A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 2, 2023

Why Bakhmut May Be Almost As Important As the Battle of Kyiv

It is clear that Ukraine's heroic defense of Kyiv on the first days of the Russian invasion changed the course of the war and may have been the most significant battle since Vietnam or even Korea

After that, the Ukrainian offensive that relieved Kharkiv and Kherson was important in demonstrating that Kyiv was not a fluke and that Ukraine was a force to be reckoned with while the Russian military was considerably less impressive than its reputation had led the world to believe. But Bakhmut is now shaping up to be a test of Ukraine's strategic intelligence - assuming that the coming counteroffensive can take advantage of Russian attrition around Bakhmut. JL

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

The Battle of Kyiv (was) “the most decisive battle of the modern era” and determined the course of the war. (But) the most amazing thing about Bakhmut is that we’re still talking about Bakhmut, and not Kostyantynivka or Slovyansk. Imagine if someone had told you at the start of March, or the start of February, or the start of January, December, November … that come the first of April, Russia would still not occupy Bakhmut. There were a lot of days when it seemed like Bakhmut teetered on the brink, but it’s been weeks since we saw one of those. Ukrainian forces fought the Russian advance to a standstill, then actually forced Russia to fall back.

On Wednesday, Gen. Mark Miley testified before Congress and said that Russia had made no advances in or around Bakhmut over the last 20 days. That’s not quite correct. Within the city, Wagner Group forces have managed to nibble a few blocks here and there, especially at the southeast corner of the area that had been controlled by Ukraine. But honestly, it’s not much.

On Thursday and Friday, Ukrainian forces made small counteroffensives outside of Bakhmut. Neither of them represents major gains, but both help keep the communication lines for the city open. There genuinely does not seem to have been any Russian advance outside of the city over the last two weeks, which is in itself a startling change. For the first half of March, Russia had still managed regular, if incremental, gains outside the city, particularly to the north. They had also made some reported gains elsewhere on the line. However, even when it was all put together, it didn’t really amount to a very productive “offensive” month for Russia.

This map provides an idea of where Russia has made gains inside the city in the last week, and where Ukraine has pushed the lines back in areas west of Bakhmut. Once again, you’ll have to look carefully. Definitely take advantage of that “open in another tab” option if you’re not on a mobile device that can zoom to full scale.

Bakhmut. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

The Russian gains are that little orange smudge southeast of the city center. The Ukrainian counters are those two blue wedges in the west. Everything here is the opposite of a “huge breakthrough” in terms of area, but that doesn’t mean this map does not represent something huge.

Imagine if someone had told you at the start of March, or the start of February, or the start of January, December, November … that come the first of April, Russia would still not occupy Bakhmut. Once Wagner forces stopped hurling all their men at the same little stretch of road (remember the cement factory? The wine factory? The land fill?) back in early winter, it seemed that they had finally found the trick for taking Bakhmut. By moving around the city, they were able to make some substantial advances for the first time in months.

When Russia successfully occupied Soledar near the end of December, the clock went from ticking to racing, and it seemed as if everyday was carrying Russian forces through another suburb to the north. At the same time, Russia was moving quickly in the south, apparently taking advantage of Ukrainian forces that had been shifted to try and halt the advance through Soledar. Russia occupied Klishchiivka, took the fortified hill to the west, and just two days later Wagner announced that they had taken Mykolaivka and Chasiv Yar.

Except they hadn’t. Not at all. The closest they seemed to get was the highway southwest of Ivaniske.  From that point, Ukrainian forces fought the Russian advance to a standstill, then actually forced Russia to fall back on Klishchiivka. Ukraine has even placed a temporary bridge over one that had earlier been destroyed some kilometers to the south so that supplies can come to Bakhmut through the city of Kostyantynivka.

I’ve said it before: the most amazing thing about Bakhmut is that we’re still talking about Bakhmut, and not Kostyantynivka or Slovyansk. There were a lot of days when it seemed like Bakhmut teetered on the brink, but it’s been weeks since we saw one of those days. The price for making that happen is incalculable. The worth of making it happen is still to be reckoned.


As great as it would be to think that things are completely stable at Bakhmut, that orange smudge on the map still represents how Russia is slowly, block by block, capturing areas in the city, even areas where Ukraine is putting up a tremendous fight.

