This is, in many ways, the easiest job of “war correspondent” anyone has ever had. No one is shooting at me. I’m not wearing a flack jacket, sleeping on a cot, or feeling the concussive thump as artillery strikes the ground nearby. The only threats I get arrive by email. The real correspondents, the one who deserve every word of praise and unlimited appreciation, are the ones who have already given their lives so that the world could be informed about the injustice of the unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, and about the desperate resistance of the Ukrainian people.
This week didn’t just mark a day of remembrance for those journalists lost in reporting this war, it provided the grimmest of reminders about why Russia must be defeated. And it did so in a way that, even for armchair journalists over 5,000 miles away, was very difficult to take.
As Ukraine made its sweeping counteroffensive across Kharkiv Oblast over the last week, it liberated over 8,500 square kilometers and over 350 cities, towns, and villages from Russian occupation. And in just the last few days, as that darkness was stripped away, we’ve begun to get a glimpse of what was happening behind the front lines.
This isn’t the first time. When Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv collapsed at the beginning of April, every step Ukrainian forces took into the area that Russia had occupied seemed to reveal a fresh set of atrocities. No place seemed more emblematic of the horrors Russia had committed than Bucha, where a mass grave containing over 450 bodies, bodies that illustrated cruelty including torture, rape, murder, and dismemberment. More than twenty bodies lay in the streets of Bucha for weeks without any of the Russian forces making a move to bury them. Some of those bodies had been run over multiple times by Russian vehicles. Including tanks.
Bucha wasn’t alone. As Russian forces moved back toward the border, the same story was found at both what had been bustling towns and in tiny villages. Torture chambers and mass graves. The bodies of those who had been shot. The bodies of those who had been tortured. The bodies of those who had been beheaded. The bodies of children burned on a playground.
It wasn’t so much an occupation as a rolling massacre. It’s perhaps what might be expected from the army of a nation where the leader has spent decades delegitimizing the neighboring nation and dehumanizing its citizens.
Perhaps the worst thing about Bucha was this: Russia only held the town for less than a month. For other areas, that occupation clock has now been ticking for six months, or longer.
In the case of Izyum, Russian forces reached the city in the third week of March. Now that Ukrainian forces have pushed Russia away from the town, what’s being revealed is a whole new set of horrors.
These weren’t statistics on Vladimir Putin’s chessboard. They were men, women, and children. They were people’s family and friends. They were people like the Stolpakov family, who are now all dead. Their bodies were all piled together in that mass grave at Izyum. Those children opened their presents at Christmas. They didn’t know it would be their last Christmas. Look at that little girl holding up a peace sign. That’s the real price of this war.
This is the easiest war correspondent job anyone ever had. But sometimes it still seems hard. There are videos out there showing in graphic detail the bodies being uncovered at Izyum. Videos that are not so well and tastefully done as the BBC clip above. I urge you not to watch them.
But it is very hard not to think about what has happened in cities like Kherson, Melitopol, Nova Kakhovka, and Mariupol. It’s harder not to think of what is still happening there. Right now. Today.
It’s not just vitally important for the entire world that these bastards be beaten. It’s important that it happen as quickly as possible. For all the Stolpakov families who are left.
How many places can Ukraine cross the Oskil River to push into the area Russia was trying to hold as the new front line? It turns out that Ukraine can cross where there is a bridge. And where there isn’t a bridge. And just about anywhere it wants.
Reports on Friday and Saturday indicate that Ukrainian forces have captured the eastern side of Kupyansk, and crossed the river in force at Dvorichna as well as around Borova. Apparently all of these movements have happened with relatively little resistance and it’s unclear at this point how far Ukrainian troops have spread out from these crossing points.
On the other hand, fighting around Lyman has been called “incredibly intense” and even “the fiercest exchange of the war.” Ukrainian forces have liberated the towns of Studenok and Sosnove at the west end of this new line, but are now reportedly engaged at Rubtsi, Krymky, and Oleksandrivka. If Ukraine can push Russian forces back from these positions, they’ll be better configured to come at Lyman from multiple sides—which is just what allowed Russia to capture the city in the first place.
Ukrainian forces south of the city are in a regional park with heavy forest and rugged terrain. This may sound like a place with good cover, but it’s also reportedly a very difficult place from which to advance on the city. So right now Russian forces, reportedly reinforced by three battalion tactical groups formerly in Izyum, have been able to keep Ukraine from taking the city. Both sides are reportedly suffering very heavy casualties in the ongoing conflict.
Ukraine may need forces to move in from the west, or to come down from one of those river crossing positions on the north, to finally end this confrontation. However, Ukraine’s progress in capturing those locations on the west and the suburbs directly south of Lyman has been confirmed. (There’s nothing sensitive about this video. I don’t know why it’s marked that way.)
Saturday, Sep 17, 2022 · 5:54:21 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
Ukraine doesn’t yet have any Leopard tanks, and there’s been no announcement that Leopards are on their way. However …
Spain only has Leopard 2 and Leopard 2E tanks. 54 of those Leopard 2s are listed as “in reserve.” Seems like they could do that in Ukraine.
Saturday, Sep 17, 2022 · 6:01:11 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
I’m not quite going to put a big breaking banner at the top of this (though I kind of just did), but reports are coming in that Russian forces are moving back from Lyman. And not just Lyman, but all points along that southern front.
No idea what’s up yet, if this is a retreat, strategic withdrawal, or actual repositioning. But there are Telegram reports from just about every location reporting that Russian forces have moved back a kilometer or more.
Saturday, Sep 17, 2022 · 6:50:31 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
All day long reports of heavy machinegun fire inside the city of Kherson have been coming in from multiple areas.
How this is possible? Is it Ukrainian partisans rising up from inside the city? Is it the apparently invisible Ukrainian troops who made it to Sofiivka and surprised everyone? Is it Russian forces turning on each other and Kadyrov’s Chechens and Wagner Group turning into cannibalistic tribes? I have no idea.
But something unexpected is definitely happening in Kherson.
Saturday, Sep 17, 2022 · 7:26:15 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
Russian Telegram channels report that “men who resisted Russian security” have been eliminated in Kherson. Fighting reportedly began near the train station, then spread to the central business area.
No further details have popped up. Unclear if this is really over.
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