On Wednesday night, Ukraine reportedly did what many had expected this week: take advantage of a waning moon and Western night-vision gear to attack Russian positions along the southern front. The results of these attacks aren’t fully known as Ukraine maintains operational silence, but it’s now clear that the counteroffensive is really, truly underway. And that includes Leopard tanks being involved in combat.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued its own attack in the west. After flooding the Kherson area by blowing up the Kakhovka Dam, Russian forces have reportedly destroyed several dams on smaller reservoirs in the area, along with preparing still more dams for destruction The point of all this seems to be to put as much water and mud between Russian forces and a potential Ukrainian counterattack across the river as possible, while still allowing Russian artillery to fire into Kherson. That it’s leaving people stranded on rooftops across the area occupied by Russia doesn’t appear to be a concern.
Four days after Russian sources first began reporting Ukrainian attacks along a section of the southern front, those attacks seem to be getting ever larger and more significant. Rather than just small unit actions, it now seems as if at least three full brigades are engaged in the area around Velyka Novosilka pressing Russian forces back.
But that does leave one big question that is surely of high interest to Russia: Where are Ukraine’s nine other strike brigades?
Ukraine had reportedly created a dozen new brigades of forces trained on both Western gear and Western tactics. In addition, several existing units were trained to use select Western equipment after being rotated away from the front.
It now seems that Ukraine has launched attacks not just in the three areas where actions had been underway up until yesterday, but also well to the west, north of Melitopol and Tokmak.Those attacks appear to have had success in moving Russian forces back in at least two locations. As with almost everything currently underway, the information available comes largely from Russian sources. Often those sources are reporting how they have valiantly repelled Ukrainian troops and defended their positions. Only the positions that Russia is defending keep showing a tendency to drift to the south.
On Wednesday, political history professor John Helin provided what’s probably the best overview of actions in the area south of Velyka Novosilka, where attacks have been reported since Monday.
While those actions may have started with what appeared to be probing attacks at several locations along the front, they’ve grown into a larger and more sustained push, one in which Ukrainian troops aren’t sending out small groups and then setting back, but following up gains with more forces, securing positions, and bringing artillery and other weapons forward under cover of tanks and infantry. In short, it’s looking like combined arms warfare being conducted by a force that includes both Western gear and a large number of men.
Russians claim these units are the 23rd, 31st, and 37th brigades. Only 37th can be confirmed with moderate confidence through OSINT due to the presence of AMX-10 RC's and Mastiff MRAP's on Russian videos.
Previous reporting on the area (including here) had focused heavily on the town of Novodonetske, where Ukrainian forces seemed to have their first successes in pushing Russian troops out of a long-occupied settlement. However, it now seems that the major thrust of the operations in the area have been along the road directly south of Velyka Novosilka. Ukraine has powered through Russian positions at a whole string of towns that lead toward the highway junction at Staromlynivka.
At its deepest penetration, Ukraine has approached the village of Urozhaine, about 10 kilometers south of Velyka Novosilka, after either securing or bypassing a cluster of other villages and towns.The area just west of the highway is split by the narrow and twisting Mokri Yaly River, but it appears that Ukrainian forces are staging attacks on both sides of this river, with the eastern advance currently running ahead of the penetration on the west where more substantial villages were located.
But while it may not look like the troops on the western bank are advancing quickly, they’ve performed an even more important task. They reportedly secured positions on high ground around Storozheve, allowing Ukraine to have fire control over the highway and Russian positions to the south.
Helin’s thread doesn’t include the activities of the past 24 hours. In that time, Ukraine seems to have united the area around Novodonetske with the push toward Staromlynivka. It may not look like much, but that’s about 60 square kilometers—an area larger than the whole city of Bakhmut—which took Russia nine months to capture. This is particularly notable because this is heavily defended and heavily mined territory, in an area Russia expected would be targeted.
