UPDATE: Jessica Sutherland
Urozhaine is officially liberated, Kyiv announced on Wednesday.
Andrii Kovalov, spokesperson of the Ukrainian military’s general staff, said on national television Wednesday morning that “Ukrainian defense forces took control of Urozhaine” and were consolidating their positions.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar echoed Kovalov, proudly declaring on Telegram that “Urozhaine was liberated” and “the offensive continues.”
The military said alongside the video that servicemen from the 35th and 38th Separate Marine Brigades as well as other Ukrainian defense forces units had helped recapture Urozhaine.
Russian forces inside Urozhaine had been in a precarious situation for some time. Russian soldiers and well-connected military bloggers had hinted it was only a matter of time until Ukraine wrested control of the village as Kyiv’s troops had been able to attack it from several sides.
This analysis is essentially a companion piece to Saturday’s Ukraine Update. It’s highly recommend to read this article first to fully understand previous analysis of the Urozhaine salient.
In short, it was noted that the Urozhaine salient was indefensible, and thus Russia’s decision to try to hold it was a blunder for three fundamental reasons:
- Russia could not increase its troop presence significantly without rendering the troops overly vulnerable to artillery due to over-concentration of assets. Therefore, Russia would have to defend its left flank without additional resources once Staromaiorske fell, rendering Urozhaine vulnerable.
- The salient is so deep and so narrow that most of it could be placed under artillery observation, making it very easy for Ukraine to observe enemy units for artillery strikes.
- The salient makes it difficult to position air defenses, making if vulnerable to close air support strikes by Ukrainian bombers.
Euromaidan published a detailed account of the battle that shows not only that all of these factors were at play, the Russian commanders’ performance was somehow worse than what this writer imagined on Saturday.
The Russian defenders at Urozhaine had a short series of trench defenses north of the town.
Ukrainian commanders had been closely monitoring the movement of tactical reserves in the area. After the failure of the counterattacks on Staromaiorske in the first week of August, they noted that Russian commanders rushed most of their remaining reserves into the Urozhaine salient.
This created a heavily packed Russian concentration of troops in Urozhaine—precisely the situation so dumb that Saturday’s update asserted Russia would not have done it. Packing too many troops into the salient added enough combat power for the salient to potentially withstand a thrust on the left flank without weakening the north or the eastern defenses. However, the cost of packing so many troops together is that supplying them and keeping them dispersed enough to withstand artillery barrages becomes difficult.
This is also a violation of the basic Soviet defensive doctrine upon which Russian defensive tactics are based.
Local Ukrainian commanders saw this development as an opportunity to destroy Russian tactical reserves in one blow. They called off continuing attempts to advance on Urozhaine, ordering only limited probing attacks while switching to pummeling the area with intense artillery attacks and air strikes.
Tanks—presumably those of the 38th Marines and (or?) the 4th Tank brigade on the Russian right—began threatening the movement of supplies up the T0518 highway to Urozhaine, making it increasingly difficult for Russia to supply or reinforce its concentrated forward positions.
Once the Russian positions were sufficiently weakened, limited attacks were conducted at enemy strongpoints north and northeast of Urozhaine, reportedly led by the 35th and 36th Marines. These attacks were successful and footholds were established within Russia’s northern defense line.
Long-range tank fire and artillery prevented Russia’s concentration of combat forces from mounting a counterattack. They were instead forced to fall back from the northern trench line.
While Russia reestablished a defensive line aiming north, Ukraine, fearing intense bombardment from artillery, held its positions in the northern trenches and did not advance.
Instead, Ukraine launched a surprise pincer assault. The 35th Marines (to the west) prepared a pontoon bridge to cross the Mokri Yari River in a forested area. The marines crossed the river in an unexpected assault from the west, along with a corresponding pincer strike from the east.
This partially encircled the Russian position in the southern portion of Urozhaine, and forced a daytime retreat in full view of Ukrainian artillery spotters and tanks. Geolocated videos of Russian troops fleeing Urozhaine in broad daylight through Ukrainian artillery and cluster munition fire have confirmed the panicked nature of the Russian retreat.
A few things become clear:
- When its vulnerability of the Urozhaine salient became apparent upon the failure to retake Staromaiorske, rather than withdraw, Russia rushed even more troops into the salient. This made those troops even more vulnerable to artillery strikes.
- Russian command underestimated Ukrainian ability to flank and surround the narrow salient. As a result, an unexpected near-encirclement prompted a panicked daytime retreat, through Ukrainian fire controlled roads south of Urozhaine.
- A substantial portion of Russian tactical reserves in this area may have been destroyed in combat. Further, due to the rushed and urgent nature of the retreat from Urozhaine (as evidenced by the daytime retreat), at least some Russian supply and equipment losses may have taken place in Urozhaine.