Ukraine update: The one corner of Ukraine where Russian forces are still (barely) on the attack

Ukraine update: The one corner of Ukraine where Russian forces are still (barely) on the attack

With Ukraine moving forward on multiple fronts, I scoured recent Ukraine General Staff reports to see if Russia was still managing any offensive actions. Turns out that yes, but just a few. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the same town names popped up: 

During the current day, units of the Defense Forces repelled enemy attacks in the areas of the settlements of Bakhmut, Zaitseve, Pervomaiske, Mykolayivka Druga and Novomykhailivka.

Friday morning’s update also included the town of Vesela Dolyna, but otherwise, it was a virtual copy and paste over the past several days. Let’s see where those towns are:

Russia’s entire offensive operations span a 75 kilometer (46 mile) strip of front out of roughly 800 kilometers of active front (500 miles)—less than 10% of the contact line. 

Russia has been banging their heads against most of those towns for months. I added Kodema, because pro-Russian outlets were so proud of taking that insignificant little spot on the map at the same time that Ukraine was sweeping across Kharkiv Oblast. 

Wagner caputered hill near Kodema

— ZOKA (@200_zoka) September 9, 2022

My favorite sarcastic response to that tweet, “That’s a cool hill truly,” brought home the absurdity of the Russian celebration. 

I also include Pisky because the General Staff report is an admission that Pisky has finally fallen to Russia (War Mapper, the author of the colorful map above, still hasn’t marked the town Russian controlled). Russia would be unable to attack Pervomaiske if Ukrainian troops were still holding on to Pisky. 

But … so what? Who cares that Russia has gotten Pisky, or Kodema? They won’t capture Bakhmut, but if they did, also so what? It’s patently absurd that at the same time that Ukraine is notching gains in Kherson, Kharkiv, and northern Luhansk Oblasts, Russia is wasting time, men, and material pushing forward in a region that offers no strategic payoff. 

Indeed, the original point of attacking this front was to form the southern claw of a pincer movement that would’ve trapped tens of thousands of entrenched Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. Let me dig up an old map that shows what they intended: 

Map from July 25, 2022

This pincer plan was the reason Russia pushed hard into Izyum, at great logistical cost. They tried to make this thing happen, god knows they tried. That’s why they spent two months trying to take tiny Dovhen’ke, south of Izyum. But this was always a stupid plan doomed to fail. Russia was incapable of extending supply lines 25 kilometers from a railhead, but they were supposed to manage several hundred kilometers of penetration, vulnerable to Ukrainian flank attacks, and then hold it long enough to starve those Ukrainian defenders? 

Still, as long as they held Izyum, Russia could maintain the fiction that pushing hard in Donetsk oblast made some kind of military sense. But now that Izyum is liberated, what exactly is the military reason to continue this self-destructive behavior? Russia threw their best forces at Pisky—prewar population six—for two months before taking a town literally across the street from the Russian-occupied capital city of Donetsk oblast! Why are they still bothering with this idiocy? 

The reason is simple: Russia isn’t actually in charge in this corner of the front. 

This is Wagner PMC (private military contractor) territory. Russian forces lack a unified command: there’s the Russian army (divided into sectors led by separate military districts), VDV (airborne)corps, Luhansk proxies, Donetsk proxies, Rosgvardia (Putin’s personal army, the national guard), the Chechen Kadyrovites, and Wagner mercenaries. The result is a real clusterfuck, both in command, in cooperation and communication, in motivation, and in agendas. 

So we laughed at pro-Russian sources for celebrating the capture of that hill near Kodema while the entire northern front was collapsing. Yet they were genuinely celebrating in Wagner circles, and in their Telegram channel, they reacted angrily at rumors that they were redeploying to help hold the line in Kharkiv oblast. 

The information about the transfer of forces of the “Wagner Group” to the Izyum direction, as well as near Kupyansk, is not true.

“Musicians” [their self-styled nickname] continue their work on the fronts assigned to them, and at the moment they are almost, if not the only ones, who not only hold the front in Ukraine, but also advance it. No one is going to be removed from especially difficult areas to plug holes.”

In short, “We’re the only ones making any progress, so fuck off anyone else that needs our help!” Perhaps this attitude might hold water if Wagner was gaining anything other than a sad hill at Kodema or the empty husk of the town of Pisky, across the street from Russian-occupied Donetsk city. But Wagner’s corporate leadership apparently decided that “we’re the only group in Russia making progress” was a much better business development slogan than “we’re all in this together.” 

So yes, it’s true, Wagner forces are inching forward here or there, but in a militarily insignificant slice of front. So as always, we need to come back to this meme: 


With fog of war settling down, and dozens of new losses being discovered daily as an aftermath of #Ukraine️‘s counter-offensive in #KharkivOblast, we thought maybe it’s time to stop for a moment and look back at what’s been done 🧵

— WarSpotting (@WarSpotting) September 17, 2022

Note that the tally includes vehicles destroyed when Russia first swept through this area in March and April. They weren’t visible until now. So the captured-to-destroyed ratio is even more lopsided than what we see here, meaning there was very little fighting during Ukraine’s blitzkrieg.

