In a day that caps what has been an already incredible offensive freeing of thousands of square kilometers in northeast Ukraine, Saturday morning brought news that seems too perfect to be true: Russian forces have reportedly either fled or surrendered in Kupyansk, then in Lyman, and now in Izyum. Locations that have been under Russian occupation for months, and at the center of Russian operations in eastern Ukraine, have been freed.
Not only that, but all three areas have been freed without a protracted street to street battle, or drawn out artillery duel. Meaning that, unlike cities captured by Russia such as Severodonetsk or Mariupol, these cities have not been reduced to rubble in the process. It’s the very definition of a win win. With an extra win.
You might notice that this morning’s update doesn’t come with maps. That’s because I don’t have a clue about how to draw them. Russian forces have reportedly fled these strategic cities, but have they also moved away from all the front line positions they’ve fought over so long? What’s going on in Andriivka and Ivanivka, and at dozens of other points that now find themselves on the wrong side of a line that flew back 50km seemingly overnight? There are reports of large scale surrenders in some areas, and of highways clogged with fleeing vehicles in others. Nothing is confirmed, and it will likely be days before the picture becomes clear.
Is the capture of these cities in any sense complete? There are plenty of images coming in from Kupyansk, but less so from Izyum and Lyman. It’s possible that Ukrainian forces in any of these cities have occupied a portion of that locality, and that there is still fighting ahead. However, reports from Russian sources certainly seem to indicate that Lyman and Izyum are “surrendered”—mostly while screaming at Moscow for failing to take swift action (and in some cases calling for a nuclear strike). There was definitely fighting in Kupyansk, but it seems just as definitely over.
This is an official Russian media outlet reporting that “Russian troops left the city of Izyum in the Kharkov region.” And that’s about the best we’re going to get for anything definitive until Ukraine makes its own official announcement. (On that same outlet’s Telegram channel, there is no mention of Izyum at all. Instead, the only war news is three days of reporting on Ukrainian shelling that reportedly killed two in Donetsk, and a mysterious report of a “line of refugees” at Kupyansk.)
As of early this morning, (6 AM ET, 2 PM in Kyiv) there were reports that Sviatohirsk, in that arc of the front line between Lyman and Izyum, had been occupied by Ukrainian troops that were moving to the west, and that more Ukrainian forces were pressing north from positions south of the city—from places like Dovhen'ke, where they have fought so long and so hard. Those are both good indications that Russian forces have fled, not just the cities, but the smaller locations around them that have marked the front line for weeks, and in some cases months.
The general assumption is, when the dust settles, everything west of the Oskil River will be in Ukrainian control. How far Ukraine also extends its reach to the other side of that river, and to the north of the Siverskyi Donets, is yet to be seen. There is, as yet, no sign of Ukraine sitting back to congratulate themselves on a job well done and taking a break. Maybe they don’t have to. After all, there are numerous reports on Saturday morning of Russian forces fleeing locations like Svatove, which is another 50km from any fighting.
Those Russian reserves that are reaching the area are said to be caught in a traffic tangle with the vehicles of Russian forces, local collaborators, and Russia’s cadre of propaganda artists—all of whom are trying to get out. Chaos is not a bad description.
There is still a lot of information yet to emerge on all fronts.
Right now, it’s still unclear how much of Kupyansk Ukraine has liberated. It certainly seems to include all of the city up to the river, but it’s not known if Russian forces have fled from the portion of the city that lies across the damaged bridge. The Oskil could become the new front line, or—and there are some reports this is already happening—Ukrainian forces could move down the east bank of the river, further securing rail lines and liberating the series of towns along that bank. That’s going to take another day, or maybe more, to discover. Russia had already reportedly directed a number of reserve units toward this city. There could be more fighting ahead, or those units may have already been intercepted and redirected elsewhere.
In Izyum, Russia seems to have made the surprisingly wise decision to withdraw forces along the last remaining road to the east, rather than to leave them to be encircled and fight it out within Izyum. How many of those forces, or forces that had been located to the west of Izyum, failed to get out and ultimately surrendered … we don’t know. How much of their armor and supplies were left behind … we don’t know (though we’ve already seem images suggesting that it’s a lot). Ukrainian officials will now be racing to the city to determine the situation with Izyum’s water supply, electrical grid, gas pipelines, and to be sure that food keeps coming to the city’s population, many of whom were forced to ride out over six months of Russian occupation. Expect to hear a lot more about what Russia did during that time, and to learn much more about what has happened along the front, as well as how Ukraine chooses to deploy from what was surely a primary target of this counteroffensive.
