Putin's 35-mile-long armored convoy: the inside story

A resident of Kyiv's northern suburbs points to his home, which was destroyed by Russian forces

A massive 10-mile (15-point-five-kilometer) line of armored vehicles was spotted by a satellite in the country's north three days into Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Volodymyr Scherbynyn, 67, was outside his neighborhood supermarket in Bucha, a city outside of Kiev, when more than a hundred Russian military vehicles drove into the area. Volodymyr and the satellite both saw a crucial aspect of President Vladimir Putin's strategy for a swift and decisive victory. They were also present when it failed.

Western media referred to it as a convoy. In actuality, it was a tactical blunder and a traffic jam. On February 29, 2022, forty-eight hours after that initial satellite image, the vehicle line had expanded to an enormous 35 miles (56 km) in length. For several weeks, the cars were stuck. Finally retreating, they appeared to vanish over night. .

Why did such a powerful force fail to reach Kiev and what happened?

Numerous witnesses were interviewed by a BBC team, including military personnel, members of the territorial defense, national and international intelligence services, civilians, and veterans who came into contact with the convoy. Additionally, it had access to Russian documents and maps that clarified the details of the plan and the reasons it was so egregiously flawed.

first few hours.

The story begins on the first day of the conflict in the northern region of Ukraine, close to the Belarusian border.

Vladyslav, a 23-year-old member of Ukraine's 80th Air Assault Brigade, noticed a flurry of bright lights in the night sky as he went outside for his first cigarette of the day.

"I recall seeing the lights spread throughout the entire forest. I initially mistook them for car headlights. They were Grads, though, I realized later [self-propelled multiple missile launchers]. They started shooting at us. " .

Vladyslav's unit, which was camped out in the Chernobyl exclusion zone's dense forest, was out on patrol when the first Russian vehicles entered Ukraine.

"The entire earth shook. There is no other sound like being in a tank, have you ever experienced it? It has considerable power. ".

Vladyslav and the rest of the 80th brigade destroyed the bridge connecting Chernobyl with the following major city, Ivankiv, as was intended in the event of an attack.

Vladyslav and his unit would have time to retreat to Kyiv while the Russians were forced to waste time building a replacement pontoon bridge.

"At first, I was puzzled as to why we didn't stop them in Chernobyl, but we had to research our foe. That's what we did, then. " .

The Ukrainians could not afford to start firing and risk igniting another conflict this close to the Belarusian border. Prior to sending their troops into the fray, they had the Russian battle strategy under control.

Vladyslav caught a glimpse of the first cars that would make up the convoy.

The 35-mile (56-km) column was actually composed of 10 distinct Russian tactical battalion units, as opposed to what was widely reported in the media at the time, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Although the Russian army also attacked Ukraine in the east and south, only 10 of those units had a clear objective: enter Ukraine from Belarus, overthrow the country's capital city, and overthrow the government. A decapitation attempt, to use military jargon.

One Russian document that the BBC has access to shows the plan's timeline. On February 24, at 4:00 am, the first battalion entered Ukraine. They were told to march straight to Kyiv, where they arrived at 14:55.

To support the soldiers who had been airlifted in to guard the airport, a number of the battalions were to advance to Hostomel, which is located just north of Kyiv.

The remainder were to proceed directly into Kiev's city center.

Luibov Demydiv (R), a pensioner from Demydiv, points on the map to where she saw the convoy circling after a bridge was destroyed, stopping their advance
A pensioner from Demydiv, Luibov Demydiv (R), points on the map to the location where she saw the convoy circling following the destruction of a bridge, which halted their advance.

Speed and secrecy were two factors that the assault heavily leaned on.

In the north of Kyiv, Russian troops may outnumber Ukrainian forces by a ratio of 12 to 1 if plans for an attack on the capital are kept secret, claims the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a security think tank based in the UK.

Putin's secrecy had a price, though. His deception was so effective that even the majority of his commanders did not learn of their orders until the day before the invasion.

They became tactically exposed as a result of this. Food, fuel, and maps were all missing. They lacked the means of effective communication. They didn't have enough ammo. Even for the winter weather, they were unprepared.

The Russians drove right into a mud puddle because they were equipped with the wrong tires and were in a snowy area. Russian soldiers allegedly told Ukrainian farmers to help them pull their tanks out of the muck, according to local residents of Ivankiv.

Russian vehicles were unable to move forward and were forced to turn onto paved roads to avoid soft ground, forcing thousands of them to form a single column.

However, due to poor communication between the battalions, they quickly merged into a massive traffic jam. .

You never enter hostile territory in a large convoy, according to a military expert on the ground. Ever. ".

We were able to map the route the convoy took between the start of the conflict and the end of March using eyewitness accounts and military intelligence from Ukraine. Vehicles eventually ended up on the majority of the major roads north of Kiev to avoid crossing through fields.

A map showing all the roads where the convoy travelled during February to March 2022

When the column reached a length of 35 miles (56 km), it was composed of up to 1,000 tanks, 2,400 mechanized infantry vehicles, 10,000 soldiers, and numerous supply trucks hauling food, fuel, oil, and ammunition. .

The Russians had also underestimated their opponent, who was stalled north of Kyiv and out of food and fuel.

