A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 5, 2023

"Rapid" Ukrainian Breakthroughs Reported On Around Donetsk

A number of advances are being reported across the front. The most significant continue to be in the east, around Donetsk and Bakhmut, rather than in the south towards Tokmak, which most experts believe is the primary focus of the counteroffensive. 

The question is how Ukrainian forces might pivot from the east in order to cut the Russian land bridge to Crimea. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Ukrainian forces had made significant progress in the area near the city of Donetsk (which) at least one source has called “rapid.” There might not be any more defensive positions between the point Ukraine reached and western Donetsk. As Ukrainian forces continue to make advances around Bakhmut, the commander of the eastern region says that Russia has reduced forces in the area to around 50,000.

Sources on the ground in Ukraine reported that Ukrainian forces had made significant progress in the area near the city of Donetsk.

Since 2014, this city has been the so-called capital of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” Following that first Russian invasion, Russian-backed forces and the Ukrainian military were left facing each other over defensive lines that dipped to within 10 kilometers of Donetsk. All through the months of the invasion that started in February 2022, Russia has been unable to dislodge Ukrainian forces from the lines near Donetsk in its efforts to capture the remainder of Donetsk Oblast.

Now it seems that things may have turned the other way. As part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in June, its forces may have broken Russian defenses around Donetsk. The most likely area would be north of the much fought-over suburb of Marinka along the highway running east from the town of Krasnohorivka, where Ukrainian forces were known to have made progress earlier in the week. However, as with most things in this phase of the war, it’s going to be days before we know for sure what has happened.

Throughout Russia’s illegal, unprovoked invasion, Ukraine has been very good on operational security. In a time when every soldier in the field carries a personal video studio and broadcasting system, it’s really quite amazing how well Ukraine does in restraining the spread of information about active battles. The Ministry of Defense has apparently done a very good job of selling the importance of not oversharing information that might be valuable to the Russians.

In a war where Russia is facing a satellite and other intelligence deficit, keeping good operational security is necessary to maximize the value of that gap.

If it sometimes seems that Russian Telegram sources, even those inside Russia, are being particularly chatty about events on the ground, it’s largely because they probably assume that Ukraine already knows about whatever they have to say. Between satellites, drones, and Ukrainian citizens monitoring every Russian unit, there’s almost nothing happening inside Ukraine that doesn’t swiftly make itself known to Kyiv.

Which means that when trying to translate news of an advance toward Donetsk that at least one source has called “rapid,” producing a map today involves making a WAG. (That would be the acronym for “wild-ass guess.”) With that in mind, here’s what may have happened in the Donetsk area.

On Friday there were reports that Ukraine had made an advance in the area east of Krasnohorivka. That advance reportedly brought Ukrainian forces to a tree line circled on this map.

To get a better look we could go to the most recent satellite imagery of the area, but it’s been frustratingly cloudy over the last week. Instead, here’s how that area in the blue circle looked when Google Maps last took satellite images around the first of the year.

Even at this scale, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about this tree line. Such thin rows of trees commonly border fields around Ukraine and are frequently sought for cover—though with increased use of thermal cameras on both sides, the camouflage provided by these tree lines is often ineffective. But in this case, there is something else to be seen if we move in closer.

Open image in another tab for a larger view.

This is how a section of that tree line looks at the maximum resolution of Google Maps, where each pixel is about 30 centimeters. At this scale, it’s easy to see that this is not so much a tree line as a long-established defensive line–a tangle of trees, shrubs, ditches, earth ramparts, artillery emplacements, and bunkers. You can see the tracks from vehicles that have passed along the area behind this screen of trees, and the circular craters that represent years of shelling in the area. That whole tree line is like this, all the way from about 250 meters from the road into Staromykhailivka on the north down to the road next to that quarry in the south.

And … so what? There are so many lines of trenches and other fortifications in this area of Ukraine that it would be more surprising to look at this area and find it was only trees. But what makes this particular line of bunkers and ditches so interesting is that there’s not one at the next tree line. Or at the one after that. Or at the next dozen roads behind that. Unless Russia has dug some new barriers in this area in the last few weeks–which is entirely possible–there might not be any more defensive positions between the point Ukraine reached on Friday and the western edges of Donetsk.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Ukraine can now just load up the wagon and head for downtown. There are large Russian forces on both flanks of this small salient, and we’ve already seen that even the most innocuous field in Ukraine may turn out to be holding a vast crop of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

However, if Ukraine is essentially behind Russian defensive positions at this point, it certainly opens an opportunity to strike other Russian forces in the flank, or to force Russian troops to abandon other positions and retreat toward Donetsk.

