Ukraine Situation Report: Offensive Brings Claims Of Limited Breakthroughs
A number of Russian military reporters’ accounts claim Ukraine is beginning to make small gains in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
As a new day dawns in Ukraine, there are indications Kyiv is making progress in its counteroffensive attack after a bloody first day that saw limited gains.
Ukraine has launched an attack largely focused in Zaphorizhzhia Oblast. As we predicted in December, it is designed to disrupt and eventually cut off the so-called land bridge to Crimea. On Thursday, the first full day of intensified action, Ukraine hit at locations in and around the largely destroyed city of Orikhiv, suffering what some U.S. officials said were “significant losses.”
That should come as no great surprise for an attack in an expected area with no air support against an enemy that has had many months to prepare. Meanwhile, the Russians too are almost certainly taking significant losses in both personnel and equipment, but that's not being highlighted by the Russian military bloggers who are providing the bulk of information regarding the front lines at the moment. Biases everywhere you look mixed with the fog of war mean that getting a clear picture of what is going on is nearly impossible, but some trends are emerging.
And while images are emerging on social media of destroyed Ukrainian equipment, including donated Leopard 2 tanks and other armor in both Zaporizhzhia as well as southern Donetsk Oblast where fighting is also taking place, some Russian Telegram channels are reporting limited breakthroughs.
“The enemy is pushing through our defense line on the Zaporizhzhia front,” Operation Z, a collective of Russian military commissars, journalists and volunteers, reported on its Telegram channel Thursday. “Armored groups of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are hitting one point.”
The Armed Forces of Ukraine “threw into battle up to 30 units of armored vehicles in a new assault near the town of Orikhiv, trying to break through our defenses in the Rabotino-Verbove area.”
The positions of Russia’s 291st regiment “have been under attack for more than a day,” says Operation Z. “According to the latest data, the enemy again managed to push through the defense line, ours retreated to reserve positions, the enemy is trying to gain a foothold.”
Many more Ukrainian troops await, Operation Z reported.
“In the near rear, the movement of columns of enemy equipment continues,” according to Operation Z. “The enemy has not yet thrown tank wedges into battle: a serious threat of a powerful offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine remains.”
“I do not share the joyful reports about the ‘defeat of the enemy,’” Dmitry Rogozin, “who is at the front with a group of military advisers,” Operation Z reported. “Yes, we repulsed the first attack. Yes, well done. But the enemy has not yet introduced the main forces of the breakthrough, primarily large tank wedges, has not driven them into our forward positions. And they are only in the vicinity of Orikhiv in the most tank-dangerous direction - about 600 tanks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, not counting the infantry fighting vehicles. Therefore, it is too early to rejoice, gentlemen. First, let's win, and only then we will ‘throw caps into the air,’” Rogozin said, according to Operation Z.
Though it has no air cover, Ukrainian forces are using drones and artillery to cover approaches to the battlezone, Russian propagandist Semyon Pegov said on his influential WarGonzo Telegram channel Thursday.
“Despite the failure of the first attempt at a quick offensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, nothing has been completed on this sector of the front,” WarGonzo reported. “The boys are in for a tough night. We wish them good luck.”
“Ukrainian formations have been trying to break through the defense line of the Russian Armed Forces in the Orhikhiv sector,” the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported. “Thanks to the competent actions of the defenders and the advantage in the air, the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine lost more than 40 armored vehicles, including at least four Leopard 2A4 tanks.”
However, “despite the failure of the Ukrainian offensive, it is too early to relax: the enemy is just beginning to seriously attack in the Zaporizhzhia direction. In addition, a blow should be expected in other sectors of the front.”
“The only area where the Armed Forces of Ukraine were able to advance is Lobkove,” the Two Majors Telegram channel reported. ”The presence of the enemy remains there, from where the assault groups of the 128th Guards Brigade are trying to attack the positions of the [Russian] Armed Forces near the village of Zherebyanka.”
All this, of course, is the Russian viewpoint, so take that as you will, but it is hardly glowing for Russian forces and seems to set up an ominous situation in the hours and days to come.
During a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday, the Pentagon’s top spokesman declined to categorize Ukraine’s actions or the overall status of the battlefield.
“What I'm not going to do today is provide an operational update on ongoing developments on the battlefield,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. “Clearly Russia for some time has been building its defenses in Ukraine and in anticipation of a Ukrainian counter-offensive and so that's about as far as I'll go right now.”
Beyond seeing some Russian replacement forces, Ryder said that “I'm not aware of any significant large number of additional Russian forces coming in but of course, that's something we'll continue to keep an eye on.”
As we noted earlier in the day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said without proof that the Russians had defeated the counteroffensive, with huge losses in personnel and equipment imposed on Ukrainians. Ukraine, meanwhile, has been mostly quiet on the subject.
There is a very long way to go in this effort and it is far too early to make any assessments of its success or failure.
We will keep a close eye on developments as the counteroffensive continues.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
While Ukrainian troops are engaged in a tough counteroffensive fight for liberation, officials and residents in Kherson Oblast continue battling the fallout from Tuesday’s destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.
