Ukraine War, 21, 22, 23 May 2022

Hello everybody!

After a (work-intensive) weekend, I’ll try to catch with most important developments on battlefields of the Ukraine War.

AIR & NAVAL

On 21 May, Tu-22M-3s of the VKS have attempted to hit one of bridges spanning Dnipro via the Khortytsia island, in Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainians reported damage on a local sanatorium instead. Early on 22 May, the Russians tried to hit the railway station of Vilnyansk, north-east of Zaporizhzhia, with unknown results.

On 22 May, troops of the 80th Airborne Assault brigade shot down a Su-25 of the VKS somewhere south of Kryvyi Rih. Attached photo is shown the resulting column of smoke. Another VKS Su-25 was claimed as shot down ‘over Luhanks Oblast’, but there are no details.

According to the Ukrainian -GenStab, two thirds of submarines of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea have left the port of Sevastopol in recent days. Included are vessels B-237 Rosotov-on-Don, B-261 Novorossiysk, B-262 Stary Oskol, B-265 Krasnodar, B-268 Veliky Novgorod, and B-271 Kolpino — all of the Project 877 Paltus-class (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘Kilo’). Each has four launchers for Kalibr cruise missiles.

(Ah yes, and the frigate Admiral Makarov — claimed as hit/destroyed by Ukrainians about a month ago — is perfectly intact and cruising off Odessa.)

Unsurprisingly, this morning Ukrainians claimed to have shot down one cruise missile over Fastiv, in the Kyiv region, while Keystone Cops claimed to have hit the main railway station in Zhitomir, and the base of the 10th Mountain Brigade in Ivano-Frankivsk….

The claim for a cruise missile strike on Malyn can be cross-checked with official Ukrainian information. Kyiv claimed that its air defences have shot down four Kalibrs, yesterday in early afternoon, but that the second wave of missiles then damaged the Ukrzaliznytsia Works, killing one and wounding four. Furthermore, debris from downed missiles damaged over 150 homes and several higher buildings in teh Malyn area.

Further east, the Keystone Cops claimed to have hit a communication centre and one Osa-AKM (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘SA-8’) of the Ukrainian forces in or near Bakhmut by Kh-59s, yesterday. Finally, their air defences should have shot down three Su-25s of the Ukrainian Air Force all but destroyed already back in April: two of these near Kiselevka (Kherson), and one over Pavlograd (Kharkiv). Ah yes….and the Russian air defences should have shot down two Tochka-U ballistic missiles approaching the Kherson area, and several Smerch rockets in the Kharkiv region.

BATTLE OF DONBASS

Kharkiv… the Russian counterattack run out of steam while trying to recover Ternova. The place remains contested. Further east, Ukrainians are trying to re-launch their attack in direction of Vovchansk.

Izium… something seems to be going on in the area between Virnopillia and Brazhkivka, south of the town, but I’ve got no clarity about what exactly. Further east…. Dovhenke remains bitterly contested and — because of Russian attacks on Oleksandrivka and the capture of Yarova, Ukrainians have withdrawn from the Oskil area back to Studenok, perhaps all the way to Sviatohirsk, too.

Lyman… following the fall of Drobysheve north of the town, Lyman is now surrounded from three sides. The VKS is particularly active here, flying continuous air strikes.

The RFA might still control at least two-, if not three small bridgeheads south of the Siversky Donets between Dronikva and Shypylivka (must admit, related reports are extremely confusing).

Severodonetsk… the town is under extreme pressure of the RFA and Separatists. On 20 or 21 May, Russian 2S4 heavy mortars have knocked out the last bridge connecting it with Lysychansk. For a while, it appeared as if Ukrainians have blown up that bridge on their own and would be withdrawing from Severodonetsk. However, it transpired artillery of the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade and the 24th Brigade then found the 2S4s that destroyed the bridge, and knocked it out. That said, the RFA and Separatists are assaulting Purdivka and Oleksandrivka north of the town, and — after constructing a pontoon bridge in the Muratove area — are pushing in between the town and Vorunov, on its south-eastern side (the latter might be under the Russian control by now). With other words: they are now in the outskirts of the Severodonetsk, on three of its sides.

The 2S4 Tyulipan heavy mortar before…
….and after its encounter with Ukrainian artillery.

Popasna… the worst seems to be over, or at least the Russian advance was slowed down, the last two days, which in turn means Ukrainians rushed significant reinforcements to this area (probably including most of the 10th Mountain Brigade from Ivano-Frankivsk). One of results is that the Ukrainians have managed to retain their fortification on a low hill north of Volodymyrivka, and the northern part of Trypillya. Nevertheless, the VDV pushed north around that area, and fighting in this ‘corner’ of their penetration is meanwhile taking place between Bilohorivka and Vasylivka, with the latter — possibly - being under the control of the RFA.

The Russian advance on Vrubivka initially appeared to have gained them at least the southern part of the village (which is including an important railway station), perhaps even most of it, but meanwhile seems to have been forced back: they do hold Oleksandropillia and the south-western part of Komyshuvakha (together with the railway branch from Popasna to that village). With other words: instead of West — on Bakhmut, as expected by many — the RFA and Separatists are pushing north, on Lysychansk, and north-west, in direction of Serebrianka-Bilohorivka.

