A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 22, 2023

Ukrainian Advance Continues Despite Russia's Historic Landmine Usage

Ukrainian troops continue to advance despite Russia's profligate use of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. The almost unheard of use of mines appears to be Russia's answer to shortages of soldiers and weapons. 

The Ukrainians have adapted - again - by bringing forward more NATO landmine clearing systems. JL

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Russia is pouring everything into defending an area ahead of its defensive line. It’s stripping local areas of resources in the effort, making it unclear exactly who will be available to defend those lines when Ukraine reaches them. Russian forces did regroup at Zherebyanky, and they did launch an attempt to retake Pyatykhatky, (which) failed disastrously. The road between the two villages became a scrap yard. Not only was Ukraine still in possession of Pyatykhatky, they were forming up to attack Zherebyanky. The density of mines in the area (is) surprising even to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian military seems to be saying, “Don’t risk a disaster. Take it slow. Take it carefully.”

Last Friday, Russian sources reported that Ukrainian armor had begun moving toward Pyatykhatky. As with so many locations in Ukraine, there are multiple settlements of that name, including a small city of around 20,000. This isn’t that Pyatykhatky. This is a village of a few hundred people, almost all of them living in homes that lie along one central street. It’s located about 3 kilometers from what had been the front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces for the last year, just southwest of Kamyansk and less than a kilometer from the even smaller village of Lobkove, which Ukraine officially liberated last week.

Earlier, there had been reports that Russian forces, fleeing from the fighting at Lobkove, had actually abandoned Pyatykhatky. However, Ukraine made no immediate move to bring its forces into the village, so Russia crept back and prepared their positions there.

On Friday, Russian sources reported that Ukraine was again advancing, but sent reassuring messages that they were holding their positions and still in complete control of Pyatykhatky. A few hours later, the same Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces were entrenching on the northern edge of the village. However, Russian troops were still holding their positions. A couple of hours after that, they reported that Ukraine had partial control of the village. But Russia was holding its positions.

By Saturday morning, Russian Telegram was confidently reporting on how they were directing artillery into the Ukrainian-controlled town of Pyatykhatky. And, of course, holding their positions.

A summary of this four-stage report:

  • They are attacking, but we are holding.

  • They are at the edge of the village, but we are holding.

  • They are in the village, but we are holding.

  • They control all the village, but we are holding … from a distance.

It’s both amusing and instructive. There have been multiple reports at locations all along the front of Russian forces abandoning positions and retreating to locations closer to their actual defensive lines. However, these have rarely been followed by reports that Ukraine has moved immediately into these areas. There are at least three good reasons for this.

First, many of the reports are likely false. For months in advance of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian forces have seemed to be in a state of nearly constant dread. That they, once they started running, might run until they reach a position of some apparent safeness seems understandable. However, it’s just as likely that the panic on the side of both Russian forces and Russian sources causes them to immediately cry disaster. See any piece of Russian literature. Or any video by Wagner mercenary CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Second, Ukraine seems to be moving very methodically. There are certainly places, such as the area just north of Robotyne, where things are definitely not going according to plan. No one back in Kyiv wrote a note that said “deposit Leopard tanks and Bradley IFVs here.” But in general, everyone in the Ukrainian military seems to be on the same page, the page that says, “Don’t rush forward and risk a disaster to make things move quickly. Take it slow. Take it carefully. Win.”

Third: Mines. The density of mines in the area where fighting is now taking place, in what Russia is passing off as “the gray zone,” appears to be surprising even to the Ukrainian forces.


The level of mines is great enough that Ukraine is not moving until it is prepared to do so in a way that clears those mines, providing lanes through which armor can advance. In that advance toward Robotyne back on June 10, multiple Leopard 2 tanks that had been modified for mine clearing were damaged, and one or two were likely lost (though they reportedly did a good job of protecting their crews). Ukraine now seems to be making more use of systems like the U.S.-made M58 above, or the Soviet equivalent, the UR-77 “Meteorite.”

It’s difficult to tell whether these systems are as quick or as effective as mine-clearing tanks, and it’s certain the first vehicles through the corridors opened with these tools will be those equipped to deal with any remaining mines. However, these remote systems look to be safer when it comes to exposing both equipment and crews to the danger of hitting those mines, or from being slowed to a near stop while still in range of Russian artillery.

There’s another lesson from Pyatykhatky, and it may be even more important. It’s the part that happened next.

