Ukraine update: As Russia presses in on Severodonetsk, other areas are open to counterattack

Ukraine update: As Russia presses in on Severodonetsk, other areas are open to counterattack

The list of NATO equipment headed into Ukraine continues to grow. On Sunday, it was reported that Poland is dispatching 18 AHS Krab self-propelled howitzers, which followed reports on Saturday that—though not an official part of any announced assistance package—the U.S. was sending an unknown number of self-propelled 155mm M109 howitzers.  The last two weeks have seen a flurry of new announcements including armored transports, multi-launch rocket systems, anti-aircraft systems, and anti-ship missiles.

In addition to defensive system, offensive weapons, supplies, and ammunition, there are a growing number of Ukrainian troops being trained to operate and maintain the new systems. Poland has reportedly already trained 100 Ukrainian soldiers to operate those AHS Krab, which are capable of firing a standard round 30km and an extended range round 40km, making them one of the longest ranged artilleries.

And there’s something else that makes this gift from Poland special: These guns are brand new. They’re not just sending Ukraine the latest design created for their own army, they’re sending over half of all the AHS Krab guns that have rolled off the lines. That’s an extremely high level of commitment.

But also in the last two weeks, it’s clear that Ukrainian officials fear it’s not enough. Even as a new brigade of Ukrainian forces trains in the west, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy has fretted over the exhaustion of forces in the east. The city of Severodonetsk is seeing both artillery fire and direct assault at a level that, in spite of dug in positions, dedicated forces, and all the new weapons that Ukraine can direct to the area, may be unsupportable.

Russian efforts both around Lyman and to the south at Popasna have followed the same pattern that they have throughout the invasion: Pushing forward with heavy losses and a half dozen failed advances for every one that succeed. However, Russia has been taking ground in spite of those losses and Russian troops have occupied over two dozen towns and villages in the area in just the last week.

In no sense will the war be “over” if Russia takes Severodonetsk, but there are over 13,000 civilians remaining in the city, over 1,500 reported dead by the town’s mayor, and Ukraine is desperate to save not just the last major stronghold on the east side of the Siverskyi Donets River, but all those people and their homes. On a tactical map, the loss of the location doesn’t look all that significant. In fact, it looks like it would allow Ukraine to regroup behind the natural barrier of the river and present a much tougher target to Russian efforts at moving beyond Severodonetsk. Ukraine clearly doesn’t see it that way.

Russia doesn’t see it that way, either. It’s clear that Russia regards taking Severodonetsk as a prize worth an all-out effort. Until the last week, Russia seemed to be continuing to hold a massive force in place at Izyum, with a plan of extending a salient to the south and potentially cutting off a massive chunk of both territory and the Ukrainian military. Russia now seems to have abandoned that plan to concentrate on taking the area at the extreme east of Ukrainian held positions.

In essence, the right most of these ever-shrinking lines of advance, which kos has referenced several times, has arrived ahead of schedule. Russia is pouring everything in an effort to take that little slice out of Ukraine, and they’re doing it now. In fact, even this smallest blue arc now seems like an exaggeration, as Russia’s focus is well inside these lines. In the process, they’re concentrating their forces to a level that is generating notable fear from Zelenskyy and others that in this much-reduced effort Ukraine may not be able to deliver the firepower necessary to reduce what remains of Russian forces quickly enough to halt the advance.

Russia has already moved to the “June” line

However, if Russia’s effort to take Severodonetsk is rapidly turning that city into the kind of hell all too familiar from images of Mariupol and Popasna, there is one thing concentrating all the forces there means: Russia is weaker everywhere else.

Ukraine appears to be taking advantage of this fact. In addition to the counteroffensive north of Kherson that has now been going on for three weeks, there are reports in the last two days of counterattacks near Kherson and Izyum as Ukraine takes advantage of Russia’s all-in-on-Severodonetsk position to recapture villages and pressure Russian positions.

As long as Ukraine can find sufficient forces to make this work, it presents three big opportunities.

