Due to the tense situation in eastern Ukraine in mid-April 2014, in particular, the capture of a number of Ukrainian towns – Slovyansk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, Kostiantynivka, Lyman (Chervony Lyman back then), Bakhmut (Artemivsk), Pokrovsk (Krasnoarmiysk), the then Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine and acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov signed on April 14 a decree on enacting the NSDC decision on urgent measures to overcome the terrorist threat and safeguard the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The active military operations began in the north of Donetsk region already the next day. On April 15, as part of the antiterrorist operation, the Ukrainian special forces liberated the Kramatorsk Airport from Russian separatists. On the same day, several company tactical teams of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and units of the National Guard of Ukraine took a close approach to Slovyansk and blocked it.
The first serious firefight of the Ukrainian military with the illegal armed formations took place on May 2, when a helicopter of the Ukrainian anti-terrorist operation troops was shot down in the sky over Slovyansk by a portable anti-aircraft missile system, which suggested that qualified Russian troops were operating on the enemy's side. This suggestion was confirmed after the proclamation of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” as the most important positions in these formations were occupied by Russian citizens linked with Russian special services. On May 22, regular armed hostilities began between the ATO forces and the armed separatist formations.
On May 26, the first large-scale operation of the Ukrainian military was carried out: the battle for the Donetsk Airport was conducted with the participation of aviation and landing force, killing about a hundred terrorists. Lyman was liberated on June 4, Mariupol – on June 13.
In early July, the ATO forces dramatically changed the fighting tactics and went on a rapid offensive. On July 5, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk were liberated, July 6 – Bakhmut, July 21 – Toretsk, July 30 – Avdiivka, August 1 – Krasnohorivka, August 5 – Marinka, and the fighting moved to southern Donbas.
In August 2014, the Ukrainian military conducted battle for an important strategic site – the town of Ilovaisk. The ATO forces had almost managed to conquer the town but got surrounded after the direct intervention of Russian regular troops in late August. In the end, this led to the loss of effective control over certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the signing of the Minsk Agreements.
The next round of exacerbation of the situation at the front occurred in January-February 2015. The most difficult situation was in the area of the Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve. The militants, with the support of Russian Armed Forces units, tried at all hazards to eliminate Debaltseve bridgehead and seize the Donetsk Airport, thus forcing Ukraine to make political concessions. However, Ukrainian troops, who had been forced to leave Debaltseve, escaped the encirclement and prevented the Russian-occupation troops from advancing deep into the Ukrainian territory. On February 12, the agreements were reached in Minsk on a new ceasefire, which was enshrined in the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” It was those agreements that stopped the active phase of the ATO, and further resistance to the Russian-occupation troops largely switched to the format of positional firefights.
The Ukrainian army managed to stop the enemy offensive, but even today the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine remain under the occupation of pro-Russian gangs. However, the most irretrievable loss is human deaths. Over the six years, the war has claimed the lives of over 13,000 Ukrainians, including about 4,000 servicemen and women. Nearly one and a half million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and become refugees, internally displaced persons. Those, who stayed to live in the occupied territories or on the contact line, are in constant mortal danger.
In January 2018, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law of Ukraine “On Reintegration of Donbas”. Pursuant to the law, the launch of the Joint Forces Operation was announced instead of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, which officially finished on April 30, 2018.
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