Tuesday was one of those days when things changed so quickly that a map of the battlefield in some areas in the evening barely resembled that of the same areas in the morning. In two different areas of northeastern Ukraine, towns and villages were liberated, the area under Russian occupation was diminished, and remaining Russian forces in the region were placed at a sharply higher risk.
Though there are other things happening that are certainly important, it’s hard not to look first at the areas where Ukraine made big moves in the last 24 hours—and where current maps are almost certainly several steps behind the situation on the ground.
As always, you’ll probably need to open the map in another tab to get an image large enough if you want to follow along. On this morning’s map, I highlighted the roads that had been providing supplies and reinforcement to the Lyman and Drobysheve area. Note the “had been.”
On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces north of Lyman continued to surge to the east, taking a southward turn to liberate Zelena Dolyna and Kolodyazi. Reports already suggest that this isn’t the actual extent of Ukrainian forces. Russian sources are already talking about Ukraine attacking from Kolodyazi to both south and east, and Ukrainian sources indicate that Ukraine has moved into Ivanivka.
That puts Ukrainian forces directly on the highway that brings supplies to Lyman from the north. However, this may not even have been required to complete cutting the area off. That’s because the surprise push across the Siverskyii Donets River to Dibrova has also proved to be more than just a scouting force. Russian sources are claiming that Russia has now retreated from the town of Torske, which would put Ukraine in control of the intersection that provides access from either east or north.
Late on Tuesday, Ukraine captured Serednje and Shandryholove. That leaves a small pocket—from Drobysheve to Lyman to Yampil—occupied by Russian forces. And they are totally cut off.
Russia is left with two options: They can try to retreat, an action that would likely require a relief force from Svatove to hold open the road, or they can surrender in place. Actually, there is a third option. They could keep fighting. Based on the way Russia keeps blanketing the hills east of Bakhmut with bodies, that’s probably the order to all the soldiers now in the Lyman area. Hopefully, none of them are foolish enough to follow those orders.
It’s not clear how many Russian forces remain in this closing pocket, or how long they can hold out if they choose to keep fighting. With Vladimir Putin set to give his big “everyone in Ukraine wants to be Russia” speech on Friday, it would certainly be nice if the capture of Lyman could come in the next two days. What happens in this area could come quickly, or it could drag on for some time. Ukraine is unlikely to waste a lot of people trying to force Russia out of Lyman, but freeing forces up from this area would mean a significant leap into new areas. Stay tuned.
Last week, there were reported to be big fights in the area of Petropavlivka and Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi across the river from Kupyansk, and at Tavilzhanka across from Dvorichna. These battles appear to be over now, with each resulting in a Ukrainian victory. Ukrainian sources continue to state that there is high operational security in the area, and unlike the day-to-day moves around Lyman, there has been little visibility of what’s happening to the north. It’s very likely that this map reflects a conservative view of Ukraine’s liberated area on the east side of the Oskil River.
What is known is that Ukraine has now moved into Kivsharivka to the south and is reportedly trying to close the gap between these two bridgeheads. With the liberation of Kivsharivka, the two largest remaining Russian-occupied towns in Kharkiv Oblast are Lyman and Borova. There appear to be few defensive or geographic boundaries to prevent Ukraine from pushing Russia completely out of the oblast. In fact, there aren’t any real defensible lines for Russia until well over in Luhansk Oblast.
It’s still around a 30km trip if the forces across the river at Kupyansk mean to move down the eastern bank and hit Borova from the north, just as other forces have already moved into the city from the south. But there are only a few small locations on the way, so that might happen quickly, if it fits Ukraine’s plan.
And that might be the biggest clear signal out of everything this week—Ukraine is planning. It’s making coordinated moves between multiple units that are cooperating to both anticipate and react to Russia’s moves. When Ukraine set out to encircle the force at Lyman, it didn’t bull ahead. Where there was resistance, it moved around, shifting north, south, and east until some of those points of resistance were themselves surrounded, and Russian forces fled. They are not just launching people at Lyman every day and charting where the bodies fall, as Russia does at Bakhmut (That’s not accurate. Russia doesn’t bother to make a chart.)
However, since Russians are proving to be having trouble fighting Ukraine, they do have something of a new plan of their own—get Ukrainians to do it. As the BBC reports, Russia is warning Ukrainian men in occupied areas that they could be drafted to fight against Ukraine.
Russian soldiers are already going house to house in some villages and writing down the names of male residents, local residents say. They claim soldiers have told them to be ready for a call-up after the referendum.
Oh, yeah. That should fix everything.
Russian sources have good reason to worry. Indications are that Russian losses on the east side of the Oskil River were “horrific,” leaving the path to Svatove all but open along the P07 highway from Kupyansk. There are only a few towns and little topography along this route, and it’s a solid highway. Things could progress very quickly if Ukraine moves in this direction.