Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ukraine War Control Map & Report: September 2020

To see other maps in this series, plus a new map of Russian control in the 2022 invasion, view all Ukraine articles on PolGeoNow.
Map of territorial control and frontlines in the Donbass region of Donetsk and Luhansk, internationally recognized as part of eastern Ukraine but partly controlled by the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic. Updated for September 2020, with Minsk ceasefire lines shown. Colorblind accessible.
Map by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic. Contact us for permission to use this map.

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Timeline by Djordje Djukic, with additional reporting by Evan Centanni

Donbass Frontline Map

In the four years since PolGeoNow last updated our Ukraine control map, little has changed in terms of territorial boundaries in the region of eastern Europe known as the Donbass. Forces of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) still hold a large chunk of what most of the world considers Ukraine, though their plans of formally uniting into a confederation of "Novorossiya" ("New Russia") have long gone by the wayside. But as attempts at resolving the conflict peacefully grind slowly forward, fighting has continued at a low level along the frontlines, and we have made some small changes to the map where the situation has either changed or been clarified since 2016.

Map Revisions Since 2016

In addition to small changes of territorial control reported in the timeline below, we have also made some corrections to the map based on information that has come to light since our 2016 map update.
  • The town of Vodyane near the southern end of the frontline, marked for "unclear control" last time after it was reportedly captured by the DPR in 2015, has since been repeatedly described as lying on the Ukrainian military's side of the control line.
  • The town of Bila Kamianka, farther north along the control line in Donetsk, was also marked for "unclear control" last time, but has recently been described as under "non-government control" by international observers.
  • The destroyed town of Piski, north of Donetsk city, was marked for "unclear control" after some reports said the DPR took it over in 2015, but more recent reports place it under Ukrainian government control.
  • The town of Krasny Partisan north of Donetsk city has been changed from DPR control to unclear control. Though pro-DPR sources continue to describe it as separatist-held, conflict-tracking site LiveUAmap maps it as being on the government side of the control line.

Flag of Ukraine Full Country Name:  
• Ukraine (English)
• Ukrayina (Ukrainian)
Capital: Kiev

Timeline of Events

The following is a chronology of changes to territorial control and other major events since our previous map update of June 8, 2016.

Note: "Luhansk" and "Lugansk" are two alternate names for the same city, province, and self-declared republic in what most of the world considers eastern Ukraine. "Luhansk" comes from the pronunciation in Ukrainian, while "Lugansk" represents the pronunciation in Russian. PolGeoNow uses "Lugansk People's Republic" as the apparent preferred name of the separatist entity, while using "Luhansk" for the city and province due to that spelling's prevalence in English-language media.

July 2016
The month of July 2016 was reported to be "like the worst days of the summer of 2014", as fighting escalated in the Donbass region. In the period from July 9 to 10, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 26 wounded, just as NATO leaders met in Warsaw, Poland, to discuss ways to counter what was referred to as Russian aggression. At the end of the month, a DPR attempt to break through Ukrainian government lines at Marinka was reportedly repelled.

August 6, 2016
Igor Plotnitsky, the head of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic, was injured in a reported assassination attempt in Luhansk city when his car was hit by an explosion. Plotnitsky was in stable condition after receiving hospital treatment. LPR officials stated that Ukrainian saboteurs might have been behind the attack.

August 6-11, 2016
A Russian FSB officer was killed in Crimea, the southern region taken over from Ukraine by Russia in 2014 (see inset map), during a shootout with what it called a “group of diversionaries”. The group was allegedly discovered just inside Crimea’s boundary with mainland Ukraine, and reportedly possessed 20 homemade devices containing a total of 40kg of explosives.

Two days later, a Russian soldier was killed by Ukrainian fire over the border in what was described as an attempted breach by Ukrainian special operations forces. The FSB said it had arrested a man it alleged to be a Ukrainian military intelligence operative. On August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed additional security measures for Crimea in a meeting with his Security Council after the clashes. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was also to hold three-day drills to counter any attempted underwater sabotage.

August 24, 2016
The Ukrainian military reported the heaviest shelling of its positions by the separatists since the Battle of Debaltseve in February 2015, this time corresponding to the Independence Day of Ukraine.

September 1, 2016
A new ceasefire came into effect along the frontline between the Ukrainian military and the two self-proclaimed republics. Meanwhile, the UN reported 36 civilians killed and 197 wounded in eastern Ukraine between June and August.

September 21, 2016
The US House of Representatives approved legislation that called for supplying Ukraine with lethal weaponry in its fight against Russian and separatist forces.

September 23, 2016
A total of 111 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were reported to still be held captive in the self-proclaimed republics or Russia, while 3,082 captives had been released, including 1,598 soldiers and police officers and 1,484 civilians. Ukraine also reported that 499 soldiers and civilians were still missing.

