The Other McCain

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Ukraine: Donbas Battles Intensify

Posted on | May 16, 2022 | 1 Comment

Following up on Saturday’s post (“Ukraine’s Victory in the Battle of Kharkiv”), the situation in the Donbas region will likely dominate developments in the Ukraine war over the next week. You can click on the map above to see it full-size. The northeastern sector has three distinct crisis points: First, the Russians are attempting to advance from Popasna, threatening Bakhmut; second, 35 miles north of Popasna, Sievierodonetsk is surrounded on three sides by Russian forces; and third, 40 miles west of Sievierodonetsk, Slovyansk is threatened by Russian forces advancing from Izyum. However, Ukraine claims to be counterattacking on Izyum, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Ukraine began a counteroffensive toward the eastern city of Izyum aimed at disrupting Russian supply lines into the Donbas region, officials said, as Ukrainian forces continued clearing villages north of Kharkiv . . .
Russia has established the forward headquarters of its operations to conquer Donbas in the town of Izyum, which straddles the Siverskyi Donets river in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian troops have begun to push successfully toward the town, the head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleh Synehubov, said Saturday.
“The Izyum direction remains our hottest point. That’s where our armed forces have begun a counteroffensive,” he said in a video address. “The enemy is retreating in some directions, which is the result of the character of our armed forces.”

Now, if this is true — a big “if,” because there is no confirmation of exactly where this counteroffensive is occurring or where the Russians have retreated — then the Russian threat to Slovyansk may soon be reduced. Still,the Russians maintain threats at many places in a long front from Oleksandrivka, near Izyum, all the way around to Popasna, then down to the southern front which is another story in itself.

While we await confirmation of Ukrainian success near Izyum, it seems to me that a crucial point is around Lyman, where the Ukrainians hold a bridgehead on the northern bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. This is crucial because as we have recently seen (“Ukraine Wipes Out Russian Battalion at Attempted Pontoon River Crossing”), getting across a river in a war zone is very hazardous. Possession of the Lyman bridgehead on the north bank of the river gives the Ukrainians a base from which to launch attacks that could threaten Russian supply lines, and thus relieve pressure on other parts of the front. Click the map below to enlarge.

If the Ukrainians could reinforce Lyman and launch a counterattack toward Zarichne and Kreminna, this would force the Russians to retreat from the river at Yampil and would also relieve pressure against Sievierodonetsk. Clearing the Russians from the north bank of the river would then allow the Ukrainian forces now holding the south bank to cross over and join the counteroffensive. Of course, it’s very easy for a civilian to point at a map and say, “Attack here,” and a much more difficult task to organize and execute such an attack. The Russians have had weeks to dig in around Zarichne and Kreminna, so that driving them out would almost certainly require heavy fighting.

Do the Ukrainians have the necessary reserves for such an attack? We know that the West is pouring weapons and other equipment into Ukraine; we don’t know if the Ukrainians have enough trained manpower to put all these resources to effective use on the battlefield. When this war started 11 weeks ago, something like 200,000 volunteers were quickly enlisted, and we can assume that most of those volunteers are now sufficiently trained and equipped to be deployed in combat. Given the emergency circumstances, many of them must already be combat veterans by now. Probably it wouldn’t take more than 10,000 fresh troops — if well-equipped and competently led — to break through the Russian defenses north and east of Lyman. Yet it seems that, rather than organizing their volunteers into brigade-sized units, Ukraine has instead deployed them piecemeal around the several fronts.

So the question is whether Ukraine can assemble a strike force for the kind of breakthrough effort I’ve described. Something like this must be attempted somewhere in the Donbas theater, because Ukraine can’t keep playing defense and let the Russians have the leisure to pick and choose their points of attack. That’s a formula for slow-motion defeat. Given the success Ukraine has already had at repelling the Russian invaders from Kyiv and Kharkiv, they ought to be able to seize the initiative somewhere, and the Lyman bridgehead looks like a good place to start.



One Response to “Ukraine: Donbas Battles Intensify”

  1. Liberals Want Ukraine to Negotiate? : The Other McCain
    May 21st, 2022 @ 5:04 pm

    […] hasn’t been much alteration of the tactical situation in Ukraine since our Monday update (“Ukraine: Donbas Battles Intensify”). The Russians had made some advances from Popasna and west of Lyman, but the battlefronts […]