This morning we learned that there has been ground fighting in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Russian Special Forces have allegedly been spotted (known as ‘Spetsnaz’) and the Ukrainian Premier Volodymyr Zelensky alleges that an operation was made last night to neutralise him and his family.
Overnight bombardments and airstrikes continued, including large explosions in Kiev, but there do not seem to have been any major operations by ground forces. Fighting resumed on all fronts at dawn on Friday (6.50am local time, 4.50am GMT).
The Hostomel Airport outside Kiev continues to be the site of heavy fighting. Though there are conflicting reports, the airport appears to have changed hands several times.
The Ukrainian Government has initiated a total mobilisation of all able-bodied men aged 18-60 years old. This demographic is forbidden from leaving the country, and numerous reports indicate that men fleeing the country are being pulled out of their cars and pressed into immediate service. While there appears to be no time for effective training, many Ukrainian men will have benefited from military training due the country’s longstanding policy of mandatory conscription, either in the Ukrainian Army or the former USSR. The government announced that over 18,000 assault rifles have been distributed to citizens. The Mayor of Kiev, former international heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, gave a press conference stating that he and his younger brother Wladimir are also joining the fighting.
While many observers may say that ‘it is the duty of these men to stay and fight for their country’ it is questionable how effective these press-ganged recruits will be in a modern war. Missiles, artillery, and air power are far more impactful than rifles. It is an unfortunate fact that many of these conscripted men are being sent to their deaths, something which online commentators in safe countries should bear in mind.
Footage has emerged which appears to show a civilian car being deliberately run over by an armoured vehicle on the outskirts of Kiev, potentially an anti-aircraft vehicle. It is not yet clear whether the vehicle was Ukrainian or Russian. The driver survived and was pulled from the wreckage by residents.
Other disturbing footage appears to show a captured Russian soldier being crucified by Ukrainian troops. We cannot confirm the authenticity of this footage, and will not show it here.
Russia’s national TV released footage showing a captured British anti-tank missile launcher. It is worth noting that Britain, as well as other NATO nations, have trained and armed Ukraine’s military extensively in recent years, and particularly in the build-up to war. While British viewers might take some comfort in the knowledge that their taxes have been used to defend Ukraine against invasion, it is also worth considering the fact that this very process of arming Russia’s neighbour may have contributed to causing the conflict in the first place.
Russian armed forces have today driven the Ukrainian Army out of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, capturing the decommissioned nuclear power plant and its surrounding wasteland.
Radiation levels in the area have increased as the ground is churned up by artillery, tanks, and infantry, while nuclear waste storage facilities may also have been hit by indirect shellfire. Despite this development, radiation levels appear to remain within safe limits, however. This area has been a significant strategic target since its capture allows an encirclement of Kiev from the West, without having to cross the Dnieper River in contested territory. Chernobyl is merely 100km from Kiev.
East and Northeast Fronts
Fighting has been ongoing near the cities of Starobilsk in the East, and Sumy and Kharkiv in the Northeast.
Russia’s army is focused around the Battalion Tactical Group (BTG), which is primarily a mechanised infantry force. Thus, Russian units rely heavily on armoured vehicles such as tanks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and self-propelled artillery (SPGs). These BTGs are fast and effective in open warfare and specialised for a war of movement, but much less effective in urban areas, where armoured vehicles may be taken out by improvised explosives thrown down from buildings and apartment blocks. It is therefore no surprise that Ukraine’s most successful resistance appears to have been made in large towns and cities.
In previous conflicts, most notably the 1994 siege of Grozhny in the Chechen War, Russian forces have overcome the problem of urban warfare by flattening the city with intense artillery bombardment before sending in ground troops. This is an undesirable tactic for operations in Ukraine, however, where Putin presumably wishes to keep both the industry and heritage of Ukraine’s ancient cities intact.
The site of heavy fighting yesterday, Kharkiv is a large city with a population of 1.4 million people. Its strategic position on the Donets River made it the site of four major battles between the USSR and Nazi Germany during the Second World War; the second of these battles was a complete disaster for the Soviet Union which incurred nearly 280,000 casualties.
Kharkiv is also a major industrial centre, with hundreds of factories and facilities in industries ranging from nuclear energy to aerospace and tank production. The capital of the Ukraine SSR until 1934, Kharkiv’s fate is extremely important to the outcome of this war.
