The counteroffensive in Kharkiv that kicked off in the first week of this month set a pace that’s hard for the Ukrainian army, or any army, to match. In a matter of days, they blasted through the Russian line that had held for months at towns like Balakliya, and drove over 60km straight across Kharkiv Oblast. At the same time, forces fanned out, liberating what had been one of Russia’s most important locations at Izyum, and pressing Russian forces all the way to the border in the north. Over 8,500 square kilometers were liberated between September 6 and September 12, about halfway between a Delaware and Connecticut worth of ground.
The end of that counteroffensive … never happened. Or at least, it hasn’t happened yet. Because on the heels of liberating Izyum and pushing to the west side of the Oskil River at places like Kupyansk, Ukraine immediately began making bridgeheads in new territory.
At multiple locations, Ukraine pushed across the Silverskyi Donets River, constructing pontoon bridges and successfully establishing forces in the same area where Russian attempts to cross the river had repeatedly been met with massive losses. They moved across the Oskil River in at least three locations upstream, and crossed the bridge east of the town of Oskil, forming up a new line that faced to the northeast.
The expectations set by the success of the first days of this counteroffensive were so great that it’s hard to realize that Izyum was liberated just 12 days ago. It wasn’t until September 14 that President Volodomyr Zelenskyy came to Izyum to thank the military and greet the liberated citizens of the city.
In the last two weeks, it may seem that things have slowed down, but they have absolutely not been slow. Here’s a map from September 7, the day after the counteroffensive really got rolling, and also the day we first learned that Ukrainian troops on the north side of the Siverskyi Donets were more than a few special forces paying a visit. (As always, right-click on these maps and open in another tab for a larger image.)
That September 7 map doesn’t really show much north of Lyman. Mostly, that’s because there was nothing to see. Nothing but red. Everything in that area was occupied by Russia, and had been since April.
Here’s a look at where things stood a week later. Ukraine was still fighting to remove a remaining pocket of Russian forces in the city of Oskil, and just starting to press a line of cities across the river. It was fighting to take places like Studenok and Sosnove. The liberation of Svyatohirske had just been confirmed. Take a look in the yellow area at the northwest of this map and spot Studenok. We’re going to look at it again.
Here’s a good guess at where things stand this Sunday morning. You can measure Ukraine’s progress just by how many new locations are identified on this map—locations that had been deep in Russian occupied territory.
See Studenok on this map? It’s 30km from where Ukrainian forces are now known to be advancing east of Ridkodub. And this map is likely conservative.
See Novomykhailivka out there beyond Ridkodub? Russian sources indicate this is actually beyond the last line of Russia’s defense in the area. Russia is shooting back at Ukrainian forces that have moved north of their positions. On the west side of this map, Ukraine has liberated Pisky-Radkivski and is still moving north. It seems likely that in the next day or so they will reach the already established bridgehead south of Borova.
Ukraine has liberated around 600 sq. kilometers in the last week.
The concern on Russian Telegram channels is no longer about holding onto Borova or even Lyman. The concern is that, with Ukraine again moving swiftly to capture locations well behind Russia’s fortified positions, the entire defensive line in this area is “fast collapsing.” Multiple sources indicate that Ukrainian forces are, right now, going for Makiivka, which is on a highway that acts as a supply line for those Russian forces to the south. And also happens to be in Luhansk Oblast.
Highways are one big difference in what’s happening here. That dramatic, high speed race from Balakliya to Volokhiv Yar to Kupyansk all took place with forces moving down a major highway. There’s no highway along the path Ukraine has been carving north of Lyman. There’s really not even a road.
Capturing a few specific points in this area—Nove, Zelena Dolyna, Shandryholove—could soon become more important specifically because these locations are along good roads (roads that have been mined, but …). Unlike the area down in Kherson, there’s some real topography north of Lyman, gullies and hills, bluffs, and mini-canyons. And unlike the area down around Kherson, the soil in this area is not sandy. It’s more clay and loam. Rain is expected tonight. More rain is expected almost every day this week. General Mud has definitely made his return to the battlefield.
But right now, Ukraine is not bogged down. It’s advancing on multiple lines. On Sunday morning, there were reports that Ukraine has liberated Novoselivka (unconfirmed), and there were some reports that both Karpivka and Nove had been liberated (though Russia may now have reoccupied those positions). Ukraine also seems set to move into Luhansk Oblast at a new location east of Novomykhailivka, placing them less than 20km from from the big Russian supply and command center at Svatove.
This are big changes, and they’re happening so quickly that before one Ukrainian position can be confirmed, Ukraine has already moved on. This is steady progress—and it could be about to accelerate.
Meanwhile at the far end of the line, The New York Times has some very good, and very rough, reporting on what’s happening down in Kherson. In short—it’s not going well. Not in the sense that Ukraine is losing, but in the sense of what kos, among others, has warned about all along: In this flat, open territory where Russia has created multiple lines of trenches and fortifications, any advance is made at terrible cost. Ukraine is seeing losses in Kherson that are hard to contemplate, and the price they’ve paid for some of the territorial gains in that area may just be a down payment on what it will take to actually free Kherson. It’s a whole different war down there.
A hint of things to come, and why fighting, especially in the northeastern part of Ukraine, is likely to become more confined to areas along highways for the next couple of months.
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