Kharkiv official on frontline fortifications — interview

Russia launched a major offensive on Kharkiv Oblast on May 10. After the Ukrainian military raised concerns about lacking fortifications in the region, the military leadership decided to replace the commander of the Kharkiv task force, Yuriy Halushkin, with Mykhailo Drapaty.

Kharkiv Deputy Governor Roman Semenukha explained in an interview with NV Radio on May 13 who was responsible for fortifying Ukrainian positions in the area, as well as what conclusions could be drawn from the debacle.

NV: What conclusions can be drawn regarding the fortifications in the north of Kharkiv Oblast? Do you have any idea what went wrong?

Semenukha: I’m probably not going to give an assessment right now of what went right and what went wrong. I think this is incorrect on my part for many reasons. There are authorized bodies for that, let them make decisions.

As to whether we need to do some “blamestorming,” of course, yes. What happened in the north of Kharkiv Oblast had its causes.

But I would avoid any scolding now, especially given who was spreading this information in a completely manipulative fashion. At least I definitely don’t agree to flog each other now.

We must definitely draw conclusions from this. I’m fully aware that the public demands explanations... People don’t understand who’s building [fortifications], whether it’s a military or a civilian responsibility...

NV: Sorry to interrupt you. There’s a general feeling that everything has been stolen, but nothing has been built.

Semenukha: I don’t comment on moods, I can comment on some facts. The only thing I can say is that I perfectly understand the public’s demand, it has the right to know. Because there’s an expectation that the state of Ukraine, by various institutions, had to build some fortifications and prepare for possible foreign invasions.

I can confirm the words of an intelligence representative that [Russia’s] intentions in the second invasion of the northern part of Kharkiv Oblast were well known. The Kharkiv tactical task group’s command was reliably informed about the forces the enemy would use to invade, in which areas, etc.

Now, to figure it out: what’s the order of construction, planning, building various fortifications? There’s a military command, the General Staff’s Support Forces, the Defense Ministry, and the Kharkiv operational tactical group. They determined the defense lines and types of fortifications, and several lines were planned for construction.

The first two lines were mainly built by the military with the help of the brigades deployed near the Russian border. Financing was provided by the Defense Ministry and the Support Forces. Our task as a regional military administration is to marshal the necessary equipment. I cannot give specific figures on those, though.

Every month, the General Staff sets a mobilization plan for all regions of Ukraine. It includes both personnel (in simple words, conscription into the army, mobilization of Ukrainian citizens) and specialized equipment components.

In the past years and months, Kharkiv Oblast fully carried out the mobilization task in terms of equipment. To put it simply, we provided the equipment, as well as the materials, for the brigades performing tasks near the border.

Read also: Russia not likely to seize Kharkiv without extra troops — UK intel

NV: Let’s clarify: how far away from the border are the supposed three lines of fortifications?

Semenukha: I can’t say that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an official with a certain access to information, but I cannot disclose that now.

The third line was built by the regional administration. We had over 30 contractors who worked across various sites. [They worked] not only in the northern border area, but also near Kupyansk, Lyman, and Starobilsk. Some territory of Kharkiv Oblast is overseen by the Sumy tactical task group, now called Siversk. We fulfilled our tasks in helping and assisting the military on the first and second [fortification] lines across all tactical task groups.

And, probably, I won’t comment on anything else as it will be inappropriate for various reasons.

NV: We have a comment from the head of the Center for Countering Disinformation, who says that it’s impossible to build fortifications in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border, as enemy forces can use artillery to disrupt the construction. Is that so?

Semenukha: I would like to note two things. Firstly, fortifications don’t actually do the fighting, they must be manned to be effective. Secondly, all three defense lines are determined by the General Staff together with the Defense Ministry and the tactical task group in a given area.

This most recent attack in Kharkiv Oblast area took place [in the territory overseen by] the Kharkiv tactical task group. The military determines the specific type of fortifications or structures, their location, taking into account natural boundaries and the distance to the border.

I cannot explain what the military situation is like in Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts, because I’m physically in Kharkiv Oblast, and it’s very difficult to accurately assess the situation just from media reports.

Regarding the northern border in Kharkiv Oblast, we must understand this is at least 60 daily attacks (before the recent incursion) at the border. After upgrading aerial bombs and a significant increase in the deployment of Russian aircraft, in particular from the Voronezh airfield, the number of air strikes with guided aerial bombs increased dramatically. The enemy didn’t cross the border, the contact line was stable. On the other hand, this is an ordinary front line, because the enemy conducts artillery and mortar shelling, as well as using aircraft and helicopters, every day. This is a full-fledged front line.

I don’t have consolidated statistics on the contractors responsible for the construction of the third line of defenses. But I can tell you that, unfortunately, there were casualties among them. There are over a dozen wounded. There are over a dozen pieces of destroyed equipment as a result of enemy shelling. I would like to note that I’m talking about the third line, while the situation is even more complicated on the second and first.

Read also: Situation in Kharkiv 'near critical' due to personnel and ammunition shortages - military intel

NV: You say the first and second lines are entirely the responsibility of the military. But it’s hard to believe that the local authorities didn’t know which lines were built or not, whether the military was digging in or not. What would you comment on that?

Semenukha: I’m not a psychotherapist and [I don’t comment on the situation] in terms of belief. I can talk about our area of responsibility. A division of powers takes place in a democratic state governed by the rule of law, even during martial law, and the same is true for local government. We don’t shift the responsibility to anyone.

Moreover, please note that I don’t comment on things that I believe I have neither a moral nor a legal right, at least as of now, to comment on.

The most I can say in this situation is that fortifications are not in themselves a panacea, they are but an element of a comprehensive defense strategy.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine