Ukraine update: Izyum may be a ‘distraction,’ but it’s one Russia can’t ignore

Troop transports come in all sizes.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson area is continuing, but as Ukrainian forces advances into positions that Russia has fortified and reinforced, they’re running into an issue. It’s not that need to send them 1,000 new artillery, a million more rocket launchers, and whatever else is being demanded on social media today. It’s the problem every army has: advancing into a prepared defensive position is extremely difficult. Doing so without taking heavy losses requires that the attackers hold a significant numeric advantage over the defenders. In most cases, that number is somewhere above three to one. If you add up all the forces in Kherson oblast, Ukraine holds no such advantage.

It’s still possible to advance without holding that kind of edge. Ukrainian forces do have the advantage in that they are fighting for their homes, while Russian soldiers—or LNR conscripts—definitely are not. There have also been multiple reports indicating that Ukrainian morale far exceeds that of the “can we go home now?” Russians. These things count. 

But they don’t count as much as having the right number of people at the right place. Which is exactly what Ukraine has been concentrating on doing in Kherson.

The lengthy front on Kherson oblast includes dozens of towns and villages. It is the most open, most featureless, most treeless area of combat in the whole invasion. There are a few geographic obstacles, like the Inhulets River, but for the most part what’s going on in Kherson is a game of maneuver. Ukraine is looking for the places where they can press through the Russian lines by achieving localized advantage.

This heat map gives a pretty good sense of how Russian forces are deployed in Kherson. It’s not that they’re spread thin on the ground, but they are trying to hold a large area with a lot fewer forces per square kilometer than the area from Izyum over to Severodonetsk.

Because they have good visibility of the battlefield (and accurate, frequently updated intelligence) Ukraine doesn’t have to look for points of weakness the way that Russia has done in some areas. That’s the method known in militarese as “probing by fire.” The simple description for that is sending people out until they get shot, then noting where the shots originated. Russia has carried out a seemingly infinite number of these “probes” since the war began. You do not want to be a member of one of these probing forces.

Attacking in a thousand directions at once (see what Russia is doing at Popasna) is rarely a good idea. But in Kherson, Ukraine is making multiple attacks work for them by pinning Russian forces down at locations they very much want to hold—Vysokopillya, Snihurivka, Kyselivka—then moving around those positions to take villages and towns that were more lightly held. 

Ukrainian counterattacks in Kherson oblast have also seen some of the first examples of something that’s been missing in much of this invasion: Tanks acting like tanks. That is, lining up and heading cross country in formations, largely ignoring roads and utilizing what terrain there is to stay hull-down as they press enemy positions. That’s how Ukraine captured numerous villages around the bridgehead south of Davydiv Brid, and what’s happening now at the far south of the line.

All of this has brought Ukraine to where they are now, brushing up against more securely held Russian positions. The good news is that, because they’ve been able to maneuver and flush Russia from weak positions, Ukraine now has options in terms of direction of approach. Some Russian positions, like Kyselivka, are all but encircled.

However, to press through the points where Russia is solidly entrenched, Ukraine is going to have to concentrate forces. So don’t be surprised to see some of those current points of attack fall silent, or even Russian announcements that it has rolled back some of the Ukrainian advances.

The obvious place to drop troops in large numbers is down south, where Ukrainian forces are approaching Russian fortifications at Tomyna Balka and Chornobaivka, which are only a few kilometers from Kherson. If Ukraine can crack Russian defenses at either of those locations, they might actually be positioned to go into Kherson proper. But Russia also knows this, and there’s no doubt that Russia is also willing to sacrifice some of those outlying villages to get its troops into position to resist an attack near the city. And Ukraine knows that, so it might…

Kherson oblast, south. (Open image in another tab for detailed view.)

That’s where we are. The two forces in Kherson oblast appear to be roughly equal. Ukraine has been playing a game of maneuver that allows it to grab back territory and confront Russia at multiple points. However, as Russia loses ground and falls back toward Kherson, its forces become more concentrated and opportunities to find a gap become few. What ends up happening here may end up being defined by what happens elsewhere in Ukraine, and whether either side feels it can peel off additional forces to give them that edge necessary to advance without taking heavy losses.

