For the last few weeks, most of the attention has been focused on two areas. One is that area north of Kharkiv, where Ukraine rapidly captured over two dozen towns and villages, pressing Russia back to the border and managing to get a force across the Siverskyi Donets River to threaten Russian supply lines. The other is in the east, where Russia has pushed through the captured town of Popasna, moving outward in all directions while conducting a daily assault all up and down the front at multiple areas, capturing a series of villages along with the town of Lyman.
Look at Kharkiv and it seems like, “All right! Ukraine is on the move.” Look at the east and it’s easy to see nothing but, “Damn. Russia is grinding this out.” But in the middle of these two is Izyum, and it’s here that what happens next may be decided.
When Russia first moved into Izyum, that city was at the end of a long, twisting salient that moved out of Russian-held territory to the east, crossed the Oskil River up miles to the north, then proceeded west before turning down a primary highway to reach Izyum. There it stopped for over two weeks before someone—reportedly a town official bribed by Russia—showed them a low-water ford on the river west of town, allowing Russian forces to push resistance out of the south end of Izyum and occupy the surrounding area.
Over the following weeks, Russia solidified their position in Izyum, clearing away pockets of Ukrainian regulars and territorial defense to open up new lines of supply. It then began to push out of Izyum, originally with the clear intent of pushing south along lines similar to the “April” position in this now-familiar chart that kos has written about a number of times.
More recently, Izyum has been the starting position for attempts to cut off a more modest portion of Ukrainian forces. It has also become the location with the highest density of Russian forces anywhere in Ukraine. An estimate 22 Battalion Tactical Groups are now based in and around Izyum, a force that should be equal to almost four brigades of soldiers along with tanks, artillery, and all the attendant weaponry and material.
All of which poses the question: Why is Russia still unable to move those forces out of Izyum?
Keen-eyed observers with a long memory might notice that on the top map, Russia’s southern push out of Izyum reached Pashkove over a month ago, and now it doesn’t even extend that far. Along the southern axis, Russia has advanced … in a retrograde manner.
In just the last week, Russia has tried to push west out of Izyum, southwest out of Izyum, southeast out of Izyum, and east out of Izyum. In those efforts, it has picked up approximately 0 kilometers of territory. Whatever is happening across the river at Lyman, Russia’s biggest collection of BTGs is still sitting at Izyum, where it’s been for the last six weeks and counting.
A second look at that map shows a wooded area just northwest of the city of Izyum that is sparsely populated and crisscrossed by logging roads. For the last two weeks, highly mobile Ukrainian forces have been harassing Russian forces that were apparently camped in this area. The resulting firefights have generated multiple fires in the forested area. That is still going on today, and the location of some of those hot spots shows that Ukraine’s forces are continuing to operate extremely close to Izyum itself.
Ukraine also appears to be threatening Izyum from a new direction. In the upper left of the top map is the small city of Balakliya (population 27,000). Ukrainian forces seem to be ranging out from this area on Thursday and moving down the P78 highway. There are even reports that Ukraine has recaptured the villages of Borodoyarske and Morozova. Those reports should definitely be given the tags #speculative and #optimistic at this point, even though there is evidence of Ukrainian soldiers near Savyntsi (that would be the westernmost red marker along that road). This does suggest Ukraine is still looking at ways to interfere with operations going in Izyum. Ukrainian forces operating east of Kharkiv also appear to have drawn some BTGs away from Izyum to fight in that area.
All those white markers south and east of Izyum indicate towns that are currently being shelled by Russian artillery. Russian propaganda has also put out this video, which supposedly shows the “hell” of incendiary weapons that are currently raining down on Ukrainian troops near Izyum (which would certainly explain why all those fires are starting in the area).
None of this seems to have moved the lines.
Russia never wanted to be at Izyum. They’re there because the original plan—capture Kharkiv in passing, then on to Kyiv—simply failed. But Izyum has become the heart of Russia’s offense. That heart still seems to be stalled.
It’s not just the US and Italy that are providing Ukraine with new artillery systems.
That report of an ammo dump near Bakhmut is a bit odd, if only because Russia shouldn’t be within 3km of Bakhmut from any position. Looking at that whole area down to the breakthrough around Popasna, this should reflect about the closest approach. So maybe that explosion was to the east near a smaller village? Something of a mystery.
In any case, this image reflects the many directions Russia has been pushing out of Popasna in the last two days. Not seen is the area to the south. Honestly, 90% of those names that have popped up in the last week associated with Russia taking a village or town have been in an arc south and west of Popasna.
Yesterday, a German press syndicate was pushing a story saying that NATO officials had reached an “informal agreement not to give Ukraine tanks or planes” because they were afraid of “irritating Russia.”
The story immediate set off BS alerts because NATO partners have already sent tanks to Ukraine. And now …