Russia continues to react hysterically to something in Kherson:
This actually contradicts Russia’s new supreme commander Surovikin, who has claimed both that Ukraine is going to blow the dam at Nova Kakhovka, and that Russian positions in ill-supplied Kherson oblast, on the right bank of the Dnipro, are untenable.
“We’re going to evacuate because we’re humanitarians and don’t want people to drown” is better spin than Stremousov’s WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE message, which can also be translated as “We can’t defend you, nor this land we pretend is actually Russia.” Weird that they’re not all on the same page.
In both the Svatove and the Kherson areas, operational security on the Ukrainian side has been tight over the last two weeks. That’s led to chasing rabbits set loose by Russian propagandists and a lot of fingernail-nibbling. But it seems possible to give a fair estimate of where things stand at the moment.
Keen-eyed observers might have noticed that I sneaked away last week for some “boy, there are so many things that need doing around the house” vacation. Over that period, the biggest change in the maps was, unfortunately, that I destroyed the maps. Tinkering with them I managed to save the files just as a power outage hit, and in spite of a surge protector the files ended up so corrupted that I had to redraw the maps from scratch. So I took the time to reorganize the various villages, towns, and cities in order of size, hopefully making it easier in the future to highlight areas of interest without requiring a lot of fiddling. But the immediate result is that the boundaries all got redrawn based on my best estimates of where things stand today. In some cases that means lines may have moved even though nothing really happened.
All day long, there have been those rumors that Russian forces are being relocated across the Dnipro in advance of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson. Considering how much “Kherson is Russia” propaganda was cranked even before the so-called referendums, it seems unlikely that Russia would simply leave the area to be a walk over. It may be they’ve determined that the area north of the Kahkova Bridge isn’t worth the effort. However, for now this is all based off a handful of reports, mostly from Russian sources, which hasn’t proven to be the greatest method of predicting coming events in the last few weeks. Russia also apparently issued warnings on Tuesday that the Nova Kakhovka Dam was in danger of collapse, calling for the evacuation of areas on both sides of the river. No idea if there is any truth behind this.
Whatever is going on, there seems to be a lot of indications that things in Kherson are about to heat up in a big way. Russian forces are definitely very nervous.
When it comes to the northern part of the Kherson area, the map is left looking much as it did when I checked out. On the west end of the line, Ukraine has reportedly liberated both Bruskynske and Ishchenka at points in the last two weeks, but if those reports were true, they were not able to make them stick. There were also reports that Russia moved additional forces into Ishchenka and make an attack toward Davydiv Brid. That also appears to have gone nowhere.
Russia also seems to be deploying some of its collection of Iranian Shahed-136 "kamikaze" drones in this area. That includes a reported attack on Davydiv Brid on Tuesday using no less than nine drones. Honestly, seeing Russia use these drones in combat, rather than directing them against civilian areas, is a relief. And all of them appear to have been shot down.
On the east end of the line the area of “in dispute is wider” because claims have been more extreme. A few days ago, Telegram sources began reporting that Ukraine had instigated a major push toward Mylove — usually with some descriptor such as “with thirty tanks.” But as that day and the next wore on, there seemed to be absolutely no evidence for this advance coming from either side. It began to look more as if Russian sources had talked up this advance just so they could follow up with claims of how it had been defeated and generated a huge Ukrainian loss. If there are dozens of dead Ukrainian tanks in a muddy field north of Mylove, Russia seems unable to snap a photo of even one.
Maybe Ukraine is still regrouping from its rapid advance across areas to the north. Maybe Russia has just moved enough forces into place that they’ve reached a density able to withstand Ukrainian assaults, in spite of the limitations on supply imposed by destruction of the bridges. But the best guess for what’s going on along this line seems to be limited to skirmishing and jockeying for position rather than a hard press at any point. Ukraine made it’s rapid advances in September by using intelligence, avoiding fortified positions, and moving rapidly beyond the front line into lightly held regions. If they feel like waiting is more likely to produce the conditions necessary to give them that weak point, they’ll keep waiting, no matter how many times it means staring at the same map.
In the north, Ukrainian forces continue to make steady progress toward liberating the transport hub at Svatove. This city was where a large number of Russian forces were relocated following the liberation of Izyum. It’s not as critical to Russian supplies in the east as Starobilsk, which is sitting over there in a spiderweb of rails and roads, but it is key to supplying points south, such as Kreminna and even Severodonetsk.
At the south end of this line are a string of villages and towns that were liberated in the aftermath of Lyman: Torske, Zarichne, Terny, and Nevske. In the last week, Russian sources have claimed that Russia has retaken one of all of these locations as a prelude to recapturing Lyman. Some Russian sources still show Russia holding these towns and advancing west. Absolutely none of these claims appear to be true. Ukraine has repeatedly confirmed, and provided evidence, that it holds these locations. It’s likely that at this point Nevske is not fully under Ukrainian control and should be in the “in dispute” category. However, indications are that it’s the only town in this situation, and that this is only as of today.
However, Russia has been consistently shelling these locations, and reportedly made an attack on Nevske. Ukraine has reportedly moved additional forces into this area in anticipation of further attacks, and it is possible that Russia may be delaying Ukrainian movements south of Svatove by putting pressure on Ukraine’s hold over the road connecting this string of towns.
