A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 4, 2022

How the Ukrainian Advance On Kreminna Is Reminiscent of Lyman's Capture

Steady, intelligent...deadly. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

The situation in both Kreminna and Svatove looks a lot like Lyman. For the two months that have now passed since Lyman was liberated, Ukraine has continued to free up villages in the extreme east of Kharkiv and in western Luhansk. The situation at Kreminna not only looks a lot like Ukraine’s approach to taking Lyman, it looks a lot like the final days before Lyman was liberated. Once Ukraine takes Kreminna they will be positioned on that major highway with clear supply lines to the west. And that road doesn’t just run north toward Svatove, it also runs south to Severodonetsk. There continue to be reports of Russia relocating troops and collaborators out of areas on the eastern (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson oblast. There have been reports of this in both Nova Kakhovka and in Oleshky directly across the river from the city of Kherson. Russia may be responding to shelling from the other side of the river, or they may simply feel that the kilometer-wide Dnipro provides enough protection that they can afford to thin their ranks in this area.

Second, Ukraine is definitely bolstering its forces in Bakhmut. Over the last few days new classes of equipment, including donated self-propelled artillery, have been moved into the area and some of the most experienced fighters from the counteroffensives appear to have been assigned to reinforce existing troops. This could be nothing more than cycling troops and equipment that have held this area for months back from the front for much deserved R & R. But it might also represent an intention to give Ukraine more flexibility for response in the area. Stay tuned.

On September 6, Ukrainian forces launched a counterattack in Kharkiv that cut 20km deep into what had been Russian-held territory in just a matter of hours. Four days later, Ukraine had reached all the way to Kupyansk in the north, and back down to Izyum in the south. One week after the counteroffensive began, Ukraine had liberated all the territory west of the Oskil River. It almost seemed that all Ukraine needed to do was send a truck with a few special forces racing through an occupied town to cause Russia to go into a screaming retreat.

At the Oskil, things slowed down. Russia attempted to construct a defensive line, and took down multiple bridges. But the Oskil is not the Dnipro. It’s not anywhere near as broad, and with the rainy season still some weeks away, it was still near summer lows. Within a week, Ukraine was able to force multiple bridgeheads across that river. At the same time, Ukrainian forces crossed the Silverskyi Donets River to the south and began liberating villages along the approaches to Lyman.

But along a line of villages near that city, advances ground to a halt. The governor of Luhansk oblast had claimed Ukraine was in control of Lyman … but then, that governor had also claimed Russia had fled from not just Lyman, but Svatove and Starobilsk. He even claimed Russian was preparing to decamp from areas it had held since 2014.

The truth was that many of the Russian forces which had fled from Kharkiv had regrouped around Lyman and Svatove. For the remainder of September, Ukraine would pick up villages in eastern Kharkiv, work their way slowly down the chain of towns on the east side of the Oskil, all the while keeping up pressure on Lyman and nearby towns from the south. It wasn’t until Ukraine made a breakthrough at the end of the month, taking multiple locations just north of Lyman, that Russian forces began to withdraw. On October 1, Ukraine advanced into the edges of the nearly encircled city and the next day the Ukrainian flag was flying over the city center.

All of this is just prelude to saying that the situation in both Kreminna and Svatove isn’t unfamiliar—it looks a lot like Lyman. For the two months that have now passed since Lyman was liberated, Ukraine has continued to free up villages in the extreme east of Kharkiv and in western Luhansk. 

However, things are moving more slowly. We’re not getting the news of one or more villages liberated every couple of days that made the liberation of Lyman seem inevitable, even if it wasn’t happening as quickly as the previous lightning advance had made us expect.

Let’s look at a couple of reasons why.

Svatove-Kreminna area. Open in another tab for a larger view.

This is one time when I’m going to encourage you to do what the image title says — open in another tab and get as large a view as you can. That’s because the first thing to talk about is roads.

In advancing to the Oskil, Ukraine could take advantage of multiple major highways and multiple crossing points from Kupyansk down to the town of Oskil. There is also a good secondary road running right along the eastern side of the river, so Ukrainian troops could either establish a bridgehead by forcing a crossing at towns along the river (which they did) or wait for assistance from forces pushing north or south from the next bridgehead (which they also did).

Not only could forces south of Lyman approach the city along another major highway, that highway was all firmly in areas that Ukraine had liberated, or which had been under Ukrainian control all along. Men and material could be delivered to Lyman’s doorstep. Once the area along the river was liberated, Ukraine could even move equipment right down to Lyman by rail.

