A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 14, 2023

How Ukraine Exploits Tactical, Equipment Advantages Against Russians

Ukraine has distributed night vision systems more widely to its troops than has Russia, giving its military an advantage. 

Many of the counteroffensive attacks launched so far have been initiated at night, in order to confound the Russian troops who dont have night vision while reducing Ukrainian casualties and pressing the assault. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Night vision gear gives Ukraine a strategic advantage. Ukraine has made most of its advances this week in a series of night attacks. As the next new moon approaches on June 18, Russian forces are growing increasingly nervous. Russia does not routinely issue night-vision gear to dismounted troops. Ukrainian forces advance until they meet resistance. Then they take good positions and wait. Under the cover of darkness, they advance again. Ukraine’s official announcements and flag-raising videos have tracked the maps. Russia, meanwhile, has decided that now would be a good time to go on the offensive by attacking Vuhledar because that has worked so well for them in the past...

Night vision equipment is one of the technical edges that Ukraine has held since early in the war. Not only has such gear been part of almost every Western military package sent to Ukraine since the invasion began, including the one most recently announced by the U.S., such tools were also sent by the U.S. before the invasion. Night vision gear was long recognized as one of those areas where the technology could give Ukraine a strategic advantage while still being sensitive to voices concerned about the U.S. providing heavy weaponry. So Ukrainian forces have had years of experience with tools like:

  • the PVS-14 monocular that can be kept in a pocket, mounted on headgear, or used as a weapon sight, and

  • Ground Panoramic Night Visions Goggles, which can be had on the civilian market for about $40,000 a pair. The GPNVG systems in particular give wearers a wide, clear view of the area and can make a night that’s so dark surroundings are invisible to the naked eye seem almost like noon.

It’s no wonder that Ukraine has made most of its advances this week in a series of night attacks. And no wonder that, as the next new moon approaches on June 18, Russian forces are growing increasingly nervous.

Of course, Russia also has night vision gear. Many of which are available on Ebay right now. Traditionally, Russian manufacturers have been very good at optics (try out a Santel telescope if you get the opportunity), and those Russian night vision goggles that are everywhere on the used market are pretty darn good … for first generation devices. The problem for Russia is twofold: First, their night vision tech for infantry soldiers hasn’t kept up in quality over time. Second, there are probably more of these Russian night vision devices being sold on eBay than there are in the average Russian battalion.

Last year, The Economist looked at the state of Russia’s night vision deficit.

Unlike Western armies, Russia does not routinely issue night-vision gear to dismounted troops. Only a select few special forces and reconnaissance units get the equipment, says Mr Cranny-Evans. This is borne out by images of captured Russian soldiers. So far only Spetsnaz (special forces) units have been pictured with night-fighting equipment. This may be because the technology is expensive and delicate, and inexperienced or conscripted soldiers are not trusted with it. High-end units can cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

$40K a pop may seem like a lot to spend, and it is for someone who just wants to stealth around the neighborhood or sneak up on feral hogs. But it is a trivial expense to preserve the life and effectiveness of a well-trained soldier.

But then, well-trained soldiers are themselves an increasing rarity in the Russian forces. Considering how many of the mobilized were sent into Ukraine with the equivalent of dollar-store galoshes and a World War I-era weapon, it would be amazing if one in a thousand were actually handed any night vision gear. Some select subset of Russia’s “elite” forces have night vision. Wagner mercenaries (though not their prison fodder) have night vision. The newer Russian tanks have knock-off French night vision tech. The rest of Russian forces, including infantry, almost all their support vehicles, and many armored transports, are reduced to wincing at muzzle flashes in the darkness.

How terrifying must it be to huddle in the night, listening to explosions and gunshots, trying to detect the sound of someone creeping closer—someone who can see you clearly, even though you can’t see them at all?

On Tuesday, The Telegraph reported on how Western night vision gear, both for infantry troops and on vehicles, is giving Ukraine a significant tactical advantage, allowing them to pulse forward at night and consolidate their gains in the day. It’s not that every Ukrainian soldier is rocking a GPNVG. But Western armies have provided an unspecified number of these devices to Ukraine, along with thermal cameras in drones, and newest generation night vision in vehicles. All of this is heavily represented in the forces now operating on the southern border, where night time attacks have become the rule.

As one Russian military blogger complains on Telegram:

“Why is the war conducted at night? It’s as clear as day! Imported equipment has amazing night optics. It can move, observe, and target, and correct the accuracy of fire. That’s why the enemy is choosing the night.”

What seems to be happening right now, especially in the area south of Velyka Novosilka, is that Ukrainian forces advance until they meet resistance. Then they take good positions and wait. Under the cover of darkness, they advance again, absorbing the Russian positions, clearing out defenses, taking prisoners, and getting ready to do the same thing again at sunrise.

That seems to be exactly what happened with the town of Makarivka, where Russian commanders appear to be shocked at how easily they were ousted from what was thought to be a good defensive position. On Sunday, Russia announced that they had retaken that position. But they hadn’t. On Monday, they launched a fresh assault on the area. Ukrainian forces repelled that attack 14 times. There are reports that the Ukrainian forces followed up on Monday night by liberating the neighboring town of Urozhaine (not confirmed. Urozhaine is still marked as disputed on today’s map).

