That reported movement of Ukrainian troops came a couple of days after special forces crossed the Dnipro and raised the Ukrainian flag on a tower at a hard to reach point on the eastern shore. Following that action, many, many sites and news outlets that really should have known better ran story headlines about how Ukraine had “established a bridgehead across the Dnipro.” Except it hadn’t. It had raised a flag, then the guys who raised that flag went back to Kherson.
However, in this case the much more cautious Def Mon felt like he was seeing enough in military reports to trust that there was real activity behind what sources were claiming — that Ukrainian forces had actually stepped onto this island.
Now, here’s a tweet that goes back to Russian military sources on Friday.
This is just one of several of several tweets and Telegram posts on that day indicating that Russian forces had — for reasons utterly unknown — also landing forces on this island. Because while the names may be different in these two tweets, the island is the same. So is the area of the island both groups are reportedly moving to take.
Obviously, having an outpost on these islands could be helpful in detecting any attempt to advance across the river, but the value of occupying this position seems to be low in anyone’s book — especially in an age when satellite imagery and the near-constant presence of drones should give more than an adequate warning of any attempt to launch a serious force across the river. There’s also the fact that people actually live here. Though the interior of the island is largely empty, there’s a substantial community of homes and small businesses all around the coastline, many of them belonging to people who once commuted to work in Kherson by boat. How many people are still on the island is unknown — after all, getting supplies to the island over the last nine months has bound to have been on the high side of challenging.
Are Ukrainian and Russian forces about to engage in a battle on an island in the middle of the Dnipro River for what seems like little more than bragging rights to this position? It seems possible. But why Russian forces would attempt to occupy this position seems utterly baffling.
One place where there’s no doubt about the intensity of battles going on is Bakhmut. Over the last three days, Russia has captured the window factory and the city garbage dump. On Friday, they reportedly took the furniture factory. If that last one sounds familiar, it may be because Russia has claimed to occupy that position several dozen times in the past, but have been unable to hold it.
However, there is deep concern that this push by Russia is more serious than past efforts. The wave attacks by poorly trained conscripts, many of them taken from Russian prisons, are still there, but Wagner seems to be following up those waves with some of its more experienced troops and armored vehicles, all of it under the cover of exceptionally heavy artillery. There is no doubt that Ukrainian forces there are in a tough spot, as they have been for months, and based on the reports of analysts with a proven track record in Ukraine, that situation is now as bad, or worse, than it has been at any time in the conflict.
Russian forces are pressing the town from the south and east, forcing Ukraine to move back from some forward positions they have held for months. Recent attempts to counter Russia’s push into Bakhmut don’t appear to have been successful and Wagner seems to be exerting a higher level of pressure than has been seen, at least over the last three months.
In his nightly address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia has “destroyed” Bakhmut. Not in the sense that they have driven out Ukrainian forces, but in that through six months of constant assault and bombardment, they have devastated the buildings, homes, and people, leaving Bakhmut as little but “burnt ruins” and making the city an impossible place to live. While there have been efforts until now to maintain some semblance of normalcy in parts of the city, and to keep residents who chose to remain in Bakhmut supplied with food, water, and other necessary goods, there is now an accelerated effort to evacuate remaining civilians.
However, if there is one phrase that you’re likely to see if you go skimming through the media for mention of Bakhmut this morning, it’s either that “Ukrainian forces have suffered a heavy loss.” That’s being reported because the Institute for the Study of War passed it along apparently unaltered and unsupported from Russian propagandists. That. combined with AP’s morning headline of “Russia grinds on in eastern Ukraine; Bakhmut 'destroyed'” has resulted in a flood of articles this morning written as if Bakhmut is already history; as if it’s already fallen.
This is not the case.
Right now, almost everything we’re talking about in terms of area that Russia has “taken” over the last few days is in that green oval. It is all, 100%, areas where Russian forces have been before. It is all still under fire from Ukrainian positions in the city and under Ukrainian artillery fire from guns further west.
There are definitely reasons for concern, and some of the biggest pro-Ukrainian military bloggers are warning that the situation there is bad, with fighting now going on at the extreme west of that green oval and the possibility that Russia well press in from that position, or from positions on the south.
But it hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen at all. Ukraine has also moved additional forces into the area, and while some of those forces may have been lost in what was reported to be a failed advance earlier in the week, there’s no evidence that those losses are as “massive” as Russian sources are trying to pretend. This is by no means a story where the outcome is already determined.
I’m putting up this video mostly because it contains a glimpse of the river that runs through Bakhmut. This river is still some distance from the front lines at the moment, but here it can be seen to be channelized — meaning it’s neat and straight, with little in the way of surrounding floodplain and hard surface on either side. It’s the kind of river that can easily be addressed by bridging equipment, though that equipment, and bridge, would certainly become targets.
Russian sources on Saturday are reporting that Ukrainian troops are “falling back from Soledar after heavy losses.” Soledar is less than 10km from Bakhmut and has also been an area of steady Russian assaults over a period of at least four months.
As with all such statements, this has to be taken with so much salt that it’s hard to know if anything remains. Ukrainian sources have reported attempted Russian advances in the area. There have been indications from Ukrainian sources of a “changed policy” in both Bakhmut and Soledar that may mean the lines are established in a new location. On the other hand, there continue to be reports of heavy Russian casualties in the area.
Russian sources are also claiming that taking Soledar will cut off supplies to Ukrainian forces north at Kreminna and Svatove. That’s one’s simple — it’s not true. They are also claiming that forces at Soledar are falling back to Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. That one is simply ridiculous.
Right now, as at Bakhmut, the most that can be said with any certainty is that fighting continues at Soledar. For all anyone knows at the moment, that new Ukrainian strategy may be an all out counterattack, but at the moment, very little seems to have changed.
This one probably was actually due to smoking.
Some Russians are a lot less confident about Russia’s assault on Bakhmut than much of the media appears to be today.
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