Ukraine Situation Report: Russian Border Towns Hit With Onslaught Of Attacks
For Russians, the war in Ukraine continues to have consequences at home as border towns were hit with attacks Thursday.
Though far from wreaking the level of devastation of Russian attacks on its soil, Ukraine continues to strike back across the border. Russian governors say their regions came under attack by Ukrainian fires, drones, and a partisan group aligned with Kyiv.
Belgorod Oblast has come under attack several times this week, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on his Telegram channel.
“An unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down by an air defense system in the Valuysky urban district,” he wrote Thursday. “There were no casualties or damage, its remains fell into the field. The task force is surveying the area.”
The drone, a Poseidon H10 used by Ukraine for reconnaissance and correcting fires, was found about 12.5 miles from the border.
On Wednesday, the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka, Shebekinsky district, “fell under the mortar shelling of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Gladkov stated. “There were no casualties. The administration of the rural settlement promptly evacuated the residents of the shelled streets in armored cars to a safe distance.”
Gladkov said that according to preliminary information, three private households and three cars were damaged by shell fragments in that incident. Windows were broken and facades and roofs were damaged as well.
The Shebekinsky urban district also came under attack the day before, said Gladkov.
“In Novaya Tavolzhanka, 2 explosive devices were dropped from a drone. There were no casualties or damage. The shells hit the gardens, thank God that at that time none of the civilians were cleaning the territory.”
Meanwhile, the governor of Russia's Bryansk Oblast on Thursday said members of the Russian Volunteer Corps once again crossed the border.
“Today, the border department of the FSB of Russia for the Bryansk region thwarted an attempt to penetrate the territory of the Russian Federation near the village of Sluchovsk, Pogarsky district, of a Ukrainian DRG [sabotage and reconnaissance group] in the amount of 20 people,” Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz said on his Telegram channel Thursday. “Units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, together with units of the border troops, inflicted a fire defeat on the enemy.”
The Russian Volunteer Corps disputed Bogomaz's version of events on its Telegram channel.
“Today the soldiers of the Russian Volunteer Corps visited the Bryansk Region again!” the organization claimed. “Despite the fact that Governor Bogomaz has already reported on ‘successfully repulsing the attack of Ukrainian DRGs,’ we again catch him in a lie! In addition to performing combat missions, the RDK fighters were also able to communicate with local residents, hand them our leaflets and asked them to take cover during the hostilities. The liberation struggle in Russia is gaining momentum!”
Last month, an apparent infiltration there by the group spurred Russian President Vladimir Putin to publicly condemn its actions.
Ukrainian forces “today carried out another act of terror, committed another crime, infiltrated the border area and opened fire on civilians," Putin said on March 2, according to the official Russian TASS news agency. “They saw it was a civilian car, saw that civilians and children were inside…they opened fire on them."
Both oblasts, which border Ukraine, have come under frequent attacks.
Since April 2022, there have been multiple reports of Ukraine's armed forces striking at targets in Belgorod, which lies just on the opposite side of the country's northeastern border.
Bryansk, which was hit by a Ukrainian drone attack on Tuesday according to Bogomaz, has also been a frequent target of Ukrainian attacks, as we have written about before.
Though not causing the same widespread damage as the missile and drone strikes on Ukraine's cities and civilian infrastructure, these attacks have created enough concern that in February, authorities in Moscow announced they resettled nearly 4,000 residents of Belgorod Oblast and were considering resettling some residents of the country's Bryansk and Kursk oblasts for the same reason.
You can read more about that in our coverage here.
Even as Ukraine eyes a counteroffensive in the coming weeks, these kinds of attacks will no doubt continue, serving as a reminder to Russians that their full-on invasion has consequences at home as well.
Before we dive into the latest updates from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Little has changed on the battlefield over the past couple of months, other than rising deaths and equipment losses on both sides.
On Thursday, New York Times visual journalists produced maps showing just how little has changed despite Moscow's offensive to capture the entire Donbas.
"A breakthrough for Russia appears increasingly unlikely. Regardless of the outcome in the fierce battle of Bakhmut, Moscow’s inability to gain substantial ground in the Donbas shows how little its offensive has achieved and how much its military has struggled to efficiently capture urban areas throughout the war," the Times reported.
"After mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops, Russia is no longer severely understaffed, as it was in the fall, when it lost large parts of the northeast in a surprise Ukrainian counteroffensive."
"But even with more troops and firepower, Russia has, at best, only managed to inch forward, encountering well-prepared Ukrainian positions, protected by basements and buildings, with defensive lines heavily fortified from nearly a decade of fighting."
Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Hanna Malyar, offered a peak into Kyiv’s decision-making when it comes to her nation continuing to defend Bakhmut.
“I will open the curtain a little - what is behind the words ‘fighting continues in Bakhmut’ and how operational decisions are made,” she said Thursday on her Telegram channel.
“Combat actions are accompanied by serious analytical work of a large number of people,” she said. “Decisions are made on the basis of a comprehensive analysis and calculations of the likely development of the situation:
- the operational situation on the spot is monitored and reported to headquarters 24/7
- staffs continuously analyze the actions of the enemy and the dynamics of changes in the situation according to many criteria
- based on the received data, the headquarters predict probable threats and actions of the enemy.”
Operational information and analysis “are continuously reported to the command of the Khortytsia Operational-Strategic Group of Troops, in whose area of responsibility the Bakhmut direction is now located.”