The number of captured vehicles is stunning: tanks (74), infantry fighting vehicles (143), artillery (58), trucks (64), and plenty of miscellaneous other equipment. And they’re still documenting and counting more captured vehicles! I saw at least a half-dozen new captured tanks posted to Telegram after this graphic was posted.

A Russian Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) is 10 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles (plus assorted artillery and support vehicles). Looking at the list above, we’re looking at 4-5 Russian BTGs essentially gifted to Ukraine.


How it started. How it’s

— Mykhaïlo Golub (@golub) September 17, 2022

This isn’t sensitive media, don’t be afraid to watch. Be patient. The payoff is worth it. 


Yesterday, there was heavy fighting inside Kherson city, yet Ukrainian forces are still a couple dozen kilometers away from the city. 

Heavy gunfire being reported in occupied Kherson by both Ukrainian and Russian sources…

— Jimmy (@JimmySecUK) September 17, 2022

Other views of the fighting here and here. The official Russian explanation is that they killed “terrorists.” But we know they lie, so there are several theories: 

  • Insurgent activity. Self-explanatory.
  • Staged fight for propaganda purposes. We’ve seen the Kadyrovites make ridiculous TikTok videos of them shooting traffic lights and bushes. In fact, this might be the most popular theory, but note the video above, at the 2-3 second mark, there’s an incoming tracer round ricocheting off the surface toward that armored infantry vehicle. Something was shooting back. 
  • Fratricide. I wrote above about all the different armies operating under Russian banner, and there have been multiple reports of these forces turning fire on each other (oftentimes as a result of alcohol). Kadyrovites have just arrived in Kherson, and they’re rumored to be used as blocking forces, shooting any Russian soldiers trying to flee the front lines. Maybe those rumors have merit, or maybe it’s just anti-muslim bigotry from other corners of the Russian empire. Or maybe two units were fighting over a looted washing machine. There are plenty of reasons internal conflict could spark into open warfare. 


What the fuck is this? 

this is one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen at a Trump rally. All it is missing is passing around Kool-Aid right after.

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 18, 2022

Sunday, Sep 18, 2022 · 2:53:03 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

There are reports that Russia is actually pulling missiles from air defense around Russian cities in order to have more missiles to launch into Ukrainian cities. While this may not seem like a very sustainable idea (and it’s not), it makes some sense as Russia is phasing out missiles using in the S-300 system for those in longer range S-400. So it can move the older missiles to kill civilians in Ukraine with little threat to civilians in Russia,

That’s assuming, of course, that the new missile systems work more reliably than every other system Russia has built since the end of the Cold War. Sleep well, St. Petersburg.

Exclusive: Russia moves missiles from St Petersburg to Ukraine

— Yle News (@ylenews) September 18, 2022

Sunday, Sep 18, 2022 · 4:11:05 PM +00:00


Updated captured list, visualized: 

7 days captured visualized. Insane!

— Sven-Erik Volberg (@poliitikasse) September 18, 2022

We’re up to 93 captured tanks.

Sunday, Sep 18, 2022 · 4:26:55 PM +00:00


Interesting thread: 

A major part in Russian Worldview TM is the thought of “western hypocrisy”. While no people are strangers to hypocrisy, it is not the sense of the word Russians use it for. You might have often encountered the statements like “yeah, we attacked Ukraine, but the US attacked Iraq”

— Шеогорат (@4E_JL0BEDJL0) September 18, 2022

Sunday, Sep 18, 2022 · 7:00:40 PM +00:00


I’m away from my computer and supposed to not be working, so I haven’t checked comments. But if anyone has shared that bullshit clickbaity Forbes piece on the 3rd Army Corps being wiped out, it’s wrong. 

Some elements of that unit were destroyed around Kupiansk, yes, but nowhere near anything resembling a major part of it. There are pictures of destroyed and captured equipment, very few of them with the inverted pyramid-and-circle symbol for 3 AC. 

The claims are total bullshit, and I’m frankly surprised at some of the people amplifying it. It’s confirmation bias at its worst. 

Sunday, Sep 18, 2022 · 8:27:39 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

This poor town. Russia still practicing the policy of “victory” through destruction. 

Footage of missile attacks on Bakhmut in the Donetsk region

— ТРУХА⚡️English (@TpyxaNews) September 18, 2022

Monday, Sep 19, 2022 · 2:57:59 AM +00:00

Mark Sumner

For something more than five hours now, there have been reports circulating that Ukraine has liberated Lysychansk. Please note that all of these reports seem to come back to a single secondhand report, and even that report isn’t clearly quoting someone with direct knowledge. It’s clear Ukrainian forces were fighting close to the city in the last day, with fighting reported around the oil refineries at Verkhn’okam’yanka about 2km west of Lysychansk proper. But it’s a long way to go from fighting near Lysychansk, to having the entire city in Ukrainian hands.

Despite what we just saw in Kharkiv, “if it seems too good to be true…” still applies. The fact that this hasn’t been confirmed from another source five hours after the initial reports is another reason to be skeptical.

Sleep on this. Check back tomorrow.

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