Ukraine War, 26–29 May 2022

Good morning everybody!

STRATEGIC

Amid reports about USA preparing deliveries of M142 HIMARS to Ukraine, Putin is said to have declared delivery of such systems for ‘Red Line’. Unclear what kind of Red Line and what would be the consequences.

Deliveries of M777s are coming forward relatively slowly: 2 battalions with a total of 18 pieces are in operation, but the rest of deliveries seem not to be even in Ukraine as of yet. As of this week, there were still more of Estonian- and Italian-supplied FH70s around the battlefield.

After three months of patiently waiting for the German Chancellor Scholz and his government to do more than help Ukraine with money, I’m starting to join those insisting the same is dragging its feet in this regards. After all, all the promised deliveries of heavy arms — even those including Germany providing arms to countries like, say, Poland or Slovenia, so these can send their ‘Soviet designed’ tanks other stuff to Ukraine — have failed to materialise. Indeed, on 27 May, Scholz began babbling on Twitter about ‘shall violence be countered by violence’, ‘can there be peace without arms’… and similar nonsense. Please, somebody be so kind and slap him in the face: perhaps he’s going to wake up from that condition…

The overall commander of RFA units in the Donbass area is now said to be another officer from the Far East District, Colonel-General Gennady Zhidko. Is said to be another ‘veteran of Syria’, but I do not recall to have heard of him before: probably served there after 2017. BTW, I doubt this means that Dvornikov is now ‘out’: rather that he’s in overall command of the RFA in Ukraine, and Zhidko in control of the Donbass area, ‘only’: would say that this turned out to be necessary following the failure to coordinate the crossing of the Siversky Donets in the Bilohorivka area, with the breakthrough at Popasna (was a — very — costly failure).

The debate in the USA is now about how the Russians are learning from their experiences, and going to continue advancing in the short term, but can’t win in the long term…. Hm… I do not see the Russians learning anything at all. For the start, they have a massive problem with the necessity to keep Putin’s favourites in command. OK, now they seem to be trying to ‘avoid’ related issues by appointing generals from the Far East District: supposedly, these have least political aspirations and no contacts in Moscow, and thus do not represent a threat for Putin’s regime. However, there is no indication they are improving at operational- or tactical levels. The story with massive concentrations of artillery to achieve this or that — like at Lyman, the last few days, just for example — is nothing new: they were doing this during the Second World War, in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia and Angola (as advisors), in Ukraine of 2014–2015, and Syria of 2015–2018. Following up by Spetsnaz is nothing new at least since Afghanistan of the 1980s, either. At most, they have learned that the only way forward left is one of securing areas that have a good railway network (or are near such areas). They might have learned they have the advantage whenever the Ukrainian forces are ‘fixed’ in specific villages and/or towns. However, as soon as Ukrainians start to manoeuvre, the RFA artillery is behaving like an elephant in a china store, and simply finding no solution. They are poor in counter-battery-business, too — principally because Ukrainians are widely dispersing their artillery, and constantly moving it … with other words: the Russians are best compared to Kissinger (OK, OK: perhaps to Scholz and SPD, too).

Finally, there’s still a lots of talk about arrival of that train loaded with T-62s in Melitupol. Well, don’t forget that few days before there were reports about that convoy of 11km length full of much more modern MBTs arrived in the Popasna area, and the T-62-train in Melitupol was followed by a train loaded with T-80s. Thus, for the time being, I see no point in wasting even more time with guessing about where and how are T-62s going to be deployed.

A column of T-72s approaching the Popasna area, on 21 May. Separatist-operated T-64s have been sighted there, too.

AIR

Yesterday, the Keystone Cops claimed two additional Ukrainian Su-25s as shot down: this time over ‘Zagradovka’ in the Kherson region, and over Barvinkove, in the Kharkiv region. Moreover, they claimed a Mi-8 as shot down near Orekhovo, in the Zaporizhzhya region, one Tockha-U over Svatovo (‘DNR’: actually, the locals report the place hit by three Tochkas, not by one) — and no less than 18 UAVs….

Mind, claims by Keystone Cops are meanwhile at a total of 182 Ukrainian aircraft, 128 helicopters, and 1,045 UAVs (including more than 40 Bayraktars). AFAIK, Ukrainians haven’t had as many at the start of the war: of course, ‘the explanation’ is that all of ‘surplus’ aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs were ‘delivered by NATO’ since 24 February…

BATTLE OF DONBASS

North of Kharkiv, on 27 May, Ukrainians have secured Ternova, and pushed on Vesele (west of Ternova) and Starytsya (north-east of Ternova). It turns out they have managed to retain a bridgehead east of the Siversky Donets, too: this should be stretching from Metalivka in the north to Khotimlya in the south (‘Heaven’ help me with all the geographic designations of Ukraine….)

