Russian tanks and infantry launched a new round of assaults in the formerly quiet southern Zaporizhzhia sector, overwhelming forward Ukrainian positions and recovering some ground lost to a Kyiv offensive last summer.

The Kremlin armored attacks backed by artillery and air strikes hit the frontline villages Robotyne and Verbove. Both localities were liberated in June 2023, and held by Ukrainian forces since then, official reports and open-source accounts said on Monday.

The new Russian ground gains on the southern front came in the wake of months of bloody assaults finally capturing a massive Ukrainian fortification complex around the Donetsk region city of Avdiivka, in an eastern sector of the Russo-Ukrainian War’s 1,600 kilometer fighting line.

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Kremlin forces attacking the western and southern outskirts of Robotyne overwhelmed frontline Ukrainian positions, advanced Russian lines a kilometer, and captured a chain of field fortifications and prisoners, pro-Russia RybarZ and other Kremlin-associated military information platforms said.

Parallel assault columns attacking from the south and the west hit Ukrainian positions around the village of Verbove, some eight kilometers to the west, capturing fighting positions and repelling a subsequent counterattack by Kyiv forces, those accounts said. Unconfirmed reports said Kremlin forces had advanced between 700-1,500 meters on a front about 1,000 meters wide.

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Kyiv’s Commander-in-Chief said Russia is now working hard to erode Ukraine’s forces the best it can before F-16s arrive and strengthen Ukrainian skies.

A shift by Russian forces in the Zaporizhzhia sector from defensive tactics to attacks on Ukrainian forward positions was first widely reported on Saturday. A Monday statement by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) General Staff (AGS) said that over Sunday Russian troops had launched 10 ground attacks in the Robotyne-Verbove sector, according to that official Kyiv source, all unsuccessful.

The pro-Russia Za VDV Telegram channel, an information platform promoting Russian army paratrooper units, said that Ukrainian troops at Robotyne were “half-encircled” by the attacks.

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Moscow milbloggers said task groups from Russia’s 42nd Motor Rifle Division and 76th Airborne Division followed up the fire strikes with tank and armored fighting vehicle attacks against fighting positions held mostly by Ukraine’s 82nd Air Assault Brigade and 118th Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

Ukrainian sources confirmed heavy fighting taking place but were silent about substantial Russian ground gains. Past AFU statements have geolocated both the 82nd and the 118th to the Zaporizhzhia sector.

According to the Kremlin’s official news agency TASS, the Russian assaults over the weekend took place at night with the support of massed artillery. Images and purported “from the scene reports” showed Russian howitzers, rocket artillery and heavy flamethrower armored vehicles launching munitions towards Ukrainian positions, against minimal Kyiv counterfires.

Multiple Russian air strikes were reported as well. Some pro-Russian information platforms published videos of FPV and quadcopter drones purportedly attacking Ukrainian trucks or troops in the Zaporizhzhia sector.

An increasingly severe deficit of artillery shells, particularly in the NATO-standard 155mm caliber, which Ukraine can only obtain in mass from its Western allies, has been widely reported in Ukrainian media since autumn 2023.

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Most often, Ukrainian news reports blame slow European nation gear-up to massed 155mm shell production and US Congressional wrangling over continuing military aid to Ukraine for a now serious and worsening AFU shortage of munitions in the critical 155mm caliber.

A TikTok video published originally by the user @keshapopygaev0 showed images claimed to be video of a Ukrainian private soldier named Valery Olenik. According to that unconfirmed account, he was captured on Feb. 18 near Robotyne after his position was pounded by artillery and then assaulted. After firing off the three magazines of rifle cartridges and single hand grenade issued to him, he had no more ammunition and had no choice but to surrender, the video showed Olenik saying.

Shortages of air defense weapons and particularly NATO-standard modern anti-aircraft missiles have, likewise, left the AFU with few effective means of stopping Russian Air Force bombers from dropping glider bombs at long range at will, without serious risk of being attacked.

The pro-Ukraine military information platform DeepState in a Monday morning situation update said of the fighting: “Zaporizhzhia sector. The [vulgar Ukrainian word for Russian] have started a massed attack from Robotyne to Verbove. From the south and west of Verbove they [Russian forces] were able to break defense lines, right now the AFU is taking steps to liquidate the problem.

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"The intensity of attacks fell substantially on Sunday. Some [different vulgar Ukrainian word for Russian] were able to break into Robotyne, but most of them were liquidated.”

The widely read Ukrainian milblogger Nikolaevskiy Vanyek told his two million plus followers: “This [Russian attacks around Robotyne] is a combat reconnaissance… with up to 3,000 [vulgar Russian word for Russians] and an unknown amount of equipment… I can say that after the last changes in key commanding positions, there is finally a competent reaction to this kind of assault – fire control is where it needs to be.”

Ukrainian direct fires, artillery strikes, and drone attacks turned back the latest Russian assaults and further advance is unlikely, he claimed.

”A group of [vulgar] infantry and 2 armored personnel carriers tried to drive into the depth of the defense – they were let through, and then they were all defeated.  Sorties by Russian forces in the direction of Mali Shcherbaky [a village in the Zaporizhzhia sector] also did not bring any results, except for lost equipment,” the unconfirmed battle report said.

In early June 2023 Ukraine’s high command launched a long-awaited counteroffensive led by hundreds of NATO nation-donated fighting vehicles in the Zaporizhzhia sector, with the main effort directed down roads leading through Robotyne and Verbove toward the regional transport and logistics hub of Tokmak.

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Despite high hopes by Ukraine allies for quick success the Ukrainian tank and armored fighting vehicle attacks bogged down after hitting dense Russian minefields, and then were badly hit by Russian helicopters and special forces infantry firing anti-tank missiles.

The no-man’s land established by the Ukrainian summer offensive, whose southernmost limit of advance was around Robotyne and Verbove, had not shifted significantly in more than six months.

If confirmed, the Russian capture of Ukrainian positions around Robotyne and Verbove would signal Kremlin re-establishment of its original fortification lines in the sector, and Kyiv’s loss of its deepest penetration into the Russian defense network in the area.

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Feb. 8 sacked popular AFU commander Valery Zaluzhny, according to the Ukrainian chief executive’s statement as part of a wide-reaching overhaul and refreshment of top military leadership, and possibly, for the poor results of the summer offensive.

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Zaluzhny’s replacement, Oleksandr Syrsky, said that the AFU would follow a more defensive, attrition strategy concentrating on causing the Russian army as many casualties in men and equipment as possible.

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