Ukraine remains hush hush about things, but it’s all over Russian sources—Ukraine has retaken Urozhaine, on the road to Mariupol, on the most thinly defended axis of Ukraine’s southern assaults. Along with reported gains crossing the Dnipro south of Kherson, and some other tactical advances along the front, it’s been a good couple of days for Ukraine.
We may finally be at a place where Russia’s forces are degraded enough to finally advance.
While most of the southern front consists of multiple layers of defenses, the approach toward Mariupol only has one. It’s the right-most arrow in the map below:
Perhaps Russia thought the towns along the road toward Mariupol provide enough urban defensive terrain to obviate the need for more extensive trench fortifications. Or maybe they think the distance to Mariupol is far enough that any Ukrainian thrust would struggle logistically. Or maybe they were going to get to it eventually and ran out of time. Whatever the reason, this is an incredibly promising direction for Ukraine.
In yesterday’s update, RO37 wrote about Russia’s stupidity in defending Urozhaine on this approach. In short, Russian forces in Urozhaine have been surrounded on three sides since late July, and under constant artillery barrage for two weeks.
It was an untenable position, yet Russia has exhibited a “don't surrender an inch” philosophy that has certainly slowed the Ukrainian advance, but also has most definitely cost it unnecessary lives and equipment. Nothing proves Russia’s moral rot more than it’s lack of give-a-fucks for its soldiers’ lives. We humans are a savage species, but a social one. At our core, we protect our tribe. Except for Russia. Russia doesn’t. And as RO37 noted, Russian forces in Urozhaine paid the price.
[T]he Russian decision not to withdraw from Urozhaine after Ukraine liberated Staromaiorske and the counterattacks to regain the position failed cannot possibly be militarily justified. These Russian soldiers were left in an utterly vulnerable position where they would be exposed to Ukrainian firepower. This has been a fully lopsided fight for Ukraine, as its forces were able to strike at Russian positions at will for two weeks
Additionally, Russia’s artillery advantage has been decimated in the last several months, with Ukraine claiming 20-30 destroyed batteries every single day. While those numbers are impossible to verify (about half are typically visually identified), one Russian blogger agrees and called it the “genocide of the artillery of the Russian Federation.” And as pro-Russia propagandists find excuses for losing Urozhaine, that growing artillery disparity is an obvious one.
The enemy has matured to use our Mariupol tactics: he sends a small group until faces fire contact, pulls back and strikes with artillery at the identified position. After that, he crawls into the cleared basement... This is possible only with the unpunished work of artillery - we return to the question of counter-battery fire. If we do not change the situation, we
can lose Urozhaine.
When in the trenches, it always seems like the other side has unlimited artillery and yours does nothing. Indeed, counter-battery fire, by definition, happens way behind the front lines. If dug-in Russians in Urozhaine are getting pummeled by artillery, any Russian counter-battery fire will target that Ukrainian artillery 15-25 kilometers behind the front lines. The Russians in Urozhaine will never hear or see those shells landing so far away. Still, every indication is that the volume of Russian artillery has dropped dramatically, perhaps as much as half from last year’s peak
And for those Russians in Urozhaine, all they know is that they were getting hammered by the Ukrainians, now reinforced with 2-3 million cluster shells, while advancing Ukrainian forces aren’t getting similar treatment. In this video, Russians retreating from Urozhaine are shredded by Ukrainian artillery, including cluster bombs.
Here is a longer version of that video. The Russians have no armor, no trucks, running on foot for their lives as cluster munitions shred them to bits. Russia’s commanders couldn’t even give them the small mercy of allowing a night-time retreat, under cover of darkness. You can easily match this bendy road with the map up above. They were making a run for the next village of Zavitne Bazhannya, off that right turn.
Artillery isn’t the only excuse for their loss. It’s Russia, so you can always blame alcohol.
Today, the village of Urozhayne in South Donetsk direction was surrendered.
In recent weeks, fighters of the Kaskad OBTF and the 40th Marine Brigade have been stubbornly resisting the Armed Forces of Ukraine there. The assault groups of the 40th brigade repeatedly launched counterattacks and drove the enemy out of Urozhayne. Virtually every Marine who participated in the fighting was wounded.