As they captured towns north of the city, they didn’t just free those locations, they gained control of a network of good secondary roads which allowed Lyman to be surrounded, in force, by well-supplied troops. Meanwhile Russia could see that the single road not under Ukrainian control at the time — the secondary road running east to Kreminna — was their only escape route. So they took it. Ukraine was able to decimate Russian forces as they tried to depart the city, but a large portion of those Lyman survivors ran down that road and fell back behind forces already holding Kreminna.

Now look at the situation in approaching Svatove and Kreminna. When Ukraine was just beginning to cross the Oskil, many analysts were nearly frothing at the prospects for another rapid advance. Just about the only significant geographic feature in the whole area west of Starobilsk are some north-south lines of low hills. The rivers are small and easily bridged. There’s no bay or mountain range to block the way. There were visions of Ukrainian tanks rolling across this area as if they were the Soviets pouring through the Fulda Gap in planners Cold War nightmares.

Except that the roads don’t support this. The only highway running into this area from an area under Ukrainian control is the P07 from Kupyansk to Svatove. Ukraine has been taking advantage of this to move southeast, but unlike those roads to Lyman, they’re doing so with one flank always hanging in the wind. Not only could Russia launch mortar attacks and ambushes from the patches of woodland east of the highway, from a point about halfway between Kupyansk and Svatove the whole highway is under easy artillery range from Russian forces along the secondary road running north out of Svatove — a road that pretty much can’t be accessed without taking Svatove first. 

If Russia can keep that highway under observation, then any advance on Svatove from the northwest happens under an artillery barrage from the east. That fighting up at Kuzemivka has been taking place with Russia lobbing in shells from a dozen kilometers to the east. Ukraine needs to take those positions out through counterbattery fire before the road can really be used to bring troops forward in force.

Immediately west of Svatove, Ukrainian troops are fighting their way forward along muddy tracks, many of which weren’t paved even before tanks began chewing away the road surface. They don’t just have to get tanks down those routes, they have to keep their supply trucks — unless they want to end up like Russia on the approach to Kyiv.

However, down at Kreminna, there are at least two decent paved roads that connect to the P66 highway. One of those is that road that Russia fled down from Lyman to Kreminna. The other is a secondary route that cuts east from Makiivka.

Ukraine approaching Kreminna from north and south. Open in another tab for a larger view.

The importance of these secondary roads connecting the area around Lyman with that around Kreminna isn’t lost on Russia. Not only have they mined and heavily defended that road running straight into Kreminna, the only significant counter attack they’ve made as Ukraine has advanced to the east was right in this area. Russia made multiple attacks on Nevske and and Makiivka, at times forcing Ukrainian troops to evacuate the towns as artillery rained down. It took more than two weeks before Ukraine was able to push Russian forces back from these towns and secure their hold on that entrance to the northern secondary road. 

Ukraine also knows this is a critical area. They’ve made multiple runs at moving forces down the road to Ploshchanka and at least once managed to attack Russian troops in Krasnorichenske. However, it seems to be only in the last week that Ukraine has secured Ploshchanka sufficiently to move forces through the town and onto the P66. 

And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Ukrainian forces have now entered the highway east of Ploshchanka, pushed south past Holykove, and are engaged in combat with Russian troops at Zhytlivka. They are also attempting to liberate Holykove because, while the town is off the highway, it is one of those locations from which Russia can easily attack forces moving on the road.

Remember the intensity with which everyone once followed what was going on at Drobysheve, Derylove, and other towns in the immediate circle around Lyman? That’s where Ukraine is now at Kreminna. In fact, Zhytlivka is closer to Kreminna than any of those towns was to Lyman. And, at the same time that they are fighting at Zhytlivka, Ukrainian forces are also pressing through the wooded area south of Kreminna. On Friday, they were reported to be within 2km of the city.

The situation at Kreminna not only looks a lot like Ukraine’s approach to taking Lyman, it looks a lot like the final days before Lyman was liberated.

That doesn’t mean you should expect to see a “Ukrainian forces have entered Kreminna” update over the next day or two. But it means you shouldn’t be that surprised if you do.

The combination of mud, road positions, and the concentration of Russian forces that used to be spread out over all of Luhansk and Kharkiv is definitely making this situation harder on Ukraine. But it’s a long way from a stalemate. Even Russian propaganda channels are now reporting that Ukraine has “gained an advantage” near Kreminna and is “having some successes.”

Once Ukraine takes Kreminna things will be really interesting. Because then they will be positioned on that major highway with clear supply lines to the west. And that road doesn’t just run north toward Svatove, it also runs south to Severodonetsk.


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