UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 12, 2023 · 9:26:38 PM +00:00
The Russian ministry of defense is now officially claiming to have “liberated” Soledar after destroying every building in the town and either driving out or killing everyone who lived there. Meanwhile, the claims on Telegram channels about Ukrainian losses in the town continue to grow exponentially. They’ve gone from claiming “100 Ukrainians surrendered” to “400 Ukrainians committed suicide” to “55,000 Ukrainians are dead in Soledar.” And no, I’m not kidding about that number.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is reporting that its forces still hold positions in Soledar. Also, they’d like to know when those other 54,500 troops are going to arrive.
As of Thursday morning, it’s difficult to say who actually controls the town of Soledar. Russia’s massive assault on that location has certainly gained them ground, though numerous videos of different groups of Russian soldiers being taken out by artillery, or drones, or a heavy machine gun emplacement certainly show that the cost of Russia’s advance has been extremely high.
As of this moment, videos just released by Ukrainian sources show Ukrainian soldiers reportedly in a portion of Soledar talking about how they were continuing to hold that position. On the other hand, the moneyman behind Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced yesterday that Soledar had been completely captured. He was then contradicted by the Russian ministry of defense.
Right now, any attempt to determine the situation in Soledar means sorting through an astounding flood of propaganda. Prigozhin may have only declared the town captured yesterday, but plenty of Russian sources, military bloggers, bots, and enthusiastic tankies got there ahead of him, declaring that Soledar had been taken now, or now, or absolutely now. Of course, with devastating loses by Ukraine. The sheer number of such reports is overwhelming, and it’s hard to read page after page on Telegram or Twitter declaring that the town has fallen—statements often repeated in the news media—without coming to the conclusion that Russia has somehow made some huge achievement. In fact, there are plenty of accounts ready to testify that the capture of Soledar is far more important than Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv. Because come on, what’s the liberation of 12,000 square kilometers, hundreds of localities, and cities like Izyum, Borova, and Lyman next to moving the line 2 km at Soledar?
But that’s not even the most bizarre claim Russian sources are making this morning.
Thursday morning in Soledar. The soldier in this video insists that Ukrainian troops hold the town and that Russians have not captured Soledar.
The best of the worst of Russian propaganda on Thursday has to be the claim that citizens of Kharkiv—a city that had been battered by Russian missiles and artillery daily since the beginning of the invasion—were so thrilled to get the news about Russia’s capture of Soledar that they decided to celebrate Russia’s achievement with a fireworks display. This claim is repeated over and over on both Twitter and Telegram across hundreds of accounts and channels.
As twisted as that idea may be, it’s not as dark as the claims circulating on pro-Russian sites that 100, or 300, or 400, or maybe 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers were “trapped” in Soledar and decided to commit suicide. Yes, that’s also a thing the tankies are claiming this morning.
Because it’s been so long since Russia had anything that even looked like a marginal victory, pro-Russian sources are trying to turn Soledar into “proof” of every claim out of the Kremlin. Soledar has already been turned into a banner they can wave to show that everything is going according to plan. Those feints at Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson? Bah. Only now is Russia seriously beginning to fight.
There’s a good reason for this propaganda flood: If Russia captures Soledar, it would be their first significant advance since July. If.
There’s no doubt that Ukraine is also attempting to paint the situation favorably. However, their motivations for exaggerating the ability of Ukrainian forces to withstand a large assault are certainly mixed. Would the loss of Soledar and increasing threat to Bakhmut make it more likely or less likely that modern main battle tanks roll into Ukraine in the next few weeks? Good question. Ukraine is not denying Russian gains in the area—Russia’s overrunning of the smaller Bakmutske was likely the most significant threat in the area for some months, as it displaced Ukraine from well-established defensive lines—and where Ukrainian forces can establish a position secure against what even Russians are calling “zerg assaults” isn’t clear. The answer may be “not in Soledar.”
By looking at the surrounding buildings, it would appear that video that appeared this morning showing Ukrainian forces still in the town was shot in the western part of Soledar. Each of the little explosion markers on today’s map doesn't reflect shelling by Russian forces, but locations in which the Ukrainian army reported on Thursday morning that a Russian ground assault had been repelled.