October 1, 2016
Both Ukrainian and separatist forces withdrew from the town of Zolote, along the front lines in Luhansk province, as part of a demilitarization agreement reached the previous month.

October 16, 2016
Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) commander Arsen Pavlov, also known as Motorola, was killed along with his bodyguard in Donetsk when a bomb exploded in the elevator he was riding.

October 19, 2016
A four-way summit in Berlin between Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France took place to assess the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a previously-agreed framework for ending the war in the Donbass. At the end of the summit, Russia and Ukraine agreed to draft a new implementation road map by the end of the following month.

November 29, 2016
The foreign ministers of the group now known as the "Normandy Quartet" (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) held another meeting - this time in Minsk, Belarus - to further discuss plans for the implementation of the ceasefire in the Donbass.

December 1, 2016
The UN reported that 9,758 people had been killed since the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The dead included more than 2,300 civilians.

December 16, 2016
A DPR official stated that 816 DPR fighters and civilians were still held captive by Ukraine. The detention of 411 (287 civilians and 117 fighters) was said to be confirmed by the Ukrainian government, while the status of the other 405 was still being verified. The official also reported that 433 fighters and civilians were missing.

December 18-24, 2016
Heavy fighting erupted between Svitlodarsk and Debaltseve, along the frontlines near the boundary between Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, with both sides blaming each other for starting the clashes. The location of the flareup was within the Donetsk region, though reports suggested that forces of both the LPR and the DPR were involved.

Fighting continued for several days until a ceasefire came into effect at midnight between December 23 and 24, with no clashes reported on December 24. During the fighting, Ukraine claimed to have repelled all separatist attacks and to have captured a strategic height after advancing 1.5 kilometers to the south. It was also reported to have seized four or five points along the left bank of a small lake in the area.

In contrast, the self-proclaimed republics reported that they had repulsed all Ukrainian attacks. The fighting was described as the “bloodiest battle in 5 months”. According to Ukraine, 9 of its soldiers were killed and 35 wounded, while 18 separatists died, 38 were wounded, and 1 was captured. The LPR, for its part, claimed that on just the first day of fighting 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 20 wounded, while it had lost four fighters.

January 1, 2017
The UN reported that 17 civilians had been killed and 91 wounded in eastern Ukraine between September 1 and December 20, 2016.

January 15-27, 2017
Five civilians were killed and four wounded due to shelling by both sides along the frontline, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which was tasked with monitoring the conflict.

January 29-February 4, 2017
Heavy DPR shelling and ground clashes around Ukrainian government-held Avdiivka, north of Donetsk city, left 14 soldiers dead and more than 70 wounded. Eighteen separatist fighters were also killed during the clashes, while 26 were wounded and one was captured. DPR shelling of Avdiivka and Ukrainian shelling of nearby Donetsk also killed 14 civilians. Ukrainian authorities were considering evacuating Avdiivka’s 12,000 residents due to the fighting.

On January 31, the DPR forces were reported to have made a fresh advance near Avdiivka. The importance of Avdiivka to both sides relates to its proximity to DPR-held Donetsk city and important separatist supply lines, as well as the fact that the town hosts a coking and chemical plant. On February 4, relative calm was established around Avdiivka due to a new ceasefire after a week of shelling.

February 4, 2017
LPR commander Oleg Anashchenko and one other person were killed when their car exploded.

February 8, 2017
DPR commander Mikhail Tolstykh, also known as Givi, was killed in Donetsk when a rocket was fired at his office. The killing appeared to be part of a series of assassinations beginning in 2015 targeting "unruly" DPR and LPR military leaders, who were seen as both enemies of Ukraine and liabilities for Russia. Their political positions within the self-proclaimed republics were reportedly being gradually replaced with less-confrontational bureaucrats tied to Victor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly former president of Ukraine whose 2014 ouster sparked the separatist war in the Donbass.

February 24-26, 2017
In a widely-condemned incident, DPR fighters held civilian OSCE monitors at gunpoint and seized a drone belonging to the monitoring mission. At one point, one of the fighters fired shots that landed near the monitors.

April 23, 2017
A land mine blew up a vehicle carrying an OSCE monitoring team in the area controlled by the LPR, killing an American observer and wounding two European OSCE members.

May 2-3, 2017
Four soldiers and one civilian were killed during the deadliest 24 hours since the start of an Easter truce that had come into effect on April 1. During the period of the truce, 19 soldiers were killed overall, while 10 separatist fighters had been killed during the month of April.

June 23-24, 2017
A new ceasefire came into effect, but soon afterwards two soldiers were killed in continuing clashes.

August 25, 2017
A new ceasefire was declared, but was reportedly violated by both sides the same day.

December 23, 2017
A Christmas ceasefire was reportedly broken by the separatists.

