The counteroffensive in Kharkiv that began the first week of this month has set a difficult pace for the Ukrainian army, or any army, to follow. Within days they broke through the Russian line that had stood for months in towns like Balakliya and traveled more than 60 km through Kharkiv Oblast. At the same time, forces deployed, liberating what had been one of Russia’s most important locations at Izyum and pressing Russian forces to the northern border. More than 8,500 square kilometers were liberated between September 6 and 12, halfway between Delaware and Connecticut.
The end of this counter-offensive… never happened. Or at least it hasn’t happened yet. Because on the heels of the liberation of Izyum and the push to the west side of the Oskil River at places like Kupyansk, Ukraine immediately began making bridgeheads in new territory.
In several places Ukraine crossed the Silverskyi Donets River, building pontoon bridges and successfully establishing forces in the same area where Russian attempts to cross the river had repeatedly suffered massive casualties. They crossed the Oskil River at least three places upstream and crossed the bridge east of the town of Oskil, forming a new line that faced northeast.
The expectations raised by the success of the first days of this counter-offensive were so great that it is difficult to realize that Izyum was liberated. only 12 days ago. It was only on September 14 that President Volodomyr Zelensky came to Izyum to thank the military and greet the liberated citizens of the city.
Over the past two weeks, it may seem like things have slowed down, but they definitely haven’t been slow. Here is a map from September 7, the day after the actual counter-offensive was launched, and also the day we first learned that Ukrainian troops on the northern side of the Siverskyi Donets were more than a few visiting special forces. (As always, right-click on these maps and open them in another tab for a larger image.)
This September 7 map doesn’t really show much north of Lyman. Above all, it was because there was nothing to see. Just red. Everything in this area was occupied by Russia, and had been since April.
Here’s a look at the situation a week later. Ukraine was still fighting to eliminate a remaining pocket of Russian forces in the city of Oskil and was just beginning to press a line of towns across the river. He was fighting to take places like Studenok and Sosnove. Svyatohirske’s release had just been confirmed. Take a look in the yellow area northwest of this map and spot Studenok. We will see him again.
Here is a good estimate of the state of things this Sunday morning. You can measure Ukraine’s progress simply by the number of new locations identified on this map – locations that were deep in Russian-occupied territory.
See Studenok on this map? It is 30 km from where Ukrainian forces are now known to advance east of Ridkodub. And this map is probably conservative.
See Novomykhailivka there beyond Ridkodub? Russian sources say this is actually beyond Russia’s last line of defense in the region. Russia shoots return to the Ukrainian forces that moved north from their positions. On the western side of this map, Ukraine has liberated Pisky-Radkivski and is still moving north. It seems likely that the next day they will reach the already established bridgehead south of Borova.
Ukraine liberated about 600 square kilometers last week.
The concern of the Russian Telegram channels is no longer to retain Borova or even Lyman. The problem is that with Ukraine moving quickly again to capture positions well behind Russian fortified positions, the entire defensive line in that area is “collapsed rapidly”. Multiple sources indicate that Ukrainian forces are currently heading towards Makiivka, which is on a highway that serves as a supply line for Russian forces to the south. And is also located in Lugansk Oblast.
The highways are a big difference in what happens here. This spectacular high-speed run from Balakliya to Volokhiv Yar to Kupyansk took place with forces moving on a major highway. There is no highway along the path Ukraine dug north of Lyman. There isn’t even a real road.
Capturing a few specific points in this area – Nove, Zelena Dolyna, Shandryholove – may soon become more important, especially because these locations are along good roads (roads that have been mined, but…). Unlike the Kherson region, there is real topography north of Lyman, ravines and hills, cliffs and mini-canyons. And unlike the area around Kherson, the soil in this area is not sandy. It’s more clay and silt. Rain is expected tonight. More rain is expected almost every day this week. General Mud has definitely made his return to the battlefield.
But for now, Ukraine is not bogged down. It advances on several lines. On Sunday morning there were reports that Ukraine released Novoselivka (unconfirmed), and there were reports that Karpivka and Nove had been freed (although Russia may have now reoccupied those positions ). Ukraine also appears set to move into Luhansk Oblast to a new location east of Novomykhailivka, placing them within 20 km of the major Russian supply and command center at Svatove.
These are big changes, and they are happening so quickly that before a Ukrainian position can be confirmed, Ukraine has already moved on. It’s steady progress, and it could be about to pick up speed.
Meanwhile at the end of the line, The New York Times has very good and very approximate reports about what is happening in Kherson. In short, it’s not going well. Not in the sense that Ukraine is losing, but in the sense of what Kos and others have been warning against all along: in this flat, open territory where Russia has created multiple lines of trenches and fortifications, any advance comes at a terrible cost. . Ukraine is experiencing hard-to-consider losses in Kherson, and the price it has paid for some of the territorial gains there may be just a down payment on what it will take to actually liberate Kherson. It’s a whole different war out there.