Russian forces continued to suffer heavy losses around Kharkiv today, with numerous reports showing wrecked and destroyed armoured vehicles.
This afternoon, unconfirmed reports emerged of a column of armoured vehicles being destroyed by Ukrainian forces in the vicinity of Starobilsk.
There are unconfirmed reports that Russian forces have retreated from Sumy, while Ukrainian airborne assault units have launched counterattacks in Ivankiv and Dymer, to the north of Kiev.
The relative success of Russia’s advances in the North and South may indicate that the Ukraine’s best defences were prepared in the East, where Russian troops continue to encounter stiff resistance. This would be consistent with a defensive plan against a limited Russian operation targeting East Ukraine, potentially a pincer movement from the Crimea and Kharkiv sectors aimed at encircling Ukrainian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk. One would also expect forces in the East to be veterans of the eight years of proxy warfare that have raged across this trench-covered frontier between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Scattered footage emerged throughout the day of soldiers and civilians moving in Kiev. It is unclear how intense the fighting has been, and unknown whether the Russian ground troops reported in the city this morning constituted anything more significant than a few tactical units or special forces. Fighting north of the city has proceeded all day.
The Kremlin claims Russian troops have definitively secured Hostomel Airport after a massive attack with 200 helicopters. According to other reports, Russian troops have also engaged Ukrainian soldiers in two districts of the city, Obolon district and Podilskyi district.
Areas of interest have been livestreamed throughout the day, but these streams are mostly quiet. Kiev’s streets are deserted. The occasional car drives past, or a civilian in a warm coat strides through the frame. A 10pm curfew has been in effect since the beginning of the invasion, so the evenings are eerily quiet.
Fighting appeared to die down last night, but tonight may be more eventful. At 10:30pm GMT the Ukrainian leader gave a televised address warning that Russian troops are preparing to storm the capital. If true, a night-time urban assault on Kiev would seem to be a risky proposition for the Russian Army’s armour-heavy BTGs. Military analysts have also been reporting that a lack of night-vision equipment and training hinders the Russians in conducting large-scale night offensives.
Considering the scale of the airborne assault on Hostomel Airport and the Russians’ apparent readiness for night warfare, as well as the strategic importance of securing Kiev in order to bring a swift conclusion to the war in Ukraine, I suspect that the Russian troops in Kiev currently consist of ‘elite’ airborne units. However, I can as yet find no informed speculation to confirm or deny these suspicions.
Unlike the pusillanimous parasites who fled Afghanistan with stacks of American cash, Ukraine’s government has shown determination in the fight against Russia. Zelensky’s leadership has been exemplary. He has repeatedly appeared on public broadcasts. As night fell over Kiev this evening, he released a short video showing that he and his chief ministers were staying in Kiev. This will doubtless serve to boost the morale of Ukrainian troops, and assure them that their leaders have not fled abroad, as many might expect from the history of corruption and cowardice among the region’s politicians.
Russia appears to have made minimal territorial gains on Day Two, with all axes of attack appearing to have stalled.
Some progress has been made in Kiev. Advances in the north may result in Russian ground troops being able to link up with whatever forces have been inserted via helicopter in the past two days. However, the city of Chernihiv remains firmly in Ukrainian hands, with reports of several Russian units surrendering amid heavy fighting.
In the southern front, the Russian advance from Crimea appears to have been halted at the Dnieper River to the West, and bogged down at the city of Melitopol in the East. Ukraine has many rivers, and lots of bridges have been demolished over the past two days in order to slow the Russian advance. There have been landing attempts repelled near Odessa, heavy shelling in Mariupol, and airstrikes in Mykolaiv; it appears that Russia has been unable to consolidate a position on Ukraine’s coastline.
The eastern front appears static, in the vicinity of the separatist republics.
In the northeast, Russia appears to be conducting a wide encirclement of Kharkiv, while significant territory has been taken north of Sumy (mostly on Day One, I believe). This Russian salient appears to have reached as far as the town of Baturyn. If the situation on this front deteriorates for Ukraine in the coming days, this salient could push through the countryside to cut off Chernihiv, north of Kiev.
According to some reports, Putin and Zelensky have apparently agreed to negotiate. This is unlikely to produce any changes to the ground situation. No further information is available as of midnight on 25th February, GMT.
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