The area east of the Izyum salient continues to be the zone of hottest contention, and on Thursday the pattern there hasn’t changed—Russia, having concentrated heavy forces in the area, is slowly grinding forward, capturing more villages, and moving closer to major targets like the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. There are heavy losses on both sides and continued reports that Russia is pushing Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) forward that are far below full strength, but so far the sheer numbers, and the punishment of Russian artillery, has been enough to keep Russia on the offensive.
In the last 24 hours, Russia has expanded control of the area around the recently captured town of Lyman. This includes taking several outlying villages like Dibrova. It also places Russian-occupied territory within 10km of Slovyansk, with the town of Raihorodok next up on the Russian agenda. Russian sources are providing plenty of images meant to show that Ukrainian forces left behind a lot of equipment in the woods near Dibrova.
But there’s one thing about Russia’s next step on that road to Slovyansk that bears closer examination. Something that explains why it won’t be as simple as moving to those villages around Lyman. Here’s the area around Raihorodok in detail.
If that twisty line in the middle of the image looks familiar, that’s the by now well-known Silverskyi Donets River. The area north of Raihorodok includes not just across the river itself, but on the other side of a marshy area of streams, meanders, oxbow lakes … everything not conducive to moving heavy equipment. These satellite images were taken in the winter, but right now the best word for that whole area, at the end of the rainy season and with summer coming on, is “swamp.”
But there’s more going on here than just getting across the bridge. See the little red Russian-occupied marker on the north side of the river? That’s the village of Staryi Karavan. It’s elevation is 73m (240 feet) above sea level. The area around Raihordok isn’t much higher … except for that white area on the map just above the highway and the current bridge. Those are the “Chalk Mountains.” They may not be mountains in most people’s book, but they do rise up about 130m (425 feet) above the surrounding terrain, giving them a commanding view and excellent firing position when looking down at the river valley below.
To get to Slovyansk, Russian forces still need to cross the Donets. Their best shot is probably in the area to the right of that highway into Raihorodok. But Russia still needs to clean up about half a dozen Ukrainian-controlled villages on the north side of the river, find or create a route through that swampy area to reach the river, then bridge the river—and they need to do it without a repeat of what happened when they tried to cross near Bilohorivka and lost the better part of three BTGs.
Don’t expect that last 10km to Slovyansk to come quickly.
In the meantime, fighting continued on Thursday in Severodonetsk. While pulling out remaining Ukrainian forces and reforming in the much more easily defended position of Lysychansk continues to look like the sensible, and maybe inevitable, move, Ukrainian forces reported on Thursday morning that they had actually retaken some parts of Severodonetsk. However, the majority of the city remains under Russian control, and no one should be shocked if Ukraine decides that the cost of continuing there is too high, no matter how much symbolic value it holds.
Over near Popasna, Russia made another run at retaking Komyshuvakha, which Ukraine took back from Russia last week. Once again, Ukraine held the position. The same is true of Ukrainian forces holding a pair of flanking villages near Komyshuvakha. On the west side of Popasna, Russia claimed to have taken the village of Pylypchatyne on Tuesday, but on Thursday the location is once again in dispute.
As all of this is taking place, there is action down in the southern part of Ukraine at locations I’ve largely been ignoring. Active fighting is taking place at a series of villages northwest of the city of Donetsk. Over to the west, Russia seems to be sending a very large stack of very old equipment toward the city of Zaporizhzhia, and there is action at multiple points along the line in between.
How badly have I ignored this area? Every day, I tend to add towns and villages to the map as they get mentioned in combat reports. The same thing happens with the lines of control. I try to adjust them as reports come in, marking off areas of recent change, and setting Russia’s occupation roughly halfway between known points of control, with adjustments for natural obstacles like rivers. That’s how the area around Izyum ended up looking as it does in the top map. Constant fidgeting.
And now, here’s how the same map currently looks on the south end of this theater.
That’s some serious neglect. Kharkiv has gotten attention. Kherson has gotten attention. Izyum has gotten attention. But the area between Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia has been carefully hidden from view, because I haven’t touched it. So … that ends today.
In particular, I’ve marked out the town of Hulyaipole. I’ve done so because I recently saw a report of fighting in the south that included an interview with two women who live in this town. They had a complaint that went beyond the bombs and shells that were crushing their homes. That complaint was: Why was no one was talking about it? Popasna was getting attention. Izyum was getting attention. Everywhere else that Russia was attacking was getting attention. Why was no one talking about the suffering of Hulyaipole?
Ladies, I know you’ll never read this. But later today, we’ll be looking at Hulyaipole.
If reports out of Severodonetsk are accurate, something damned amazing is underway.
What kind of difference could HIMARS make? Check out this map. (Thought the text in this post should say “Russian occupied territory”).
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