UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian forces have moved south from Avdiivka and are fighting in the town of Optyne, just a kilometer from the Donetsk air port.
Most of the attention today is focused on events related to Russia’s breach of the Kakhovka Dam. Considering that thousands of square kilometers are being flooded, thousands of people will be displaced, and both the ecology and economy of the area will be affected for decades, that level of attention is well-deserved.
But across the country, fighting continues. Russia may have intended to slow the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive through an uncontestable war crime, but in places like Bakhmut, the guns have definitely not gone silent.
Fighting continues both on the eastern front around Bakhmut, and on the southern front around Velyka Novosilka. There are reports of Ukrainian advances in several areas, and also of Russia recapturing an area that was liberated one day earlier. And across the Russian border in Belgorod, there’s another change in the situation as the Russian Volunteer Corps bring something new into their conflict: tanks.
On Monday, there were reports that Ukraine had moved across the “road of death” to recapture the area just below Berkhivka, northwest of the city. On Tuesday Ukraine reportedly advanced again, taking most or all of the town while pushing Russian forces back from positions they held around the reservoir on the southwest edge of Berkhivka.
At the same time, other Ukrainian forces have pressed from the west, hitting the end of the Russian salient along highway M30 (top arrow on the map) and pushing it back around 3 kilometers.
There is still reportedly Russian artillery around the village of Dubovo-Vasylivka—right in the middle of these two Ukrainian advances. These forces are now in danger of being cut off or encircled. Forcing this group into retreat takes the heat off the “road of life” through Khromove, which has carried a lot of the supply burden in the area over the past six months, and brings Ukraine closer to regaining use of the M03, which was lost at the first of the year.
In Bakhmut itself, there are more reports of gains, but no details. I’ve put a tiny blue polygon around the area of the appliance factory at Bakhmut’s southern entrance, but that’s not so much area regained from Russia as territory never really lost. Russia was in no hurry to occupy positions exposed to Ukrainian artillery, mortar, and direct fire. It would be nice to show portions of the city returning to Ukrainian control, but the details are not currently available and Ukraine might be in the same position: occupying that land would expose it to Russian fire, for little actual benefit.
South of the city, there are more reports of Ukrainian forces moving toward Klishchiivka and its big prize—the high terrain west of the settlement. Videos are appearing of Ukrainian forces crossing the canal south of the city on Monday and moving up from the southwest. Other forces are pressing from the west toward the fortifications on the hill above the town. If Ukraine can gain those fortifications, they’d have a position shooting down on Russians to the east (and another excellent artillery position for firing at areas around Bakhmut from a new direction). Things seem to be moving in this area, so expect more updates.
One thing very much worth noting in this map is the scale. After months of tracking change of control that happened block by block on maps zoomed in to have a scale of a couple of hundred meters, that scale bar over at the bottom right of this map is 10 kilometers. Ukraine has reportedly taken positions in the south that were captured by Russia in January. This is not a major counteroffensive, but it is having some fairly sizable results.
This area received attention on Monday when Ukraine suddenly moved against the Russian line at three locations, but on Tuesday action in the area appears to be reduced.
In the west. Russian sources report that Ukraine has liberated the town of Novodarivka. However, an attempt to reach Rivnopil, 5 kilometers to the east, resulted in the loss of as many as 10 Ukrainian vehicles and an unknown number of men.
There are reports that fighting continues around Neskuchne at the center of this effort, However, there doesn’t seem to be any confirmed change in areas of control.
To the east, Ukraine had reportedly liberated Novodonetske on Monday, but Russia reportedly pushed back into part of the town overnight. Ukrainian forces reportedly took an area to the west of that town, leaving an extended area in dispute.
As with Monday, what’s interesting about these attacks is how big they are not. Despite Russian claims to have wiped out 1,500 men and 150 vehicles, it doesn’t seem that much gear has been invested in all these attacks combined. Also, despite Russian claims, there doesn’t seem to be evidence of a lot of new NATO gear being used in this area. Clearly, this is part of the counteroffensive, because everything Ukraine is doing at this point is part of their strategy for what comes next. But this is not at all the kind of large, combined arms action that many expect when thinking about all those new Western-trained and equipped Ukrainian brigades.
The baffling thing with the move of Russian Volunteer Corps (known as RDK) and other anti-Putin Russian forces into the Belgorod area is just how slow Russia has been to respond. A week earlier, when the Russian opposition force moved through another border crossing 90 kilometers to the west, Russia made a huge show of sending in a high-ranking commander and elite airborne VDV forces to chase them out. But this time, the Ukrainian-aligned forces parked in Novaya Tavolzhanka seem to be considerably lower on Russia’s to-do list.
RDK forces have repeatedly taken Russian soldiers prisoner, killed a Russian colonel at the head of a small force sent to meet them, and basically taunted Russian forces for six straight days. Circulating maps showing an expanding “Belgorod People’s Republic” are a joke … probably. But the fact that these guys have been able to sustain a small occupation force within Russia for nearly a week is hard to fathom.
And now …
As of Tuesday evening, RDK forces were claiming to control all of the border settlement of Novaya Tavolzhanka (pop. 5,300). That claim was backed up by statements on Russian Telegram channels.
It’s enough to make it seem that the entire 400,000 Rosgvardia (“National Guard”) exists only to serve as Vladimir Putin’s personal army rather than for the defense of the nation.