As the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches, and with a new military leadership team in kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers find themselves on the defensive across the eastern front line.
A series of reports on social media and national television over the weekend paint a picture that the Russians continue to throw large numbers of men into battle and further intensify their use of drones, which it is now clear are one of the key weapons on the battlefield.
Avdiivka, northwest of the city of Donetsk, remains the scene of some of the heaviest fighting as Russian forces continue their advance from the north toward the city center.
Mapping site DeepState has shown a series of Russian advances in recent days and now puts Moscow’s fighters in control of part of the railway line just north of the city station.
The commander of southern Ukraine forces, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, said on Saturday that his logistics teams were still able to bring supplies to the city and that he was rotating new fighters into the battle, as well as setting up additional firing positions.
Still, the mapping site DeepState suggests that Russian forces may be no more than several hundred meters from the main supply route into the city.
Serhii Tsekhotskyi, an officer with the 59th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade, told Ukrainian television that Russia was deploying large numbers of troops to the battle for Avdiivka. Many were being killed, he insisted.
“They don’t forgive their people, so we have a lot of work to do,” he said.
He also drew attention once again to the prevalence of drones, reporting that in a single day some 70 bombs were dropped from Russian unmanned aerial vehicles on brigade positions in the city.
“His actions [of drones] “They are replenishing themselves, constantly improving their unmanned aerial vehicles and also using electronic warfare,” he said.
Both sides are locked in technological competition with each other, developing increasingly sophisticated drones as well as refining jamming capabilities designed to disable incoming UAVs.
Reports from Russian military bloggers paint a similar picture of slow but steady advance by Russian forces inside Avdiivka, although they emphasize that some of the city’s key locations, including the massive coke plant at the city’s northwestern edge, They remain in Ukrainian hands.
“Military officers on the ground report that there is no need to rush with victory speeches,” wrote one such blogger, Boris Rozhin.
Just as Bakhmut took on enormous symbolic importance a year ago, when Russian forces closed in on the city, destroying it in the process, Avdiivka appears to have taken on a similar meaning.
Located just a few kilometers north of Donetsk airport, captured by Russian forces in early 2015 after months of heavy periodic fighting, Avdiivka has been firmly in Moscow’s sights ever since. A few weeks before the Russian presidential election, his possible capture has taken on even greater value.
A challenge for the new boss
What to do with Avdiivka is possibly the most pressing challenge facing Ukraine’s new army chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, appointed Thursday to give the war a new focus.
As commander of the Ground Forces, Syrskyi was seen as the key driver behind Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut to the end, rather than execute an early withdrawal, as the United States and other allies had reportedly been urging. The decision to continue fighting in the face of overwhelming Russian firepower earned him a reputation as a man willing to endure heavy losses among his soldiers.
In his first statement since being named commander-in-chief, he appeared to acknowledge, at least in part, the need to address that issue, saying: “The life and health of servicemen have always been and continue to be the main value of the Ukrainian army.” . . Therefore, maintaining a balance between combat missions and the restoration of units and subunits with intensified education and training of personnel remains more relevant than ever.”
However, Syrskyi is under pressure from Ukraine’s political leaders to come up with a new plan to avoid “stalemate” on the battlefield while not pushing for too many new recruits, while a new bill of mobilization makes its way into parliament.
His predecessor, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, was ousted in part for describing the war as a “stalemate” situation after last year’s long-awaited counteroffensive failed to make significant progress.
President Volodymyr Zelensky was also irritated by Zaluzhnyi’s suggestions that he needed a major mobilization to change things. Although the army chief has said that he did not put a figure on it, he was associated with the idea that half a million new soldiers were needed.
Regardless of how many recruits Syrskyi ends up requesting, evidence from multiple frontline locations continues to suggest that the increased number of Russian troops is making a difference.
East of Kupiansk and the Oskil River, along the northernmost stretch of the battle, an army spokesman told Ukrainian television on Saturday that Russian forces were pressing.
“The enemy continues to move its reserves to replace those previously lost… The enemy is deploying Storm Z units (prison-recruited soldiers) and motorized infantry units, supported by artillery and drones. “They are trying to move forward,” the spokesperson said.
In total, Russia had 42,000 men stationed in the area – although not all on the front line – along with 500 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, he added.
Also under heavy pressure is Chasiv Yar, a town about 15 kilometers west of Bakhmut. Once again, a local Ukrainian commander reported that the Russians had attacked with “a huge force of personnel.”
Army spokesmen also said Ukraine’s other major shortcoming today: low ammunition stocks, was being keenly felt.
Russian forces attacking Chasiv Yar from the flanks enjoyed a “several times greater advantage in the number of bombardments. “We need more shells, thousands and thousands of shells, especially 155 mm,” he told national television.