The problem in holding the village is mostly due to the lack of desire to defend it on the part of the 36th army. The tank units of the 37th brigade refused to support the infantry in the battles for Urozhayne, arguing that the tanks were supposedly being destroyed immediately after entering the firing position. The infantry of the brigade retreated from all the forest belts east of Urozhaine on the 10th. This was argued by the fact that they no longer have personnel for combat operations. In fact, half of the brigade is busy drinking alcohol in the rear, and the officers are not able to bring them to their senses. But for some reason, the 37th brigade continues to be thrown into the most important sectors of the front, which they successfully leave to the enemy.
Probably they will again receive a decent amount of awards for Urozhaine, as it was after the battles for Novodonetske. But the storm troopers of the Marines from Storm Z, who voluntarily signed contracts and do not give up an inch of land without a fight, are not
entitled to awards.
Every marine defending the town was heroically wounded, how wonderful! Glory to Russia! Actually, it’s funny that this blogger calls them “marines,” since they are actually Storm Z—penal battalions run by the Russian ministry of defense after they shut down Wagner’s prison recruitment. Marines, in any competent armed forces, are elite troops. And Russia’s 40th Marine Brigade, shredded in pointless attacks against Vuhledar back in January, is now made up of Wagner-style cannon fodder. At the time, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed up to 70% of that unit, and they were clearly right. It is now a “marine” unit in name only.
But again, notice the weird worshipping of the idea of not “giving up an inch of land.” It’s ingrained in Russian culture. But regardless, this author better be careful, lest he get thrown in prison for violating the Russian law against “dishonoring the military.” He can’t be calling the 37th brigade a bunch of cowardly drunkards without consequences!
Here’s another Russian war blogger, this one celebrating that weird fetish for counterattacking lost gains, wasting men and equipment out in the open instead of retreating to those dug-in defensive lines:
The enemy outplayed us Harvest we - For several days we withstood its onslaught, but somewhere there was a failure. We are still fighting back, but the situation is not in our favor. The enemy has already tried to hoist the Flag at the village council today, but one armor was blown up, the artillery worked on the rest and they pulled back - but this is a matter of time. And although the capture of this village will cost the enemy a great price, its loss after such heroic resistance is painful for us. It does not console, but slightly reconciles with the situation, that if he takes each village in the same way as Harvest, it will soon end. We hope that we will somehow dodge and push the enemy back—but we have to be realistic.
With Urozhaine clear of Russians, what now?
The next village down is Zavitne Bazhannya, the town those fleeing Russians were trying to reach. If you look closely, it’s surrounded by a river, though people say it’s more of a creek. As a defensive location, it suffers from much of the same problems Urozhaine did, with Ukrainian forces holding higher ground to its north, and that eastern flank open to attack. The chances Russia has any armor left there is zilch. Indeed, remember that Russian blogger above complaining that the drunkards at the 37th brigade refused to send armor to defend, as “the tanks were supposedly being destroyed immediately after entering the firing position.” I laugh at “supposedly.” We have all the video evidence showing it's true. The bigger shock there is that there are Russian commanders, drunk or not, who are aware of that reality and are trying to conserve their equipment.
So if Zavitne Bazhannya is just a bunch of penal-colony infantry, surrounded by a small river or creek, no need to target it. Soviet doctrine is to place a small blocking force at the entrance to town, and move the main force down south. Trapped and lacking supplies, they are more likely to surrender than not. Reports claim that Ukraine is already busy de-mining the approaches to Staromlynivka, the next big prize.
Remember, Ukraine realized that it could not move its armor through the heavily mined terrain. So it shifted tactics to infantry small-unit assaults supported by artillery. At night, sappers work the fields, manually removing the mines. It’s hard, dangerous, and slow work. Ukraine’s defense minister said yesterday that, “The Ukrainian Armed Forces are excavating 5 mines for every m2, installed by Russian troops in order to disrupt Ukraine's counteroffensive.” A square meter is 10.7 square feet. So that’s one mine per ever 2’ x 1’ box. That is essentially universal mine coverage. Entire fields are blanketed with those dastardly explosives.
But once cleared, armor can move up and use its heavy firepower to dislodge Russian defensive positions. It’s “combined arms” Ukrainian style. You gotta adapt to the war you’re fighting, with the equipment you have.
As you can see in the map above, Russia’s main defensive line is south of Staromlynivka, the only one in this direction. Given that Russia is wasting its manpower defending in front of that line, it seems far less scary as a roadblock than earlier this year. That doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult and bloody to cross, it just means that if Russia is defending every inch of territory in front of it, including using effective urban terrain for defense, then what makes that line any different, especially if it has fewer men and armor manning it because it was wasted in its approaches?
