UPDATE: Mark Sumner
A quick update on where things reportedly stand in the Svatove area.
Ukrainian forces reportedly liberated the tiny village of Popivka (just 5km southwest of Svatove) on Friday, though after two weeks of fairly solid fighting in the area and heavy shelling from the Russian side, it’s unclear there’s anything left of this one street hamlet to actually liberate. Ukraine is reportedly now pushing to remove Russian forces from the slightly larger Nezhuryne. Clearling both villages would open another path to the P66 highway along a road that was paved, but is now reduced to asphalt chips in churned up mud.
To the north, Ukrainian forces reportedly tried to storm the town of Kuzemivka on Thursday. However, despite holding Novoselivske on the other side of the roadway and a rail embankment, that effort to take Kuzemivka reportedly failed. Russian sources are claiming this was a major defeat for Ukraine, and that they lost over 200 men in the effort. Ukrainian sources are placing this more in the area of a setback than a disaster. But the failure to proceed along this route is currently frustrating Ukrainian hopes of moving to Nyzhnia Duvanka and hitting Svatove from the north.
Right now, all the fighting is pretty much limited to highways, with Russian forces using the wooded areas to ambush and slow Ukrainian actions in the area. That may change when temperatures drop enough to make off-road travel possible.
When this war is over, and Russia has been pushed out of Ukraine, the story of Bakhmut is going to be tragic, epic, grueling, and heartbreaking. For more than six months now, after breaking through the line at Popasna, Russia has been trying to take the city. Under the command of Wagner Group mercenaries, Russia has sent literally tens of thousands of prisoners to die in the attempt to capture Bakhmut, so many that Yahoo News reports that Russian prisons are “unusually empty.”
During the months of September-October, a record-breaking 23,000 inmates of Russian penitentiaries were drafted to serve in the war in Ukraine against the backdrop of recruitment conducted by the Wagner Group.
Whatever kind of sentences they had before, those prisoners have a death sentence now. Their role is to be part of one of the endless human waves Wagner has been directed at Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Pavlivka on the eastern front. Those prisoners surely understood that they were putting their lives at risk when they “volunteered” to pitch in with Wagner, or were force-marched out of their prisons. It’s unlikely that they understand their role is to run forward, catch bullets, and bleed out on streets where thousands of others have already died.
No matter what the conditions were inside Russian prisons, it’s unlikely they were worse than what those men are finding when they get to Russian military camps in both Russia and occupied areas of Ukraine. Believe it or not, this urine-soaked trash pit, where the previous occupants haven’t bother to so much as step outside to relieve themselves, is among the best conditions these troops can expect to find.
What could be worse? If you look on YouTube, you can find numerous examples of people building emergency shelters out of plastic wrap. Why someone might be lost in the wilderness with nothing but a few hundred rolls of Saran Wrap isn’t clear. However, these videos certainly make it look inviting—since none of them seem to be working in the dark, or struggling against biting winds, or dealing with icy rain or heavy snow.
The idea that this is an actual solution to creating a shelter in the wilderness should be laughable. But apparently the Russian army took it seriously, because there have been dozens of such “tents” found when formerly Russian-occupied areas were liberated. Now that winter is arriving, it turns out that a house of straw would hold up better than a house of discount plastic-wrap. This pitiful example isn’t even in Ukraine. It’s also not housing for inmates dragged from prison. This is what “mobilized” Russian troops can look forward to as their houses.
Yeah, that’s going to be fine. As kos pointed out yesterday, conditions in Ukraine are tough right now. The early snows are only contributing to previous weeks of rain, turning many areas—especially the northeast, around Luhansk—into mud bogs where it’s difficult to move any kind of heavy equipment. That has definitely slowed the pace of combat as Ukraine pushes toward Svatove (though there are Telegram reports of Ukrainian progress this morning, including the possible liberation of two small villages — stay tuned for updates). Even those areas that had nominally paved streets are now no easier to travel because the passage of dozens of tanks has destroyed the blacktop (and that, Donald, is why we don’t run military parades of heavy equipment through the streets of D.C.)
The first snows are falling, but that white snow is only barely disguising the underlying black mud. Even so, as the ground begins to freeze, movement is actually becoming more certain. It may be a pain for your holiday travels, but for Ukrainian tanks and armored transports, snow and ice is a welcome change. We’re soon going to see a lot of videos that look like this one.
Winter is definitely coming to Ukraine, and it will bring with it a change in the pace and style of warfare. For those who have a warm shelter, well-maintained equipment, winter uniforms, and winter camouflage for both men and machines, this change could be welcome. For those sleeping in plastic wrap, or the urine-soaked remains of a broken tent, whose gear and uniforms have been sold by corrupt higher-ups, and whose equipment was last inspected sometime around 1945, the change in seasons may be a bit less welcome.
Meanwhile, the tactics being used at Bakhmut—in which artillery fires above forces as they advance—is as old as any tactic on earth. The Sumerians did it with bows and chariots. The English did it with longbows and armored knights. Both sides did it in the American Civil War with cannons and infantry. But to do it well requires a coordination of forces that Russia has so far not delivered, despite all those months of trying and dying.
The cost of this failed offensive for Russia has been as least as great as the losses in any counteroffensive so far launched by Ukraine. As the loss of Kherson came closer, Russia clearly became even more desperate for some kind of victory in the east, and the pace of attacks on Bakhmut (along with other towns and cities along that line) increased. Those days in which Ukraine was reported the death of 700, 800, 900 or more Russian soldiers, also marked the days of the most desperate push at these locations.
What this is costing Ukraine isn’t known. In the last few days, it seems that Russia has gained ground, though most of that ground is the same area it lost when Ukraine shoved it back a few weeks ago. There’s no doubt that those defending Bakhmut are suffering in a way that perhaps no soldiers have experienced since the horrors of World War I, fighting day after day after day in a battlefield plowed by explosions, with the scream of shells always overhead.
And they are not the only ones. For now … Bakhmut holds.
Just because Vladimir Putin declared that Kherson oblast was “Russia forever” doesn’t mean they’re not ready to conduct the same kind of atrocities there that they’ve inflicted on other Ukrainian cities. Russia has now shelled residential areas of both Beryslav and Kherson.
Russia’s high pressure gas line has sufferer a major explosion outside St. Petersburg.
Another view taken from inside the city. It’s unclear how this happened, but assuming that it’s not just an issue caused by poor maintenance (always a possibility with Russia) this could represent the activity of some group within Russia. Not necessarily pro-Ukrainian partisans.
Unclear how this might affect power and heat in Russia’s second-largest city.
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