For those whose only measure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is where things stand on the map, this is the easiest update possible: Nothing happened yesterday. Neither Russia nor Ukraine gained or lost a single village. Update done.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Russia certainly tried to take Ukrainian positions. In Kherson, the Donbas, and Kharkiv, Russian forces made attempts to push Ukrainian troops out of villages and fortified positions. It’s just that all those attempts failed. They failed in an effort to dislodge Ukrainian forces from those positions on the east bank of the Inhulets River. They failed in an attempt to get closer to Siversk from the southeast. They failed in a pair of attacks near Avdiivka. They failed at Marinka and Blahodatne and Novomykhailivka. And if you don’t immediately know where all of those are it doesn’t really matter. Because nothing seriously changed.
There was a sight that got people out into the streets applauding as a Ukrainian jet dodged Russian missiles over the Donbas and made good its escape, but really, the biggest action didn’t take place with the armies moving during the day, but with the rockets flying at night.
Russia, as usual, flung more Tochka rockets and long-range MLRS fire into civilian areas. That includes a strike that hit a home for people with hearing disabilities at Staryi Saltiv, where at least 12 were killed. In the city of Zaporizhzhia, a missile struck an apartment building, killing one woman and wounding at least three others. In the poor battered city of Kharkiv, at least six died and more than 20 were wounded in at least three separate strikes. With Russian guns back at Vesele, as well as Lyptsi, Kharkiv is again subject to regular bombardment with cheap artillery shells as well as more expensive MLRS and missile strikes.
There were also very strange reports that volleys of artillery fire were launched from the area of the the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant at Enerhodar. These shells reportedly struck some target very nearby rather than shooting across the river at Ukrainian positions. What the purpose of all this was remains a mystery. However, there are now a number of images available showing how Russia is using buildings at the nuclear plant to store vehicles and supplies.
But it was the other explosions in the darkness that caught most of the attention on Thursday night. Those included at least four explosions at Belbek air base near Sevastopol, way down at the south end of Crimea. Belbek is the largest air base in Crimea and has been the primary site for Russian flights in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts. After surviving planes were located away from other bases following a series of Ukrainian strikes in the last weeks, Belbek may also be the only large air base remaining in Crimea. Russia is claiming that the explosions overnight caused no damage, and that Russian air defenses took out a drone involved in the attack. As of yet, there are no satellite images or other details to dispute that claim. However, on Wednesday Russia reportedly moved a large number of aircraft out of Crimea to bases inside Russia, showing the effectiveness of this series of attacks.
One of the first reports that came in during the evening was of an explosion near Kerch, where the long Crimean Bridge extends southeast from Crimea into Russia. However, this explosion seems to have come from Russian air defenses. It’s unclear whether there was any explosion on the ground, or that Russia actually shot anything down.
There were also reports of an explosion in the Russian city of Stary Oskol, over 150 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. This may have been completely unrelated, though some reports suggest that it represents a missile that went up … then came right back down.
Some much more definite strikes occurred at Nova Kakhovka. There Ukraine seems to have given a fresh dose of pummeling to the bridge running across the top of the dam over the Dnipro River. The route already seemed impassible to vehicles. This may have been Ukraine simply doubling down to see that Russia didn’t get around to any repairs in the near future.
The biggest news from overnight has to be from the Russia city of Belgorod. Located just 30 kilometers from the Ukraine border and home to a large Russian military base, Belgorod has been a frequent staging area for Russian forces moving into Ukraine near Kharkiv. It’s also been the site of many of the missiles and long-range rocket fire that have raked Kharkiv almost daily since the war began.
Before the war, the border station on the E105 between Belgorod and Kharkiv was one of the two largest crossing points between Russia and Ukraine. Russia is currently supplying its forces north of Kharkiv along the same route, and many of the supplies and forces moving out of Russia now flow out of Belgorod to the smaller crossing point at Vovchansk. The critical nature of that crossing point is exactly why Russia has been pressing more forces into the area northeast of Kharkiv.
Back in April, Ukrainian helicopter pilots made a skillful raid into Belgorod, flying at treetop level, to take out a fuel depot. Now another depot has exploded, but it’s not in the Russian city itself. This time it’s farther to the east. It’s also not fuel going up. This time it’s ammunition. And it’s spectacular.
More lengthy videos of the explosion shows that it just goes on and on and on. Just how much ammunition Russia lost in this event isn’t clear, but every one of those shells going up is a shell that can’t be launched at Ukrainian forces in the Donbas or at Ukrainian civilians in Kharkiv.
A previous round of Ukrainian strikes on ammunition storage facilities create a dramatic and measurable drop in Russia’s use of what has been its primary weapon throughout this invasion. However, in the last week Russia has resumed using artillery at levels approaching those during the assault on Severodonetsk. Which leads to this incredible chart.
By some estimates, Russia is lobbing more than 52,000 shells—and 2,400 tons of explosives—in Ukraine every day. That’s more throw weight per day than any army in World War I, and more than the Soviet Army fired in all but the final year of World War II. That’s an incredible level of destruction, and it’s all been directed at just a small area of one nation.
As usual, Ukraine’s first response to Moscow’s angry accusations concerning Belgorod is to issue a cheeky denial. In this case, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense sent Moscow a tweet warning about the dangers of smoking. But however that ammunition depot went up, it represents another large materiel loss to Russia … which is good, because tomorrow we’re going to cover the declining flow of Western weapons and supplies into Ukraine.
In the meantime, have another look.
There are few things on Earth that Russia is better at producing than artillery shells. But maybe the losses at Belgorod and elsewhere will result in at least temporary respite.
The Washington Post has a story up today on the intelligence failures that led to Russia’s utter defeat in the Battle of Kyiv.
The overwhelming factor in everything that went wrong for Russia was simply hubris. Among other things:
- Russian officers spent the last days before the invasion planning where they would live in Kyiv rather than making sure their forces were in order.
- Russia had not one, but two, pro-Russian governments in their pocket for ready installation in Kyiv. Never let it be said that Russia always forgets to order spare parts.
For all the intelligence failures, Russia doesn’t seem to have done anything to replace the people in charge. Because competence is never a job requirement in an authoritarian oligarchy.
The question every Russian seems to be asking: What air defense doing?
There have been suggestions that some of the explosions on Thursday night were Russian forces purposely exploding missiles or shells in an effort to support claims of shooting down Ukrainian drones in order to calm growing fears in the Crimea. Whether or not any actual drones were harmed in the process remains to be seen.
As Friday evening begins in Ukraine, both air defense guns and missiles are active in at least three areas of Crimea, including over Sevastopol and Kerch. There seems a high possibility here that either:
- Russia is trying to reassure the public that air defenses are there.
- Ukraine is probing those defenses with low cost drones preparatory for a more serious attack.
As with the reports last night, stay tuned tomorrow for more information in the next update.