Update, Saturday evening: Rather than write a new story, I’m simply adding to Saturday morning’s update, as to spare me some work as I juggle summer vacations (including mine) and the need to cover the dramatic Donald Trump developments.
In the earlier story below, I discussed how Russia continues to flood forces into the Kherson area in response to Ukraine’s repeated declarations that it is just this close from launching its long-expected counter-offensive to begin retaking its land. The whole situation continues to have the feel of a trap. First, with the continuing shutting down of supply routes into the area.
This now means that both supply routes into the west side of the Dnipro river in the Kherson region are now blown.
Only three bridges connect Kherson and all that red territory to the north of the Dnipro river, the Antonovsky bridge near Kherson (which remains inoperable), and the bridge at Nova Karkhovka were the only two functioning after the first few days of the war. This is why the betrayal at the beginning of the war was so painful—all Ukraine had to do was blow all three bridges and Russia would’ve never been able to take Kherson. Only one was blown thanks to a hero Ukrainian engineer who gave his life taking out the bridge. Local government officials conspired with Russians to sabotage the city’s defense, and countless lives have been lost as a result, and countless more will do so in the months ahead.
Ukraine has also begun hitting the two bridges connecting Crimea (the purple at the bottom of the map) with Kherson oblast. Cutting off Melitopol from the south will be critical to retaking that city. Russia can barge some supplies across the Dnipro, as well as helicopter stuff over, but their insatiable artillery can’t be fed by barges and aircraft. And Ukraine’s degradation of Russia’s air defenses means Ukrainian aircraft can better engage moving target—those barges and supply helicopters.
Russia isn’t surrendering that territory without a fight, but … its generals may have lost their appetite for being on the wrong side of the Dnipro.
This could obviously be propaganda, but several Russian generals and other high command have already bit the dust in this region, particularly at Kherson’s airport at Chernobaivka. If true, it could certainly be a sign that Russian high command expects Ukrainian forces to advance.
Elsewhere on the map, Russian forces claimed full control of Pisky (more details below).
Some more odds and ends, this is a great thread: Russians don’t care about dead Ukrainians or dead fellow Russian soldiers. They don’t even care about starvation out in the hinterlands. What do they care about? Having several varieties of yogurt available at the supermarket:
Saturday morning post:
On vacation still, but checking in to provide an update on the on-the-ground tactical situation in Ukraine. I’ll start at Izyum, and work my way around the front in clockwise direction.
Izyum direction: No one is officially calling it yet, but it’s increasingly clear that Ukraine has retaken Dovhen’ke as Russia’s Izyum holdings recede. Regular readers of these updates know about my particular obsession with this town, and for those of you who don’t, click that link to read more about Ukraine’s heroic defense of the tiny village before it fell on June 11.
Presidential advisor Aleksey Arestovych said on his August 8 podcast that “According to some reports, the Ukrainians have liberated Dovhen’ke. The Ukrainians are advancing on Izyum.” On August 9, he said that “[Dovhen’ke] is already behind us, according to some reports. We moved them. If you look strictly south of Izyum, then all this is [...] was for the enemy until recently. And now it's not for the enemy anymore. It's shrinking rapidly. They are moving to Izyum.”
OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) analyst Def Mon on Twitter noted Russian shelling of Dovhen’ke as early as August 6, which suggested Ukrainian troops where in the town or nearly in it. Russia doesn’t generally shell its own positions. We have recent video of Russian losses north of Dovhen’ke, but that doesn’t necessarily prove Ukraine has liberated it. There’s even been some Telegram posts claiming residents of Izyum can hear fighting approaching it.
Despite all of that, Ukraine General Staff hasn’t confirmed anything, and we haven’t seen any pictures or video to suggest Ukraine has retaken that pile of rubble in what is one of the most battle-scarred regions of Ukraine. It looks like this:
And this moonscape:
Sivers’k direction: Russia has made slight gains.
We have to crack the code of Ukrainian General Staff reports. They won’t announce the loss of territory, but you can infer it from Russia’s attacking locations. That orange terrain in Def Mon’s map? It’s just 3 kilometers. Ukraine apparently abandoned defenses shredded by Russian artillery and set up shop on the next line. There is always a next line of defenses, hence Russia’s painfully slow advances.
Bakhmut direction: Def Mon gives us good maps.
Bakhmut is the middle prong of a long Ukrainian defensive line, with Toretsk in the south, outside of Donetsk city, and Sivers’k at the northeast end.
