A relentless Russian offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas sector has grabbed new territory from Kyiv forces hard-pressed following massed air strikes, artillery bombardments and repeated ground assaults.

The biggest Russian gain in territory was near the coal-mining town of Toretsk, where its infantry advanced northward around three kilometers to capture the village of Yurivka following house-to-house fighting that ended on Wednesday, July 3.

Both Russian and Ukrainian information platforms confirmed elements of Russia’s Central Group of Forces had reached Toretsk’s outskirts by Thursday and were attacking outlying villages. The advance completed after 48 hours of intense combat saw a dramatic local victory for the Russian army, compared with past assaults in the sector that saw gains counted in dozens of meters, or beaten back with losses.

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Russian milblogger Boris Rozhin in a July 3 situation report said battles were still in progress for control of the high ground represented by slag heaps to the south and east of Toretsk. He said, “The command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is not yet able to stabilize the situation... [and] the positions of the [vulgar word for Ukrainians] are being saturated with artillery fire and heavy aerial bomb strikes, and they [Ukrainian troops] are taking serious casualties.”

A July 4 statement by Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) said the situation around Toretsk and its outlying suburban settlement of New York was “difficult,” without offering details.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 10, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 10, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

Ukrainian MP Maryana Bezuhla in comments made to Kyiv media on Wednesday accused army leadership of failing to reinforce defending troops from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Brigade attempting to hold defensive positions Yurivka, leaving the unit to be defeated with heavy losses in men and equipment. Bezuhla said she went public with the sensitive information because the top-level command of the Ukrainian army was either not getting accurate information from the front or ignoring it.

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Nazar Voloshyn, spokesman of the Khortytsia operational-strategic group of troops, told the Ukrinform news agency on July 3 that Russian forces south of Toretsk and in nearby sectors were launching small-scale infantry attacks intended to isolate individual Ukrainian units, cut their supply lines and then force them to retreat. Ukrainian defenders are “fighting hard and actively resisting the enemy,” Voloshyn said.

Kyrylo Sazonov, a political scientist serving in Ukraine’s 41st Mechanized Brigade, said in the same Ukrinform article that Ukrainian defenders may have retreated as part of an established Ukrainian strategy of pulling troops out of defenses before they’re overwhelmed, and trading small patches of ground for heavy Russian casualties.

“We [Ukrainian forces] have our own plans and the enemy has many ‘surprises’ to look forwards to ahead. I won't lie, we don't have enough experienced infantry. Artillery, mortars, drone crews are the killers here. They are eliminating the enemy on a very large scale. [But] there is not enough infantry. We are holding, we are doing our work. We will subtract more of the enemy,” Sazonov said.

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The Russian capture of Yurivka was matched by gains elsewhere in the Donbas sector, a battleground the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have fought over almost continuously since 2014.

Russian milbloggers on Thursday widely reported that elite paratroopers had captured an outlying district of Chasiv Yar, a town some 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the north of Yurivka and Toretsk, in a local victory after almost four months of continuous combat. Attacking Russian infantry had cleared Chasiv Yar’s eastern Kanal district in house-to-house fighting, placing Kremlin forces on the bank of the tactically important Siversky Donetsk Canal and advancing Russian lines almost a kilometer (1100 yards) westward, those reports said.

Ivan Petrychak, spokesman for Ukraine’s 24th Mechanized Brigade fighting in the Chasiv Yar sector, told the Suspilne television news program that Kyiv’s forces were heavily pressed and under constant attack by Russian airborne infantry unit and Spetsnaz special forces teams. He said the Brigade’s lines were still coherent and that recent Russia advances had bent, but not broken Ukrainian defenses.

“So far the enemy’s efforts [to achieve a breakthrough] are unsuccessful and our men are holding their ground… the enemy is using artillery, TOS salvos with thermobaric munitions that set the town on fire,” Petrychak said. “Drone use has seriously intensified. If before it was difficult then now the situation is incredibly difficult. You can have six or seven drones against a single target.”

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Ukrainian military information platforms led by the DeepState terrain control tracker on Thursday reported that Russian forces had pushed westward along the T0511 highway, roughly midway between Toretsk and Chasiv Yar, had gained control of the village of Ocheretyne and captured a ribbon of land some five kilometers wide and penetrating two kilometers deeper into Ukraine-controlled territory.

Military analysts generally agreed the overall objectives of Russia’s multi-axis Donbas offensive are to inflict maximum casualties on outgunned Ukrainian forces, and eventually to take total control over Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Views as to how successful that might be varied but none predicted a rapid collapse of Ukrainian defenses.

Konstantin Mashovets, a Ukrainian military observer and writer, in comments to the UNIAN news agency said that the next phase of the incremental Russian attacks will be to push towards the city of Pokrovsk, leading with low-skilled forcibly conscripted local units. Locations defended by Ukrainian forces will first be assaulted and worn down by these conscripts, before regular Russian army units move in to destroy them, he predicted.

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Agil Rustamzade, a Baku-based military analyst, said in a July 3 assessment that “It is possible that the success of the Russian army near Toretsk is due to the desire of the Ukrainian side not to waste resources on defense in open areas and to build defenses in large, populated areas. There is a rational logic to this this. It is easier to defend a city than villages. At the same time, the effectiveness of guided bombs used by the Russian Federation also decreases.”

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in a July 2 report said the Russian push along multiple axes in the Donbas sector was part of a coordinated plan intended to spread Ukrainian defenses out. The tactic of exploiting the Russian firepower advantage over Ukrainian forces is logical and an indicator of better Russian army planning, but whether they can execute that plan against coordinated Ukrainian defenses is an open question, the report said.

“Russian preparations that can support multiple future branch plans suggest a more developed level of operational planning and foresight than the Russian command has proven capable of executing thus far in the war since early 2022. The ability of this operational planning to come to fruition, however, will be bounded by the overall poor tactical-level capabilities of Russian forces currently fighting in these areas,” the report said.

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