Thousands of residents have been evacuated as water continues to rise. Many more remain stranded, some waiting on rooftops for rescue in scenes eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
Those already dangerous rescue efforts are taking place even as Russian troops continue firing munitions from their side of the Dnipro River. One volley landed at an evacuation site in Kherson City a few hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the region on a fact-finding tour of the flood damage. Nine people were injured, "including two employees of the State Emergency Service, a policeman, a doctor and a volunteer from Germany," Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson regional military administration said Thursday on his Telegram channel.
In addition to talking about the long-term implications of this disaster, Zelensky addressed the issue of Russians firing on rescuers in his evening address.
“The man-made disaster at the Kakhovka HPP is not a natural disaster or a manifestation of the climate crisis. This disaster is Putin,” Zelensky said in his evening address. “I said this during an address to global eco-activists, opinion leaders and international experts.”
“The number of ecosystems that have been destroyed or pushed to the brink of extinction by this Russian terrorist act is already measured in thousands,” he said. “All this we have faced is a deliberate crime of the occupier. There are many questions about what happened. But it happened in the occupied territory. But last year we warned about the occupiers mining the dam and other structures of the plant. But Russian troops are now shelling the areas where the evacuation is underway. Obviously, it is Russia that is interested in the disaster.”
In its latest update, the Ukrainian office tasked with handling the disaster aftermath said that more than 2,300 people, including 120 children, have been evacuated. More than 560 others, including 28 children, were rescued.
Overall, “32 settlements and 3,625 houses on the right bank of the Dnipro were flooded,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs Offensive Guard said Thursday on its Telegram channel.
At least one rescuer, a soldier named Volodymyr Kavulich, died trying to save his fellow Ukrainians.
And in addition to rescuing people, a lot of effort was spent trying to rescue animals caught up in the flood waters as well.
On the Russian side, there are at least five dead and more than 60 injured residents are known, with about 20,000 people in the disaster zone, the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported.
"The Russian Emergencies Ministry continues to work in the flood zone - rescuers say more than 14,000 houses have been flooded and 4,000 residents have been evacuated," according to Rybar. "About 700 rescuers and two hundred pieces of equipment are involved in the work."
The dam destruction has raised anew concerns about the Zaphorizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest.
Satellite imagery shows water has receded in the wake of the breach, which can create problems with the cooling pool, a new report says.
Without the reservoir on the other side to counteract it, the internal pressure of the water in the cooling pool could breach the dyke around it, a report by the Paris-based Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said.
"The loss of the pool would not necessarily be catastrophic as other sources of water could be brought in, such as pumping trucks, to prevent a meltdown of the plant’s nuclear fuel, but a loss of the cooling pool would dramatically increase safety concerns at the plant," The Guardian reported.
The plant "is continuing to pump cooling water from the Kakhovka reservoir even though the water level has reached the point at which it was previously estimated that the pumps could no longer operate, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today.
There are also concerns about pollution and disease that come with any flood situation. In addition, the Dnipro supplied Crimea with water and it remains to be seen what the long-term effect will be there.
With each side blaming the other for the dam’s destruction, the Pentagon’s top spokesman on Thursday was asked for an assessment of the cause.
While declining to “speculate,” Ryder said “it’s very clear however, the reason we're in this situation is because Russia invaded Ukraine. And so it's obviously a terrible humanitarian tragedy. But in terms of how this dam could have been destroyed, it's something that we'll continue to look into.”
As far as whether the Pentagon will provide any humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, as it routinely does across the globe, Ryder said there was nothing to announce today. The Pentagon is currently focused on providing security assistance to Ukraine, he said.
The U.S. will announce a tranche of military aid for Ukraine valued at more than $2 billion as soon as Friday, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday, citing administration officials.
The funds under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative will be heavy on air defense munitions and will help Ukraine purchase Hawk missile launchers and two types of advanced Patriot air defense missiles, Bloomberg reported.
The self-described anti-Putin partisan groups say they are still operating inside Russia's Belgorod Oblast, where they have staged a number of incursions.
"We send greetings to Gladkov from the forests of the Belgorod region!," the Freedom For Russia Legion posted Thursday on its Telegram channel, referring to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. "Again, what are you in control of? The fight continues! Wait for us!"
Gladkov, meanwhile, complained of continuing Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes in his oblast, with no injuries but some property damage.
The Russians have appeared to launch an incendiary attack against Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut. Last month, the Russians launched a similar attack though on a much larger scale, on that city.
There was another attack on the occupied Azov Sea port city of Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, a Russian-installed official said.
"According to preliminary data, a fire occurred in the area of the gas station, at the gas control point near the bakery. Gas cut off in the area," Vladimir Rogov reported on his Telegram channel. "Fire crews are on the scene."
Russians are continuing to complain about their equipment, this time tires that do not last very long.
And finally, while there continues to be fascination with Ukraine's U.S.-donated M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, one bicyclist seemed more interested in where he was heading than what was launching behind him.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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