With the concentration of forces—and attention—on the Battle of Severodonetsk, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the war to expel Russian invaders continues from Kharkiv to Kherson. Nathan Ruser has prepared a pair of images to show the movements across the entire face of Ukraine over the last month, and what those images show is not only very little overall change, but as many Ukrainian advances as Russian advances. Anyone not fixated on particular small areas would call this attack “stalled.”
The biggest news in the Kherson region on Saturday may be that multiple Ukrainian aircraft have taken part in the counteroffensive along the line northwest of Kherson. Advancing without air support is much more difficult, and in this area at least, Ukraine appears to have used multirole aircraft to clear the way for advancing armor. Ukrainian aircraft have reportedly hit multiple Russian locations in villages at the center of the line.
Keen-eyed observers might note that there’s a new bulge in the area of Russian control just south of Snihurivka. This doesn’t actually represent an advance on Russia’s part. It’s a mistake on mine. Going in to a closer view of this area, I noticed a pair of little villages I hadn’t previously marked, and checking on both found that Russia had controlled them at least since mid-April. Barring any reports of change, I moved the line.
Last week, the Ukrainian Air Force announced that a MiG-29 operating in the Kherson area had shot down a Russian Su-35. Despite the relative ages of the two planes—the first MiG-29s rolled out in 1983, while the Su-35 is one of Russia’s newest and most advanced fighters, first coming into service in 2014, this is more believable than it sounds at first. For one thing, most MiG-29s are a lot younger than that first-off-the-line date, and they have all been significantly upgraded. Second, the Su-35 is a multi-role fighter, designed to support forces on the ground as well as engage in air-to-air combat. The MiG-29 can do other things, but it primarily exists to kill planes.
MiG-29s are certainly not invulnerable. Ukraine has lost at least ten of them since the war began, all of them to ground-based air defenses. But they are nimble and capable. Also, Ukrainian pilots seem to have gotten at least some training in actual dogfighting. The total amount of time devoted to this training in the modern Russian Air Force is reportedly zero. Their pilots are trained to fly point A to point B, then release missile or bomb C. Return to A. Getting a MiG-29 in their grill is definitely not on their agenda.
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But the big story in all this is just the continued presence and engagement of the Ukrainian Air Force. Getting these guys some more planes? Good idea.
Before we leave Kherson, take a look at this.
At some point in your life, you’re bound to have encountered one of those little “what’s different between these two images” games in the pages of a newspaper or puzzle book. Let’s try it now. Here’s a picture of the area just west of the town of Davydiv Brid in Kherson oblast. Most of the image is high resolution satellite imagery taken around the start of the year. The little inset on the left is lower resolution imagery of that section of river taken on May 21.
Now, here’s a second image. Most of it should appear exactly the same. It’s just that the inset dates from May 31.
See the difference? Okay, even with this big of a bullseye directed to it, it can be tough. Here’s a closer look at that inset on the two different days.
The two pictures were taken at somewhat different times of day, resulting in slightly different shading and shadows, but the big difference — the important difference — is inside that yellow circle on the right. That’s a pontoon bridge that was erected previous to the Ukrainian advance across the Inhulets River, rendered in a couple of gloriously fuzzy 10m resolution pixels.
One of the things that seems to be different about the advance of Ukrainian armor in this area is that it looks like what all the textbooks predict when they talk about an armored advance rather than the kinds of movements we’re used to seeing in Ukraine up to this point. Thanks to relatively dry conditions when compared to the east, and a sandy, less muddy / swampy terrain, Ukrainian tanks across the Inhulets haven’t been restricted to moving along the roads. In fact, they seem to be more or less ignoring the roads, where Russian forces may already be dug in, and are moving across the flat fields. In the top images, you can pretty much see that there’s a ridge of hills off to the northwest, but all the rest of the terrain in the image is a river bottom, flat as an ironing board except for a few scattered mounds. Tank country.
For all this, not much really seemed to change hands today, through reports of fighting at multiple points continue.
Since I’ve already given the Ukrainian Air Force some screen time, here’s a video for the Russian Air Force. Considering the quality of simulations these days, I absolutely can not guarantee this is real footage. Botashev’s death has been widely reported, and this video has been posted on multiple sites, but it could be a sort of inverse “ghost of Kyiv.”
On Thursday, Ukraine recaptured the town of Vesele and associated villages. That freed up travel along another of the main highway routes in the area and allowed Ukraine to continue pushing Russian forces back away from artillery range of Kharkiv.
The most interesting news on Saturday is reports out of the Ukrainian MOD indicating that Ukraine has taken positions at Hlyboke, a good 5km into what had been considered Russian occupied territory. It’s been clear for some time that Russia’s position at Lyptsi is actually on the west side of that town. Ukraine seems to have taken advantage of that to move up the highway, bypassing Lyptsi, hitting the next village north. This opens the possibility of Ukraine proceeding to the north, or attacking Lyptsi from a new direction.
Meanwhile, Russia has made another run at Ternova, and the area north of that town appears to be in dispute. Maybe the fifteenth time will be the charm for Russia … temporarily. Russia also lobbed artillery at several locations, including at a series of towns north of Kharkiv. Interestingly enough, there was also artillery fire north of Bohaivka on the east side of the river, which could be a good indicator that Ukrainian forces are still present and active in the area.
