Tokmak is not a large city. With a population of 29,573 in 2021, it is less than half the size of pre-war Bakhmut. It’s less than ¼ the population of the Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan. Bakhmut is the 58th largest city in Ukraine, Tokmak is the 138th.
On the other hand, Tokmak is one of the most heavily fortified Russian-occupied cities in Ukraine.
Those of us who have been following the Russo-Ukrainian War have gotten to know some names of previously obscure Ukrainian cities: like Izium. Lyman. Kupiansk.
Izium is the largest of these cities with a pre-war population of 45,000, so none of these are particularly large cities. But each of them sit upon a critical rail line and a network of roads that make them far more important than the size of the city would suggest.
Tokmak’s importance, as is so often the case, lies in logistics, logistics, and logistics.
Mapping Tokmak against the current front line, you can see that Tokmak lies at the center of 5 major roads. These roads connect the 2 major cities of the area (Berdyansk and Melitopol) while connecting to the 2 defensive hub cities at the front. Vasylivka to the northwest, and Polohy to the Northeast.
This actually greatly undersells Tokmak’s importance.
Lets add in Ukraine’s rail lines and the Molochna river to the map.
Now you begin to see why Tokmak is so important to Russia—in fact, it may be THE key to Russia’s defense of this entire sector of front.
Russia can supply its troops from 2 primary directions—from the North east (from Belgorod via Starobilsk and Donetsk), and from Crimea via the Kerch Bridge.
As has been noted many times by Kos and Mark, the Russians are incapable of supplying troops long-distance by road and truck. Russia is reliant on rail transport for supply.
As I noted in my previous diary, an offensive by Ukraine would likely attempt to use the Molochna river to shield their left flank in advancing towards Melitopol
In such an offensive, advancing predominantly west of the Molochna river, the natural way to counterattack would be from the East, to cut off the Ukrainian vanguard’s line of supply.
If Ukraine doesn’t secure Tokmak and bypasses it, Russia could launch an attack to the northwest from Tokmak, and it’s only 35km (22 miles) from Tokmak to Vasylivka—a relatively short distance even for the Russian army.
However, if the Ukrainians secure or surround Tokmak first, Russia’s options for a counteroffensive suddenly get a lot more limited.
If Ukraine captures or surrounds Tokmak, there’s basically no way to get supplies from the East for a Russian counteroffensive without first recapturing Tokmak. Russia could no longer get supplies or reinforcements from the East to support Melitopol, at least without making a 100km overland trek by truck. And we all probably remember how that went the last time the Russians tried that.
(For those unaware, in the Battle of Kiev, many Russian trucks suffered from poor maintenance and suffered numerous breakdowns. Russia’s overland supply lines broke down and Russia was defeated in the Battle of Kiev. Russia’s logistics are nearly entirely reliant on railroads except very short distances.)
What that means is, capture Tokmak, and Ukraine can basically count on no counterattacks from the East, except basically directly at Tokmak.
No significant Russian attacks, except maybe by some small recon units or partisans should be expected, and Russia would basically be walled off from using any forces east of Tokmak in any other way.
Ukraine could fortify its supply line from any attacks from the East, simply by running troops into and around Tokmak—which sounds like a great job for Territorial Defense Brigade conscripts.
This whole analysis would work in the reverse as well.
If Ukraine chose to attack East of Melitopol and make Berdyansk and Mariupol the primary objectives of the initial Spring Offensive, capturing Tokmak would effectively wall off any counterattacks from Russia from the West of the offensive,
Tokmak is essentially the lynchpin that holds the Western and Eastern wings of the Russian army together. Capture Tokmak, and the two wings fall apart into 2 independent armies no longer capable of supporting each other directly.
Tokmak may be one of the single most important strategic positions in all of Russian occupied Southern Ukraine,