It has been 122 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Saturday, the Ukrainian military continues to orderly withdraw from Severodonetsk.
Withdrawing to fight another day
On Friday morning word got out that the Ukrainian General Staff had decided to withdraw its forces from Severodonetsk and pull back to next-door Lysychansk. That decision was triggered by the Russian advances southwest of Severodonetsk that threatened to cut off the Ukrainian lines of communications between Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and trap the remaining Ukrainian forces in the city.
“So in moving the Ukrainian Armed Forces from Severodonetsk back, what they are doing is putting themselves in a position where they can better defend themselves. And I think it’s important to reflect on the cost that Russia has paid for this very small, very incremental gain,” a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.
Russian forces advancing from the south have managed to encircle at least a couple of Ukrainian settlements and trap the Ukrainian defenders.
Meanwhile, in the south, the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the direction of Kherson continues, albeit at a slow pace.
Every day, the Ukrainian military is providing an update on their claimed Russian casualties. These numbers are official figures and haven’t been separately verified.
However, Western intelligence assessments and independent reporting corroborate, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian casualty claims. For example, the Oryx open-source intelligence research page has visually verified the destruction or capture of almost 800 Russian tanks; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.
The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. Only recently the Pentagon acknowledged that the Russian military has lost thousands of combat vehicles of all types, including over 1,000 tanks, and dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.
Furthermore, more recent reports that are citing Western intelligence officials indicate that the Russian military has suffered up to 20,000 fatalities in the war so far.
It is very hard to verify the actual numbers unless one is on the ground. However, after adjusting for the fog of war and other factors the Western official numbers are fairly close to the Ukrainian claims.
As of Saturday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 34,700 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,645 armored personnel carriers destroyed
- 2,560 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,511 tanks
- 764 artillery pieces
- 626 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 217 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 241 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 184 attack and transport helicopters
- 137 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
- 99 anti-aircraft batteries
- 60 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
- 14 boats and cutters
- four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems
Over the past weeks, the rate of Russian casualties has slowed down significantly despite continuous pressure and offensive operations in the Donbas. This suggests two things: First, the Russian commanders are taking a more cautious approach to their offensive operations, fully utilizing combined arms warfare to achieve their goals; and second, the Ukrainian forces are running out of combat power or ammunition — and this is expected after over three months of war against the Russian military. Recent reports from the ground suggest that both of these factors are true, and that the fatigue of warfare is catching up on both sides.
For most of the last month, the Russian military suffered the greatest casualties around the Slovyansk, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhzhia areas, reflecting the heavy fighting that was going on there. As the days went on, most of the heavy fighting shifted toward the direction of Bakhmut, southeast of Slovyansk, around Severodonetsk, a key Ukrainian town, and Lyman.
Then the location of the heaviest casualties shifted again westwards toward the area of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — where one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants is located — as a result of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in and around the area.
On Saturday, Ukrainian forces inflicted the heaviest casualties in the vicinity of Bakhmut, where the Russian forces are trying to advance and cut off Severodonetsk from the rear, and Kurakhove, near Donetsk.
The stated goal of the Russian military for the renewed offensive in the east is to establish full control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and create and maintain a land corridor between these territories and the occupied Crimea.