Based on that analysis, “forecasts of the enemy's actions and assessment of our capabilities, the command makes operational decisions and formulates tasks for units.”
So, “when you hear the words "situation under control’ in the summaries - it is so,” she said.
Speaking of which, Bakhmut remains in play, according to Ukraine’s military.
"Enemies can occupy a building, but after our strong attack on them, the occupiers can retreat, and our servicemen can occupy these positions,” Serhiy Cherevaty, the spokesman of the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on national TV Thursday. “Sometimes the enemy succeeds in some actions. Fighting in city buildings is one of the most challenging types of combat.”
Cherevaty added that 19 combat clashes occurred in the city during the day. The Armed Forces eliminated 71 occupiers; another 88 were injured, he claimed.
The War Zone cannot independently verify the combat claims of either side.
Russia's fight in the east is going so poorly that the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) likely canned Colonel-General Rustam Muradov as commander of the Eastern Group of Forces in Ukraine, according to the U.K. MoD, citing Russian social media.
Ukraine stepped up strikes on a Russian-occupied city in southern Ukraine that sits along a critical supply line to Crimea and is a potential prime target for Ukraine’s looming spring counteroffensive, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, said a Russian base near an airfield was struck. "Russian-installed occupation authorities in Melitopol said air defenses shot down six missiles fired by U.S.-supplied M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS," the Journal reported. "Western military analysts have said that HIMARS rockets probably can’t be intercepted by Russian systems."
Melitopol, as we reported back in December, is likely a key target of any Ukrainian attempt to liberate Crimea.
Ukraine is willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Financial Times.
The comments by Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelensky’s office, "are the most explicit statement of Ukraine’s interest in negotiations since it cut off peace talks with the Kremlin last April," the newspaper said in a story published Thursday.
“If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue,” Sybiha said, referring to Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive. “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army.”
To help ensure the success of current and future Ukrainian operations, Operation Interflex, the U.K.-led multinational effort, is continuing to train those troops. The goal is to help 20,000 recruits become soldiers by the end of the year. So far, the U.K. says Operation Interflex is more than halfway there.
More than 7,000 volunteer applications have already been submitted to a new unit being formed as part of the Offensive Guard assault brigades.
“Some of the applications have already been considered, and those [able] to make the cut and meet the admission requirements are already enlisted in the unit,” said Andrii Demchenko, State Border Guard Service of Ukraine spokesman Wednesday during a briefing at the Ukraine Media Center.
The units, called Border of Steel, are currently being trained and coordinated, Demchenko said.
“Only once the cohesion and training are complete will the unit perform tasks to defend Ukraine in the east at large,” he said. “I want to note that the unit will operate just like other units of the Border Guard Service, according to the general plan of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian Armor Technology weapons manufacturer says it has resumed production of 60mm mortar shells and has already supplied the Armed Forces of Ukraine with more than 100,000 rounds.
"Unfortunately, with the start of a full-scale invasion, some of the company's production capacity was lost, some fell into occupation," CEO Vladislav Belbas said on his company’s Facebook page. “At the moment, Ukrainian Armored Technology, using the principles of distribution production on relocated grounds, has restored …serial production of such ammunition needed for the Defense Forces.”
The U.S.-donated Avenger short-range air defense systems (SHORADS), armed with Stinger heat-seeking short-range surface-to-air missiles and .50 caliber M3P machine guns, are now being used by Ukrainian forces. So far, the U.S. has promised 12 of those systems to Ukraine. It is unclear how many have arrived in Ukraine so far.
A Russian T-90M tank received a double-whammy recently, first being hit by a captured Kornet anti-tank guided missile, before the coup de grace was delivered via drone-dropped munitions.
The damage from a Ukrainian First Person Video (FPV) drone to this Russian MT-LB armored personnel carrier with a Zu-23-2 23mm autocannon seems a lot worse though.
Even though Russian milbloggers have complained about the lack of punch in the Lancet loitering munitions, they have been a bane to Ukrainian forces. Here you can see a close-up of one of those drones about to hit a Ukrainian tank, though it appears it was able to move away under its own power despite the strike.
The former head of the Antonov aircraft manufacturing company has been accused of failing to dispatch the An-225 Mriya cargo jet before the Russian invasion last year and neglecting to renew an insurance policy, according to Aviation Week.
The plane, the world’s largest cargo jet, was destroyed in February 2022, after Russian and Ukrainian forces fought a battle around Hostomel airport in the opening hours of the invasion. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said on its Telegram social media channel on Wednesday that Serhiy Bychkov, then-director of state-owned Antonov, failed to approve an order that would have flown Mriya to Leipzig, Germany prior to the invasion. The An-225 was “in proper technical condition, which [would have] allowed it to fly outside Ukraine” at the time of the invasion, the SBU said on Telegram.
Bychkov also failed to extend Antonov’s insurance contract, which resulted in $1.14 million in lost compensation payments, the SBU said, according to Aviation Week.
You can read more about Mriya, and its first pilot, in our deep dive here.
Russia is getting closer to finishing repairs to the Kerch Bridge, Vladimir Putin's prized $4 billion span linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula it has occupied since 2014. The bridge was badly damaged by a suspected Ukrainian attack on Oct. 8.
And finally, while we don't know the fate of the trench beaver, it looks like Ukrainian forces have found a new animal mascot. This time a hedgehog, apparently saved after somehow finding itself wrapped in plastic.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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