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Day 132: How Luhansk Fell to the Russians

There have been significant developments in East Ukraine over the past two weeks. Following the predictions of our last update, the Ukrainian salient in Severodonetsk has collapsed, resulting in the capture of the Luhansk region by Russian forces. The Russians have also withdrawn from Snake Island, while NATO commits to maintain a significantly increased readiness force in Europe.

Note: as always, commentary in embedded Tweets does not represent the views of Ukraine Observatory.

Luhansk Oblast

The Russians secured the Severodonetsk holdout of Azot industrial plant on June 24th. Around this time, reports emerged that Ukrainian losses have been severe, with one Marine commander reporting 80% losses of pre-war personnel and replacement with non-professionals.

More advances were made by Russian troops from the Popasna bulge. The town of Toshkivka fell, to the north; Svitlodarsk fell, to the south; and in the centre, the village of Vovchoiarivska was captured by advancing Russians, threatening to cut off Lysychansk.

Following the capture of Severodonetsk, the town of Lysychansk (across the river) was subject to sustained attack. Russian forces approaching from Popasna entered the outskirts on July 1st, capturing an oil refinery sited on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, and effectively severing the town from resupply.

By 3rd July, Lysychansk was was confirmed to be securely in Russian hands. A number of Ukrainian forces appear to have retreated from the salient following the fall of Severodonetsk; the balance of retreated, captured, and casualties from the siege remains uncertain. Russian and pro-Russian forces are now entirely in control of the disputed Luhansk region.

Skirmishes continue on the Russians’ west flank near Izyum, where small-scale river crossings and forest fighting are reported. It appears that the Ukrainians have been sending across small teams to disrupt Russian operations here, using small boats or pontoons.

Sloviansk and/or Avdiivka are likely to be the next focal point of the Russian offensive in East Donbas.

Russian Withdrawal From Snake Island

In a rare piece of good news for Ukraine, Russian troops withdrew from Snake Island on June 30th. Ukrainian claims cite ‘long range artillery’ used in the bombardment of the island, which would likely indicate French-derived Caesar howitzers if true. Without air defence from the sunk Moskva, the island is of limited utility for the long-awaited amphibious assault towards Odessa, due to its small size and vulnerability to Ukrainian missiles.

Missile Strikes

Missile strikes continue across Ukraine. Russia-leaning channels have asserted several times that senior Ukrainian Army command posts have been hit by these strikes, but such claims remain unconfirmed. A Russian missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk on June 27th drew international condemnation.

Some missiles were fired from Tu-95s over the Caspian Sea, 900 miles away from the targets, as Russia flexes its various military capabilities. 

Russia is believed to have ramped up its missile attacks in the second half of June, with 202 strikes reported by one Ukrainian official.

A large explosion in the Russian city of Belgorod which damaged 50 buildings on July 3rd has been attributed to Ukrainian Tochka missiles. The Russians claim to have shot down three missiles, but assert that fragments of one downed missile caused widespread damage.

A Ukrainian kamikaze drone also struck an oil refinery in the Belgorod region.

British Volunteers

Two British volunteers have been confirmed killed in Ukraine so far: Jordan Gatley and Scott Sibley. Two further British citizens are held prisoner by pro-Russian separatists after being captured at Azovstal in Mariupol. Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner are appealing death sentences for ‘mercenary activity’ from the separatist courts (which the UK does not recognise). They claim to be legitimate combatants of the Ukrainian marines, as opposed to mercenaries, and have posted footage of their signing up ceremonies to social media.

Deployment of Western Aid

According to footage of weapons systems operational in East Donbas, Western aid appears to be delivered to the front immediately and employed in piecemeal fashion by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This limits its effectiveness and immediately exposes the weapon systems to destruction from Russian combat aviation or long-range fires, such as missiles or loitering munitions. Piecemeal attacks with new weapons systems have been observed in both East Donbas and Kherson.

A more effective use of this equipment might involve building up new capabilities under a screen of air defence systems, and deploying them to engagements where the new weapons are present in decisive quantities.

The deployment of the US-built NASAMS air defence system in Ukraine, announced on July 1st, may assist the Ukrainians in defending such a build-up from Russian long-range missiles. Around the end of June, Ukrainian artillerymen were training to use HIMARS MLRS systems in Britain.

NATO Deployments

Major NATO deployments across Eastern Europe following the June 28th summit in Madrid. As many as 300,000 troops will be placed on high alert, increasing the size of the rapid reaction force from 40,000.

A permanent HQ for the US 5th Army will be based in Poland, with an additional rotational brigade in Romania and rotational deployments to the Baltic states. 2 extra F-35 squadrons will be stationed in the UK.

Britain will deploy further 2,000 troops to Estonia (for a total of 3,000) and will station a carrier group in readiness to intervene in the Baltics.

The sentiment of Ukrainian torops toward NATO may be summed up in an answer to the following question:

However, at least some NATO personnel have remained in Ukraine during the conflict. The New York Times recently reported on the presence of CIA intel operators in Kiev.

There are no obvious signs that sanctions have ‘crippled’ or ‘ground to a halt’ Russia’s economy so far, despite many prognostications of catastrophic shortages in key areas. 

What’s Next?

Following the fall of Lysychansk, the Russian offensive is expected to move toward the towns of Sloviansk or Avdiivka, in East Donbas.

Securing Luhansk may have been a significant objective for the Russian Armed Forces. However, indications of a collapse in the morale or fighting capacity of Ukraine are still scarce. Without a diplomatic or political solution, the war in Ukraine is likely to contain many more chapters.

Photo Credit: Ukraine Ministry of Defence. CC-SA-2.0.

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