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Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onset

Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onset Ukrainian troops in active defense in most parts of the front (photo by Getty Images)

Russian troops continue to advance in most areas, achieving varying levels of success, especially in the vicinity of Avdiivka and Maryinka. The defense forces are holding back the pressure, inflicting huge losses on the enemy. Read about the situation on the frontline in the RBC-Ukraine review.

The material was prepared based on the analytics of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Ukrainian project DeepState, statements of military speakers, reports of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as comments of experts Vadym Hetman and Kostiantyn Mashovets.

Russia intensifies assaults on Avdiivka. The deadline is mid-December

Last week, the assaults on Avdiivka intensified dramatically. According to the spokesperson for the Joint Press Center of the Tavria Defense Forces, Oleksandr Shtupun, after a lull due to bad weather, the number of artillery attacks and air strikes approximately doubled. In addition, enemy infantry was again active in this area.

The battle for Avdiivka remains a key battle in the fall and winter of 2023. For the Russians, this is an opportunity to close the year on a winning note by capturing the city, which is practically adjacent to occupied Donetsk. If before they mostly stormed the southern industrial zone, now they are pressing northward near the village of Stepove and the local coke and chemical plant (AKHZ).

Russian propaganda claims achievements in the AKHZ industrial zone, but the 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine denies this. According to its Telegram channel, the enemy is constantly storming the plant, but all attempts to advance are unsuccessful. For the Russians, this enterprise has a "sacred" meaning, just like Mariupol's Azovstal did in its time. The plant is shelled with various weapons, fires often break out there, and sometimes the Russians reach the fence but retreat under return fire.

The situation is the most difficult on the northern facet of the Avdiivka salient. For several days, Russians have been attacking in the direction of Novokalynove and Stepove villages. The tactical importance of the latter was explained by Vitalii Barabash, head of the city's military administration. According to him, the village covers the main supply routes, so any advance is a threat to the encirclement of the Avdiivka garrison.

Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onsetRussians have intensified their assaults on Avdiivka and are trying to enter from the north (photo by

One and a half kilometers south of Stepove, the territory of the coke plant begins, which the Russians have been unsuccessfully storming for over a month. The wedge between the village and the plant is no less dangerous. Success will allow them not only to approach Orlivka, which is about three kilometers away but also to start surrounding the plant from the north. The latest news from the area is cautiously optimistic.

"There were very serious stabilization actions on our part. Now there is no enemy in Stepove, (the village - ed.) is fully controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine," says Barabash.

Nevertheless, the situation is threatening. The bottleneck of Ukrainian logistics is located in the quadrangle of Tonenke, Severne, Lastochkyno, and Orlivka, which is of key importance for the Avdiivka defense area, says Kostyantyn Mashovets, coordinator of the Information Resistance group, to RBC-Ukraine. As for the advance from the south, the enemy is still unable to gain a foothold in the industrial area and reach the private sector.

"They are trying to make a frontal assault on the industrial zone along Yasynuvata Lane, they have advanced 400 meters. They are also coming from the Vynohradnyky neighborhood, but they have not been able to clear the gate for a day now, they cannot even enter the communal yard where our control and observation point used to be. That is why the Russians have not made their way into the city itself," the military observer notes.

According to Ukrainian Armed Forces Reserve Major Oleksii Hetman, the occupiers are in a hurry to achieve at least some success at the front by mid-December. The priority is on Avdiivka, as about 40,000 Russian troops are concentrated in the area.

"This is about five times more than our garrison. Why is there such a deadline? That's when Vladimir Putin is supposed to announce that he will run for president, although we all know who will be elected. It will be 90 days before the election, which is scheduled for March 15 or 17. He needs positive news from the frontline, so the Russians will try to achieve success in Avdiivka without sparing their personnel," he emphasizes in an interview with the agency.

The defense forces are doing their best under the current circumstances. The main task is to destroy the enemy, and its losses are already the largest since the beginning of the full-scale invasion: more than a thousand people a day, actually one battalion at a time, and these are significant losses even for the Russian army.

