Hot off the presses:
The most likely end to this war would include losing territory—either the Donbas separatist region, the Crimean peninsula, or both. But that analysis is based on a determination that Ukraine doesn’t have the military capabilities to engage in large-scale offensive operations. (Here is what they would need.) But Ukraine is wily and creative, and it has found a temporary short-term solution for the lack of the ground-attack and heavy armor it would need to quickly recapture lost ground.
I covered Ukraine’s new small-unit combined-arms tactics this weekend.
The battlefield is buzzing with drones, giving Ukraine’s forces intelligence into what they’re facing up the road. Ukrainian artillery takes out exposed Russian positions. Infantry speeds up the road in civilian SUVs, stopping when the drones see danger up ahead, and letting armored personnel carriers clear out defensive positions in the approach to the village.
In videos, we see these small-unit approaches with a single tank, several armored personnel carriers, and infantry in civilian vehicles. That’s it! There is a shocking lack of Russian close-air support and artillery targeting these small offensive operations. But let’s say Russia suddenly found some of those capabilities under a seat cushion: The damage to Ukraine’s military would be relatively small. Thus, with Russian forces shut down everywhere but the eastern Donbas front, the defenders can afford to take some risks.
Irpin’s mayor announced that Russian forces had been completely expelled from this city, where its namesake river marked the front lines of Kyiv’s northwestern approach. (If you missed it this weekend, I wrote a lengthy piece on the importance of rivers to Ukraine’s defense.)
Clearing Irpin of Russians opens up Bucha to counterattack, which is of particular importance since it’s the only Russian-held area remaining within artillery range of Kyiv. Indeed, other than some scattered missile attacks, Kyiv has been spared much damage in the past weeks, in large part because of this offensive.
But there’s another objective here that is even more important than pushing some MLRS GRAD rocket artillery launchers a few kilometers back: logistics. Ukraine is within reach of reopening two critical east-west routes.
You can see that orange shading around Makariv—that means the territory is still contested. Right now, supply routes to Kyiv require a circuitous southern route. Russia has done little to disrupt those lines, so as of now, the problem isn’t so much security as it is expending valuable diesel to run those supply trucks. There are several rail lines still feeding into Kyiv, which is of incalculable worth, but opening the highway through the Makariv area would dramatically simplify resupply logistics not just to Kyiv, but the rest of the country’s embattled east.
The next major Ukrainian target is Borodyanka, which I highlighted on the first map above. The town runs through yet another major east-west highway, but also through another rail line. And, if you look closely at that map, Borodyanka is also at the intersection of the roads coming down from the Belarus border. In other words, taking that city would complete the encirclement of the remaining troops in Bucha and Hostomel salient (where the famous airfield is located). NASA FIRMS satellite imagery shows that entire front northwest of Kyiv remains under serious assault.
You can see the highway running directly west of Kyiv is on fire, literally. There are reports that Russia made some moves near Brovary on Kyiv’s eastern front, but FIRMS shows it fairly quiet. It’s clear that the main effort is that western and northwestern flank. Not a single fire is burning in Kyiv, confirming it has been spared recent attack. And we’ve got fires in Borodyanka, confirming it is under attack. That mass of fires west of Borodyanka? That’s behind the front lines, and thus likely Russian artillery trying to hit Ukrainian forces coming in that direction.
Ukraine’s push into northwest Kyiv, like everywhere else, is slow and methodical. Imagine large Ukrainian formations trying to maneuver through that mass artillery fire. Small units are nimble, quick, and harder to hit. The minimal amount of equipment used means that even a direct hit is more likely to take out some civilian SUVs (and there are plenty of those) than more valuable armored vehicles. And as we discussed over the weekend, these small-scale offensives are well-placed and time for very specific, important objectives—open up a road here, grab a railhead there, push Russians to the other side of a strategic river, or eliminate a source of artillery fire. If Ukraine regains land, then great! But that’s not the purpose. Victory and defeat have nothing to do with how much of the map is shaded red.
Later today I’ll dig more into what’s happening near Kherson, Kharkiv, Sumy, and the Donbas front. Lots of fog of war to sift through. But if I was Ukrainian high command, my next major military objective after clearing out Bucha, Hostomel, and Borodyanka in northeastern Kyiv to open up that highway and railhead would be to push hard through northeastern Kyiv to break the siege of Chernihiv, which was just encircled this weekend. Ukraine can’t allow it to become the next Mariupol—surrounded, destroyed, massacred.
Impressive ambush daisy chaining mines or improvised explosive devices (IED). I’ve seen videos where Ukrainians wire two artillery shells together for particularly devastating explosive effect.