Yesterday was arguably Russia’s worst day yet, with losses in four key fronts and little to show for its renewed focus on the eastern Donbas front.
Let’s start with Kyiv, where Russia claimed to be tactically withdrawing from areas near the capital and Chernihiv to its northeast. Those two fronts faced some of the worst artillery and missile attacks of the war, which many took to mean Russia was full of shit. Not saying they’re not, but any tactical withdrawal is covered by artillery. It’s Military Tactics 101. You need to protect your forces when their backs are to the enemy. So are they actually pulling out? The indications are that at least in northeastern Kyiv, they are, and particularly up in Chernobyl. Though to be fair, those troops were sent directly to a hospital where they will die horribly of radiation poisoning. Seems like they dug trenches in the highly radioactive Red Forest, kicking up what shouldn’t be kicked up for the next 10,000 years. Ultimately, no territory changed hands, northwest of Kyiv. But to the east? A whole different story.
Ukraine is pushing hard against the Nova Basan salient, taking the towns of Ploske, Svitlynia, and Hrebelky on the approach to the last Russian-held towns in the entire region.
The fight for Nova Basan was ongoing as I put this story (and myself) to bed last night. When those forces are eventually routed, Kyiv’s highway straight north to Chernihiv will safely open up, allowing for easier resupply and defense.
That Nova Basan pocket is what’s left of Russia’s effort to open up a second eastern front against Kyiv, in their spectacularly failed attempt to surround and capture the city. While the 40-mile convoy northwest of Kyiv got all the attention, it was this corridor from the Russian border near Sumy and Kyiv that truly exposed Russia’s logistical failures.
It was around 350 kilometers (220 miles) from the Russian border to Brovary, on Kyiv’s eastern edge. If you look closely, not a single town on that highway was held by Russia, with Sumy being particularly glaring. Thus, Ukrainian territorial defense forces, drones, special forces, and local farmers feasted on tasty, exposed, under-protected supply convoys. Russia’s outpost on Nova Basan is all that’s left of that effort, likely running low on supplies, and facing imminent annihilation (or, if they’re smart, surrender). That entire orange tendril isn’t long for this war.
As noted, mopping up Russian forces from eastern Kyiv will allow free movement of troops and supplies north to Chernihiv, which is currently completely surrounded and under siege. (Watch this harrowing video of Russia shutting off the last escape route out of the city.) I had assumed that Chernihiv would have to wait for Nova Bosa’s liberation before Ukraine could move the forces up to bust the siege, but Ukraine had other plans, taking the town of Sloboda on its southeasternern edge.
That north-south highway is now just one town away from being reopened. But of particular note, no one knows where those Ukrainians came from. They couldn’t have come up from Kyiv, the road is still blocked. Was it Nizhyn? The city is under constant shelling and there are Russian elements nearby. Did they punch out of Chernihiv? Who knows! Regardless of where they came from, it shows that Ukraine has reserve combat power available to deploy where necessary. Russia’s siege is now in trouble. So will Russia fight to maintain it, or will they really ease up on Chernihiv like they promised? We won’t have to wait long to get an answer. And heck, Ukraine might militarily take away Russia’s choice given their offensive momentum. Might simply be easier for Russia to withdraw and claim they did it for peace, instead of admitting they’re getting their ass whooped.
Next up are Sumy and Kharkiv, where this pocket of orange bugged me in my last update:
This was the operating area for the famed “elite” 4th Guards Tank Division (GTD), which is no more. It’s been now confirmed that all remaining Russian forces in that area have slunk across the border back into Russia. That is now safe Ukrainian territory, with road and rail links between Sumy, Kharkiv and other key cities re-established.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces repelled a major attack on the city of Malaya Rohan (details on my last update). While no new territory was captured, Ukraine claims of massive Russian losses (leading to the destruction of three Battalion Tactical Groups) are being corroborated by pictures and video (here, here, here, and here).
This victory is important for two reasons (besides Russia’s mass loss of equipment). One, it keeps Russian forces off of Kharkiv’s ass. Russia can shell the city with impunity from across its border, but ground forces haven’t had much luck. But perhaps more importantly, check out the map below:
Izyum is Russia’s biggest target right now as it seeks to encircle the third of the Ukrainian army holed up in defensive trenches on the eastern Donbas front. I explain the importance of Izyum here, but in short, It’s a critical river crossing. And pushing south of it would also allow Russia to avoid that long, circuitous supply route to the city, with that eastern flank protected by the Embalse Oskil reservoir.
By holding that road, and the city of Chuhuiv to its southeast, Ukraine can put pressure on those supply lines and the overall salient, dramatically complicating Russia’s efforts in the Donbas front. As things are going, I suspect this Donbas front will increasingly dominate these updates.
Russia made no territorial gains on the Donbas front, though Ukraine’s defensive lines are under severe pressure, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the invaders finally notch some breakthroughs. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the lines hold. This is the only part of the country where Russia’s air force seems to be flying.
Now let’s go down to Mykolaiv area, where that ridiculous salient toward Kryvyi Rih is finally getting rolled back with the liberations of the small towns of Orlove, Zahradivka, and Kochubeyevka.
There has been some pretty stupid Russian moves this war, like invading from four different axes while under-resourcing each one of those lines of attack. But the reach toward Kryvyi Rih was particularly, extra idiotic. Here was Russia, clearly focused on taking Odesa—a legitimately important military, strategic, and political target, and they’re wasting troops heading to a city they never had a prayer of taking given how strung out their forces had gotten?
If you remember, the left fork of that axis had hit the outskirts of Mykolaiv, realized they had nowhere near the troops to take a city of half a million, and continued north up the Southern Bug river all the way up to Voznesenks, where they got absolutely mauled by territorial defense forces and farmers, in a town with a population of 34,000. And somehow they were going to actually threaten Kryvyi Rih, a city of 635,000 with a similarly sized force?
By under-resourcing both lines of attack, both failed spectacularly. The Kryvyi Rih attack ran out of gas (likely literally) before even reaching its target. And that salient is now getting rolled back.
Meanwhile in Kherson, no major moves have been made toward the city or its airport. We do know that Russia is moving resources to an airfield southeast of the city, from which it could presumably harass and shell Kherson if it falls into Ukrainian hands. And that’s the tragic reality—that Kherson, spared by the likely treason of its mayor—will suffer the same tragic fate of so many other bombarded Ukrainian cities if and when it is liberated.
So to recap, Russia started its withdrawal from northwest Kyiv, lost territory in eastern Kyiv with a remaining pocket of Russia all that’s left in the area, and lost a key town for its encirclement and siege of Chernihiv. In Sumy and Kharkiv area, the remnants of the 4th Guard Tank Division straggled back to Russia, while Ukraine repelled an attempt to hit Kharkiv from the southeast. Russia suffered severe losses in life, material, and territory, and its supply lines to Izyum are now threatened. Finally, Russia’s stupid attempt to reach up to Kryvyi Rih is being rolled back.
Phew! Here’s hoping to more days like yesterday!