December 27, 2017
During a large prisoner exchange, the DPR and LPR released 73 out of 176 prisoners they were holding, while Ukraine released 306 out of 380 of its prisoners. Out of those released by the self-proclaimed republics, 32 were soldiers. This brought the overall number of prisoners released by the separatists to 3,215.

April 30, 2018
The US confirmed the delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

May 17, 2018
The Ukrainian military reportedly took over control of Pivdenne, along the frontline near Horlivka, after it was repeatedly visited by DPR forces.

May 28, 2018
The Ukrainian military reportedly seized a strategic hilltop between Svitlodarsk and Debaltseve.

June 11, 2018
It was reported that since the start of the conflict nearly 10,500 people had been killed, including at least 4,000 soldiers and 3,023 civilians.

July 2, 2018
The Ukrainian military reportedly captured the Zolote-4 area of Zolote town, north of Pervomaisk.

August 23, 2018
Five soldiers were killed and seven wounded in the bloodiest day of fighting in months. Four of the five deaths occurred in a battle along the Luhansk frontline west of Trehizbenka.

August 31, 2018
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, was killed in a bomb explosion at a cafe in Donetsk. The DPR and Russia blamed Ukraine’s government for the killing, while the Ukrainian security service blamed it on rival separatists or Russia.

November 25, 2018
The Russian FSB coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels that were attempting to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait near Crimea (see inset map) on their way to the port of Mariupol in Ukrainian government-held Donetsk province. Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors were captured, three of whom were injured.

December 28, 2018
The Ukrainian military declared that it had re-secured control of several villages in the so-called "grey zone" along the contact line between Ukrainian and separatist forces, including Pivdenne near Horlivka, as well as "Oleksandrivka" (there is an Oleksandrivka village southwest of Donetsk city, though the conflict trackers at LiveUAmap still place it under DPR control).

April 21, 2019
The last stage of Ukraine’s latest presidential election was held, with comedian Volodymyr Zelensky winning with 73% of the vote against incumbent president Petro Poroshenko's 24%. Zelensky stated that he would "reboot" peace talks with the separatists.

September 7, 2019
A prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine included the 24 captured Ukrainian sailors and a "person of interest" in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, which had left 298 people dead.

October 1, 2019
Ukraine, Russia, the DPR and LPR, and the OSCE signed an agreement known as the "Steinmeier formula" attempting to end the conflict between them. Per the agreement, free elections would be held in the territories of the DPR and LPR and observed and verified by the OSCE, after which those territories would be reintegrated into Ukraine while retaining special status.

October 29-November 11, 2019
Both Ukrainian government forces and the separatists started a joint withdrawal from Zolote, at the contact line in the Luhansk region, as a step toward new peace talks. Two more pullbacks took place by November 11, including a one kilometer withdrawal by both sides from Bohdanivka and another village in the Donetsk region.

November 18, 2019
Russia returned the three seized navy ships to Ukraine. Ukraine accused Russia of removing weapons and equipment from the ships before returning them.

December 29, 2019
A prisoner exchange took place between Ukraine and the separatists. Ukraine released 124 prisoners, while the separatists released 76, including 64 civilians and 12 soldiers.

February 15, 2020
The UN reported that 13,000-13,200 people had been killed since the start of the conflict, including 5,650 separatist fighters, 4,100 soldiers, and 3,350 civilians.

March 16-22, 2020
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian government "mostly closed" its side of the five public crossing points between its territory and the areas held by the DPR and LPR. Later that week, the two self-proclaimed republics closed their sides of the crossings as well, and Ukraine fully closed its own side the next day.

March 27, 2020
As a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, the DPR government partially closed its border with Russia, banning all non-residents from entry. It also banned exits except by residents of Russia, even by Donetsk residents with Russian passports.

April 2-3, 2020
The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics closed their borders with each other as a precaution against COVID-19 transmission.

April 8, 2020
The LPR followed the DPR in mostly closing its border with Russia.

April 16, 2020
Ukraine and the DPR exchanged 20 prisoners, including 11 separatists and 9 pro-Ukrainian prisoners.

April 20, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic reportedly led to an intensification of fighting in the Donbass. Clashes escalated during the month of March, with 19 civilians killed, which was more than in the previous five months combined.

As far as the public health situation, the DPR and LPR had registered several hundred COVID-19 cases by early May, and were receiving most aid from international humanitarian organizations despite expecting greater support from Russia.

July 27, 2020
A new ceasefire came into effect along the frontlines in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

September 6-7, 2020
The ceasefire that began on July 27 was still continuing and had become the longest one yet, with only sporadic violations. On September 6, the first Ukrainian soldier was killed in action at the frontlines since the ceasefire started.

Graphic of the Ukrainian flag is in the public domain (source).