Ukraine’s forces have pushed deeper into Russian defensive lines in the country’s south, Kyiv said today, as it presses on with its counteroffensive.
Kyiv launched the grinding assault in June after stockpiling Western-supplied weapons and building up assault battalions.
While progress has been slow, gains have been made, and on Monday Kyiv confirmed its forces had captured the village of Robotyne on the southern front – the latest in a series of villages liberated as Ukraine pushes towards the Sea of Azov.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine said last week that its forces had raised the national flag in the strategic settlement, but were still carrying out mopping-up operations, amid reports that Vladimir Putin’s generals had redirected elements of their most elite fighting unit to the southern front to slow the AFU’s advance.
As Ukraine has stepped up its assault, Russia has stepped up its shelling. On Tuesday, Kyiv ordered the evacuation of children from five towns on southern front.
Speaking on Ukrainian television, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that the evacuation of children from the Vasylivskyi and Pologivskyi districts is now mandatory. Around 50 children are still though to be living in the districts.
Ukraine’s forces have pushed deeper into Russian defensive lines in the country’s south, Kyiv said today, as it presses on with its counteroffensive. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers of the Separate Assault Battalion ‘Skala’ enter the embattled village of Robotyne, August 25
A Ukrainian serviceman walks near a destroyed Ukrainian tank, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 25, 2023
Robotyne is six miles south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub
Military spokesman Andriy Kovalyov said Ukrainian forces were edging further in the Zaporizhzhia region, which Moscow claims is part of Russia.
‘Ukrainian forces had successes in the direction of Novodanylivka to Verbove,’ he told state media on Tuesday, naming two hamlets in the war-battered region. He added that the troops were holding captured territory and attacking Russian artillery.
Robotyne is six miles south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.
In a daily update on the situation in Ukraine, the US-based Institute for the Study of War concurred with Kyiv’s claim that its forces were advancing further south.
‘Heat anomalies from NASA FIRMS/VIIRS sensors and Russian claims of Ukrainian advances likely indicate that Ukrainian forces advanced near Verbove (another village to the east of Robotyne),’ the ISW wrote on Monday.
Compared to Ukrainian offensives last year in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, this time Kyiv’s forces are crashing into Russian defensive lines of trenches and minefields that are kilometres deep.
But analysts say the capture of Robotyne is evidence that Ukrainian forces can puncture Russian lines as they push south.
Tokmak’s capture would be a milestone as Ukrainian troops press southwards towards the Sea of Azov in a military drive that is intended to split Russian forces following Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Kyiv’s generals want to reach the city of Melitopol, around 40 miles southwest of Robotyne, in order to cut Russia’s ‘land bridge’ in two.
The ‘bridge’ is a swathe of Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Moscow’s forces that connects Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsular that was annexed by Vladimir Putin in 2014 – providing a vital supply route.
By driving a wedge through the land bridge, Ukraine wants to cut Moscow’s forces off from each other and from their supplies and to force a retreat from the Russian held Kherson Oblast – a region that is mostly south of the Dnipro river, the city of Kherson and north of Crimea.
Plumes of smoke erupt as Ukrainian unit breach mine defences as part of a southern counteroffensive, near Hulyaipole, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this screen grab obtained from a handout video released on August 27, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 25, 2023
According to Dr Mike Martin – a former British Army officer, senior visiting research fellow at King’s College London and prospective Liberal Democrat MP, Ukraine must target Tokmak, a key highway that runs from Russia to Melitopol, and three bridges or roads that lead to the Crimean peninsular from Ukraine and Russia.
Writing on X (formerly Twitter), Dr Martin said that this does not mean that Ukraine has to actually capture these strategic points, but just has to get within striking distance so that Kyiv’s armed forces can disrupt and damage them with artillery.
‘If [Ukraine] can get to about 10 miles past Tokmak then they can just reach the M14 highway with artillery as it enters Melitopol,’ Dr Martin wrote. ‘So this Robotyne assault seems like the right idea.’
