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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #376



The situation in Donbas is looking increasingly bleak, with the Russians advancing from both Bakhmut (that they have held since 2023) and Horlivka (that they have held since 2014). Nonetheless the Ukrainians have held the western suburbs of both these cities and now the fighting is intensifying in those suburbs as the Russian Armed Forces begin their summer offensive in the Donbas. The first stage is to take control over the western suburbs of these two Russian-held cities, which includes the municipalities of Chasiv Yar and Ivanivske (west of Bakhmut) and Toretsk (west of Horlivka). Also there is continuing pressure upon the international Legion (foreign soldiers) present in Sloviansk, who are the subject of relentless shelling and other aerial bombardment as the deaths of foreign soldiers in the war can be presented as a particular propaganda victory in Russia. Once the western suburbs of Bakhmut and Horlivka can be secured, including the accompanying villages, then the Russians will presumably press on to occupy the balance of free Donetsk Oblast.



This Russian offensive is likely to employ pushes in three directions. From north to south, they are as follows. From the occupied Luhansk Oblast city of Severodonetsk and the sister city Lysychansk (each across the river from the other), it is plausible that there will be a push westwards again towards Siversk to the east of Sloviansk, where there was previously considerable fighting during the battle of Bakhmut (2022-23) but that was never actually occupied by the Russian Armed Forces. Leaving Siversk unoccupied is probably implausible if the Russian advance is to be successful, because otherwise it leaves the Ukrainian Armed Forces with an opportunity to maintain pressure on the occupying Russian forces in Bakhmut from the rear. Therefore the Russians will have to press towards Siversk. If and when Siversk is captured, then an attack upon Sloviansk is a possibility, re-occupying it (it was already occupied once in the 2014 conflict and still bears the shocking scars of that period).


One line of attack we can probably exclude is a direct advance upon Sloviansk from Bakhmut up the road artery between the two cities, as this road is notoriously open and flat and any vehicles travelling up this road are liable to prompt and accurate shelling by the opposing sides. While the sides remain so effectively dug in and facing off against one-another in Sloviansk and Bakhmut respectively, a direct attack employing this road, without supporting air power which is non-existent on either side, is an impossibility.


Hence the second anticipated line of attack will be to push westwards towards Kostyantynivka from Chasiv Yar and Ivanivske (a western suburb of Bakhmut where fighting is reportedly currently underway) and to seek to occupy that city. This would be a major victory and by all accounts the residents of Kostyantynivka are now evacuating in anticipation either of heavy fighting or of an imminent Russian occupation. The Russian Armed Forces destroyed Kostyantynivka’s railway station in February and the population is reportedly now dwindling. The third line of attack would be from Horlivka and its suburb of Toretsk once occupied and subdued northwest towards Kostyantynivka, so that Kostyantynivka would be assaulted from two sides simultaneously.


Obviously if this happens and Kostyantynivka falls then there is a major game changer in the war in the Donbas because from there an assault could be begun on the regional Ukrainian Armed Forces stronghold of Kramatorsk to the northwest and from there to Sloviansk. In this way the entirety of free Donetsk could be occupied and from there plans could be made for a renewed assault on Ilium in Kharkiv Oblast (to the north of Sloviansk) and then a renewed push for the city of Kharkiv itself; alternatively there might be a push west from Kramatorsk towards Dnipro.


All this is likely to take many weeks or months as the Ukrainian Armed Forces have shown themselves prepared to fight for every last building and therefore they are not particularly habituated to the principle of tactical withdrawal. Nevertheless low morale and a lack of ammunition due to continued hold-ups in passage of the Ukraine assistance bill in the US Congress, combined with improved Russian logistics and in particular capacity to deliver ordnance to front line positions, means that Russian advancement may be faster than it has been in the past. It is hard to predict in advance just how quickly the Russians will seize territory but the Ukrainian Armed Forces are undoubtedly expecting this to occur to some degree and they have been moving all residents who want to leave out of the areas that may fall under Russian occupation, including in Kostyantynivka where it is now impossible to find hotel or other accommodation.


There is a hard core of determined civilian residents who refuse to leave even amidst the Hobson’s Choice of death in the crossfire or Russian occupation but they are numbering now in the low tens of thousands. The fall of Kramatorsk (the principal remaining railhead in the region on the Ukrainian side) or Druzhkivka (a town between Kramatorsk and Kostyantynivka) are not expected imminently and those towns remain inhabited to a degree without a general command by the military governorate that all civilians should depart. Nevertheless those commands may follow very shortly if Kostyantynivka were to fall into Russian hands and become established as a base for onward military operations.


The levels of destruction and loss of life in the forthcoming weeks and months are likely to be very high indeed. The initiation of the renewed Russian offensive is rumoured to be only days away and of course I am travelling with two intrepid colleagues to the Donbas on Monday, so we are just in time and we hope to be able to report upon our experiences and news from the front line in the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com. The front line, having been hardened for some time, has suddenly become softened and shifting as a result of improved Russian logistics and in particular munitions supplies and therefore the region can be expected to become a blizzard of shelling and mortars. The Russians have shown that they are prepared to spend countless and seemingly inexhaustible numbers of young men’s lives on their offensive operations so simply killing them is not enough. To prevail in resisting the Russian 2024 springtime Donbas offensive, the Ukrainians need enormous quantities of ammunition to create a physical blockade on further advancement through an equivalent rain of shells. This is what modern warfare has boiled down to.


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