At the same time, Ukraine has renewed attacks around Rivnopil and Levadne. If it looks like there are a lot of arrows on the map above, that’s because there seems to be a good number of units involved here pressing the line across about 40 kilometers of front. If those actions on Monday were Ukraine feeling out Russian positions, Ukraine apparently liked what they found. It’s likely that several of these settlements are now fully liberated by Ukraine, but so far nothing has been announced.
That’s not all. Early reports that there was activity to the west turned into what seem to be more coordinated attacks on Wednesday night, with Ukrainian forces taking ground around Robotyne, directly south of Orikhiv, and around Lobkove, to the northeast of Vasylivka.
The scale or the units involved in these attacks aren't clear. However, they did come with something new: the first real footage of Leopard tanks on the front lines.
The string of images, which is all Russian drone footage, includes a group of vehicles burning at a location south and east of the earlier pictures near Novopokrovka. One of the vehicles involved does appear to be a damaged or destroyed Leopard 2A4 tank. This time, the loss looks to be real and not just a misidentified tractor. Reports from Russian military bloggers are that the Leopard ran into mines, while the Russian MOD insists it was hit by artillery fire.The outcome of the battle in which the Leopards were involved is unknown.
Things are just that foggy at the moment. Most information is coming either from Russians who are panicking, Russians who are trying to curry favor with leadership, or Russians who are trying to curry favor while panicking. None of the above are great sources for accurate information.
However, that lost Leopard certainly seems to be part of a large collection of hardware in the area, one that certainly suggests where a good portion of those remaining Western-trained brigades may be.
This area is right above Melitopol and the crucial railway and highway junction town of Tokmak. It’s the area where most reports have suggested Ukraine might concentrate its efforts for months. It’s also the area where Russia had dedicated itself to ring after ring of defensive structures designed to slow any assault.
It’s essentially the hardest of hard points anywhere on the front, but also one of the most valuable targets. Ukraine is hitting it. On Thursday, there is reportedly another push underway in the area of Nesterianka.
Along the southern front, Ukraine’s counteroffensive is now active across 150 kilometers of positions. That won’t be all. It may not even be the only front. So far Ukraine had made gains in some areas, but the loss of the Leopard tank shows that Western hardware is far from invulnerable on the battlefield, especially in areas with prepared positions, minefields, surveillance drones, and overlapping zones of artillery fire.
With Kharkiv, Ukraine was able to dash. In Zaporizhzhia, it may be a grind. And Ukraine hasn’t even hit the first series of defensive lines. But in any case, it’s not just Ukrainian equipment that’s burning.
While Ukrainian troops on the west bank have been working steadily to rescue people and animals from the floodwaters resulting from Russia’s destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, the east bank is offering up nothing but horror stories. Civilians are finding themselves trapped on rooftops, without assistance, as Russia attempts to pretend all is normal.
For many of those in heavily flooded low-lying towns east of the Dnipro River, the situation is dire. But at least a few have been getting a little help from Ukrainian drone pilots.
Even in the liberated areas on the west bank, rescue efforts are having to deal with an element that should never be a part of such situations. In the midst of the flooding, Russia is shelling locations where rescue operations are underway.
To make things even worse, Human Rights in Ukraine reports that Russians are destroying dams at smaller reservoirs, and erecting barriers not to protect homes but, “to ensure that the water overflows and floods roads and fields.” The goal is apparently to create a huge area of watery bog, protecting Russia’s western flank from a potential cross-river counterattack. Russia feels that it can do this, while still maintaining positions from which it can shell Kherson city and other locations to the west.
The immediate result, in addition to causing misery and threatening the lives of people trapped by the rising waters, is destruction of a large area of Ukraine’s industrial base as well as millions of hectares of highly productive farmland (the whole region depended on the Kakhovka reservoir for irrigation water). Thousands of Ukrainians have been directly endangered, and tens of thousands more made homeless by Russia’s actions. This is something that won’t easily be resolved, even if a new dam is constructed.
Ukrainian forces continue to make gains both north and south of Bakhmut, but the city itself isn’t being left out of the action.