This is the area where the Ukrainian military reported on Friday that it had, for the first time since this invasion began, liberated an area that Russia had captured during that 2014 invasion. It’s a small area, barely over 3 km square, so far as we know. But then, what we know is at least two days behind because Ukraine’s OpSec is that good.


From the moment France said it was sending the AMX-10rc to Ukraine, there have been questions about what role it could perform. The wheeled vehicle looks like a light tank from the waist up, and France has often used it very much like a tank when taking on lightly armed forces in Africa. But everything from how the AMX’s wheels would perform in Ukrainian mud to how well its armor would fare against Soviet-era tanks has made us question the wheeled vehicle’s job again, and again, and again.

French troops demonstrate an AMX-10rc in 2022.

Now it seems that some of the answers are in, producing what may seem to be an obvious result: The AMX-10rc is not a tank. At least, not a tank that can perform the role of a main battle tank in pushing through a heavily mined and defended front line.

As France 24 reports, a Ukrainian commander called the use of the AMX-10rc for a front-line tank “impractical.” In particular, that commander recounted a grim incident in which an artillery shell landed near the French vehicle and, despite not making a direct hit, the shrapnel from that shell still penetrated the thin armor of the AMX-10’s upper hull to kill all the crew members.

Considering that Ukrainian crews have walked away from both Leopard tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles that have taken a hit from artillery, anti-tank weapons, or mines, that’s a very notable, and costly, difference.

But it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The AMX-10rc is the result of tradeoffs. It drops the heavy armor and all-terrain capabilities of a full-bore tank for speed and maneuverability. On an open battlefield where it can move quickly, the thing can be a terror, getting into positions that allow it to use its very punchy main gun to take out infantry transports and artillery. In such a battle it would likely acquit itself well enough against Soviet-era tanks.

Only what Ukraine is facing now is not that kind of battle. It’s a hard slog through minefields toward heavy defensive positions, under constant artillery fire, with Russian armor and infantry coming forward to challenge vehicles that are, by the requirements of the battlefield, moving slowly.

When a breakthrough comes, it’s easy to see the AMX-10rc moving in among waves of infantry transports, clearing out remaining Russian forces or the vehicles that managed to escape notice by the advancing front line. It’s even possible that Ukraine could again experience something like the counteroffensive in Kherson, where the AMX-10rc would have been very handy in those rapid advances up the highway toward Russian backline positions that lacked the fortifications or firepower to slow the Ukrainian advance.

But for now, the AMX-10rc has to take a back seat, because the one thing far more valuable in Ukraine right now than a tank is a tank crew.


There are reports that Ukraine has advanced southeast of Pyatykhatky, positioning itself in a wooded area. However, there is evidence for further advance in this area. FIRMS data shows the biggest area of artillery impacts to be about 8 km southwest, near the town of Hladke. Meanwhile, there are reports that the city of Vasylivka has come under artillery fire. Again, we should know more of what’s happening in about two days.

Fighting is now going on at the edge of Robotyne. On Sunday, the fighting in this area was described as very heavy. Ukraine has also expanded its area of control to the east in this area. Maps and details coming up at the next update of the southern front.

Along the T0815 highway, Ukrainian forces have liberated the town of Luhviske and are reportedly in combat at Novokarlivka. This road leads toward Polohy, one of the largest towns near the current front line.

Late in June, Ukrainian sources said that Ukraine had actually liberated the town of Marfopil back on June 11. Now there are reports of Russian shelling at Stepanivka, the next village along the same road. This probably means that Ukraine has advanced to this position.

Rivnopil was liberated last week. On Monday, Ukrainian forces are reported to be attacking from this area, and from the northwest, toward Pryyutne. It’s not clear how close to the town this attack is taking place.

As Ukrainian forces continue to make advances around Bakhmut, the commander of the eastern region says that Russia has reduced forces in the area of Bakhmut to around 50,000. Where have they gone? Mostly to the area to the north, with a reported 120,000 on the line between Kupyansk and Kreminna.


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