It has been 119 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Wednesday, the fighting in the Donbas continues as the Russian military is attempting to capture the last city blocks of Severodonetsk that remain in Ukrainian hands.
Russian advances in the Donbas
Seeing that frontal assaults against Severodonetsk are so costly and inefficient as to make them futile, the Russian forces have been trying to encircle the key Ukrainian city from the rear. The Siverskyy Donets River is making any direct efforts to bypass the city from the front hard. A few weeks ago when the Russian forces tried to ford the same river, they lost approximately 80 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles in the process while failing their objective.
As a result, Russian commanders are trying to advance from the south (Bakhmut) and the north (Izium) in an effort to create a large cauldron and trap the Ukrainian forces inside. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful because the Russian military lacks the combined warfare capabilities to achieve rapid advances. But now some progress is being made in the south.
“Russian forces conducted several successful advances in settlements southeast of Severodonetsk on June 21 and may be able to threaten Lysychansk in the coming days while avoiding a difficult opposed crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River. Russian forces continued to launch assaults on settlements along the T1302 Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway to interdict Ukrainian ground lines of communications (GLOCs),” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest update on the conflict.
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 Wednesday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 34,230 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,614 armored personnel carriers destroyed
- 2,543 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,496 tanks
- 752 artillery pieces
- 614 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 216 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 239 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 182 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 Zaporizhzhia —where one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants is located — as a result of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in and around the area.
On Wednesday, 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 in the direction of Avdiivka, close to 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.
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