At Lyman, Ukrainian forces reportedly entered a city that was all but emptied of Russian forces. That city had already suffered serious damage from the artillery-heavy capture that Russia made at the end of May. Has anything been done to repair that damage and keep Lyman a functional city over the summer? Again, most of what’s coming through on Lyman at this point is reports from Russian sources laced with disgust at being on the losing end. What happens now? We’re going to find out.
In less than a week, Ukraine has liberated an area that’s likely greater than 3,000 square kilometers and a number of villages, towns, and cities that is probably in triple digits. This is absolutely one for the history books. The Ukrainian military may well be capable of continuing this high-speed attack. There are some sources indicating that the number of units engaged in the Kharkiv counteroffensive so far is only about a third of the force that Ukraine had been equipping and training for this fall counteroffensive.
Does the freeing of Izyum, Kupyansk, and Lyman represent the end of that high speed push? I don’t know. As all this has been going on, there has been renewed fighting in Kherson, where Ukrainian forces are reportedly having success at the southern end of the front (including gifts of those reportedly world-beating watermelons from local residents). There are also reports of increased anti-Russian activity in cities like Melitopol, and even Mariupol, where partisans reportedly raised Ukrainian flags at the word of the victories to the north.
On Friday, there were many Russian channels on Telegram, and pro-Russian accounts on Twitter, all singing the same song: Sure, Ukraine has had some minor victories, but Russia is moving reserves to the area. The forces next to Izyum will be trapped. Kupyansk is safe. Russia would be back in Balakliya in a couple of days. Everyone should just wait until Saturday, when those reserves pitch in, and see what things look like on a new day.
It’s a new day. And what a day!
RUSSIAN’S GETTING THE NEWS OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED
RUSSIA’S THIRD ARMY ARRIVES
It seems that some of those reserves did make it into the fight. Just in time to end up like all the other Russian units in this fight.
Honestly … I got nothing. The only thing I have from Lyman right now is text messages and a couple of shots of buildings. If you see good images from Lyman or other locations, please post them.
While the counteroffensive in Kharkiv has certainly been demanding 99% of all attention, there have continued to be reports of actions along the eastern line, including word of Russian attacks near Soledar and south of Bakhmut. This is where I had the positions marked on Friday morning, based on reports of attempted advances, who was shelling where, and official announcements.
If Ukrainian forces are actually at Lysychansk (and that’s completely unconfirmed at this point) that’s at least a 15km change in positions on a line where Russia has advanced roughly 2km in the last three months.
Again … see why I’m not updating maps this morning? It’s clear that the truth on the ground and what I, and others, have been showing on maps, is no longer even close to alignment.
See it? Way over there at the upper right corner? Vovchansk, like Kupyansk, is an important transport hub. It’s the location that people speculated might be the ultimate goal of that first Kharkiv counteroffensive, the one that captured Staryi Saltiv and manage to put a bridgehead across the Siverskyi Donets.
But that effort ultimately fizzled, in large part because Russia knocked out the bridges and Ukraine was in the position Russia now faces in Kherson — trying to support operations with pontoons or barges. They maintained a force on the eastern shore for weeks, and at one point held a good part of the area from Khotimlya to Buhaivka, but were ultimately unable to maintain it.
So … if Ukraine is now attacking Vovchansk, did those forces come across the river by the northernmost bridges at Starytsya or Ohirtseve? Or have they cut all the way through the region on the right side of the river, a distance of over 60km?
Saturday, Sep 10, 2022 · 10:35:45 AM EDT · Mark Sumner Go back to the map of the northern part of Kharkiv and open in in another tab. See the town of Khotimyla on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets reservoir? I’m now seeing reports from Russian sources that Ukrainian forces traveling along the eastern bank of the river reached that location several hours ago.
Which makes it seem that, if Vovchansk is under attack, that attack is likely coming from the same unstoppable drive that reached east to Kupyansk and south to Izyum.
Saturday, Sep 10, 2022 · 11:35:16 AM EDT · Mark Sumner Martove is on the eastern side of the Silverskyi Donets reservoir. This helps back up claims that Ukraine moved through (about 10km north of Martove). Still unclear whether this is part of the same force that made the Kupyansk drive, or if these are forces that swept around the south end of the reservoir around Prymorske.
Saturday, Sep 10, 2022 · 12:28:19 PM EDT · Mark Sumner There are reports that Ukraine has taken Lyptsi, north of Kharkiv. This has been the main source of Russian shelling into Kharkiv for months, and was a location Ukraine fought hard to take in the first counteroffensive north of the city. If Lyptsi has folded, then Russia may be on the way to a complete abandonment of positions in Kharkiv.