Avdiivka's assaults have been going on since October 10. In the first wave, columns of armored vehicles attacked and were defeated. In the second, Russians tried to advance in smaller columns from several directions at once. In the third, they focused on infantry attacks. It is possible that as soon as the weather becomes more favorable, armored vehicles will be massed again.

Maryinka is in ruins, and the enemy has captured most of it

Another of the longest battles is the battle for Maryinka. This is also a suburb of occupied Donetsk, and before the full-scale invasion, about 10,000 people lived there. Now Maryinka is destroyed, according to published videos, even more so than Bakhmut.

At the beginning of the month, Russian propaganda was quick to announce another victory. The occupiers raised a flag over one of the last houses in the southwestern part of the town and claimed an alleged cauldron for Ukrainian defenders. At the same time, some Z-military commanders admitted that it was premature to talk about full control, as the continuous ruins were visible from the air, making it difficult to advance in and around Maryinka.

Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onsetMost of Marynka is captured by Russian troops (photo by

According to UK intelligence, the seizure of Maryinka is part of Russia's fall campaign to eventually expand its control over the entire Donetsk region. At present, most of the residential area is likely to have been captured, although the Ukrainian Defense Forces are still standing on the western outskirts.

"It's not about the settlement. It doesn't play a big role in terms of operations, the Russians only need a direction. There are no other reasons why they would need Maryinka," says Mashovets.

Holding the ruins at any cost does not make much strategic sense. And even if they have to withdraw, there will be no fundamental changes on the eastern front from KupIansk to Vuhledar, believes Oleksii Hetman.

"The defense will shift to the west, there are many positions there. The headquarters of the Eastern group will decide where exactly. But neither the capture of Avdiivka nor the capture of Maryinka will mean a breakthrough of the front line. Perhaps it will be like with Bakhmut. The occupants captured it, and then everything - virtually no progress for several months," he notes.

Russian propaganda often presents wishful thinking, and the situation with Maryinka is the same. Fierce fighting continues, and the aggressor's troops have not taken it, although the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation set a deadline by the end of the year.

"This will not work. The enemy is not capable of anything else," says Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for the Tavria Defense Forces.

The initiative near Bakhmut has shifted to the Russians

Having liberated Klishchiivka and Andriivka by mid-September, Ukrainian troops were unable to build on their success, and now the initiative has largely shifted to the Russians. On the southern flank, it is generally possible to hold back the enemy, who has pulled together reserves, but on the northern flank, the situation is deteriorating, with advances of a couple of kilometers from Berkhivka.

According to some reports, the occupiers could partially occupy the village of Khromove, which could become an important point of advance to the east. On the DeepState map, the settlement is partially in the gray zone, and reports indicate that the Russians have taken a stronghold in the area of Bohdanivka and continue to look for ways to Khromove. From there, it is about five kilometers to Chasovyi Yar in a straight line, and Russian propaganda is already anticipating a battle for this settlement.

"It's not kilometers from Bakhmut to Khromove, it's, roughly speaking, the eastern outskirts or an additional block. Can their advance be considered serious? Hardly. Besides, there is information that the attacks were repelled. There is fighting there, as well as along the entire front line. This is not the First World War in the trenches when you could draw lines precisely. The troops take certain positions and change them quickly, and the front is unclear. It is an exaggeration to say that the Russians control something seriously there," Hetman believes.

Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onsetThe enemy's initiative near Bakhmut (photo by

On the southern flank, the Russians are trying to reach the heights near Klishchiivka and are putting pressure on Andriivka. According to preliminary data, the enemy may already be in the outer houses of the latter, but this information has not yet been confirmed, DeepState emphasizes.

According to Army spokesman Volodymyr Fitio, before the assaults, the occupants actively shell our positions with artillery, and if the weather permits, they use aviation. Ukrainian soldiers are on the defensive, launching attacks whenever possible and improving the tactical situation.

New positions on the left bank of the Kherson region, but no expansion of the foothold yet

At the end of November, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to Kherson for a meeting with the military. They discussed, among other things, the operational situation, the course of hostilities, plans, and further actions on the left bank of the Dnipro.

