The biggest news on Thursday morning seems to be something that hasn’t happened—a major Ukrainian counteroffensive into Zaporizhzhia, with forces reportedly being aimed at liberating Melitopol. Or maybe Berdyansk. Or Mariupol. If the force exists at all.
In any case, multiple Russian sources are reporting a large build-up of Ukrainian vehicles south of the city of Zaporizhzhia in preparation for what looks to be the opening of a third counteroffensive. Russian forces are also reporting, disgustedly, that their leadership seems to be making no move to prepare for this new counter-invasion into what Vladimir Putin so recently declared “Russian territory.”
There’s no way to tell if this is real. While Ukraine lifted its usually strict operational security to provide a great view of Ukrainian forces literally strolling across northern Kherson, liberating village after village, they’re not about to discuss an attack before it begins. But Russian sources are full of how this is coming, and how their leaders are ignoring it.
Russia has been pumping missiles into Zaporizhzhia in recent days, murdering civilians and smashing infrastructure. Which is a funny way to treat a city they claim is part of Russia. That might be accelerating Ukraine’s desire to take some decisive action in this region.
It’s not as if this area has been idle. There has been a lot of back and forth in the south, with Ukraine holding out against nearly constant Russian assaults and making forays into Russian-occupied territory. Russia has punished this area severely when it comes to the use of both missiles and artillery along the front. Recently, Hulyaipole, which is definitely another of those hero towns, has been subject to a rain of missiles. The town, population 13,000 before the invasion, has suffered the kind of damage seen in too many places that have been too long near a static front, but that front has been static because the defenders in this area have refused to budge.
Most of the Russian reports indicate that there are large amounts of armor and Ukrainian troops being positioned “near Zaporizhzhia.” That’s not particularly near the front, but there’s a good highway along the eastern side of the Dnipro River, and that highway could deliver forces from Zaporizhzhia to the front in minutes, so it could make sense that Ukraine is forming up at the regional capital, out of reach for artillery.
Does Ukraine really have the personnel and equipment to open a third counteroffensive, even as it continues to push in Kherson and Luhansk? Maybe. Considering the level of panic in a lot of Russian communication these days, it’s not hard to believe that they could be just spreading rumors and jumping at shadows. But if the reports are right, we could soon see action in an area that has long needed relief.
If Ukraine can drive to the sea and liberate locations like Berdyansk, it would be an amazing repudiation of Russia’s invasion and a finger in the eye to the idea that Russia should control access to the Sea of Azov. If they can reach Mariupol … that could be an event that redefines the war, and reveals the scope of Russia’s crimes. How firmly does Russia control this area? If Ukraine penetrates beyond the front lines, will it be another town-to-town stroll, or a meter-by-meter fight? I have no idea.
In the area around Svatove, I’m not assessing much change this morning. Though this map does have something that hasn’t been seen since August—a Russian advance. See if you can spot it.
That Russian advance is down near the bottom of the map, where Russian sources report that VDV units pushed out from Kreminna to re-occupy Dibrova. Of course, those same sources then reported that Russian forces are now marching back to Lyman … but I’m giving them enough credit to mark Dibrova as “disputed” until we learn more.
Multiple Russian sources also claimed that Russia didn’t actually lose Makiivka and Nevske and that they are still fighting in both these towns. However, I’ve seen no evidence of this in Ukrainian sources. I had video of Ukrainian troops at Makiivka before making these assignments, and those forces out there at Krasnorichenske—which everyone agrees are present—had to come from somewhere, so I’m pretty skeptical on this claim. No change in markers at this time.
Further north, there were reports of fighting in a whole series of villages and towns east of Kupyansk. As usual, Russia claims that it repulsed attacks in which it killed hundreds of Ukrainian forces and knocked out dozens of tanks. But it’s Ukraine’s reports in the area that are odd. At town after town, they report entering the town, but “not occupying” it. It really does make it seem as if Ukraine is more interested in pinning down Russian forces in the area than in immediately capturing territory. In any case, I’ve tagged the town of Pishchane as being under Ukraine’s control because one of those glorious defenses reported by Russia took place several kilometers down a road that could only be reached by going through Pishchane. By the way, there are three Pishchanes in the area, including two on this same road. So prepare to be confused.
There is now confirmation of pretty much every village along the eastern side of the Oskil River. So there’s no longer any doubt that Ukraine holds that whole strip. That includes the rail and road networks on each side of the river, many of which lead down to the railyard at Lyman. It will be interesting to see how much use this gets from Ukraine in shifting troops and material along the line between Kupyansk and Lyman.
At the very south of the map, there are reports that some of those highly-mobile Humvee-mounted Ukrainian forces have been scouting and harassing Russian forces in the “outskirts of Lysychansk.” I don’t know if this means Lysychansk itself, or one of several suburban communities. This kind of activity has often preceeded a serious Ukrainian push into an area, but there’s no way to be sure.
In any case, both in this area and in Kherson, there were reports on Thursday that Ukrainian counteroffensives have “resumed” after a relative lull on Wednesday. Now we just need to wait for the results.
Russia announces plan to kidnap all school children in Kherson
Earlier this year, thousands of children were removed from Mariupol and sent to Russia on a supposed “summer holiday.” Those children have never returned. Their parents have no idea where their kids are, what’s been done to them, or what condition they may be in.
Now Russia has issued a decree of something similar in Kherson, although this time the fact that these kids are being used as hostages seems more than obvious.
You can bet that Russia will now claim that every pontoon boat sunk on the Dnipro was “loaded with children” and that any strike into Crimea “hit Ukrainian school children.” By coincidence, the holiday locations just happened to be all be Russian military targets.
Now this is some serious opsec.
Apparently, Russia is reacting to these reports.
There were indications last night that Ukraine had pushed Russia from positions in Ishchenka — a so-called “fortress town.” These reports are being renewed on Thursday with messages that Russia may have moved several kilometers back along this end of their defensive line, possibly to the second line they were constructing from Stepove to Nova Kuban. These are two very small villages, about 12km apart. It’s not certain that much has been done to prepare them for the role of holding back the main focus of the Ukrainian advance. Stay tuned.
I’m not updating the control of these locations yet, but active fighting has definitely moved beyond these “new defensive line” positions.
Hints are being dropped that there’s more possible big news in Kherson. Waiting for confirmation.