Over the last three weeks, attention has focused on the behind-the-lines attacks made by Ukraine on Russian bases, supply depots, and infrastructure. For good reasons. These attacks, made with a combination of precision weapons—including possible Ukrainian forces on the ground many kilometers inside areas Russia considered “safe”—have changed the entire tone of the war.
Since it began hitting the bridges over the Dnipro River, Ukraine has taken charge of the southern theater in the invasion, causing Russia to make hurried deployments in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, and leaving them to struggle with fragile pontoon bridges and barge transports as a means of supplying forces on the west bank. There’s been almost a daily testing from Ukraine’s long-range weaponry. Take out a bridge here, see how Russia responds. Remove a command center there, watch to see how that gap is filled. Punch out an ammunition depot, and measure the change in artillery over the following days.
In the last few days, much of the attention has focused on Crimea. Ukraine has taken out two air bases in the long-occupied region, and taken out another Russian supply depot, and hit a power station that temporarily shut down rail travel in northern Crimea. The demonstration that Ukraine can reach literally hundreds of kilometers into territory that Russia “annexed” more than eight years ago has caused both panic and paranoia among Russians in the area. Thousands have been trying to escape across the Kerch Bridge into Russia. Meanwhile, Russian forces are reportedly conducting extensive and intrusive searches in the hopes of uncovering Ukrainian partisans.
Russia’s major response seems to have been to pick up the pace on both missiles and artillery. Rates of shelling in both Donetsk and Kharkiv have reached levels that haven’t been seen in over a month. In Kharkiv oblast, Russia has been harassing and expanding the line of villages along the border, bringing the war back to places that had received a few blessed weeks of relative quiet.
But there’s one other way Russia may be preparing to react to Ukraine’s recent actions, and it’s extremely concerning. On Wednesday, the spokesperson for the Russian military claimed that Ukraine is planning a “false flag provocation” in which “Russia will be blamed for a man-made catastrophe” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, located in the town of Enerhodar, was the site of that heart-stopping exchange back in early March in which Russian forces launched a night attack on the plant and the nearby town. In that assault, which included artillery and MLRS fire, security cameras showed Russian forces firing into the plant complex, setting fire to a training facility and back-up controls for the plant. The full extent of the damage remains unclear.
Since Russia fully occupied the area, there have been reports of engineers and scientists being forced to work endless shifts, and of Russia taking numerous actions that endanger the safety of the plant. Over the last month, as Ukraine has shown proficiency in erasing Russian supply depots many kilometers from the front line, Enerhodar has become a major ammunition depot. Russia has reasoned—probably correctly—that Ukraine would not risk firing into the area of the nuclear plant, even with high precision weaponry. Considering the scale of the explosion generated in attacks on other ammunition depots, they’re probably correct in that assessment.
Russia has also reportedly used the Zaporizhzhia plant as the launching point for artillery and rocket attacks at other locations, that includes Ukrainian cities on the opposite side of the Dnipro River, as well as areas in both Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
The warning of an impending “man-made catastrophe” may just be Russia warning Ukraine not to drop shot anywhere near the ammo-packed plant, and there’s no sign that Ukraine has been, or was planning to, direct any fire that way. A nation that already plays host to the burned-out hulk of Chernobyl and the surrounding “dead zone” takes these things extremely seriously. They're taking this threat seriously enough that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has renewed calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEI) and United Nations to assume control of the plant and ensure its safety.
One reason this is likely popping up now: the roads the south of Enerhodar represent one of the major routes that Russia is now using to shuttle materiel back and forth in efforts to shore up its actions in Kherson and to respond to Ukrainian moves in Zaporizhzhia. Russia may be trying to leverage concern about the situation at the plant to protect critical crossroads less than 10 kilometers to the south.
In any case, considering that Russia has already blamed the explosion of some ammunition depots on “accidents,” the idea that they’ve stacked artillery shells and rockets around a nuclear plant is not a good thing.
It’s been some time since we’ve done an update on the state of the battlefield across Ukraine, so consider this a very quick update, touching on the highlights in each area. In Kherson, Russia has taken advantage of reduced Ukrainian forces at the southern end of the line to secure Stanislav and retake most of Olexsandrivka. Between that point and Snihurivka, both Ukraine and Russia have established salients and defensive positions, with a number of small villages changing hands over the last two weeks as the two forces jockey for position. That Ukrainian forces on the eastern bank of the Inhulets River, south of Davydiv Brid, was reportedly under assault all along the line on Wednesday, but there’s been no word yet of any real change in position there. At the north end of the line, reports that Ukraine had taken Vysokopillya seem to have come almost daily, but at the moment, Russian forces appear to be holding out, despite being largely isolated from resupply or relief.
