A funny thing happened on the way to Russia’s capture of Severodonetsk. After reports from Ukrainian officials that Russia held about 80% of the city, and a full week after Chechen forces claimed to have taken the whole city (which never happened), Ukraine now appears to hold more of Severodonetsk than it did on Wednesday.
Some statements are now going as far as saying that Severodonetsk was a trap to lure in Russian soldiers. There are now claims that Ukrainian troops haven’t just held on to their corner of the city, but have spread out, taken prisoners, and are prepared to expel the remaining Russian forces from the city. Which, if true, is just … wow.
However, there are other statements saying that while Ukrainian forces did recapture some blocks of the city on Thursday, they are still vastly outnumbered and are holding positions to allow more civilian evacuations. I absolutely want to believe the reports that Ukraine is about to pull off what would be a mid-level miracle. But I’m not investing in these reports too deeply at this point.
In a story that sounds all too familiar, The Guardian reports that a large number of people are hiding below a factory site in Severodonetsk.
About 800 people, including children, are hiding beneath a chemical factory in the key eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, now 80% held by Russian troops, as more western allies promise additional missile systems and arms to Kyiv.
This would seem to set up an almost Mariupol-like situation, though it’s unlikely that any other site is as well prepared for invasion as the Azovstal plant.
Right now, please take all reports out of Severodonetsk with a coffee cup full of salt. Both sides have a lot invested in this location on a symbolic basis, which means it’s extremely open to a propaganda push from either side.
After a week in which relatively little ground has changed hands, there is action today north of Kharkiv. Ukraine has captured the town of Vesele, where Russian forces had been dug in since the start of the counteroffensive in the area. Russian troops have retreated to the area of Lyptsi, and reportedly made an unsuccessful attempt to advance to the south.
At the same time, pro-Russian sources are reporting a large Russian advance in the area, one in which Russia has apparently captured not just Ternova but Staryi Saltiv and multiple villages. Please note that, while this “big Russian advance” map is circulating widely on Twitter, there is no (as in zero) evidence that such a Russian attack exists in any form, not even in Telegram chatter. Someday, Russian propagandists are going to get tired of claiming that Russia has retaken Ternova. Today is not that day.
As promised, the map of the area east of Zaporizhzhia has gotten some attention today. Russia is making a number of pushes in this area, but so far has been unsuccessful at translating them into genuine gains. A number of villages are in dispute east and south of Hulyaipole, which has been shelled heavily for weeks. Another group of villages have faced assault near Orikhiv, but there’s no clear evidence that any have changed hands.
What’s making the Zaporizhzhia area particularly interesting right now is what’s reported to be coming. In the last few days, several small groups of Russian soldiers or isolated vehicles have been destroyed attempting to advance along the highway on the east bank of the Dnipro River. But these are reported to be the vanguard of a large Russian force—a force equipped with T-62 tanks. This force has supposedly rolled through Melitopol headed north, but it’s hard to believe Russia will actually use these tanks for more than patrolling areas solidly under their control.
Over the last several weeks, there have been several flip-flops when it comes to control of the villages along the border of Russian-occupied territory, but now Russia does seem to be moving forward from that border with more purpose—though what that purpose might be is not clear.
Last week, a village near Hulyaipole was the site for this demonstration of Ukrainian artillery skill.
And finally, I’m bringing you this fine example of Tucker Carlson / Pillow Guy quality propaganda for your enjoyment. Honestly, the production values here make me feel safer.
You see, comrade? Russia is taking these cities without even firing a shot. Nothing in this city has been damaged. There are people playing games, strolling the sidewalks, out for dinner and shopping. They love Russia! They also love wearing their winter coats in June! Ukrainians, such interesting people!