In any case, don’t expect either Kherson or Khariv to suddenly break open and be done. In both cases, the last steps are going to be the most difficult. And Kherson is going to be a very tough nut to crack without causing massive damage.

Ukraine continues to press near Izyum, as fights continue on all sides of the salient.

At Izyum, Ukrainian forces continue to hold villages in the woods west of the city and threaten to attack Izyum proper. Pro-Russian sources have dismissed this thrust as a means of distracting Russian forces from the “real fight” closer to Slovyansk and Severodonetsk, and … sure. But taking Izyum would be a huge deal, so there’s little doubt Russia will reposition forces in response.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in this area isn’t just restricted to those woods. They’re pressing Russian forces south of the highway to recapture a pair of villages and continuing to stand tough south of Izyum. There have been reports that Russia has moved forces up the east side of the Siverskyi Donets River from Lyman, bringing them across the river at Izyum, then directing them south. If so, they’re running into a big roadblock at Bohorodychne where Ukrainian forces reportedly have a strong defensive position that has allowed them to press back multiple Russian attempts.

Russia may view Ukraine’s attack on Izyum as a “distraction,” but it’s one they can’t ignore. Because not only does Izyum still form one of their biggest forward bases, and not only is it still part of an important supply route, right now it’s still the best river crossing Russia has. Ukraine knows just where to poke if it wants to take the pressure off areas to the east.

Sunday, Jun 19, 2022 · 1:48:53 AM CEST · Mark Sumner

The newest of these tanks were updated around 1983.

Those T-62 tanks that Russia is starting to send to various areas in Ukraine use a 115mm gun. The T-72 and T-90 use a 125mm gun.

But I’m sure this will be okay. Everyone knows how good Russia is at logistics.

They just look better this way.

Confirming what’s blowing up in all these images, or even who did the exploding, is going to take some time. But since it seems to be “images of mushroom clouds” day on Twitter …

There are reportedly over 500 civilians still beneath this plant.

The blast in Mykolaiv is reported to be a Ukrainian ammunition depot struck by Russian missiles.

The blast at Synel’nykove reportedly resulting from more missiles that hit … a pig farm. Indications are that the pigs are okay. Seriously.

There are early reports that this was an attack on a fuel depot, possibly by Russian aircraft.

None of these are nuclear blasts. Please resume breathing.

@Daily Kos

One comment

  1. This article mentions morale. UA = very high, RF = very low. This is one aspect working for UA. Another is its superior leadership, and this exists all across the rank spectrum. This is the deciding factor on this frontline as UA troops retake ground from the orcs. It’s a case of brains versus club-wielding goon. A case in point:

    “Attacking in a thousand directions at once (see what Russia is doing at Popasna) is rarely a good idea. But in Kherson, Ukraine is making multiple attacks work for them by pinning Russian forces down at locations they very much want to hold—Vysokopillya, Snihurivka, Kyselivka—then moving around those positions to take villages and towns that were more lightly held.”

    “However, as Russia loses ground and falls back toward Kherson, its forces become more concentrated and opportunities to find a gap become few.”
    So, this is where UA forces must figure out the best way to break through somewhere or design a creative plan. One possible avenue of approach is by water, via the very large Dnepr estuary system that spreads out to the south-southwest of Kherson. It could be done in the dead of night and bring UA troops to or near Kherson. No doubt, the mafia garrison in the city is not very large, and, if planned well, could cause mayhem there. This would throw a huge monkey wrench into their defensive plans.

    “In any case, don’t expect either Kherson or Khariv to suddenly break open and be done. In both cases, the last steps are going to be the most difficult. And Kherson is going to be a very tough nut to crack without causing massive damage.”

    Cutting them off the city from the south side of the river would be the first step to accomplish before completely surrounding the city. There is a single bridge and if taken or destroyed, the ruskie’s primary avenue of reinforcements, escape or supply deliveries is gone.

    “Those T-62 tanks that Russia is starting to send to various areas in Ukraine use a 115mm gun. The T-72 and T-90 use a 125mm gun. But I’m sure this will be okay. Everyone knows how good Russia is at logistics.”

    Sure, the differing, outdated ammo will pose no problems for the mafia logistic system. LOL

    Liked by 4 people

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