Ukraine update: Let’s take stock of the current front lines

This brings back memories of cold, muddy, winter days out in the German woods during my Army years. This is a German MLRS launcher, in action in Ukraine.

As I noted yesterday, what was Russia’s five axes of attack at the start of the war has been gradually whittled down to a single front in The Donbas. Still, it’s a long front line, across two different oblasts (which collective make up the Donbas), with several directions of action. So let’s take a look at what should be the front lines for the foreseeable future (unless Ukraine surprises everyone with a new push into southern Kherson oblast or even Crimea).

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Let’s go clockwise, starting from the north. 

Svatove/Starobilsk (northern Luhansk oblast)

This is perhaps the most strategically consequential of the currently active front line. It is the gateway toward a great open expanse of mostly empty agricultural steppe, and the last logistical line from Russia’s Belgorod (it’s main supply hub this war), into Ukraine itself. 

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(Old map. Only one village remains between Ukrainian forces and Svatove)

If you look closely, every single road and railway in northeastern Ukraine runs through either Svatove or Starobilsk. Every. Single. One. And what’s more, once Svatove falls, it’s an open shot toward Starobilks, giving Russian defenses very little to ward off a strong Ukrainian push. 

When Svatove and Starobilks are liberated, that entire swatch of red Russian-held territory will turn yellow. That’ll be great for morale, but it will do more to help end the war than almost any other Ukrainian victory. Remember that this is a war of logistics, and this is Russia’s most important supply rail line. 

Kreminna (Luhansk oblast)

There was great hope Ukraine could blitzkrieg their way into Kreminna after Russian lines around Izyum collapsed, but alas, this is where Russia held the line, and continues to do so to this day.

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There are forests to the city’s west that are, according to Russian Telegram, under Ukrainian control. Liberating Kreminna opens up Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk to Ukrainian attack. For their part, Russia keeps attacking this line from the Lysychansk direction in the south, attempting to disrupt what, for the moment, seems to be a cautious Ukrainian approach. 

Now, I argued months back, when Severodonetsk and Lysychansk where still in Ukrainian hands, that this wasn’t a particularly strategic area, and I questioned the fierce (and costly) Ukrainian defense. I still question all the lives lost over this corner of the front. Once Ukraine liberates Svatove and Starobilsk to the north, supplying this area will become a serious problem for Russia. Yet whether it’s Ukraine cautiously probing ahead, or Russia trying to push Ukraine back, this is a lively part of the front. 

Bakhmut (Donetsk Oblast)

What can I write about Bakhmut that we haven’t already written dozens of times? Wagner war-crime’ing mercenaries rule this corner of the front, and send wave after wave of prison cannon fodder to die in corpse-littered fields. It’s positively medieval, and disconnected from any broader strategic goal beyond “Wagner does whatever it wants, and ignores Russia’s larger goals.” Maybe it does so because Russia lacks any broader strategic goals. Or maybe it thinks gaining meters per day here and there is great advertising for its deadly services. 

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There is quite literally zero strategic value to Bakhmut. It is not an important logistical hub.The big twin fortress cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk to its west are well beyond Russia’s means to threaten. If Wagner were to somehow capture Bakhmut, Russia could get a few days of propaganda value from it, but that would be it. It does nothing to disrupt Ukraine’s war progress. 

Still, we can safely assume that Russia won’t fully capture Bakhmut militarily. There’s a river running right through it. 

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River running through eastern third of Bakhmut highlighted 

If Wagner can’t get beyond the trash dump in the town’s eastern edge, what makes anyone think it can cross an actual river without functioning bridges? As is, this approach is a death sentence to any advancing Russian. (This video alone has at least three dozen dead Russians littering the battlefield east of Bakhmut. As usual, no need to click. It’s disturbing.)

Avdiivka/Donetsk (Donetsk Oblast)

While we’ve touched on this area from time to time, we haven’t really focused on it as much as other active fronts. 

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What’s amazing about this front is that it’s RIGHT ON TOP of Russia’s pre-February front lines, and literally abuts one of the two regional capitals Russia still holds (the other being Luhansk city). Like Bakhmut to the north, Russia has sent wave after wave of fodder into this meat grinder (this time, local militias from Russian-occupied Donbas), and like Bakhmut, they keep ending up deceased, littering fields as far as the eye can see.

Russia doesn’t even appear to have any armor left, sending waves of unprotected infantry to be picked apart by Ukrainian artillery and drones. It’s gruesome. But it’s tough for Ukrainian defenders as well, as Russia still has plenty of artillery left to do its murderous task as they try and clear a path for their foot soldiers.

There is, at least, some strategic value to this Russian effort—they want a buffer zone around Donetsk for the inevitable Ukrainian counter-offensive. At the moment, Donetsk city is very exposed. (Not that Ukraine is likely to attack it head-on. That hasn’t been their approach so far, and no reason to engage in such a costly assault.)

Pavlivka/Vuhledar (Donetsk Oblast)

I recently wrote about Pavlivka here. That Naval infantry unit banging its head against the town has apparently been completely annihilated. 

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At last report, Russia has the southern half of Pavlivka, while Ukraine has the northern half under fire control—meaning that any Russian venturing across that line gets snuffed out by artillery. That report claims Russia’s dead-to-wounded ratio is 1-to-1, which means that they don’t have a functioning medavac system. For a competent army, that ratio would be closer to 1-to-4 or even higher. For the U.S., it was 1-to-7 in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

So why the Russian desperation to move forward on this approach? Logistics. 

155mm tube artillery means that Ukraine can keep that rail line shut with its most plentiful artillery munition. Still, even if Russia has some success and pushes Ukraine back several dozen kilometers (spoiler alert: not gonna happen), HIMARS/MLRS rockets, long-range self-propelled artillery, and long-range precision-guided munitions could still keep the line shut. 

So while there’s some logic to the Russian attempts, it’s not particularly good logic. And even then, Russia’s inability to put together anything more substantive than suicidal infantry charges means that all Russia is doing is exchanging the lives of its own for cheap Ukrainian ammunition. 

So there you have it, a quick reorientation of the current front lines.


Putin so pathetic. 

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Oh my f’n god that looks miserably cold: 

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