The Marines are conducting operations in several locations. One of them is near the village of Krynky, 18 kilometers west of the occupied Nova Kakhovka. There are small arms battles there, the enemy is striking with guided aerial bombs and shelling the coast with artillery fire. Supposedly, our units tried to advance south of Krynky, but there was no confirmation. Meanwhile, the enemy's Dnepr group is massing forces.

Analysts at the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW), citing geolocated footage, report fighting in the village of Bilohrudove, 11 km southwest of Kherson. They believe that the Defense Forces have recently taken up positions in the area, adding that the island of Bilohrudiv is still under the control of Russian troops.

The situation is dynamic, there are battles for Bilohrudiv, and according to the latest data, the enemy has rotated, Konstiantyn Mashovets tells RBC-Ukraine. So far, footholds are visible in the Krynky area, north of Pidstepne and between the Antonivske road and railroad bridges. In his opinion, their role is to push back Russian artillery, securing Kherson and the right bank.

Russian offensives in Donbas and Ukrainian maneuvers near Kherson: Frontline developments at winter's onsetThe gray zone on the left bank stretches from Hola Prystan to Nova Kakhovka (photo by

It is too early to talk about expanding the footholds. At least for the time being, Ukrainian assault groups are constantly moving around, not consolidating their positions. The enemy has deployed an airborne division to squeeze our vanguard from the left bank and prevent us from forming a real bridgehead.

"While it is gone, we are trying to gain a foothold and conduct counter-battery fighting. There is still a lot to do before we get a stable foothold. For example, it needs to stretch along the Dnipro River for at least 20 kilometers and inland for 20 kilometers. When we gain control of the 20x20 square, we will be able to talk about some pontoon crossings, deployment of additional forces, and offensive actions, while this is preparation for the creation of a bridgehead, and our troops are constantly moving along a narrow strip from Hola Prystan to Kozachi Lager," explains Oleksii Hetman.

As for the other section of the southern axis - within the Zaporizhzhia region - the Ukrainian Armed Forces are conducting offensive actions in the direction of Melitopol, but without confirmed success. Russian troops keep trying to break through to the south and west of Robotyno, and all attacks are repelled. The situation is the same to the south and southeast of Velyka Novosilka (Donetsk region) on the Berdiansk section.

Fortifications in all directions. Does this mean a transition to a defense?

At the meeting in Kherson, the issue of fortifications was discussed, and it was decided to speed up the construction of fortifications. And in all directions at once.

"Of course, first and foremost, we will pay maximum attention to Avdiivka, Maryinka, and other areas in the Donetsk region. Kharkiv region is the Kupiansk direction, as well as the Kupiansk-Lyman defense line. And the whole Kharkiv region, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Rivne, and Volyn regions, Volyn. Also, the south - Kherson region," Volodymyr Zelenskyy notes.

Funds for construction are already being allocated. In November, it became known about the work on 170 sites in the Dnipropetrovsk region, and recently the Cabinet of Ministers allocated more than UAH 31 million for fortifications in the Zaporizhzhia region. While the south and east generally fit the logic of what is happening at the front, the additional measures in the regions bordering Belarus suggest a new invasion from the north.

Belarus remains an ally of Russia, providing its territory to the aggressor, so field-type engineering structures need to be replaced with capital ones, explains Mashovets.

"No one can say what will happen next, but from the point of view of military art, having prepared lines is better than not having them. Both in defense and offense. By the way, they largely simplify the preparation and organization of offensive actions, allowing to equip areas of concentration and deployment of troops," he emphasizes.

Experts interviewed by RBC-Ukraine agree that the new fortifications do not mean that the Ukrainian army will go into a blind defense and stop attacking.

"The defense will still be active. But in winter, it is better to keep it in equipped places where you can not only hide from the debris but at least warm yourself by a stove. The president's words were not about a defense. In one of his interviews, he spoke about a new phase, a war in winter. We understand that, perhaps not in the north, but definitely in the east, the enemy will be attacking. Fortifications are needed to reduce losses on our side and to deter the enemy as much as possible. Switching to defense in some areas is a common military practice," summarizes military expert Oleksii Hetman.