Sergeant Andrew Asmolov, commander of 40 Battalion’s supply unit, served in the Ukrainian Army as a reservist for just nine months. He happened to survive the deadly Battle of Ilovaisk (in the Donetsk region) last August, where he saved many comrades’ lives. But the next military operation – at the city of Debaltseve (in the same Donetsk region) during the winter of 2014–15 – would be his last.
As Andrew’s comrade and buddy, Sergeant Ruslan Gursky, told me: Asmolov was killed in battle on 12 February – Ruslan’s birthday …
“On the previous day, me and Andrew arrived at the ‘Moisha’ stronghold to help defend it from increasing assaults,” said Ruslan. “The stronghold was located in the eastern suburb of Debaltseve. Andrew should not have gone there because, as the commander of a supply unit, he was not an experienced fighter. But he volunteered … the only one of his squad.”
The guys’ task was to hold a remote outpost, known as “Olimp”, in the face of intensified attacks by the Russian-backed Separatists. By this time, many Ukrainian reservists at “Moisha” had realized that defending against increasing numbers of enemy troops would be fatal for all of them, especially without resupply and reinforcement.
Most of the Separatists attacking our stronghold were Kossaks from the Don region of Russia. Their diversion groups (consisting of five or six fighters) constantly tried to infiltrate the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve: sometimes they were successful and managed to hit Ukrainian positions from the rear.
“The ‘Olimp’ position was on the top of the hill – in fact, on the top of a local colliery slagheap,” recalled Ruslan. “On my birthday, Kossaks attacked us from behind. While firing at the enemies alongside Andrew my throat became dry and – needing a drink – I bent down to grab a bottle of water. At that moment an enemy mortar shell hit the trench. One piece smashed into my leg but Andrew got major wounds and died in my arms within a couple of minutes.”
Sergeant Ruslan Gursky repelled the enemy attack, so Andrew’s corpse was delivered to the main battalion camp four hours later.
Ruslan knew Andrew for nine months, since 40 Battalion was first formed. He said that Andrew was a smiling, kind, and interesting person. When he was young, Andrew served as a reservist in the Border Guards; so he liked to wear a green-striped T-shirt – the standard-issue underwear of the old Soviet Army Border Guards. Occasionally, Ruslan’s wife sent a couple of these T-shirts to her husband in Debaltseve, so Ruslan gave one to Andrew: “He was so happy to get this underwear!” said Ruslan. “He was mourned in it in his native city of Nikopol, in the Dnipropetrovsk region.”
Sergeant Andrew Asmolov left a widow and two children – a son and a daughter. Before the Russian-backed aggression he served as an investigator in the local police force of the Dnipropetrovsk region. His police colleagues and army comrades will always remember him as a reliable person, devoted to his duties.
(Edited by Christopher Summerville)