On a more strategic level, both major bridges over the Dnipro River in the oblast are now considered impassable to vehicles, and Russia has been resorting to barges as the major means of supply. There have been reports of Russian leadership fleeing the area, and of Russian forces escaping by barge, but if any of those reports are true, the results don’t seem to be visible in terms of the area controlled on the ground.
In large part, the lines in the south are where they were two weeks ago, but there have been some changes. Ukraine appears to have advanced closer to Vasylivka on the western side of the line. In the middle, between Hulyaipole and Velyka Novosika, there has been a lot of activity, but few lasting gains. Both sides are currently apparently in control of villages that are otherwise well inside the territory of the other force. It’s unlikely any of this represents a lasting gain. Where the line hooks north, Blahodatne looks to be well on its way to being another of those “hero cities”—locations that just repel assault after assault, even as the buildings and roads are being shelled into rubble. North of that location, Russia has been fighting to occupy Pisky almost continually over the last two weeks, but changes can be measured in blocks, not kilometers.
Russia’s major effort in the east continues to be the press toward Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. However, despite a resumption of high levels of artillery shelling, the points of contention haven’t moved a great deal from where they were two weeks ago. In general, Russia has had more success at the southern end of the line, with forces extending ever closer to Bakhmut. Pro-Russian sources have made multiple claims that Russia has occupied parts or all of Bakhmut over the last week. That doesn’t seem to be true. The level of artillery pounding many of these small towns and villages are receiving is intense, but so far, there doesn’t seem to be the kind of breakthrough that would allow Russia to make the kind of significant gains that came after Severodonetsk finally toppled.
A big part of why things are moving slowly on the eastern part of this front might be that there no longer is a western part. A month ago, there appeared to be a real threat that Slovyansk could be dealing with forces from both east and west, but that was before things took a big change around Izyum.
What happened to that threat from the west was Bohorodychne. For over two weeks, Russia was unable to dislodge Ukrainian forces that had moved into the hills above the town, and when Russian forces faltered, Ukraine surged back in. Since then, Russia has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to get back on the offensive. Instead, They appear to have lost control of both Dibrovne and Dolyna, locations that were the subject of hard fighting for weeks. On Thursday, there was word that Russia has actually abandoned the town of Dovhen'ke, whose capture was one of the biggest victories of the whole Izyum salient. However, Ukraine hasn’t moved into this area as Russia left behind a present in the form of a dense area of mines and other explosive devices.
If Russia has any good news in this area, it’s that they seem to have pushed Ukrainian forces from those pesky woods west of the city of Izyum, where a small group of Ukrainians had been operating almost with impunity for over a month. Ukraine may have left the two villages they had liberated in this area. However, the situation is reversed to the north, near Zalyman, where Ukrainian forces have pressed the line of control back by a couple of kilometers.
If there’s any really bad news area over the last two weeks, it’s Kharkiv. As most of the focus has turned to other areas, Russia has sent more forces into the area. That force that Ukraine was able to maintain on the eastern side of the Siversky Donets River for over a month now appears to have been withdrawn or eliminated, with Russia back in control of Khotimlya and locations directly across the (still out) bridge at Staryi Saltiv. Russian forces have also turned the disputed areas around Rubiznhe and Ternova in their favor. Perhaps most importantly, Russia has pushed back to retake Vesele. That not only secures much of the access to their stronghold on the west side of Lyptsi, it gives them another area in artillery range of the north part of Kharkiv city.
To the west, Ukraine has actually had more success in securing previously disputed areas like Dementiivka and holding the line south of Kozacha Lopan. However, Russia has engaged in a curious strategy that seems designed to force Ukraine to draw off forces from this area. Over the last week, Russia has been sending small teams to harass, and in some cases hold, Ukrainian towns right along the Russian border. The extent of this action goes several kilometers beyond the western limit of this map. However, these actions appear to be more in the area of raids. Reports that Russia had taken Udy appear to be false, and the border actions appear to be happening in a strip just a kilometer or two wide.
Even if the action along the border doesn’t represent a serious threat, it seems likely that Ukraine will need to resume more forceful actions in the area, if only to push Russian forces back from positions that can be used to easily shell the city.
And that’s … it. A very high-level overview of where things stand and what’s been happening while all eyes have been turned toward exploding ammo dumps in Donetsk and air bases in Crimea.
A $@#$ing metric ton of stuff in Russian-occupied territory (and in Russia) is blowing up on Thursday night in Ukraine.
So far, we have explosions at:
- An air force base south of Sevastopol.
- An ammo depot in Belgorod, Russia.
- Another supply depot in Nova Kakhovka.
- Possible explosions in Kerch that may be related to the bridge.
The information is still coming in, along with videos, and we’ll cover these in detail in the next update. But in the meantime, enjoy:
Reports of artillery being fired in the Enerhodar area at nearby targets. Waiting to hear more.