Ukraine War, 9 May 2022

Good morning everybody!

A ‘quick & dirty’ update, because from my POV, the situation in the Siversky area is making me seriously concerned, this morning.

‘Good news’…

North of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian counteroffensive initiated on 2 May is…. Well, ‘coming forward’. It’s no ‘blitzkrieg’, but a slow, cautious, methodical advance — and then one heavily dependent on the ‘territorials’, no ‘official regulars’. That is: 113th TD Brigade is leading the western flank of this offensive.

Arguably, the Russians opposing it are consisting of 4–5 depleted and shaken BTGs, including the 437th Motor Rifle Regiment and two Naval Infantry Regiments, reinforced by what is colloquially known as the ‘Donbass Meat’ (see: poorly trained Donbass Separatists). The 113th has entered Tsupivka, but the Russians there are still resisting.

Further east, the 92nd Mech is pushing on Lyptsi and Bairak, defended by a BTG of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade. Indeed, the 92nd Mech has already liberated Bairak. Behind it, the 227th Battalion TD and the Sheikh Mansur Battalion (Chechens fighting for Ukraine) are mopping up and securing villages like Vekhnii Saltiv, Zamulivka etc., and collecting lots of prisoners. In Ruska Lozova, they captured a well-stocked ammo depot, and Ukrainian Farmer Special Forces — see: ‘tractors’ — are already hard at work, too…. So far, no surprise: the 61st NIB was weakened already by its unsuccessful counterattack on Stary Saltiv, back on 5 May.

Overall, the situation there is ‘tense but fine’: this is likely to end with a major defeat for the RFA.

‘Bad News’…

North of Lyman, the Russian 30th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade has taken Seredje, and entered Shandryholove. Seems, the positions of the Ukrainian 57th Motor have been subjected to too many artillery strikes, followed by too many Spetsnaz attacks. And, hand on heart: defending positions in a big forest is not easy (just like it’s not easy to attack such positions).

(BTW, this is meanwhile the ‘classic’ RFA tactics: shell an area for 1–2 days, especially by night, then follow up by Spetsnaz attacks in the morning, before following up with the main force. That’s where Ukrainians are experiencing major problems with defending and is also the reason why don’t we get to see as many videos — or reports to read — about Ukrainians smashing another of Russian convoys with their artillery.)

Yet more bad news…

It’s the situation just some 20–30km further east that’s making me growing concerns. South of Zarichne, a BTG each of the 15th Independent Motorised Rifle Brigade and the 74th Independent Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (supported by plenty of Spetsnaz) are pushing on and over the Siversky Donets.

Mind: contrary to the defenders — especially the 95th Airborne Brigade (Siversk) and 79th Airborne Brigade (Bilohorivka) — all of Russian units are ‘fresh’: i.e. relatively new to the battlefield, and thus at near-full strength. And the Spetsnaz are causing lots of problems to the defenders, not only because they can use the local forest for good cover, but because they can fight the way the Ukrainians fight: in ‘de-centralised’ fashion.

Now, on the western flank of this advance, they have reached Siversky Donets at Zakitne, and thus blocked the road connecting that place with Lyman.

As reported yesterday, they have then thrown a pontoon bridge ‘in the Siversky’ area: turned out this bridge was at 48.938433, 38.06014: some 8km north of Siversk and 13km from Bilohorivka.

….confirmation for destruction of the first Russian pontoon bridge on Siversky Donets, from two days ago…
…but, more of Russian bridging equipment was already waiting for its turn…

The Ukrainians first reported next to nothing (except for bombing of the school in Bilohorivka, where over 60 civilians were massacred). Then they reported that the bridge was destroyed and the OTG Vostok killed 200 invaders.

And still, i.e. after all of that, the Ukrainians then reported that the Russians have two bridges…

Yesterday, they reported both as destroyed, but also that ‘small units’ (apparently 60–70 Spetsnaz and 3–4 BMP-2s) were able to cross. Then they reported the Russians in the forest between Serebyanka and Shipilovka. Worst of all, this morning the word is that a ‘bigger unit’ was able to cross and push in direction of Bilohorivka — and that right atop official confirmation about the withdrawal from Popasna, ‘on the other side’ of the battlefield, but less than 40km away…

…found this somewhere in the depths of the Russian internet. At the first look, the way of marking ‘friendly’ and ‘enemy’ units might appear unusual. This is so because the Ukrainians (blue) used to have positions north of the Siversky Donets (3). The RFA either destroyed these by artillery, or collapsed them by Spetsnaz attacks: that remains uncertain because the supporting’ explanation was making absolutely no sense. 5 is probably marking the site of the first Russian pontoon bridge. This was destroyed — but that distracted the Ukrainians away from two other pontoon bridges, constructed further downstream, marked with 1. Points 2 and 4 are marking their positions after they advanced from the initial bridgehead, well-concealed in the forests south of Siversky Donets. Overall: a brilliant idea, perfect selection of the crossing site (really, just finding THAT place…) — and excellent execution here.

Actually, conclusion is on hand: the Russians have constructed no less than four bridges (at least), two of which were, de-facto, decoys: bridges thrown over the river to distract the Ukrainians from their actual crossing site.

Forget — or at least ignore — all the babbling about ‘treachery’ and/or ‘this at Bilohorivka is no problem’. Of course, any serious enemy — and Ukrainians are that kind (and have their first battery of M777s deployed there, now)– is going to do its utmost to destroy the bridge: thus, think about trying to construct a pontoon bridge under severe artillery fire — survive that, and then make jokes…

Foremost: RFA officers might not have equal training to that of their Western and Ukrainian counterparts. But, they do have a very clear training in regards of terms ‘bridge’ and ‘bridgehead’. Wherever there is one, that’s their Schwerpunkt: their focus — and they’re going to pump all their resources into crossing, securing and then expanding the bridgehead, and then pushing out of it. It doesn’t matter how many bridges have the Ukrainians destroyed there at Bilohorivka: the Russians are going to bring in more equipment, and build new bridges, and then two, and, if necessary, four and five, and they’re going to bring in all the artillery and air strikes they can get — to protect the resulting bridgehead.

Thus, ignore all the online-jokes about their sunken bridges, and tanks and APCs or trucks that fell off a bridge, and ignore anybody explaining the situation away: that’s people demonstrating their lack of understanding for what’s important. No 20 sunken bridges surrounded by 50 sunken vehicles matter to the Russians. All that matters to them is that they have troops on the southern side, that they have secured a bridgehead. If they can then send even two of these troops on Bilohorivka (and it’s almost certain the troops in question are Spetsnaz), this means that yes, they feel they have secured the bridgehead, not that they have been destroyed and are ‘no problem’.

With other words: yes, much of this is ‘deduction based on bits and pieces’. But if only half of all I wrote above is ‘truth’, that’s no ‘bad’, but ‘terrible’ news. It means the Russians have penetrated the Ukrainian lines and — considering ‘even’ the social media (including me) is always 12–24 hours ‘behind the news’ — it is perfectly possible that meanwhile they’re in the process of advancing on Siversk or in the back of the Ukrainian concentration of troops in Sievierodonetsk-Lysychansk.

…and now we’ve got to expect the Russians in the east to try punching through to meet them. Either from Popasna or from Avdiivka — for which purpose they’ve meanwhile concentrated some 5–6 (if not more) ‘additional’ BTGs, all brought in from Mariupol.

I’f I’m to ask, this is now the decisive battle of this, second phase of this war (or, if you prefer: the Russian ‘Plan G’).

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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.