Russia spent months building up the location of Kozacha Lopan, north of the city of Kharkiv. When Ukraine first began a counteroffensive in the area, back in April, Russia made protection of Kozacha Lopan a priority. It was seen as the gateway to the E105 highway crossing, the largest and most active border crossing between Russia and Ukraine. Just 30km down the highways from the base at Belgorod, this was also one of Russia’s most important locations for bringing in military vehicles and supplies. Every tank, transport, and mobile gun that rolled past Kharkiv in the opening weeks of the invasion came past the crossing at Kozacha Lopan.
So it wasn’t surprising when Russia reacted to Ukraine pushing north out of Kharkiv by beginning a series of fresh fortifications. Trenches were dug along the road south of Kozacha Lopan. Dug in equipment and gun positions were constructed further north. Images showed trucks bringing pre-cast pill boxes of reinforced concrete to be planted on local hills.
All of that was made absolutely useless this week as Russia abandoned Kozacha Lopan to advancing Ukrainian forces. On Sunday, residents who had suffered under Russian occupation for over six months wept with joy as they greeted the first Ukrainian troops. South of town, Russia’s rings of fortification were empty.
In mapping northern Ukraine this evening, I’ve made a compromise. Russia claims it is completely “regrouping” out of (i.e. retreating from) Kharkiv oblast. Given the situation at Kozacha Lopan and other locations that are vital Russia’s positions in eastern Ukraine, they may intend to actually follow through on this statement and withdraw beyond the boundaries of the oblast. However, there are large areas where there have yet to be confirmation of Ukrainian troops. So I’ve marked the whole oblast as in dispute, then filled in areas around known points where there is confirmed information. It’s not that every village in these areas has been confirmed, I’m still making a lot of assumptions about what’s going on around these known points. But … it’s something.
Whether or not Russia actually retreats beyond the border of the oblast, there is another part of this announcement that Russia is trying to make true. And it’s an action that is causing hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths right now. In this hour.
In giving an excuse for why they suddenly lost more than 3,100 square kilometers of territory, Russia’s military propagandists used the same excuse they dragged out after Russia lost the battle for Kyiv; they said they were taking the troops out of Kharkiv Oblast to bolster their attack in the Donbas. Now they’re trying to make that “true,” no matter how many people have to die.
Over the last day, Russia’s assault on positions around the town of Bakhmut have increased enormously. They’re trying not just to show that there’s something behind their claims about “regrouping,” but to create a “win” that they can talk about in Russian media. They understand that they desperately need a distraction, especially when instances like this one noted by kos are popping up on Russian screens
What do Russian generals want? A win. Where do they want it? Bakhmut. And to get it, they are staging near continuous attacks in which artillery bounds Ukrainian positions while “zerg waves” of Russian infantry attempt to storm Ukrainian positions. The fighting may be the most intense of the entire invasion. So intense that at one point on Saturday, Russia reportedly agreed to a brief armistice in order to remove mounds of bodies along a slope leading up to Ukrainian positions.
Casualties for Russian troops in this assault are insanely high. But they are also extremely high for Ukrainian forces. As nimble as Ukraine has proven in its high-speed run across Kharkiv Oblast, the people fighting at Bakhmut are still in a position of being under a heavy artillery barrage, including regular strikes from MLRS and even thermobaric weapons. Their losses are also tremendous.
So much so that on Sunday morning there were concerns about whether sufficient Ukrainian forces remained at some locations to simply shoot the Russians who were coming at them across fields that had been stripped of any cover by days of continuous fire. Russian forces, including Wagner Group mercenaries, had reportedly captured a large factory at the edge of Soledar and were pushing into the streets of that town.
As of the time of this writing (7PM ET, 3AM in Kyiv), Ukrainian forces were reportedly still holding positions in Bakhmut and Soledar, but they continue to be under what is described as unrelenting assault. Mercenaries from the Wagner Group had reportedly reached an industrial area on the edge of Bakhmut, and were exchanging withering fire with Ukrainian troops, all while Russian artillery continues to pound Ukrainian positions near the center of town.
Across Kharkiv Oblast, Ukrainian troops, and liberated civilians, are celebrating one of the great military victories of recent history. And they deserve to celebrate.
But down the road at Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces are still fighting a desperate pitched battle with Russian forces—and with Russian commanders determined to give Vladimir Putin something he can call a win after a week of devastating defeats.
Getting these guys the supplies and reinforcements they need keep fighting in this location is going to be tough, because Russia is all in on taking Bakhmut. Just remember, if Russia does take this location: it’s one small city. It won’t heal any of the damage that’s been done to the Russian military, and it’s still a long way to Slovyansk. At least it is for Russia, who doesn’t seem to know any other way to fight.
Make no mistake, the men and women fighting around Soledar and Bakhmut are GD heroes, who are holding out in the toughest situation even while many of their compatriots get to take a victory lap. These guys, and this place, are a win for Ukraine. No matter what Putin claims.
For Russia, this battle is what desperation looks like. For Ukraine, holding ground in the face of an all on assault … it’s just what they do.
Throughout the day, there have been reports that Russia is withdrawing from positions along the front line in Kherson and repositioning 5-10km closer to Kherson. Supposedly this is so they can have their artillery backed up in multiple ranks going back into the city, and still range out into enemy positions.
If true … it’s kind of amazing. There is widespread suspicion that the root cause of this is simply a lack of sufficient artillery ammo to keep up the kind of extremely imprecise, but constant, barrage favored by Russia. By backing up, they tighten the arc around Kherson, allowing them to fire fewer shells while still continuing the same level of ground-plowing fire.
This map from last week is provided for orientation purposes. It doesn’t reflect this pull back, or any other changes that have happened since the Kharkiv counteroffensive began.
Of particular note, there have been reports since midday (still unfirmed) that Russia is pulling back from its well fortified position at Snihurivka directly north of Kherson city. If so, it’s hard to see exactly where Russia does move to in order to sustain it’s position along this north-south line. Unlike to the west, where Russia has prepared positions at Chornobaivka, there’s almost no position on that north-south road, beyond Snihurivka, that offers a good defensive position. It’s flat, open, treeless, and has just a few small towns that are off to the side of the highway.
If Russia withdraws to a “smaller arc” around the city, it will mean abandoning its prepared positions for a lot of makeshift points in open fields. And the idea of shortening the lines to compensate for a lack of artillery shells seems like the very definition of “temporary solution.”
@DefMon3 notes that Russia’s reported pull back in Kherson could also be the prelude to an evacuation.
Monday, Sep 12, 2022 · 3:34:17 AM +00:00
Okay. I’m going to post this, because it keeps coming up on both Telegram and Twitter … Svatove.
There are claims that Russia is evacuating Svatove, and even that Ukraine is already moving into Svatove. However, this seems just too incredible, even after the advances of the last five days.
This is deep inside Luhansk Oblast. It was supposedly the fallback position for Russian forces evacuating Izyum. I don’t see how Ukrainian troops could be at Svatove.
Of course, that’s exactly what I said about Volokhiv Yar, Kupyansk, Oskil, Vovchansk, and Izyum. I think I even made some kind of crack about how they couldn’t have made it to Oskil “unless we sent them transporters.”
My ability to sort truth from fiction has been severely strained this week, because every attempt to be skeptical has also turned out to be wrong. Still … Svatove? How could they possibly be at Svatove?
Don’t buy into this one without further confirmation. But look, I fortuitously put it on the map tonight, so at least you can see where it is.
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