Izium… whatever there might have been of an Ukrainian counteroffensive there, well, this seems to have recovered Velyka Komyshuvakha, yesterday. Not much more, though. Dovhenke, which — according to the CO of the Russian BTG involved there — remains under pressure. Ironically, the place was reported as ‘captured’ by the CO of the Russian BTG deployed there, already three weeks ago, although they never managed to do more than reach its northern outskirts: meanwhile they’re attacking because the CO’s report about victory must be fulfilled… Of course, there are other reasons, too: five kilometres north-east from Dovhenke, the RFA is pushing like hell on Studenok and trying to reach Bohorodine — probably with the aim of surrounding Svyatohirsk: although an excellent defensive position, the latter is exposed to a possible encirclement due to the Russian capture of Lyman, 10km further east.

Lyman…on 24 and 25 May, the Russians pounded the town with all the air power, artillery, multiple rocket launchers, heavy mortars they could get together. The barrage went on for hours and, regardless how much lacking precision (the RFA artillery lacks support of UAVS and obviously has a major problem with zeroing-in on Ukrainian trenches and other fortifications), seems to have caused heavy losses, collapsing defences almost as soon as the Russians initiated their pincer attack (one came from the north, the other from the south, via the railway station). Word is that a battalion of the 79th AAB lost over 100 killed, while surviving 200–300 were much too shocked and disheartened into a surrender… that does sound like ‘typical results of a massive artillery barrage’. Lyman was then taken by at least a BTG of the 90th Guards Tank Division, the 15th MRB, 24th Spetsnaz Brigade, and a BTG of Separatists on 26 May.

Whoever could, has withdrawn into the forests south of the town, and then over the Siversky Donets, where a new defence line is under construction with help of the 95th AAB. As of early on 28 May, the Russians were in the process of mopping up the forest of the Sviati Hory National Park, further south-west and south — and prompting reports according to which the RFA was ‘only 5km outside Slovyansk’.

Severodonetsk…After proving successful in Lyman, the Russians attempted to repeat the exercise in Severodonetsk, on 27 May. Following several hours of intensive artillery barrages and air strikes — the VKS Su-25 were ‘spraying and praying’ all over Severodonetks that day — they attacked from four directions. Surprisingly enough, the most successful this time were Kadyrov’s Chechens (serving with the Rosgvardia), who have managed to enter the northern side of the town, and reach the Hotel Mir, near the bust station — before, at least according to Ukrainians, being stopped there with heavy losses.

During the night from 27 to 28, the RFA attempted to infiltrate Ukrainian positions by sending Spetsnaz troops ‘around’ Severodonetsk: some say they attacked from the north, capturing a crossing (even a ‘bridge’) between the town and Lysychansk, demolishing the second and damaging another. However, from reports of the last evening, it seems they actually infiltrated from the east. The Ukrainians seem to have counterattacked with their special forces, but the outcome remains unclear — which, usually, is no good sign.

As of this morning, Severodonetsk remains under immense pressure and the situation inside the town is critical, even if not beyond hope: as long as Ukrainians can keep the garrison resupplied, it should be able to hold out.

Popasna Bulge…’If the cat is outside, the mice dance on the table’, they say, and this is obvious from the following two photographs, taken somewhere along the T1302 between Popasna and Severodonetsk, between 24 and 27 May: because Ukrainian artillery was not around, the RFA was free to line-up tanks and BMTPs of the 90th Tank Division on surrounding hills, and pound the defenders as it wanted… once Ukrainian artillery returned fire, the Russians rapidly withdrew.

That said, on 26 and 27 May, Ukrainians have deployed enough additional troops from the 80th AAB, 14th and 57th Mech brigades to launch a counterattack that, by the morning of 28 May, not only pushed the remaining Russians out of Vrubivka, but recovered Komyshuvakha (5km north of Popasna).

Bakhmut… On 26 and 27 May, the RFA and Wagner pushed from Trotskie in western direction and captured Ilovaisk, 6–7km east of Bakhmut, and Vdrodzhennya, few kilometres further south. They attacked Pylypchatyne, between Volodymyrivka and Ilovaisk, as next, but seems didn’t manage to secure it. Ukrainians appear to have exploited the opportunity to establish a new frontline between Pokrovske, Klynove and Semyhirja.

With other words: for the time being, the biggest crisis in the Severodonetsk Cauldron seems to be over, and the situation relatively stabile — except in town of Severodonetsk. What’s left to be seen is what do the Russians intend to do with all the tanks they’ve brought into the Popasna Bulge over the last 5–6 days, and if they might be able to exploit the capture of Lyman.

SOUTH

After something like a month of only minimal activity (except for counterattacks by the 14th Tank Brigade in the Volnovaka area, on 16 and 23 May, both of which were quickly beaten back by the RFA’s artillery and air strikes), Ukrainians have launched an attack on positions of the 49th CAA north/north-east of Kherson. Involved units seem to be the 60th Infantry- and the 63rd Mech Brigades. According to reports in the Russian social media, they have crossed the Inhulets River at Davydiv Brid, about 80km north of Kherson. As of the morning of 28 May, they have reached Ishchenka and Bruskynske, about 10km deep inside the territory controlled by the 49th CAA. The Russians are rushing reinforcements into the area, and fighting back with artillery and air strikes.

Can’t help it but conclude: both the place and direction of this attack were easily predictable: so much so, I’m surprised the GenStabU opted for this plan…

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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.