Fragments from a War Diary, Part #8
The front line south of Zaporizhzhia is in one sense the principal front line in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several kilometres out of town and past a strict military checkpoint, it is a hard front line in the sense that it has not moved at all since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. The front line is just south of the hamlet at Stepnogirsk, a village on the east bank of the Kakhokva Reservoir south of Zaporizhzhia. From there the front line runs east, traversing the road T 08 12, a minor road from Stepnogirsk to Orihiv, a small town to the east of Stepnogirsk that is under Ukrainian control but has suffered very heavy damage from Russian artillery. Then, following the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ recent victory in the village of Robytyne, a few kilometres south of Orihiv, the front line now extends south of Robytyne. The current goal of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (this is no secret; it is widely known and discussed) is to push south from Robytyne to the town of Tokmak, thereby cutting one of the Russian Armed Forces’ principal supply routes from Donbas territory to occupied Melitopol and onwards to occupied Crimea.
None of this is really obvious from any maps or other information you find on the internet; to ascertain precisely where the front line goes, you need to buy a paper map and ask a helpful person in the know to draw the front line onto the map for you. This is all the more the case since the frequent overflies by Russian UAV’s (reconnaissance and bombing drones) over the territory of Zaporizhzhia Oblast as well as the use by the Russian Armed Forces of missiles with inertial guidance mechanisms results in the frequent closure of mobile telephone and GPS channels. One minute Google Maps may be working; the next minute, being in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, your mobile device may inform you that you are a thousand kilometres south of Togo. Such is the reality of electronic communications interference on the front line of a war zone.
Civilians are not permitted to go right up to the front line without specific military permission, for obvious reasons. The front line itself, on the Ukrainian side, consists of two series of trenches. The first set of trenches one encounters, the defensive wall, is relatively sophisticated and includes adequate accommodation, supply lines and technology. The forward set of trenches, the offensive wall, is much more basic and conditions represent something akin to World War I in France. The fighting is nonstop; from the forward trenches, the Russian positions are a mere 600m away, separated by minefields, tank traps and concrete blocks, and there is a constant rattle of small arms fire, mortars and artillery. Life in the forward trenches is extremely precarious indeed.
The Zaporizhzhia front line used to be the principal point at which civilians could cross between free Ukraine and Russian-occupied Ukraine. Indeed many people living in Russian-occupied Ukraine would cross at Zaporizhzhia to go shopping in free Ukraine before returning to stay with relatives (trapped) in Russian-occupied Ukraine. A network of checks and crossing points existed for this purpose in the early stages of the war, and civilian vehicles would drive in large convoys across the front line between Stepnogirsk and Vasilivka, the first town of significance in Russian-occupied territory a few kilometres to the south. However that open border across the front line amidst the trenches closed suddenly after a notorious incident in which the Russian Armed Forces comprehensively shelled a civilian convoy waiting in a processing centre on the Ukrainian-held side of the front line.
In other words, the Russian Armed Forces shelled civilians from territory occupied by them, while they were out shopping for the day in free Ukraine. It is not entirely clear why they did this, save possibly intentionally to cause fear and panic and closure of the border. If this was the goal then it succeeded; thereafter both Ukrainians and Russians closed this gap in the front line allowing for civilian crossings and it is no longer possible to cross the front line in this region. To attempt to do so would spell almost certain death.
This is the region in which a British Challenger tank was recently destroyed, apparently by Russian Armed Forces missile fire. The British Ministry of Defence has issued no comment in respect of the incident and, following that protocol, we will issue no comment about the incident either. This is also the region in which Swedish RBS-70 MANPADs have been used to shoot down Russian helicopters and other military equipment. Again we provide no comment upon this observation that has been reported in the international media.
The front line near Zaporizhzhia is very hot indeed.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces are persistently complaining - and this is also conveyed in the international media - that they are short of ammunition, in particular for surface to air missiles, small arms, artillery and other heavy weaponry. By all accounts the Russian Armed Forces are outgunning them in terms of sheer expenditure of ammunition, and this makes further progress in pushing the Russians back from the Zaporizhzhia front line exceedingly difficult because they are subjected to a hail of munitions in the face of which it is very hard to proceed without massive loss of life. The Ukrainian government is therefore publicly appealing to Ukraine’s western allies to provide more ammunition so that their strategic objective of pushing the Russians back and cutting off a principal Russian logistical artery to Crimea - something that might bring the war to a substantially more prompt conclusion - can be met. The Ukrainians are asking for very specific military assistance to achieve a very specific military goal.
Because the Russian Armed Forces are aware of how precarious their position becomes in the face of the possibility of the Ukrainians cutting their supply routes, they have devoted massive quantities of artillery and other heavy weapons to the Zaporizhzhia front line and they are defending it with every ounce of effort they can possibly devote. The consequence of this is that the city of Zaporizhzhia, and its surrounding settlements, are the subject of frequent terror attacks as Russian missiles, artillery and UAV’s randomly pummel buildings. This is the reason why the air raid sirens sound over Zaporizhzhia Oblast constantly throughout the day and often at night.
If Ukraine’s western allies are serious in assisting the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their quest to bring the Russian occupation of Ukraine to an early conclusion, they need to focus upon Ukraine’s specific requests for military assistance in the Zaporizhzhia region. Because it is on the front line near Zaporizhzhia, more perhaps than anywhere else in the conflict zone, that the key to a speedy resolution of the war in Ukraine lies.
Any views expressed herein are purely the private opinions of the author and should not be attributed to the Paladins Organisation or otherwise.