Finally, late on Friday someone absolutely pounded the snot out of an area east of the bridge at Starytysa to the north. This would seem to be well beyond the area of Ukraine’s concern at the moment, since all the available information suggests that Russia is largely in control of Rubizhne. However, this pattern of heavy fire east of the bridge exactly matches the pattern seen at Staryi Saltiv and then at Rubizhne as Ukrainian forces advanced along the river. This could be a good indicator that Starytsya is in dispute. For now, I’ve marked the location of the heavy fire with a fire icon on the map.
This week, Russia captured Lyman, moved into Severodonetsk, and seemed on the verge of closing the “pocket” that had extended up to Oskil. But at the moment, Ukraine is continuing to press back in Severodonetsk, Studenok is still untaken, and there are still several uncaptured villages north of the river. Over on the east side of the area, Russia is still bouncing off of Komyshuvakha, north of Popasna, which Ukrainian forces recaptured last week and have held onto against multiple assaults. Russian forces reported that it had been captured on Friday, but that does not seem to be true.
Ukrainian forces have reportedly withdrawn from the village of Sosnova, though there is no news that Russia has occupied the position at this point. However, Russia has engaged with Ukrainian forces at Svyatohirske, another of those wrong-side-of-the-river villages. Russian forces have reportedly taken parts of the town, while Ukrainian forces continue to fight back, including from the heights on the other side of the river.
These are Russian forces at another of those small, north of the river villages.
There is also news on Saturday that Russian forces are going to attempt another river crossing in the area of Bilohorivka. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the site of the previous disastrous attempting crossing that kos discussed in detail. Why would Russia return to the scene of this mess? There are not a lot of great candidates for crossing. Many areas on the Ukrainian side of the river are marked with steep bluffs, giving a extremely powerful firing position toward any attempted crossing. Also, many areas on the north or east side of the river are low-lying and swampy, with a lot of marshy woods, ox-bow lakes, and streams. Russia needs a spot where they can not just build a bridge, but get their vehicles to the bridge, across the bridge, and onto the opposite side without having to cross kilometers of swamp or driving into withering fire. There aren’t many such locations.
Pontoon vehicles were seen in the Rubizhne area on Saturday, reportedly headed for this new crossing attempt. Stay tuned.
At last reports, the fighting in Severodonetsk continues to be intense. Whether Ukraine is continuing to gain ground, or Russian reinforcements have reversed the flow, won’t be known for a few more hours. There are now reports that Ukrainian forces on the ground are directing precision fire for artillery located on the bluffs across the river at Lysychansk. When it comes to a trap … that may be the best that Ukraine could hope for.
But this effort certainly isn’t without cost. Of the international volunteer unit that entered the city yesterday, at least four have already been killed. That includes an Australian soldier seen in several videos on Friday.
While no positions seem to have changed on the ground in this area, there has been a fairly extensive exchange of fire from the sky.
Russia fired several missiles into the area on Saturday and also conducted air strikes all the way up the river north of Zaporizhizhia. There were also peculiar reports of Russian forces firing multiple rocket-propelled grenades into the town of Hulyaipole, which seems like more of a fear tactic than anything with an actual military objective.
Meanwhile, Ukraine went on the offensive with air strikes of their own. It’s always been one of the peculiarities of the way the borders fell after the 2014 invasion that Donetsk—de facto capital of the DNR—is right on the edge of Russian-occupied territory. On Saturday Ukraine reportedly carried out an air strike on Donetsk, possibly accompanied by artillery fire from Ukrainian-held territory. These reports are coming out of Russian sources, so details are both vague and unreliable, but there does seem to have been a strike in the city of some kind.
That’s also true down at Pohony on the south edge of the map. Whether this is in advance of an general assault on the area … we should know shortly.
Meanwhile, as in Kherson, Ukraine seems to be more and more willing to fly its jets near Russian positions in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Stuff Blowing Up Theater
And at the other end of the spectrum ...
There are unconfirmed reports that Russia has taken Dovhen'ke, south of Izyum. This is one of those towns that has repelled attacks over and over, so while it may not be a headline making change, it’s still sad if true.
Mark Sumner ·
Even more proof that Russians are like Republicans. They both think land counts more than people.
Update on Dovhen'ke. Ukraine says Russian attack, like the many that came before , was actually repulsed. Russia moving more forces into position for another attempt.
Russia appears to be gathering forces in an attempt to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. For the last two days, it has been driving at the village of Raihorodok.
It’s possible that the village of Sosnova has already been completely occupied by Russia, though this is not yet confirmed. Ukrainian forces apparently did not contest this position.
On Saturday, Russia claimed to have captured Dovhen'ke, but Ukraine says that assault was repulsed. Russia is continuing to attack Studenok, but Ukraine still holds it as of a few hours ago.
At Raihorodok, some Ukrainian forces — like the tank in the video below — have repositioned to hills on the south side of the river, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign that Ukraine is abandoning this position.
“Ukrainian soldiers are attacking Russians in the northern part, fighting Russians in the center of the city, holding position and repelling Russians in the southern part of the city. Russian forces completely cleared from half the city.”