Here it’s unavoidable to observe two points:

a) Had the Keystone Cops better coordinated their breakthrough in the Popasna area with their multiple crossing attempts of the Siversky Donets — and had they better supported the latter with their artillery — they would’ve closed the ‘Kessel’ (cauldron) around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk by now. They punched out of Popasna nearly two weeks late.

b) Assessments according to which the RFA would be short of launching an assault on Bakhmut are obviously wrong: even if rushing all the possible reinforcements to the Popasna area, they simply have no troops to initiate yet another assault on yet another a heavily protected (by two Ukrainian brigades) urban area.

My assessment: even Putin is not as insane (or as incompetent) as to order an attack on Bakhmut before ‘solving the situation’ in the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area first (an effort for which the RFA seems to have concetrated about 15 BTGs!).

That said, this crisis is far from over, alone because the RFA is rushing massive reinforcements into the Popasna area. One of tank-convoys captured on videos while approaching the area, some 3–4 days ago, was 11km long…

MARIUPOL

On 21 May, the GenStab in Kyiv ordered the last 531 defenders of Mariupol to lay down their arms, and they obeyed. With this, the battle ended with about 90% of the city being completely demolished; well over 20,000 residents feared dead, and around 2,500 troops from the 36th Naval Infantry Brigade, Azov Regiment of the National Guard, 12th Territorial Defence Brigade, State Border Guards, and the KORD going into captivity in Russia. Russian and Separatist casualties remain unknown.

SUPPLEMENT: AZOV REGIMENT

Before anybody comes to the idea to declare this an ‘end of the Azov Battalion’: that’s wrong.

Indeed, alone the notion of ‘Azov Battalion’ is wrong. Already back in early 2015, the unit was expanded into a regiment, and then assimilated into the National Guard of Ukraine. Over the last five years it grew significantly in size: as of early 2022, it included about 2,500 troops organised into two commando battalions, a tank battalion, a field artillery battery and reconnaissance company, a training battalion, and different support elements (with other words: it reached the strength of a brigade).

The elements lost in Mariupol included the entire 1st Azov Commando Battalion, parts of the 5th Azov Tank Battalion, possibly a better part of the command element of the Azov Regiment.

For comparison, the last I’ve heard of it, the 2nd Azov Commando Battalion was fighting in the Kyiv area, and then helped expand the Azov Special Forces Company into a full regiment, back through March and April. With other words: the Azov Regiment remains existent and is continuously involved in fighting the Russian aggression.

Over the last few months, many have asked me, is Azov = Nazis, as official Moscow cannot stop claiming?

As of 2022, the answer is negative. The reason is that this is the Year 2022, not 2014, and that over the last five years, the unit went through the same kind of transformation like the mass of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

No doubt, Azov was originally established by a mix of Ukrainian chauvinists, White Supremacists, and Ukrainian- and foreign neo-Nazis. No doubt, the unit is using insignia associated with the Wehrmacht and the SS. No doubt, in 2014 and 2015, its members became involved in well-documented cases of looting and unlawful detention and torture of civilians. And, no doubt, veterans of Azov have established a fascist political party (which is still strongly supporting the unit), and close links to similar circles abroad.

However, one should keep in mind that along the Russian ideology, being a Russian is equal to being an ‘internationalist’; on the contrary, anybody declaring him/herself for a member of other ethnic group living in Russia (or in countries considered as ‘within the Russian sphere of influence’ by the Russians) is a ‘nationalist’, indeed, an ‘extremist’.

Unsurprisingly, in the ongoing war, one can frequently read the notion of (Ukrainian) ‘nationalists’ in the Russian media (including releases by the Keystone Cops in Moscow): means, the same idea is carried on. Correspondingly, in aggression launched by Putin with the aim of exterminating Ukraine from maps and memory, any Ukrainian nationalists are ‘extremists’, blamed for all the destruction actually caused by the Russian aggression, and viciously prosecuted.

That all said, at least one Jew played an important role in the history of the Azov, and several are currently serving with it. Most of officers and other ranks serving with Azov are at least ‘Russian speakers’ and coming from parts of Ukraine predominantly populated by the Russians. Foremost, realising what kind of damage is the poor reputation of Azov causing on the international plan, since 2017, Kyiv went to great extension to de-politicise and root out neo-Nazis. Stringent background checks and careful monitoring during training were introduced, and foreigners (from around 20 countries) serving with the unit are obliged to accept Ukrainian citizenship. Regardless what is Azov’s founder, Andriy Biletsky claiming about his contacts to the command of the battalion in Mariupol, and while there is no doubt that one can never be cautious enough (because there is little doubt that some of Azov’s members remain hostile to liberal democracies, minority rights, voting rights etc.), my assessment is that the de-politicising of the Azov has reached proportions where, as of 2022, its former relations to the neo-Nazi scene are actually irrelevant.

Example: over the last two months two additional reconnaissance battalions and a tank battalion of the Azov Regiment have been established in the Kharkiv area (all are subordinated to the 127th Brigade TD), and the Azov-Prykarpattia battalion was established in the Ivano-Frankivsk area. Nowadays, they are ‘simply elements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’.

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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

From Austria; specialised in analysis of contemporary warfare; working as author, illustrator, and book-series-editor for Helion & Co.