One thing that Russia should be keeping in mind right now: For the next five nights, it’s only going to get darker.


In these maps, I try to ride a line between being too optimistic and blindly accepting every story of a Ukrainian advance or being too pessimistic and listening only to the abundant declarations of doom. I also try not to be too conservative. I will go ahead and label a location liberated even though I know it won’t show up on the official list from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for a day or two.

So far in this round, I haven’t had to take anything back or declare a whoopsie, as Ukraine’s official announcements and flag-raising videos have tracked right behind what I’ve marked on the maps. Hopefully, that trend will continue (looking at you, Novomaiorske, don’t let me down).

However, this morning the gap between what’s been announced and what’s pouring in from Telegram sources is particularly large. Normally in these situations, I do what anyone else would do: I cheat by cribbing off of half a dozen maps from well-respected military bloggers. Only none of this new stuff seems to be showing up on their maps.

So for this morning, the compromise is to put up the map with the things I’m pretty certain about, then follow up with the things I think are likely, but not confirmed to the point that I’m ready to move the lines around.

Open image in another tab for a larger view.

With the exception of Novomaiorske, all the other towns with fresh blue dots on this map have now been made official. But the list of those now in the “I think likely, but can’t be sure” category is getting longer.

On the far left, there were reports yesterday that Ukraine had liberated Marfopil and was continuing down that highway to the southeast. That would be a great addition, but I’m just not able to find confirmation that doesn’t seem to fall back to the repetition of that one original source.

Something similar is true of Rivnopil. There have actually been reports of this settlement’s liberation from some Ukrainian news sources, and there are some authoritative-sounding claims about how Russian forces withdrew to the southeast. Hopefully, this will soon tick over into the liberated column allowing the whole offensive in this area to merge into a single united effort.

On Tuesday morning, there are claims that Russian forces have been pushed from Urozhaine and that this now represents the front line. There are also geolocated images on the west of the river showing Russian vehicles being taken out by FPV drones on the southern edge of Staromaiorske (the location of one such attack noted on the map). There are also reports that Russian forces at Oktyabrske have moved west.

It’s a pretty good bet that all that yellow area at the center of this map is going to be blue within the next couple of days, and the front is going to move down to Staromlynivka, with Russia’s big defensive line close behind.

Over on the far right of the map, Russia has decided that now would be a good time to go on the offensive by attacking toward Vuhledar at Pavlivka, because that has worked out so well for them in the past. No details.

Vasylivka to Orkhiv: Not included on this map is the area at the west end of the southern front. There doesn’t seem to be any more progress in the area where those first Leopards and Bradleys were lost near Robotyne (though Russia is still finding new ways to show more pictures of the same five vehicles), and it’s unclear if Ukraine has continued its attack on this axis. Meanwhile, to the far west it looks as if the towns of Pyatykhatky and Zherebyanky may have been liberated, with Ukraine moving positions to a ridge of high ground west of those locations. These could be the next two villages to be officially reported.

Bakhmut: The Ukrainian MOD announced that 16 square kilometers has been liberated from Russian control in the area of Bakhmut since the first of the month. There are reports that Ukrainian forces have turned east from Berkhivka to attack Russian positions in Yahidne, directly adjacent to Bakhmut’s hilly northeastern border. Fighting is reported to be continuing on Tuesday. Ukrainian forces are also continuing to collapse a Russian salient northwest of Yahidne,  where Russian artillery reportedly on high ground near Dubovo-Vasylivka is in danger of being isolated.

Svatove: Absolutely no more information on that supposed liberation of Kryvoshyivka in Ukraine’s northeast. Hoping for more news today.


For weeks Russia kept lobbing missiles at Kyiv in an attempt to take out Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his family, and members of his government. But the air defenses in that city have been knocking down almost everything Russia sends, especially since the U.S.-made Patriot system arrived in that city.

On Monday night, Russia did the kind of thing that Russia keeps doing in this invasion. Rather than seeking out military targets, it launched its missiles at civilian buildings in Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih. Numerous missiles reached their targets, which included a five-story apartment building. At least 11 are known dead and that number is expected to grow as more rubble is removed.

Wow. That’s a lot of dead tanks to cram into an area this size. It’s a complete mystery why 99.9% of them appear to be invisible.

What’s really weird about this: This is more Russian tanks lost than Ukraine has claimed over the same period, and more than double the number confirmed by Oryx.

When it comes to Ukrainian tanks, don’t count them out just because they looked down on the battlefield. Not only do these tanks do a good job of protecting their crews, they also excel a protecting their vital systems.

Russian soldiers, he will be back!

Meanwhile, the United States is announcing a new $325 million aid package that includes 10 Stryker armored personnel carriers and 15 M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles—directly replacing Ukraine’s thus-far battlefield losses.

With thousands in storage, the U.S. is signaling to Russia that no matter what it destroys on the battlefield, Ukraine will have a ready replacement in no time. And given the advantage these vehicles have in protecting the lives of their crews, Ukraine doesn’t even have to worry about training up a new crew.


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