Like our earlier reports on the combat situation in Ukraine, this article takes stock of the recent developments in the battlefield, based on open-source information. Meduza has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the very start, and our detailed military analyses are part of our commitment to objective reporting on a war we firmly oppose.
Our map is based exclusively on open-source photos and videos, most of them posted by eyewitnesses on social media. We collect available evidence and determine its geolocation markers, adding only the photos and videos that clear this process. Meduza doesn’t try to track the conflict in real time; the data reflected on the map are typically at least 48 hours old.
What we knew as of 4 p.m. Moscow time (2 p.m. in London, 9 a.m. in New York) on September 19, 2023
After several months of persistent efforts, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have succeeded in liberating the villages of Klishchiivka and Adriivka located south of Bakhmut. The Russian troops consigned to defending these positions have long been doomed to failure, since over the summer the AFU managed to capture the elevated positions in the hills to the west, making further defense in the valley down below all but impossible.
- Liberating Klishchiivka and Andriivka does not amount to a breakthrough on this front, since the Russian troops have merely retreated to a new defense line behind the Bakhmut–Horlivka railway. Now, the AFU are faced with a task of rupturing several defense lines in a row: the first one along the railroad, the second in the hills east of the city, and the third even further east, along the Bakhmut–Horlivka highway. Besides, the Russian grouping’s main supply line in this theater is the Popasna–Bakhmut thoroughfare, located away from all the action, on the other side of Bakhmut. In other words, recapturing the two villages was a necessary but not sufficient condition for the Ukrainian army’s success on the Bakhmut front.
- Before launching an offensive on Bakhmut or trying to break through to the Bakhmut–Horlivka highway, the AFU must neutralize the Russian forces on the flanks of this theater, in Kurdiumivka and Ozarianivka. This could potentially require no lesser resources than those committed to liberating Klishchiivka and Andriivka.
- The Ukrainian command is trying to intensify the offensive north of Bakhmut, which had been halted by the Russian military over the summer, when the Russian Armed Forces (RAF) launched a counteroffensive, driving the Ukrainian units back, away from Berkhivka, a village three kilometers northwest of Bakhmut.
- Now, the AFU are attacking Russian positions along the Bakhmut–Slovyansk highway, but without immediate results. Unless they succeed in rupturing the Russian defensive positions in the north, the liberation of Bakhmut by the Ukrainian side seems unlikely.
- Ukraine’s main problem in the Bakhmut theater is that, even if successful, this operation is unlikely to yield strategic benefits for Ukraine. In the south, this theater is delimited by the urban developments of Horlivka and Debaltseve; in the north, by the Siverskyi Donets River. The RAF already have a developed logistics network in this area, leveraging the proximity of supply depots in Russia’s Rostov region. Not even the liberation of Bakhmut by the AFU would bring a radical shift to this situation. What the Ukrainian command really needs is a breakthrough in the southern theater, in the Zaporizhzhia region, by Orikhiv and Velyka Novosilka.
- The Ukrainian offensive south of Velyka Novosilka, along the Mokri Yaly River, has ground to a halt after the liberation of Urozhaine in August. To keep advancing further, the AFU had to secure the flanks of the offensive, which they couldn’t do without bringing in additional reserves. In early September, their assault on Pryyutne on the western flank of the operation was fruitless. The mid-September offensive on Novodonetske and Novomaiorske was also unproductive. The AFU couldn’t secure new positions on the outskirts of either, but lost a significant amount of equipment while trying.
- Ukraine is definitely short of forces needed for a breakthrough on this segment, since it’s the Orikhiv operating area where it mostly sends new reserves. Still, the Ukrainian command isn’t yet ready to fold the offensive in the Velyka Novosilka direction, either.
- The Ukrainian command still seems to think of the direction southward of Orikhiv as the main vector of its offensive operation. In August, several fresh brigades of the AFU were introduced into this area, liberating the village of Robotyne and reaching new positions on the outskirts of the nearby Verbove. By the time this happened, though, two Russian reserve airborne divisions had arrived in this area, which led to exhausting positional warfare south of Robotyne and along the Robotyne–Verbove boundary.
- To accomplish the main goal of the summer campaign, which would be a southward breakthrough in the direction of Tokmak, the Ukrainian command must commit itself to a powerful assault in this area, which would require bringing additional reserves from other directions.
- Russia can also be expected to bring extra reserves to the area, but so far it hasn’t been able to stop the Ukrainian offensive aimed towards Tokmak. The RAF’s passive strategy here amounts to moving from one defense line to the next, sometimes engaging in counterattacks, sometimes retreating under pressure from fresh Ukrainian units, and using reserves to patch up the defense and rotate the exhausted troops.
- It’s possible, though, that Russia might use the next batch of reserves sent to this area more proactively, engaging them in counterattacks on the flanks of the Ukrainian echelon that has already thrust into the Russian defense positions by some 10 kilometers (or about six miles).
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