First is the obvious one: Ukraine may retake ground and towns with less effort and fewer losses while the main Russian focus is elsewhere. Taking and holding a defended position is almost always a higher risk, higher cost operation than just trying to stick to a position you already heave. By a general rule of thumb, attacking forces need to outnumber defenders by 3 to 1 if they don’t want to suffer serious casualties in forcing defenders out. Ukraine isn’t immune to this rule. So hitting the spots where Russian troops are thin and can’t be rapidly reinforced allows Ukraine to make advances while not paying a high cost.

Second, is the possibility that these counteroffensives could actually prove as vital to Severodonetsk as anything happening in that city. If villages and towns in the west began to tip over rapidly, Russia will have little choice but to pull back some of those forces currently assaulting the east. If they don’t, they’ll be in the position of trying to recapture positions they now hold and not one wants to be on the attack. If Ukraine starts to threaten Russia’s control of Kherson, or makes a break toward the bridge at Nova Khakovka, or cuts into Russia supply lines in the north, Russia will have to respond. Because the price of saying “screw it, we’re just going to keep fighting at Severodonetsk” would be too high.

Third, Ukraine has been reportedly training a large new force in the west. Many of these troops are reserves, or territorial defense, or foreign volunteers, all of which may not be experienced in battle. Using them to take and hold villages at the periphery may be a much more effective means of getting them into combat, and giving them genuine experience with the definitely not textbook world of in-the-field combined arms tactics than feeding them directly into the eastern meatgrinder.

These actions may look small on the map, and at the moment they are small, but they may have significance that outweighs their scale.

The resources #Russia is expending to capture the town of #Severodonestk far exceed its military value – and demonstrates how far #Putin’s ambitions in #Ukraine have narrowed since losing the battle of #Kyiv Read the latest update w/ @criticalthreats https://t.co/HMsb04e5bY pic.twitter.com/vW0SJCQlTQ

— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) May 29, 2022

Kherson

Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kherson

North of Kherson, Ukrainian forces reportedly crossed the Inhulets River at Davydiv Brid and began a swift move against villages south and west of that crossing. Ukrainian forces are also reported to be proceeding down the road in the direction of Bruskynske—a direction that definitely has to be a concern to Russia, because that’s on the straight path to Nova Khakovka. That doesn’t just threaten that critical bridge crossing; it’s also the site of the canal that sends Crimea most of its water. 

Reports on Sunday put Ukrainian forces at Bruskynske and continuing to advance. This whole area is in a section of the line that previously had not been the most highly contested section of the Kherson area, so Ukraine may believe they found a real weak spot to punch through. Reports at that Russia has suffered heavy losses from what amounts to a surprise attack, but these reports are coming from Ukrainian sources, so apply appropriate salt.

A note of caution: Over a month ago, Ukraine seemed to be moving rapidly near Kherson, and there were even reports that Russian forces were preparing to pull out. Those reports turned out to be clearly wrong, and Russia has now put a huge amount of propaganda behind the idea that Kherson is “Russia forever.” Don’t expect this area to fold easily.

Izyum

The Izyum area has been marked by failed Russian advances and a decline in Russian forces

Some form of counteroffensive in Izyum was actually announced over two weeks ago. There was a period where Ukrainian forces seemed to be conducting a series of hit-and-run raids against Russian forces camped in the woods northwest of Izyum, but they didn’t seem to be taking and holding towns. On the other hand, neither did Russia. Despite having a reported 27 Battalion Tactical Groups on hand for weeks, Russian gains along the Izyum salient over the last month could be measured with a hand ruler.

Then some of those Russian forces were reportedly peeled off to deal with Ukrainian advances north and east of Kharkiv. Then more of those Russian forces were reportedly sent to assist in capturing Lyman and assaulting Severodonetsk. And then three BTGs were reportedly withdrawn from Izyum because they had suffered heavy losses. All of which results in a significant decrease in “density” of Russian forces near Izyum.

