At this point, trying to say anything about Severodonetsk beyond “fighting continues” is pointless. We know this much about the sequence of events: Ukraine quickly fell back as Russian forces first entered the city, allowing them to capture as much as 80-90% of the area; Ukrainian forces then surged forward, in concert with artillery firing from across the river in Lysychansk, and quickly retook about half the city; by Sunday, it was Russia that was down to less than a third of the city, but Russia responded by pushing more troops into the city and more artillery into the outskirts; since then the battle has surged back and forth through the city streets, with neither side able to fully gain the upper hand. Russia doesn’t control as much as it did at its peak. Neither does Ukraine. The losses for both sides are both sickening and mind-boggling. On Saturday, Russia may have suffered its highest level of losses for any single day of the invasion, but it’s possible that the same could be said about Ukraine.
Based on the most reliable reports available on Tuesday morning, Ukraine has suffered a serious setback in its efforts to recapture and hold the city. Ukrainian troops still control the western industrial areas of the city and are fighting in the east. Russia essentially holds the north and parts of the city center, except that Russian attempts to advance are still being obliterated by the artillery on the opposing bluff. The most accurate thing to say at the moment is that no one controls Severodonetsk.
Over the last 24 hours, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made statements suggesting that Ukraine may soon withdraw from the city. Whether these are preparing the Ukrainian public for losing the city, goading NATO countries into hurrying up with new hardware, or luring Russia in for another round of pulverizing … it’s impossible to tell. Possibly it’s all three.
Again, Ukraine set up a situation where Russian forces in the Donbas suffered horrific losses. And Russia is still coming. Because until those losses reach a level of making Russian forces ineffective, they simply don’t care.
Any map pretending to have a street-by-street-level mapping of the current situation in Severodonetsk is just that, a pretense. It’s possible the next hours will decide the fate of the city. It’s more likely that the next time we update, the phase “fighting continues” will still be all we know. One quick warning when looking for information on this battle: pro-Russian trolls and bots are out in extreme numbers, proclaiming that Severodonetsk is already taken, that there never was any counteroffensive in the city, and that the “foreign mercenaries” were all easily wiped out. Just take the fact that Russia is throwing up such a high level of smoke as good evidence that the fire is still burning.
Meanwhile, something distinctly odd is going on in southern Ukraine. At point after point, from Vasylivka down to Melitopol and beyond, observers are noting that Russian checkpoints have been “abandoned.” There are even reports that Russian troops have been withdrawn from much of the area, with some sources—including Russian Telegram accounts—saying that troops have been shifted into the Kherson area.
This could be something as simple as a “rotation” of new troops to the front lines. Russia very clearly hasn’t left behind this whole area. Fighting continues between Hulyaipole and Polohy, as well as south of Orikhiv. This whole area represents that “land bridge” between the Donbas and Crimea. It’s not something Russia would walk away from, even if it was desperately trying to throw more troops into the battle elsewhere.
Based on claims that Russia was massing a convoy along the road south of Vasyivka for an attack on Zaporizhzhia, this could be a general reorganization of forces in that area. Maybe platoon-level forces holding checkpoints within Russian-occupied territory are being rolled into more makeshift BTGs for the attempted advance.
That reorganization may create some possibilities for Ukraine, but if a large attack force moves on Zaporizhzhia, even if it is, as rumors suggest, using old T-62 tanks and scraped together forces, stopping that attack is going to become the major focus in the area.
We’ve been noting for some time that there were odd patterns of artillery fire in the area of Staryi Saltiv. When Ukraine first rolled into the area in May, there was a clear pattern: with each step up the map, Ukraine bombarded the area across the river in an effort to clear a potential bridgehead. Though, since those bridges were out, any crossing would require repairs or a pontoon bridge.
Over the last week, that pattern has been playing out again. The red spots on this map represent one week’s worth of artillery activity in the area around Staryi Saltiv. The small amount of activity north of Buhaivka is a good indicator that Ukrainian troops are still present on that side of the river, though not in enough force to make a serious advance on Vovchansk. But the heavy concentrations of fire in the area across the bridge from Rubizhne, and even up the river at Starytysa, are a genuine mystery.
Unfortunately, clouds in the area mean that the last good satellite data for the Rubizhne area is from all the way back on May 23.
In this image, it’s easy to see the gap in the middle of the Rubizhne bridge, which was blown open by Russian forces as Ukrainian troops moved toward the area at the start of May. Unlike Staryi Saltiv—which is located on a reservoir above a dam, making the Siverskyi Donets over a kilometer wide—the river above the Rubizhne bridge is less than 100m wide. In fact, in the area where a lot of that artillery has been falling, the river is divided by an island resulting in channels that max out at about 60m. It’s certainly an area that would be easier to cross with a pontoon bridge.
Is Russian firing artillery at a Ukrainian crossing attempt? Probably not, since the morning report from the Ukrainian MOD complained about Russian mines on the road south of Rubizhne. Russia has held most of the town for the last two weeks, with an ongoing skirmish around the south side. That would seem to make it more likely that Ukraine is pounding these positions—possibly to prevent the movement of Russian artillery into the area. Possibly to clear an area for their next step.
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