It was the end of August 2014. From the height of 277.9, the warriors of “Sumrak’s” detachment (“Shadow”) were maneuvering across sixty kilometers of occupied territory in the direction of their own troops. They moved predominantly by night, avoiding highways and inhabited localities. The whole lowland – from the state border to the advanced positions of Ukrainian troops – was teeming with Russian units which had “lost their way” in the Donetsk steppes. In villages and mining towns, the henchmen of the “Russian world” made themselves at home. The detachment reunited with the Ukrainian units near Mnohopillya –a little village near Ilovaysk.
When they finally reached their own troops, it seemed to the men and their commander that military fortune favored them indeed. The task assigned by the command had been performed with honor. Wounded, hungry and exhausted they escaped the embraces of death – alive and unconquered. Four attacks on Savur-Mohyla and twelve days of its defence as one endless day remained in the past. Hundreds of hours of uninterrupted hell engineered by enemy artillery on a tiny stretch of land in the Donetsk chain of hills turned every square meter of the barrow into dust. Silence prevailed only when pro-Russian infantry and amoured vehicle units ascended for assault, with the intent of wiping out the meager Ukrainian detachment from the dominant altitude of the border.
On August 29th, 2014 in Mnohopillya, “Sumrak”– Colonel Ihor Hordiychuk – received another order: his unit was to leave the settlement and march as part of a column in the defined direction along with other units of the sector. The fact that their march route was a “green corridor” coordinated with the Russians for the purpose of withdrawing units out of the encirclement, as well as the fact that they were in an encirclement, was unknown to the colonel. For this reason, all the subsequent events that would come to pass were a complete surprise for him and his combat sworn brothers.
The present head of military lyceum named after Ivan Bohun, Hero of Ukraine Major-General Ihor Volodymyrovych Hordiychuk finds it difficult to recollect the course of that battle in detail: the result of a severe wound to the head received from an enemy shell splinter.
The warriors, who were at his side and who were fortunate to survive that ambush, would later recall that the commander was wounded shortly after the artillery and mortar shellings had begun. The vehicle with Ihor Hordiychuk was among the first to inflame. Miraculously, the bleeding officer managed to get out of the vehicle wrapped in flames, crawl to a ditch and even attempted to run the battle while his wound was being bandaged. But having lost a lot of blood, he soon lost consciousness.
When the battle ended and the Russians were “cleaning up” the place of ambush, they decided not to finish off the severely wounded colonel. Perhaps, they thought the case was not worth a bullet: it was clear he had no chance of making it with that kind of wound, so he was left to die near the road. He lay in the open – unconscious, in the yellow, sun-burned, profusely irrigated by blood grass among the bodies of fallen heroes for whom that battle became the last. The almost lifeless body of “Sumrak” would be found by representatives of the Red Cross only in twenty-four hours. At first, believing that there was no chance a man with such a wound would be able to live, his body was carried to the fallen servicemen but fortunately, a barely detectable pulse was found…
Then came the long fight for his life and restoration of health in Ukrainian hospitals. The Head of State signed a Decree on awarding this high rank when the awardee was still in a coma in the intensive care department. And when the crisis was finally overcome, Petro Poroshenko personally visited the hospital to hand the award to the Hero.
The wound that Colonel Hordiychuk received during the breaking out of the Ilovaysk encirclement was severe. He did not regain consciousness for days. And when he did regain his senses, it became clear that he would not be able to move – a splinter from Grad missile damaged a considerable part of the nerve centers, paralyzing part of the body. In addition, he had toxemia and, as a consequence, - dangerously high body temperature. The treatment was lengthy: at first, at home in the neurosurgery department of Dnipropetrovsk hospital named after Mechikov, later – in Kyiv Military Hospital.
He learned to walk anew abroad, in the USA, during a rehabilitation course in the National Military Hospital named after Walter Reed, near Washington. Recollecting those days, Ihor Hordiychuk says:
– I’m an optimist. The whole time while I was in hospital, I believed that I would conquer the affliction and would walk again. It is necessary to always remain an optimist; especially, if you are an officer…
That fact that he would become a serviceman became evident to Ihor Hordiychuk when he was still in fourth form at school. Although among his relatives only one uncle chose the career path of a commander, for some reason the young lad resolved to dedicate his life to the protection of Homeland. In 1989, as an eighteen-year-old teenager and a graduate of Korets secondary school, located in Rivne region, he was sent to the Omsk Higher Tank Engineer School by the military commissariat. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, he immediately wrote a report to be transferred to Ukraine.