What’s going on now isn’t clear. There are mixed reports that Russia attempted multiple advances to the east, south, and west. All apparently failures. There were also reports from Ukrainian sources of Ukrainian troops reaching a point very near Izyum itself, but other than a cluster of hot spots on NASA FIRMS data, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of supporting evidence. At the moment, it doesn’t seem that Ukraine has mounted an effort aimed at liberating villages in the Izyum area, but such an effort wouldn’t be surprising considering the rapid decline in the number of Russian forces there.

Popasna

Ukrainian forces recapture significant positions north of Popasna

Since Popasna was captured by Russian forces on May 7, the story out of that area has primarily been one of Russian advances. As in other areas, most of of those advances had been slow (though Russia gained a fair slice of essentially unprotected ground south and west of Popasna in a walk over), but some of them have been significant.

On Friday, Ukrainian forces apparently surprised Russia again when they moved against a trio of locations north of Popasna and recaptured them all — most notably the town of Komyshuvakna which holds a position the road north from Popasna. These moves helped to alleviate some of the fear that Russia had managed to straddle the road between Bahkmut and Lysychansk, cutting a line of supply.

Since this action, Ukrainian forces have reportedly again been using the corridor out of Bakhmut both to bring materials in and to get civilians out of Severodonetsk. Russia has reportedly made a series of runs at recapturing Komyshuvakna as well as a number of towns nearby without success. On the map above, all the white towns represent failed Russian advances within the last day. The exceptions are Vasylivka, northwest of Popasna, a town that was formerly thought to be under Russian occupation, but now may be in dispute, and Pylypchatyne southwest of Popasna, where Russia may have gained control (Russia claimed to have it last night, and there have been no disputing reports since then).

Like Izyum, Popasna did have one of the highest concentrations of Russian forces — a reported 22 BTGs — and that concentration seems to have helped them make the initial breakthrough. But at this point, efforts to reinforce the assault on Severodonetsk, and all those failed advances, has left the force around Popasna a lot more questionable.

By the way, Russia is already reporting that it has captured Severodonetsk. It hasn’t.

And now … Russian Stuff Blowing Up Theater

This is a Ka-52 helicopter going down somewhere north of Kharkiv.

Siły ukraińskie zestrzeliły rosyjski helikopter Ka-52 za pomocą PPZR Piorun w obwodzie charkowskim #Ukraine #UkraineWar #UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/mykGcDoddq

— Ciekawostki z kraju i ze świata (@z_swiata) May 28, 2022

#Ukraine: The Ukrainian 45th Artillery Brigade hit Russian positions near Huliaipole, #Zaporizhzhia Oblast with indirect fire fire. Several supply vehicles were damaged/destroyed. pic.twitter.com/hltYSmke2n

— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 28, 2022

A “you can see a lot more than just hardware blowing up” warning before this last one.

#Ukraine: Ukrainian forces in the East, using drone-dropped munitions, managed to destroy a Russian BTR-82A APC concealed next to buildings. pic.twitter.com/hLH31UPgsG

— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 29, 2022

Also this…

Defiant young Ukrainian military medics under heavy Russian artillery fire. These women have nerves of steel. pic.twitter.com/nL5uxTquLI

— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) May 29, 2022

And translation would be welcome.

Sunday, May 29, 2022 · 5:45:29 PM +00:00 · kos

I’ve written several times how hard it is to advance in Kherson. The wide-open spaces means any advancing troops are met with a wall of artillery. Well, someone got it on video: 

Kherson pic.twitter.com/2PUeEYEAu8

— spook (@spook_info) May 29, 2022


Sunday, May 29, 2022 · 9:01:04 PM +00:00

·
kos

⚡️ In Kherson region the Ukrainian Army continues a counteroffensive It’s in the Beryslav direction and Ukrainians advanced 9 kilometers. People hear noises of fights in the region and near the city of Kherson

— Iuliia Mendel (@IuliiaMendel) May 29, 2022


Monday, May 30, 2022 · 12:40:44 AM +00:00

·
Mark Sumner

A Russian vessel has been photographed in a Syrian port from a satellite. “Matros Pozynych” is loaded to the brim with grains stolen from Ukraine. Army of thieves, it always was. pic.twitter.com/ZJJU8SHcPZ

— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) May 30, 2022

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