If Kyiv’s forces are able to get within range of the M14 highway and disrupt Russia’s supply route then, Dr Martin wrote: ‘the Russian withdrawal from [southern Kherson Oblast] is a forgone conclusion.’
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have also been trying to surround the eastern town of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May in a brutal months-long battle that was likened to a First World War ‘meat grinder’.
The head of the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, on Tuesday played down the Ukrainian push, after Kyiv claimed successes.
‘The flanks are being held. The situation there is already stabilising,’ Denis Pushilin told Russian state media.
In response to Ukrainian advances, reports have said Moscow has deployed its 76th Guard Air Assault Division (GAAD) – sometimes described as Russia’s best fighting unit – to the region, with elements being spotted near Robotyne last week.
In response to Ukrainian advances, reports have said Moscow has deployed its 76th Guard Air Assault Division (GAAD) – sometimes described as Russia’s best fighting unit (pictured during a parade in 2020) – to the region, with elements being spotted near Robotyne last week
The ISW said on Saturday it had seen evidence of ‘lateral redeployments of elements of the 7th Guards Mountain VDV Division from Kherson Oblast to the frontline in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and elements of the 76th VDV Division from the Kreminna area to the Robotyne area’.
It repeated the report about elite units being redeployed on Sunday, adding: ‘Russian forces committed a considerable amount of materiel, effort, and manpower to hold the series of defensive positions that Ukrainian forces are currently penetrating’.
It added: ‘It is unclear if Russian forces will retain the advantages they have held if they cannot commit the same level of resources and personnel to these next layers of defence. The next Russian defensive layer will, nevertheless, very likely pose significant challenges for the Ukrainian advance.’
And on Monday, the ISW wrote: ‘The Russian military command continues to expend relatively elite Russian airborne forces by deploying these troops to defend vulnerable positions against Ukrainian counteroffensives.’
Images circulating on Ukrainian social media appeared to show tow Russian unit patches from the 234th and 104th Guards Airborne Assault regiments – both part of the 76th GAAD. The patches were reportedly taken as trophies.
Russia’s 234th regiment it believed to have been involved in the Bucha massacre, a mass killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers in March 2022.
Extensive reporting by the Associated Press and other news outlets uncovered how the regiment carried out a ‘cleansing’ operation in the Kyiv suburb, arresting, torturing and murdering Ukrainian residents.
Elements of the 76th GAAD had been fighting in Kremmina in the Luhansk region – around 150 miles to the north-east of Robotyne.
Their sighting around the southern village suggests some have been moved.
Russian paratroopers march and sing during the military parade at the 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov, Russia, March 1, 2020
News of Ukraine’s continued push south came as three people were killed in an overnight Russian missile strike in the centre of the country, and two died in shelling later on Monday in the east and south, Ukrainian officials said.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the three people were killed at an industrial plant in central Poltava region.
Five were wounded and another person was unaccounted for, he said.
Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said those killed were night shift workers at a vegetable oil factory in the Myrhorod district and posted photos showing the plant in flames. Klymenko said the fire had later been extinguished.
Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of southern Kherson region, said a 63-year-old woman had been killed in the mid-morning shelling of the village of Sadove.
Russian shelling killed a man working outside his home in the early evening in Toretsk, in eastern Donetsk region, prosecutors said.
The Ukrainian military said Russia had launched four missiles from the Black Sea overnight. Two were shot down.
Pictured: Ukrainian law enforcement officers stand next to the burning industrial facility following a missile strike in the village of Hoholeve, Poltava region, August 28
Other reports from Ukrainian officials described heavy Russian shelling of Marhanets, opposite the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with four people injured.
Regional officials reported three injured in the shelling of nine localities in northern Sumy region.
Ukraine’s military also said central Kryvyi Rih region in had been struck in a missile attack. Local authorities said private houses were damaged, but reported no casualties.
The reports could not be independently confirmed. Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine 18 months ago, did not immediately comment when contacted by Reuters news agency.