After weeks of fighting around Robotyne, R037 brought the word on Sep. 5 that Ukrainian forces had breached the second “Surovikin Line” just west of the town of Verbove. That breach involved passing a large tank trench and occupying a section of infantry trench. Since then, Ukraine has squeezed Russian forces largely or completely out of the northern end of those trenches, extended the length of trench under their control, brought armored vehicles across those trenches, and entered western Verbove.
It’s unsurprising that multiple sources have described this as a “breakthrough” by Ukrainian forces. The steady progress from Robotyne to Verbove has come at a high cost, in both Ukrainian lives and vehicles, but it seems to represent the kind of step 1, step 2, step 3 action that many were expecting to see when the counteroffensive began in June.
The move from Robotyne to Verbove is significant. It’s an advance of nearly 10 kilometers, directly through the minefield–dragon’s teeth–tank trench–infantry trench sequence that represents the sort of defensive line Russia has constructed at many points between the existing front lines and strategic goals like Tokmak or Melitipol. But it’s still a breach, not a breakthrough, and it’s worth understanding the difference.
Ukraine’s ability to execute this operation, utilizing an infantry-forward strategy supported by armored vehicles, shows a growing sophistication on the part of both troops and commanders. It shows how Ukraine is learning to utilize their amalgam of Western-sourced gear, older Soviet designs, and homegrown tech in a way that amplifies Ukrainian advantages in drones and artillery.
As usual, Russia has engaged in multiple attacks designed to recapture lost ground and interrupt Ukraine before it can consolidate gains. At Robotyne, at Klishchiivka, in western Verbove, and at Andriivka, Ukraine has dug in against waves of Russian assault, and they have held. Not “held” in the sense of the grudging, slow “Bakhmut holds!” retreat from last year. They’ve just held. The way Ukraine has held that territory has been the definition of tenacious.
In the past two days, Ukraine has advanced directly south out of Robotyne to broaden the active front, moving to the outskirts of Novoprokopivka.
Social media shows extensive activity around Novoprokopivka and a Russian tank being destroyed by artillery to the south of Novoprokopivka. This may represent the main direction of the Ukrainian movement for the moment. However, since resuming offensive operations in the Robotyne area in August, Ukraine has been very deliberate in keeping a broad front, with multiple roads and opportunities to advance.
For a larger view, click here.
[Note: You might notice that I’ve done something here that hasn’t happened in some time—used one of my own maps. Since my maps don’t show Russia’s prepared defensive positions, don’t show the current location of Russian forces, and don’t provide a good sense of the topography, I’ve been phasing them out of coverage. But today, Deep State is several days behind in updating their map and I needed to better reflect current areas of control around Robotyne.]
In addition to the western part of the town itself, there are some indications that Ukraine has advanced north of Verbove. There were reports on Monday of action in that area, which is higher ground looking down on the town. But this is not confirmed.
That area of control around Robotyne now extends to about 70 square kilometers. That’s double what it was two weeks ago. This is far from the kind of satisfying collapse of Russian forces that happened in the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv last fall, but it’s happening right through Russia’s prepared defenses and squarely against the most tightly packed area of the best troops Russia can field.
As one Ukrainian soldier said in this ABC News article, Russia’s army is "a living evil” which is "much bigger than you and has unlimited resources." And still, Ukraine is advancing with increasing confidence through the use of all its various weaponry.
And there’s another important factor: losses. Ukraine is showing an increased willingness to sustain losses both in attack and in defense. Awful as it sounds, when Ukraine first made an assault north of Robotyne in June, some Western militaries were dismayed at the results. Not because Ukraine lost a few Bradleys or a Leopard tank. They were upset that, in the face of those losses, Ukraine retreated. The feeling among Western militaries was that Ukraine was going to have to be willing to endure loss, even high levels of loss, if it wanted to crack Russia’s defenses—especially because Ukraine doesn’t have the kind of air superiority around which Western tactics are often built.
That’s a terrible thing to ask of any military, especially an outnumbered military at the start of what it already knows will be an extended offensive against a prepared enemy. Add in the losses that Ukraine had taken in the long, slow, dreadful, but ultimately successful effort to grind Russian forces down at Bakhmut, and it would be completely understandable if the response of the Ukrainian military leadership to any suggestion it needed to sacrifice more started with “f*ck” and ended with “you.”
The reason that we are talking right now about Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south, rather than Russia’s continuing advance up the highway to Kramatorsk, is because President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military staff did what almost everyone thought was the wrong thing in fighting for every inch of a shattered city. They have earned the right to tell armchair generals, even those with big clusters of medals from some non-Ukrainian military, to take a hike. Several hikes.
But if Western leaders were concerned about Ukraine being willing to put everything on the line in the counteroffensive, those fears should be assuaged by now. Ukraine is Rocky Balboa-ing this thing every day: taking a pounding, without going down or backing away. To see the real cost of what’s happening around Verbove right now, read this story of a family’s loss. Then multiply that loss by several dozen people per day.
Sasha fought seemingly everywhere in this war. He died in Verbove.
His biggest wish was to have a daughter... and just last week, he got the results from his latest medical examination. Because of the multiple injuries and a disability status he would have been allowed to return to the training grounds as an instructor. He refused as he did not want to leave his unit in the middle of intensive fighting.
Right now, what’s going on in Verbove and Novoprokopivka is a breach, not a breakthrough. Ukraine is working steadily, systematically, and tenaciously to take and hold ground. They have shown that Russia’s big defensive lines can be defeated—especially when they’re not fronted by kilometers of tightly-packed minefields—and they consistently extracted a high cost on Russian forces.
Here’s a roughly translated post from Twitter user @GirkinGirkin (who, for the record, is not that Igor Girkin). This is supposedly sourced from a frontline Russian soldier near the Robotyne front.
“At the front, our paratroopers are in dire need of optics, drones, warm clothing, and just basic rest. The guys are physically and psychologically exhausted. Still, they do not surrender their position. They hold the line,” the soldier writes, “However, I constantly come across lovely pictures of how soldiers in the rear are living. Also, when I am at checkpoints in rear areas, I come across fighters in full gear, with warm clothes, night lamps, new magazines, and other expensive equipment. And there are a lot of them!”
On the one hand, it’s gratifying to think that Russia’s logistics are as awful as ever, and to hear that their forces are both poorly supplied and exhausted. That seems to weigh toward the idea that Ukraine’s breach really could become a breakthrough—the kind of rapid advance where tanks and armored vehicles support infantry in taking 20 kilometers in a day, not a month, the kind of advance that happened in Kharkiv oblast.
But the fact that this soldier is still complaining of a large number of forces in reserves—and claiming those reserves are still well-equipped—is concerning. Sure, it’s the kind of griping every front-line soldier has done since Sargon marched on Sumer, but it would be much better to read concerns from Russian soldiers about just how few forces remained in those rear positions.
There are a lot of trenches and prepared positions between where Ukraine is now and where they want to be, but their current rate of advance will definitely get them there. After all, strategic Tokmak is less than 20 km away from current fighting. Ukraine should continue to power its way through Russian forces to reach that critical rail and road junction, possibly in a matter of weeks.
But it’s going to be incredibly difficult, and extremely costly.
Russia is fuming over word that M1 Abrams tanks have reached Ukraine. As The Washington Post reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the tanks will have no effect on the war and that they “will burn” like any other tank. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin mouthpiece Dmitry Medvedev did what he does on every day ending in “Y”: threaten nuclear war.
Give it a couple of days. Then you can probably hear this plan from Sen. Mike Lee and Elon Musk.