Ukrainian sources on battle of Bakhmut
Translated post from Telegram

The image here is from a Telegram page translated from Ukrainian sources. They note that Russian forces, which for some time had seemed to slow their actions in the city, have picked up both pace and intensity. And they have a target:

But in terms of intensity, for some reason it seems to us that their main goal is the city center... They are moving towards it, the tactics of encircling the city have shifted to a different plan, from the south and north, they are climbing right into the center, well, we are ready😉

The “city center” mentioned here, isn’t the area where Ukraine has its forces garrisoned, or the center of the area of Ukrainian control. It’s the area just north and west of that orange smudge on the map, where some of the Bakhmut city buildings were located. Everyone seems to concur that this is the area Wagner is driving to obtain, and recently they ran a video showing a Wagner Group flag on top of one of the buildings just south of this area. 

Best guess: Wagner wants to hang their flag on what amounts to Bakhmut’s “city hall,” so they can declare they have captured Bakhmut. Even though about half the city is still controlled by Ukraine.

There are also indications that Wagner may have swapped out their forces in the city over the last week, replacing them with a larger group of fresher troops to make this push. It’s unclear if Ukraine can stop this slow advance without adopting Russia’s tactics of simply leveling blocks.


There was this thing, just two weeks ago, where I declared that Saturday would be map day. On Saturday, I would create a whole series of maps covering almost all areas of the front then walk through the changes that had occured over the week. These maps could then be referenced throughout the following week when reporting on advances and battles that happened all around Ukraine.

It seemed like a plan. Except, like all plans, it didn’t survive contact with the enemy. The enemy in this case being … nothing. As in, there’s nothing new to map. Nothing has changed around Kupyansk, nothing has changed at Svatove. There’s probably been some change north of Kreminna, only the signals there are too crossed up to map it. Bakhmut we’ve been dealing with in such detail that today is the first day in a week the unit of scale was actually in kilometers rather than just meters.

So I’m faced with a dilemma. I can put up maps for this Saturday, that are the same as last Saturday, and not much changed from the Saturday before that, or I can just walk through the most recent report from the Ukrainian General Staff … and the second one seems more productive.

Daily Russian assaults on Ukrainian positions. March 1 through April 1.

On Thursday, the number of attacks against Ukrainian positions popped up to 80. Which was the highest level in five days, but still lower than on any date in the first half of the month. On Friday, it dropped back to 30. For Saturday, the number is 70. That unusually low number for Friday probably shouldn’t have anyone screaming “culminating!” It’s very likely tied to the fact that eastern Ukraine saw what, in military terms, is known as a metric s**t-tonne of snow on that date. On Saturday, forces on both sides scraped away enough slush to get back to shooting, through I really don’t envy anyone who was trying to make an advance through that mess.

Oh, and for those who asked, the statistics are now on the graph, but you’ll really need to use that “open in another tab” bit if you want to read them.

One other number worth noting — this was another night in which Russia did not conduct a major strike with missiles and drones. It looks like Russia sent 5 missiles into civilian positions (probably S-300) and launched a small number of Iranian drones, all of which were reportedly shot down short of their targets. As usual, we don’t know if Russia is hoarding missiles for something “special,” but this is now the longest period without a major attack this year.

There’s not a lot of new information to be gathered from the location of shelling and assaults on Friday, however, west of Kreminna, Ukraine reports repelling attacks at Kreminna, Chervonopovka, Díbrova, and in the Serebryanskogo forest. This seems to indicate that Ukraine has been able to maintain those locations throughout this offensive, in spite of earlier Russian reports of advances.


John Spencer is an instructor at West Point’s Modern War Institute research center. This lecture—and warning, it’s a genuine lecture, but also fascinating—covers research he has put together around the Battle of Kyiv, which he calls “the most decisive battle of the modern era.”

Spencer has visited the locations around Kyiv, interviewed those involved, and put together a case study that explains why this battle turned out as it did and why it determined the course of the war.

A cluster of Russian equipment is burning in Paraskoiivka, north of Bakhmut. This appears to be the result of an artillery strike. We’ll have a better sense of what was hit when the fire goes out.

UPDATE: Saturday, Apr 1, 2023 · 1:25:31 PM EDT · Mark Sumner

Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich has reportedly been hit and taken damage. No details at this point. The Grigorovich is thought to carry Kalibr missiles and has been identified as a source of several attacks on positions inside Ukraine.


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