David AxeForbes Staff
I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.Follow
Sep 18, 2022, 05:11pm EDT
May 27 was a dark day for Ukraine. That was the day Lyman, the last free town north of the Donets River in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas River, finally fell to Russian forces. Capturing Lyman helped the Russian army to consolidate its position in Donbas and secure supply lines across the region.
Lyman was a domino. As it fell, it knocked down Severodonetsk, the last free city east of the Donets. And as Severodonetsk fell, it toppled Lysychansk, its twin city on the opposite side of the river.
Nearly four months later, the dominos are falling in the opposite direction. A Ukrainian counteroffensive that kicked off east of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city 100 miles northwest of Lyman, in a heady two weeks has liberated a thousand square miles of northeast Ukraine.
Fleeing a dozen eager Ukrainian brigades, Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast —including the once-elite 1st Guard Tanks Army—have fled east across the Oskil River, leaving behind hundreds of vehicles and potentially thousands of casualties.
The Ukrainians’ momentum, weighted by aggressive air and artillery support, has carried them a short distance across the Oskil and south toward Lyman. Now several of Kyiv’s brigades—a mix of paratroopers and territorials—also are closing on Lyman … from the opposite direction.
It’s a proverbial noose for the Russians in the town.
The Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. explained what’s at stake. “Further Ukrainian advances east along the north bank of the Siverskyi Donets River could make Russian positions around Lyman untenable and open the approaches to Lysychansk and ultimately Severodonetsk.”
The Russians, in other words, might soon lose a lot of the territory they spent the summer—and much of their combat power—capturing.
The disposition of forces in and around Lyman favors the attackers. As recently as last week, one analystplaced just four Russian battalions—motorized infantry, mostly—in the area. A battalion might have just a few hundred front-line troops. A brigade usually includes several battalions.
ISW’s own assessment is even less favorable for the Russians. “The Russian defenders in Lyman still appear to consist in large part of … reservists and the remnants of units badly damaged in the Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensive,” the think-tank stated.
Worse, “the Russians do not appear to be directing reinforcements from elsewhere in the theater to these areas,” ISW added.
That latter point should come as no surprise. The Kharkiv counteroffensive at its climax a week ago consumed a Russian battalion every day. The vaunted 1st Guard Tank Army lost at least half of its roughly 200 T-80 tanks as it pulled back across the Oskil.
Perhaps most embarrasingly for Moscow, the reserve 3rd Army Corps—which the Kremlin struggled to form this summer—rolled into Kharkiv in a desperate bid to slow the Ukrainian attack, promptly lost a few skirmishes then joined the wider Russian retreat.
That is to say, there are no reserves to reinforce the Lyman garrison because the Kremlin already spent the bulk of its reserves—the 3rd AC—in a failed effort to stop the initial Ukrainian counterattack. Russia has run out of healthy young men and spare modern equipment and no longer can stand up effective new units.
The Russian garrison in Lyman is outnumbered, increasingly isolated—and on its own. It’s a safe bet the Russian troops occupying Lysychansk and Severodonetsk closely are watching as the Second Battle of Lyman looms.
I’m a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina.
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