We haven’t seen much of the Western armor since the first days of Ukraine’s failed armored-spear attack. But if Ukraine breaks through this line? Then we’ll see that armor romp. Here’s what happens when Ukraine breaks that line:
Ukraine has two very good options. It could dive bomb down to Mariupol. It’s around 120 kilometers, so not an insignificant distance, but we’re talking a 2-3 hour drive in peacetime. Depending on how much resistance Russia could muster, Ukraine could reach it in a matter of days. Now supplying that vanguard is a challenge, and it would be the Mother of All Salients, but it would certainly be a devastating advance for Russian morale, and severing Vladimir Putin’s precious “land bridge” connecting mainland Russia to Crimea would be a devastating strategic loss for him
And Ukraine wouldn’t even have to enter Mariupol. All it would need to do is establish fire control over its supply lines, and we have another Kherson city in the makings—so long as the Ukrainian blocking force had secure supply lines of its own.
The other option, equally difficult but even more valuable, would be to loop west, behind all of Russia’s carefully established defensive positions, cutting them off from the rear. This was what Russia hoped to do in the early days of the war, cutting off the extensive Ukrainian defenses in the Donbas, many of which remain in place to this day.
Cutting off those Russian defenses from the rear would serve two major purposes—first of all, it would lead to the mass surrender of Russian forces. It is far preferable to capture than to kill a Russian—it saves Ukrainian lives (and mental health—Ukraine’s post-war PTSD problem will be horrendous), and it gives Ukraine tradable resources to return its own captured POWs, kidnapped children, and perhaps even provide leverage in negotiations to reopen shipping lanes and other strategic goals.
Second of all, Russia has been Ukraine’s largest weapons supplier over the past year and a half. Russia has moved an incredible amount of equipment to this front. Capturing a significant percentage of it intact would go a long way toward further equipping Ukrainian forces for the future liberation of Crimea and the Donbas.
The road to get to those two options, however, remains long. Russia will likely defend Staromlynivka with the same single-minded ferocity it defended Urozhaine. Ukraine will need weeks to de-mine the approaches around it, while gradually liberating towns on the flanks to maintain a flat front. Ukraine has very clearly worked to avoid putting itself into its own disadvantageous salients.
Meanwhile, Ukraine seems to be making nice progress around Robotyne, on the approach to Tokmak. Sources on both sides agree that Ukraine has entered the northern parts of the town, which means they have either breached, or are in the process of breaching Russia’s first main defensive line in that direction.
Here’s the big picture overview, for context:
Ukrainian artillery strikes on Russia’s main defensive line can be seen in satellite imagery, which has replaced FIRMS satellite data to track the advance of the front lines among the open source intelligence community.
Russia’s most prominent war blogger, War Gonzo, has reinforced claims of Ukrainian successes:
On the Zaporizhzhia direction ... On the Robotyne-Verbove line, the FU is not giving up its attempts to advance. The danger for Russian units is that Ukrainian units have overcome most of the minefields in this area. But they have not reached the main line of the Russian Armed Forces' defensive fortifications.
Remember, take away the minefields, and armor can now move up. This is fantastic news.
And in the Bakhmut direction, Russia has reportedly retaken the southern part of Klishchiivka in a furious counter-assault using some of their best troops—VDV airborne.
This is quite alright, let Russia race armor across open fields to retake lost positions. Wasting some of their best forces here, rather than holding them in reserve to handle any breakthroughs at the southern front or pushing their somewhat effective offensive in the north, toward Kupyansk, is exactly what Ukraine wants.
Ukraine’s goal here isn’t to retake the territory, it is to bleed Russia dry, so that when the breakthrough happens, Russia has nothing left to respond to it. That said, that might be one of the most competent-looking attacks by the Russians I’ve seen this entire war. We don’t see infantry, so who knows if they competently followed up with an infantry assault, but it’s a very clean-looking operation with the armor and artillery working in concert. It must’ve been terrible for any Ukrainians on the receiving end.
Life finds a way. Russia launched missiles into civilian targets in Zaporizhzhia. One of them shattered the windows of a post office.
After the raid-that-seems-to-have-turned into something more at Kozachi Laheri, south of Kherson across the Dnipro river, Russian sources reported that a Russian officer had gone missing. Turns out, he had! He was captured by Ukraine, and now seems to be happily giving up the goods on Russian defensive positions in the area:
The vibe there isn’t “POW,” it’s “collaborator.”