– It was a real saga, – says the Hero of Ukraine, remembering those days. –There were about thirty of us Ukrainians on the course who aspired to come back to Ukraine. If truth be told, the school’s command did not want to let us go to Ukraine, so we had to hold our ground. And we reached our aim – in the end, the Russian officers gave in and the whole lot of us, thirty sophomore cadets, were transferred to study in the Kyiv Institute of Land Forces of the National Defence Academy of Ukraine.
Perseverance in gaining desired goals, boundless optimism, love of life, and faith in his own strengths – are probably the most important traits of general Hordiychuk. He has always been like that: when he graduated from the Academy with honors; when he had to learn English from scratch as commander of a Special Forces regiment; and when he served in an international military contingent in the Republic of Afghanistan, having cultivated relations with the local community leaders. As one of the most prepared commanders of the Ukrainian troops, shortly before the beginning of Crimean events, Colonel Hordiychuk would hold the position of deputy commander of Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian brigade. However, peace plans were impaired by war.
In April 2014, he was appointed as Chief of Operational Command – Deputy Chief of Main Command Center of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, Hordiychuk did not intend to fight merely on the maps – he insisted on being seconded to the ATO area.
The Colonel headed a Special Forces group at the front. He personally took part in operations on annihilation of the separatist’s leaders, performed long-range reconnaissance tasks. On August 12, 2014, Hordiychuk’s scouts from the “Crimea” Special Forces group, along with the volunteers and warriors of the separate units of the 51st and 25th brigades, penetrated Savur-Mohyla, took the observation post on its top under their control and began to correct artillery fire of the Ukrainian batteries. For almost two weeks, under intense adversary fire from “Grads”, tanks and guns, countering the militants uninterrupted attacks, they restrained the strategically crucial height of 277,9.
The enemy shelled Savur-Mohyla from three sides: the separatists – from Snizhne and Torez, the Russians – first, from “zero” and then, overtly – from their territory. Why the enemy attempted to wipe out the Ukrainian garrison from the barrow’s top with such ferocity and at any cost is quite obvious. The height offered a good observation over kilometers of land. The main highways were clearly visible, so the detected columns with combat vehicles and personnel, which came from the territory of the Russian Federation, were met by death-dealing fire of Ukrainian artillery. Consequently, the activities of Sumrak’s group created an encumbrance for the Russians and their supporters – it lead to perceptible casualties; it considerably complicated the traffic of arms, ammunition, and “seconded servicemen” to the territory which was not controlled but which was being observed by Ukrainian troops.
On August 23, 2014, the situation in the sector drastically changed. A large-scale invasion of Russian troops into Ukrainian territory began. Our artillery had to retreat. And, although Sumrak’s group continued to transmit information regarding the movement of adversary columns, the Ukrainian guns kept silent.
– We saw an impending horde, – Ihor Volodymyrovych says. – We tried to come up with an approximate estimate of the weapons in the columns taking into account the size of the dust-cloud that rose above the roads. There was a huge number of Russians. However, I had hope that our troops would return and hit these newcomers.
For that reason Colonel Hordiychuk held the barrow to the last moment. Even when it had become clear that they were deep in the enemy’s rear and it was no less than forty kilometers to the nearest Ukrainian unit, he continued to hold the height for almost twenty-four hours. The officer gave orders to relinquish positions only after he himself received the same order from higher command.
Nowadays, the legendary “Sumrak” is head of the Kyiv Military Lyceum named after Ivan Bohun. His most cherished dream and aim is to nurture real patriotism and courage in future officers, steadfast defenders of their native land. Furthermore, General Hordiychuk sincerely believes that a time will come when the blue-and-yellow flag will be raised once again and for good above the grey barrow, at the height of 277,9 above sea level. And he, the commander of the unconquered garrison two years ago, will be among the first to ascend to the top of this height and bow low to the men who, in August 2014, laid their lives for the sake of Ukraine on the rocky hillside of Savur-Mohyla.