This was just one of many deadly incidents of Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine in 2021.
The conflict has entered its eighth year, having killed over 13,000 since 2014, and shows no signs of ending soon. Static and grueling, barely changeable or noticed beyond Ukraine, this war has reaped the lives of at least 79 Ukrainian military servicemen in 2021, despite the active ceasefire strongly supported by Ukraine’s authorities.
This year, Ukrainian soldiers and officers continued dying in this routine war for the same reasons as before: Landmines, sporadic combat clashes with the enemy, sniper fire, and anti-transport missile systems.
None of the warring parties tried to break the line in 2021.
Out of 79 Ukrainian servicemen killed this year, at least 31 were killed by enemy snipers, according to verified independent estimates.
This constitutes a stunning 40% of Ukraine’s military death toll in 2021.
One of them was Ali Nayib Alkhasli.
A native of Azerbaijan, he ended up in Ukraine due to his career as a professional martial artist. There, he found his love and got married, and continued doing pancratium – a mixture of boxing and wrestling known since ancient Greece.
In 2018, he decided to join the Ukrainian military and fight against the Russian occupation of Ukraine. He served with the 54th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. And Nov. 26, 2021, turned out to be his last day.
An enemy sniper team hit him twice while on combat duty – in the lower back and leg. He died in great pain, 20 minutes after being taken to a hospital. He was buried in the Muslim tradition at the Valley of Soldier Glory in Kharkiv.
Despite numerous casualties, the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky keeps praising “the longest ceasefire” in the war zone of Donbas, announced on July 27, 2020.
The Russia-backed militants couldn’t care less — according to Ukraine’s mission to the OSCE, over 65 Ukrainian service members have been killed in combat and over 275 have been injured during the ceasefire.
On Oct. 26, Ukraine’s 93rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade made a sortie into the village of Staromariivka in Donetsk Oblast, allegedly to bring some humanitarian aid for the local population, which is stuck between the opposed firing lines.
The Russian-led militants responded with artillery fire.
Master Sergeant Georgiy Khalikov, an experienced 51-year-old soldier, was in those trenches at the moment. Hearing a 122-millimeter shell incoming, he covered two of his young fellow soldiers with his body.
The impact left him riddled with shrapnel, with no chances of survival.
In revenge for his death, Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhniy ordered the very first combat use of the Turkish-produced Bayriaktar TB2 strike drones upon the militants. The weapon’s debut in this war zone caused a big stir in Ukraine’s media.
On Sept. 12, Ukrainian soldier Andriy Golub was driving his truck close to the town of Verkhnyotoretske in Donetsk Oblast. Nothing was unusual – just another cargo delivery. But it was his last one. An enemy missile targeted his truck and Golub burned alive inside of it.
Soldier Oleksiy Kulenko planned on proposing to his girlfriend a month before he was killed in combat on Nov 11.
Soldier Serhiy Korobtsov was just 22 years old. On May 6, he was killed in the town of Pisky close to the ruined Donetsk Airport. A Russian sniper’s bullet had smashed the upper half of his head, leaving him no chance of survival. Korobtsov is survived by his wife and 2-year-old son.
On Dec. 26, Ukraine’s negotiations group with Russia in Donbas reportedly reached an agreement to confirm the July 27, 2020 armistice, calling this a “Christmas Ceasefire.”
Russia-backed militants violated it the very next day.