I took a few days off from covering the war in Ukraine. Now it’s time to jump back in and catch up on things.
Putin and his generals have declared the first phase of his “special military operation” over and that it was a success. They claimed that their goal was never the capture of Kyiv or other major cities in the north and east. Rather, those were all feints or diversions to prevent Ukraine from reinforcing their units in the Donbas as Russia “liberates” those regions.
Of course, I believe very little of that. There is a value in “pinning” or “fixing” an enemy’s forces in place so they cannot reinforce them somewhere else. To an extent, Russian and Belarusian forces have been doing this in western Ukraine. There they remain just north of the border without having crossed it. This keeps Ukrainian forces in place to defend against a new axis of Russian invasion.
I would argue that if Putin really wanted to keep the Ukrainian units around Kyiv fixed in that area of operations, he could have done so with fewer units and with a different strategy that would have cost far fewer lives and far fewer military assets. And the same can be said for Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.
Rather, we are seeing successful small-scale Ukrainian counterattacks across the country.
You can see how around Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have retaken several suburbs, including Irpin, the focus of weeks of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. Whilst Russian forces have been pushed back and Ukraine has liberated the city, Russia continues to heavily shell the area.
Another big change on this map from last week is the Russian advances especially south and east of Sumy. That city had been effectively isolated, but Russia has withdrawn some of its forces and looks to be sending them south of Kharkiv on the push towards and south from Izyum. Ukraine has been following the withdrawing troops and liberating towns and, crucially, reopening those supply lines into Sumy. Russian losses? They appear to be heavy. But, Russia is not abandoning the front entirely, instead they are fortifying their positions.
Another area of Ukrainian success is in the south. They’ve driven Russia from the outskirts of Mykolaiv back to near the city limits of Kherson. There’s been some evidence that Ukrainians are also pushing south from north of the city along the western bank of the Dnieper, though Kherson itself remains in Russian hands. Critically, Russia still holds the two bridges that cross the Dnieper south of Zaporizhzhia.
West of Kherson and south of Kharkiv, however, Russia has been having slow but costly successes. In Mariupol, Russia’s bloody siege continues with the town resembling 1990s Grozny more and more day by day. On the streets, Russian forces continue to take more of the city block by block in bloody, house-to-house combat. The question in Mariupol will be how many Russian forces remain intact, or combat effective, when—it no longer appears to be an if—the city falls to Russian forces? If Russia has sufficient numbers of combat effective troops to garrison the city and reinforce forces north of the city, Russia could push further into Donetsk oblast and try to take more of the Donbas. But if the losses are too heavy, Russia would be forced to only garrison the city.
Northeast of Mariupol, the Russians continue their pincer movement heading west from Luhansk towards Severodonetsk and other points. Meanwhile troops from the region of Kharkiv have been making painful progress, albeit progress, south. These are the units trying to take the city of Izyum. At the moment it appears there are perhaps three different sub-axes of advance, with Russia likely probing to find weaknesses in Ukraine’s defences in that area of operations.
And in the air, Russian artillery shells and multiple-launch rockets continue to rain down upon Russian cities. Yesterday, Russia sent a cruise missile into the state government building in Mykolaiv, killing at least 12 people. Russia uses long-range standoff weapons to hit targets in western Ukraine as well as in Kyiv.
Finally, to end on a positive note.
You may recall the story of “Russian warship, go fuck yourself”. 13 Ukrainian soldiers “died” defending Snake Island. Well, it turned out they surrendered after they ran out of ammunition and Russian forces took them to Crimea as prisoners of war. They were then exchanged for a similar number of Russian prisoners of war. And yesterday one of those Snake Island defenders was given a medal for the defence of the island.