Ukraine seems to have moved toward Svatove through a process of taking a town in the south, then the north, then the middle. Then changing up the order and doing it again. They haven’t made a thunder run down a single highway, or even tried (so far) to put the town in pincers. They’ve just moved toward it like the tide.
On this map, there are two locations in the Ukraine-liberated area that might be considered optimistic: Raihorodka to the west and Kuzemivka to the north. Ukraine certainly has forces in both towns, but placing them in the Ukraine column was done because of multiple days in which Russia shelled these locations. Neither has been confirmed as liberated, but both of them have to be at least close.
Looking more closely at this area …
What happens next from Kuzemivka has been the subject of a lot of speculation, with many military bloggers expecting this part of Ukraine’s force to turn northeast up the road leading to Nyzhnia Duvanka, then eventually moving toward Svatove from the north. Not only would this allow Ukraine to approach the city from multiple angles, Russia has reportedly heavily reinforced the area between Kuzemivka and Kryvoshyivka along the P07 highway, which might also make a NE jog seem like the better approach. However, so far there are no reports of fighting at Nauholne, which would be the first hot spot if Ukraine were moving in that direction.
But that northern approach may not be necessary. The terrain west of Svatove gives Ukraine a tremendous advantage if they can approach from that position. The city lies down in a depression. If Ukraine can reach the area around the P07-P66 intersection, they will have a commanding position over the city below and be able to essentially select artillery targets as they please. There were indications of fighting near Nezhuryne, but that was several days ago.
It’s possible Ukraine is waiting until it can bring more forces up from the south, or move to control the P66 highway, before moving to that intersection.
Dammit, opsec. Just let me know what’s up. I won’t tell the Russians.
Meanwhile, in the east …
This is the first time in some weeks that I’ve put out a map of the Bakhmut area, and there’s little to see here that wasn’t there in August. Russia is still trying to take Bakhmut. They still haven’t. It seems likely that Russia has not consolidated their control of Vesele Dolyna and Zaitseve to the southeast of the city. Meaning that, after months of reducing this are to rubble with artillery, then reducing the rubble to dust, and sacrificing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Russian troops … Russia has moved onto the dust. Russia also seems to have progressed into the suburb of Optyne, but the lines here are harder to draw.
At every point along the line in this area, fighting has been incredibly hard for incredibly long. Look just 20km east of Bakhmut and you’ll see the town of Popasna. That town, and neighboring Pervomaisk, were the subject of this article back in April. After the 2014 invasion, the space between these two towns was eventually locked in as the boundary of the Russian-occupied portion of Donetsk, with the actual border effectively at that point where the highway makes an angle, east of town. After dozens of assaults, Russia finally took Popasna at the end of April. In the 170 days since then, Russia has moved 23 kilometers to the west, a rate of about 13.5 meters (44 feet) per day. And the truth is almost all of that distance came before July. Since then, the actual rate of advance could likely me measured in centimeters.
Bakhmut remains the the center of a completely irrational level of attack from Russian forces. In particular, it’s been the singular contribution to the invasion of the mercenary Wagner Group, who has sent an endless stream of their untrained prison recruits to die over a tiny strip of land. But what Russia would do it actually got Bakhmut at this point it completely unclear. Once it was vital to supplying troops in Severodonetsk. That’s no longer true. Since Russia started attacking Bakhumut, Ukraine has liberated far more of Donetsk Oblast than Russia has occupied. But they just keep throwing bodies at this point. It’s the exact opposite of how Ukraine has obtained success in recent months.
And in the extra-scratchy headscratcher category: What is Russia doing over there northwest of Zolote? That’s the location of that big concrete “dragon’s teeth,” followed by trench, followed by more dragon’s teeth, followed by more trenches, fortification that Russia has been constructing. The wall is actually just west of the town of Hirske (pre-war population around 9,000) and appears to face northwest toward nothing but open fields. This location isn’t just kilometers away from the current front line, it’s actually slightly behind the line of Russian occupation on Feb. 24.
And it looks like something borrowed from World War II, if not World War I.
The image below give a sense of just how much construction is going on at this location, but be careful of the orientation — this image actually has west at the top. (rotated because the original image had west at the top).
If Russia was going to construct a line to hold, why isn’t it closer to the current lines? Why isn’t it in an area that gives them more topographic advantage? Why Hirske? Why are they doing this at all?
This is some high level strange.
Okay, this would not work. There’s no way to effectively aim, and the recoil from each shot would send it spinning. But it’s also a scary prediction of something likely to be real before the end of this war.
If anyone starts talking about Russia’s recent gains in the Bakhmut area ...
Click here to donate to help those escaping Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine.
On this week's episode of The Downballot we get medieval on the traditional media for its appalling display of ableism in the wake of John Fetterman's recent NBC interview; recap the absolutely wild goings-on in Los Angeles, where City Council President Nury Martinez just resigned after a racist tirade was caught on tape; dive into the unexpectedly close race for governor in Oklahoma; and highlight a brand-new database from Daily Kos Elections showing how media markets and congressional districts overlap.