Note that for Soledar, the UA report says nothing more than “Soledar,” so the position of that marker was pulled from my own … let’s say hat. In any case, I think it’s safe to say this morning that Ukraine still controls a portion of Soledar, that fighting in the town continues, and that losses have been significant on both sides.
One thing that Ukraine is emphasizing this morning is that they still hold control over the highways leading into both Bakhmut and Soledar. This would seem to indicate that any Russian penetration to the west has not crossed the rail line running north-south into Bakhmut and Russia is not currently threatening access along the T0513 highway.
To the south of Bakhmut, there has also been a flood of claims on Thursday stating that Wagner has taken the suburb of Optyne. However, as best I can determine, lines in that area haven’t actually moved. The Ukrainian military denies that Optyne has been captured by Russian forces.
What’s happening in Soledar at the moment is also unclear. Russia appears to be continuing to attempt movement, but Ukrainian videos don’t indicate Russia is engaging in anything that looks like a combined arms assault. Instead … zerg.
The scene of that video actually appears to be a wooded area east of downtown Soledar. (On the map, it’s near where the “dot” for Soledar is located.) If this was actually shot on Thursday, then Russian forces are still having difficulty capturing the central portion of the town. However, as with everything else, it’s hard to be sure this video was actually shot. The snow on the ground is accurate to conditions in Soledar over the last two days.
Time to sum up. Has Russia captured all of Soledar? No. Will it be important if it does? Possibly. That depends on whether Ukraine is able to establish new positions that safeguard the highways leading to Bakhmut. Even if Russia is able to reach the T0513 highway, Ukraine will still be able to supply Bakhmut from the northwest along the M03, but it would represent a loss of flexibility and could be a threat to other locations north of Bakhmut.
While sifting through the morning reports from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense listing those areas assaulted by Russia on Thursday morning, there is one that stands out. In fact, there are two big names making their first appearance. See if you can catch it:
In the direction of Lyman, the Russian army shelled Terny in Kharkiv Oblast, along with Makiivka, Ploshchanka, Nevske, Chervonopopivka, Kreminna, Kuzmyne and Dibrova in Luhansk Oblast.
Not to ruin the surprise, but one of the names in there is Kreminna. It also shows up on the list of areas where Ukraine claims to have repelled a Russian attack overnight. This follows reports on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces were advancing on Kreminna from the southwest. While some of those reports place Ukrainian forces “near” the western outskirts of the city, others indicate that the Ukrainian military has already entered areas of Kreminna.
The official statements from the Ukrainian military don’t really confirm this either way since they are always carefully worded as “in the direction of” or “in the area of.” However, the fact that the list includes Kuzmyne and Dibrova as well as Kreminna is a good indicator that the Ukrainian forces they’re talking about are not those at surrounding villages. There are numerous videos that reportedly show Ukrainian forces reportedly advancing on Kreminna; however, those videos are fairly strewn with bodies.
There have also been several versions of this video spread around. I’m using this one because it leaves off the ending in which both men in the video are shot with a burst of machine gun fire.
Pro-Russian sources are claiming that this shows Ukrainian forces in the woods south of Kreminna being overrun by Russian forces. However, Ukrainian sources are claiming that these men are Russians who have adopted Ukrainian uniforms. There are other reports that Russians in the area have adopted blue or yellow armbands to increase confusion—already high because of the low visibility among the trees. What’s the truth? I do not know.
In any case, Ukraine is apparently in or very near Kreminna with multiple reports of advancement. This is the first day that Kreminna has appeared in the “shelled” or “repulsed attack” lists—that’s significant.
But I promised you there were two names in that list that were significant, and the answer is right back at the very front of the list: Terny in Kharkiv Oblast. That’s because Terny is at the extreme northeast corner of Kharkiv Oblast. If Ukraine has forces there, it would represent an advance of some 15 km from their last known positions north of Kupyansk. So is this real, or does it represent some confusion on the part of Ukrainian military (or Russian artillery)? Stay turned. We’ll try to find out.
Here’s a drone drop that doesn’t end with anyone dying … it ends with someone getting some sugar for their morning coffee.