Volodymyr Scherbynyn and his fellow volunteers, the majority of whom were pensioners, had been getting ready for the convoy's arrival in their hometown of Bucha for three days.

They prepared hundreds of petrol bombs, destroyed all the road signs, and shared one machine gun among the 12 of them.

Right up until the Russian tanks arrived on Sunday morning.

Maksym (L) Volodymyr (C) and 'the colonel' (R) stand in front of their bombed out office for local volunteers
Maksym (L), Volodymyr (C), and "the colonel" (R) solicit local volunteers in front of their bombed-out office.

Volodymr and his low-level unit pounded the tanks with what little they had for almost 30 minutes.

Volodymyr claims, "We set two of the vehicles on fire and slowed down the entire convoy.".

Then, however, came the reprisal.

According to 30-year-old Maksym Shkoropar, "They opened fire when they saw us throwing bottles.". I worked in a bar. I had no military experience. ".

By the end of that period of time, Volodymyr's group had all been shot and taken to the hospital.

Volodymr continued to fight despite being in the sick bay, gathering reports of the convoy from citizens all over the Kyiv region and cross-checking them before reporting them to the Ukrainian authorities.

Roman Pohorilyl, a 23-year-old local deputy governor for Irpin, was on the other end of the line.

Lawyer and councillor by day, Roman searches for Russian posts on social media by night.
Roman works as a lawyer and councilor during the day and at night he searches social media for Russian posts.

According to him, he went three days without sleeping.

"My coworker and I were answering calls about the column and saboteurs, people who were marking the ground for the convoy to follow, on the council office's hotline. ".

Roman works as a councilor during the day and is an expert in open source intelligence at night. He is a co-founder of the prestigious website DeepState, which combines information from social media and intelligence sources. Then he reposts them on his website after geolocating them. .

"The Russians were uploading videos to social media while traveling to Kyiv. To reveal their movements, we reposted the videos. They were just acting showy, but they got caught. " .

According to Roman, the perception of a united Ukraine was crucial during the assault on Kyiv.

Ukrainian volunteers distributing food
Volunteers from Ukraine distributing food.

"Everyone was engaged in activity. I will admit that the initial few days were very hectic. However, veterans were assisting non-veterans. Everyone wished to protect their urban area. ".

Hundreds of attacks against the convoy occurred in towns and villages throughout the area, carried out by both mechanized infantry and artillery units as well as civilians armed with homemade weapons.

The Russian forces repeatedly demonstrated their inability to make quick decisions on the battlefield, in stark contrast to the Ukrainians.

Vladyslav from the 80th Brigade reports that "the Russians were all carrying large metal boxes marked'secret'.". The other was taken during an ambush. We discovered their maps, which showed their entire route. After that, we were aware of their entire plan. ".

Additionally, their navigational aids were woefully out of date. The BBC has continued to discover Russian military maps from the 1960s and 1970s in the year following the invasion. There are now entire towns that did not appear on the maps they used to travel. We also discovered semaphore flags, a dated method of unit communication.

By detonating bridges and dams in front of the convoy, the Ukrainian resistance was able to force the Russians to change their course. The Russian units frequently became paralyzed by indecision due to their reliance on outdated maps and limited communications with their high command.

The Russian vehicles can be seen traveling in circles on several satellite images.

Maxar satellite image of the convoy

The Russian convoy was finally brought to a standstill just outside of Kyiv's city limits due to pressure from Ukrainian airstrikes and artillery. The experience was terrible for thousands of civilians who lived close to the halted troops.

"They stole from everyone and everything. The stores were empty," Vladyslav claims. "Civilians were also used as human shields. ".

Numerous authorities, including the International Criminal Court, are still looking into what occurred in numerous villages and towns to the north and west of Kiev.

The Russians began to leave after four protracted weeks.

Near the Hostomel airport, two of the largest remaining battalions were routed. Artillery also destroyed 370 additional army trucks that appeared to have been abandoned in the village of Zdvizhivka.

Russian forces completely withdrew from Kyiv Oblast on March 19, after which the Ukrainian military stopped pushing them back.

A graveyard of Russian vehicles from the convoy piled high in Hostomel
In Hostomel, the convoy's Russian vehicles were piled high.

Russia is advancing further into the Donbass's eastern industrial core and striking southward toward Kherson, Melitopol, and Zaporizhzhia.

Despite the rumors of another attack on Kyiv, the majority of experts concur that it is unlikely because there has not been a significant Russian troop deployment to the Belarus border.

The Ukrainian recruits, however, are still keeping an eye out via reconnaissance drones close to the border.

Vladyslav says, "I'll always remember that night in Chernobyl. "When my friend and I went outside to smoke. However, the war had already begun by the time I had finished my cigarette.

"In our dream, my friend and I will report for duty just as we did that day, and as we light another cigarette, we will learn that the war is over. And we triumphed. ".

Special thanks to Tim Coey, Alastair Thompson, Ben Allen, Marcus Buckley, Slava Shramovych, and Michael Whelan.

Source link

You've successfully subscribed to NewsNow
Great! Next, complete checkout to get full access to all premium content.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Unable to sign you in. Please try again.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Error! Stripe checkout failed.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Billing info update failed.