Ukraine resists Russia in the east, counterattacks in the north and south | Russo-Ukrainian War


Ukraine’s armed forces spearheaded engaged Russian forces in the eastern city of Severodonetsk while launching successful counterattacks in the north and south during the 15th week of the war.

The counteroffensive from the south began on May 28, and on June 2, the head of the military administration of Kherson Oblast, Hennadiy Lahuta, reported that Ukrainian forces had liberated 20 villages.

In some areas, Ukrainian forces had managed to push back the Russian defense lines by about 25 km (15 miles). For example, while the Russians were almost on the outskirts of Mykolaiv, they would now be halfway between Mykolaiv and the city of Kherson. Increasing Russian attacks failed to recapture these areas.

The Ukrainian Navy also said on Facebook that its use of anti-ship missiles forced Russian ships 100 km (62 miles) from land and prompted Russia to place batteries of Bal anti-ship missiles and Bastion in Crimea.

Ukraine claims to have sunk 13 Russian ships and boats of various types. “We have deprived the Russian Black Sea Fleet of full control over the northwestern part of the Black Sea, which has become the ‘grey zone’,” the Navy announced on Facebook.

Russian military sources reported on June 5 that Ukraine had launched a new counter-offensive in the northern region of Kharkiv. This is where Ukraine managed to push Russian forces back a few kilometers from the Russian border in May and secure the city of Kharkiv.

The heart of the struggle was the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukrainian and Russian forces appear to have moved back and forth. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed on Telegram that his forces had captured the entire residential part of the city and continued to fight for the industrial area.

Russia launched the Battle of Severodonetsk on May 25. Given that the city is only about 25 streets deep from east to west, and that Russia has committed the flower of its forces there – 10,000 men backed by relentless artillery, mortars and air power – the Ukrainian forces seem to have resisted admirably.

Despite Russia’s increased artillery superiority, as Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kiril Budanov reported, Russia failed to encircle Severodonetsk, take neighboring Lysychansk, or ford the river Siverski Donets, which separates them.

Ukraine has proven to be the most versatile and resilient combatant, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

“The Russian military has focused all available resources on this single battle to make only modest gains. The Ukrainian military, on the contrary, retains the flexibility and confidence to not only conduct localized counterattacks elsewhere in Ukraine (such as north of Kherson), but also to carry out effective counterattacks in the face of Russian assaults in Severodonetsk,” it said in its June 4 assessment.

Analysts say Severodonetsk has symbolic, not strategic, value because its occupation would allow Russia to claim it has taken Ukraine’s easternmost province of Lugansk.

“Russia’s campaign at Luhansk is the desperate gamble of a dictator betting on the last offensive combat power he can muster in hopes of breaking the will of his enemies to continue the fight,” Frederick wrote. W Kagan, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. think tank, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And let him pretend he has taken the whole of Luhansk Oblast… There are no large Russian reserves behind this force to further his successes.”

Realities of the Russian occupation

What does Russia intend to do with Luhansk and Donetsk if it conquers them? The realities of Kherson Oblast, which fell on March 2, provide clues.

First, Russian forces seek to consolidate their occupation through intimidation. Al Jazeera spoke to a teacher from Kherson who witnessed the occupation.

“At the beginning of the Russian occupation… people started coming out with Ukrainian flags to protest Kherson’s belonging to Ukraine. At first, [the Russians] didn’t bother them. After about two weeks they started gassing them and scaring them,” said Marina, who fled to Odessa in late April and spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family members who are still in Kherson. .

“They might stop you on the street to check your phone. They check your music and photos. If you listen to Ukrainian music, that’s a problem. They check your chats on Viber, Facebook, etc. They don’t want to see you giving information about what the Russians are doing,” she said.

Many Ukrainians have disappeared as a result of these checks, according to the Ukrainian ombudsman, Lyudmila Denisova.

“From the first days of the occupation, messages with photos and calls for help in finding missing parents, wives, children, friends began to appear massively on social networks,” she said on social networks.

There are fears that some abductees could be conscripted into the Russian army, as would happen in Crimea.

“They are terrorizing people, telling them that if the Ukrainians fight back, no one will be left alive,” said Pantelis Boubouras, owner of a construction company in Odessa and honorary consul of Greece in Kherson.

“They are doing this to lower the morale of Ukrainians, but they will actually do it. There are Chechens, there are drug addicts and there are heavy drinkers among the Russians… Day after day, the behavior of the Russian army is getting worse. I am a Russophile, but I believe they will kill civilians,” he told Al Jazeera.

The Russian occupiers in Kherson showed signs of growing nervousness. Military and civilian leaders would move with heavy security details.

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command says Russian troops were under orders to shoot civilians on sight and destroy vehicles at checkpoints suspected of being part of a resistance to the Russian occupation .

“We think the Russians are preparing a stronger attack on Mykolaiv, and if they succeed, they will attack Odessa and try to take the whole coast,” Boubouras said. “We saw that there are Russian checkpoints everywhere [in Kherson]. They try to ensure that the Ukrainian fighters do not infiltrate the local population and attack them from the rear when they launch their offensive.

This is the point of view of the Russian strategy outlined by Oleksiy Gromov, Deputy Commander of the Main Operations Department of the Ukrainian General Staff: to conquer the entire Ukrainian coastline, intercept foreign military aid and destroy the economic infrastructure of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia appears to be preparing to assimilate and annex Kherson. Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia is adopting the Russian school curriculum and distributing Russian SIM cards to convert Ukrainian cellphones to the Russian network.

Information on Telegram indicates that Zaporizhia has been switched to Moscow time and Russian radio stations are being created. Since May 25, Russian passports have been issued to replace Ukrainian passports in Kherson.

Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said Russia was starting to supplant business owners.

“The occupiers are starting their agricultural business in the southern territories… We have information that representatives from the Caucasus region are being transferred to the Kherson region for this purpose,” she said.

Reported confiscations of commercial properties appear to serve this purpose.

“A wheat merchant I know had $1.5 million worth of wheat. They took it,” Bouburas said. “Another person was offered 30% of his property. He complained, so they took it all away.

Denisova reported that unclaimed real estate in Kherson is being confiscated and owners have been asked to submit title deeds. The implication is that those who fled will lose their property. She also reported that vehicles belonging to those killed or on the run were being rounded up for auction.

Russia launched a census of Kherson in mid-May. This month, residents were interrogated via their cellphones, according to Ukrainian military intelligence. They received questions such as: “What do you think of the special military operation in Ukraine?” What do you think of Vladimir Putin?

This suggests that the Russian authorities are building a political profile of the population.

Another question suggests the options considered by the Russian authorities: “In your opinion, should Kherson become part of the Russian Federation or follow the path of the LPR/DPR, or become part of the Republic of Crimea?

The LPR and the DPR, the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, are breakaway regions of Ukraine. Russia recognized them as independent states in February 2014, and Russian-backed separatists have been at war with the Ukrainian government since May this year, when they held referendums to declare autonomy.

Crimea declared itself an independent republic in March 2014 and was immediately absorbed into Russia. Ukraine’s defense intelligence suspects that the poll of Kherson residents could be part of preparations for a referendum on autonomy in that country.

Most of the international community recognizes Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea as part of Ukraine, but that hasn’t stopped Russia.

“The [Russians] installed a pro-Russian mayor [in Kherson], which is pushing for a referendum,” Boubouras said. “It’s going to happen with a gun to people’s heads, like in Lugansk, Donetsk and Crimea.”

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