Note that none of these three cities serve any particular strategic purpose. None of them matter much in the outcome of the war. Bakhmut would’ve been helpful to cut off supply lines to Lysychansk, but that proved unecessary. The only factor that matters here is the number of casualties each side suffers in what is nearly exclusively an artillery duel. The cities and towns and hamlets themselves? They are either rubble, or will soon be rubble. If Ukraine can surrender territory without suffering excessive losses, Russia gets no closer to ultimate victory.
Yet after failing to surround Ukrainian defenders in the region (which is what Russia’s Izyum approach attempted, and what Ukrainian defenses at Dovhen’ke and Bohorodychne halted), Russia has no choice but to bash their heads directly against hardened Ukrainian defenses, with gains measured in the tens of meters per day. Why? Who knows! Maybe simply to give Vladimir Putin rosy “we’re advancing!” reports. Pro-Russian Twitter and Telegram sure as heck get excited over these meager gains.
So back to Bakhmut, Russian forces reached the very edge of town. As a result, pro-Russia propagandist Geroman on Twitter announced on August 7 that “#Russia Advances Into #Bakhmut, Lynchpin of #Ukraine Defence” and on August 11 that “#Russia Tightens Grip on #Bakhmut, #Ukraine Ponders Withdrawal from #Siversk.” It’s all ridiculous, of course. First of all, this whole “Lyncpin of Ukrainian defense” stuff is laughable for reasons I mentioned above, and Russia hasn’t even reached the town of Sivers’k, why would Ukraine abandon it? But aside from that nonsense, there is zero evidence that Russian forces have even entered Bakhmut’s industrial zone on its eastern border. We know very well how much Ukraine loves to defend industrial zones, and how good it is at it!
Russia has made marginal gains along some of the other approaches into Bakhmut, but none imminently threaten the town itself, and as always, Russia spreads out its combat power over multiple advances because of its inability to wage combined-arms operations with more than 1-2 BTGs at a time.
It’s been a while since we’ve discussed Russia’s inability to mass attacks, and it’s because they adopted, so some success, their “flatten everything with artillery then send some troops for ‘reconnaissance by fire’ to see if any defenses are left standing.” You don’t need to “combine” any “arms” to make that work. But as Russia pushes beyond its supply depots (with HIMARS compounding the problem), and its artillery becomes more exposed to Ukraine’s counter-battery fire, things are reverting to what we saw earlier in the war. And just like then, Russia’s inability to mass firepower into fewer lines of attack means they spread their combat power thin, helping defenses hold.
Donetsk direction: Def Mon again:
Pisky is Russia’s biggest success story this week, if by “success story” we mean “strategically irrelevant halting advance at the cost of mass casualties.” Russia has been using its thermobaric MLRS to try and clear Ukrainian defensive positions. That also clears out anything else in the area.
This has been geolocated to about midway into the town with a pre-war population of … 18. It had 2,000 residents prior to the 2014 war, but this has been a frontline battlefront for eight years, situated just outside of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk City. Russia will presumably take this pile of rubble at some point, given the iron it’s throwing at it. But … polite golf clap? Again, the strategic value of expending so many resources at it is practically nil.
Kherson direction: Not gonna lie guys, I want to get back to vacation, so I’m going to leave you with this excellent and comprehensive update:
One of the themes of this Twitter thread is that Russia has abandoned several positions north of Kherson because of relentless Ukrainian artillery shelling. BUT … Ukrainian forces haven’t pushed forward, because of the equally relentless Russian artillery in this flat, open, and difficult-to-defend terrain. The conclusion is that not much is really happening:
Russian offensive operations on this front, while limited, are bizarre given their growing resupply issues and Ukraine’s systemic targeting of bridges into the region. I’m still of the mind that Ukraine is setting a trap, and this won’t be the focus of their upcoming big offensive. My money is still on southern Donbas and Zaporizhzhia as Ukraine’s ultimate focus, to cut off Russia from its eastern supply lines. HIMARS can handle bridges to cut off resupply from Crimea in the south. With newly arrived American HARM anti-radar missiles degrading Russia’s air defenses, Ukraine’s Air Force can even make helicopter resupply risky for the invaders.
I’m sure I’ve missed some movement around Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia, but the overall point remains—not much is changing. Russia is exhausting itself to gain hundresds of meters in eastern Donbas, Ukraine is “shaping the battlefield” around Kherson, for either a major offensive in the near future or setting a trap, and HIMARS and other mystery weapons continue degrading Russia’s supply lines, limiting the invader’s ability to both attack and defend.
All the while, hundreds and thousands are maimed and killed for the sake of Putin’s grand delusions.
Click here to donate to help those escaping Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine.