Russia—and specifically forces controlled by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov—made a video to gloat about their capture of Severodonetsk. Twice. A week apart. The only problem is that it didn’t happen, either time. Chechen propagandists were also a little premature with that video that showed how happy the people of Severodonetsk were to be “liberated from Ukrainian Nazis” by their friends the Chechens.
On Saturday, Ukraine is still fighting in Severodonetsk, in spite of the intense pressure Russia has brought against the city from three directions. What’s more, throughout the day on Friday and into Saturday, Ukraine seems to have regained control of a majority of the city.
Russia has reportedly rushed even more forces to Severodonetsk, according to a briefing from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. But Ukraine also has additional forces in the city, including elements of the “Ukraine Foreign Legion.”
The regional governor of Luhansk issued a statement saying that the situation was “very difficult,” and that fighting is intense. “The Russian army, as we understand, is throwing all its power, all its reserves in this direction. This is now their main target.”
Because of the close proximity of forces, and the way that troops from either side are often entangled from one block to the next, Russia apparently cannot make effective use of its one real weapon in this war: artillery. A NASA FIRMS map of the area reveals a zone of intense fire at a few blocks in the city center, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces on Friday. Otherwise, artillery strikes on areas of the city have been scattered and sporadic.
The MOD did not seem to confirm unofficial claims that Severodonetsk had been set up as a trap, or that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the city center earlier in the week to lure Russian troops into a crossfire. But for the last two days, it does seem that Ukraine has not just held on to the areas of the city it controlled, but pushed back the Russians in block-by-block fighting. Ukraine seems to have driven Russian forces out of a string of outlying villages on the city’s east side, including the village of Metelkino.
Russian artillery has reportedly been directed at bridges over the last day with the intention of preventing Ukraine from bringing in more reinforcements or supplies. In the detail above, the black lines are rail lines running into the city center, which is now under Ukrainian control. The single highway bridge to Lysychansk reportedly has been damaged but the moment is still passable. The rail bridges seen in this images crossing the river near Rubizhne are reportedly out are are bridges to the south.
The small geographic extent of this battle, and the large number of forces being brought to bear, means that control in Severodonetsk is subject to potential rapid change. If Russian forces get the upper hand—or Russian leadership decides that dropping artillery fire on their own men is an acceptable action—Ukraine might still withdraw to the south. But so long as Ukraine is holding or gaining ground, and Russian forces are continuing to suffer disproportionate losses … they’re going to stay.
Just looking at this location on a map makes the last few days seem incredible. Russia has every advantage. They have a large numerical edge. They control the surrounding territory. They hold multiple highways and rail lines that reach into the city. Their control lines are short. They’ve even been able to overfly the area with bombers. Every day, every hour, that this fight continues is both a puzzle and a kind of military miracle.
Oh, and one of the most ironic things about this fight so far: the big complaint on pro-Russian media on Saturday is that Ukraine “brought in foreign mercenaries.” Upping the irony significantly is that some of these complaints are coming directly from Chechen fighters. Depending on the message, the foreign volunteers are all either “Polish Army” or “UK special forces.” Whoever they actually are, their presence in Severodonetsk certainly shows that foreign volunteers are not sitting back in western Ukraine handling menial tasks. This is as much “on the frontlines, in the heat of battle” as possible.
And if you’re worried that Kadyrov has paused in putting out those videos that show a perfectly peaceful Severodonetsk where Ukrainians happily greet their Chechen “liberators” … don’t be. Reality is never an obstacle.
One last statement from the Ukrainian regional governor of Luhansk. “Russia previously managed to capture most of the city, but now our military has pushed them back. They are really suffering huge losses”.
Here’s a prime artifact of both the confined scale of this battle, and the continued available of cell and satellite phone communication with those directly engaged in the fight.
This report indicates that Russian forces are moving along the P-66 road at the edge of the industrial area of Severodonetsk. The frontline between Russian and Ukrainian forces now appears to run along Bohdana Lishchiny Street, with Ukrainian forces advancing east of that street.
Tracking those roads down on Google, you end up with something like this.
Have some Russian Things Blowing Up Theater …
“Ukrainian resistance fighters discovered a Russian communications station in the area of the Vasilenkovo, Kharkiv region. The artillery of the 92nd OMBR of the Armed Forces of Ukraine ‘corrected’ this problem.”