On Sunday, Russian sources once again began talking about the village. This time, they claimed that Russian forces had regrouped at the next village to the south, Zherebyanky. Then Russian forces reported that they had surged out of Zherebyanky, counter-counterattacked Pyatykhatky, and retaken the village. Big huzzahs all across Russian social media.

The problem with Russia’s good news coda is that it didn’t happen. Or at least most of it didn’t happen.

It seems that Russian forces did regroup at Zherebyanky, and they did launch an attempt to retake Pyatykhatky, only that attempt failed disastrously. The road between the two villages swiftly became a scrap yard of destroyed Russian vehicles. Ukrainian artillery easily began punching away at not just the Russian armor along the road, but the forces massed inside Zherebyanky. By Monday not only was Ukraine still in possession of Pyatykhatky, they were forming up to attack Zherebyanky—an operation that is reportedly underway now.

Once again, Russia is insisting on pouring everything into defending an area ahead of its defensive line. Not only that, it’s stripping local areas of resources in the effort, making it unclear exactly who will be available to defend those lines when Ukraine reaches them. Which will be soon.

This strategy, if it is a strategy, is utterly bizarre.


When looking at the issues that are slowing Ukraine’s advance in Zaporizhzhia, there’s another big item on the list in addition to strategy–mines–and Russia’s incomprehensible defense. The fourth speedbump is Russia’s fleet of Kamov KA-52 “Alligator” helicopters, which Russia has promoted as “flying tanks.”

From the first day that Ukraine began the counteroffensive, those heavily armored single-seat gunships have reportedly been rushing forward in waves, multiple times a day, sometimes in company of other types of helicopters, to spray unguided missiles into Ukrainian positions. They may not be accurate, but they have been coming in numbers and making such frequent sorties that they’ve become a significant issue.

On Saturday, The Guardian reported on the destruction these helicopter raids were doing among Ukrainian forces and how difficult they were making it to advance. “There are constant attacks from helicopters, three or four times a day,” one soldier in the area reported.

The KA-52 in particular was reported to be difficult to shoot down. The helicopters are flying low, barely above treetops, popping up only long enough to fire their missiles while surrounded by a spray of protective flares. Then they are down low again, heading back to reload for another run. The speed, altitude, and distance of the attacks made it difficult for Ukrainian forces to deal with this constant overhead threat.

The KA-52’s armor also means that the kind of close-by explosion that might take out their thin-skinned relatives is shrugged off by the Alligator. Another part of the helicopter’s design makes it extra tough. Most helicopters have one set of spinning blades. Those blades create a significant amount of torque, which would spin the helicopter around in circles except that the torque is offset by the blades on the tail. The KA-52 has two sets of counter-rotating blades. That means it doesn’t immediately go into a spin when it takes a hit to the tail, as do many helicopters. A KA-52 without the tail rotor can’t maneuver well, but it remains flyable and controllable.

As the Kyiv Post reports, a big part of this seems to be simply experience and plenty of MANPADS available to front line forces.

“The pilot of the Russian helicopter… was moving… at an altitude of less than twenty meters, and the distance to the Ukrainian positions was more than four kilometers… so ‘Putin's vulture’ felt almost invulnerable... The missile fired from the Igla MANPADS hit the tail projection of the helicopter. Later, ‘Lyto’ and his brothers watched a picturesque picture: the vaunted twin-rotor "Alligator", leaving behind a trail of greasy thick smoke, began to sharply lose [altitude] and disappeared from sight in a few seconds.”

That KA-52 may well be the one seen flying tailless in the video above. Even if it limped back to base somewhere, it won’t be returning to action soon. The number of such reports of KA-52s damaged or downed has been ticking along like clockwork over the last week, with two KA-52 reportedly taken down on Sunday, another on Monday.

Originally, Russia built about 200 of the KA-52. Oryx documents 35 lost in Ukraine. That doesn’t include any of those lost during the last two weeks of the counteroffensive, but it does include some that were taken out on the ground by long-range attacks.

There have been at least two videos of KA-52s stuck on the ground because of rust and corrosion to the airframe—not a great look for a helicopter that’s only been in service for two decades. Additionally, there are videos showing that the twin-rotor system is intolerant of manufacturing flaws or maintenance errors, leading to a high degree of shaking that can render the aircraft unusable. A lot of these helicopters have been enjoying the Russian weather over the last two decades, left out winter and summer, before being hauled to Ukraine.

Somewhere just over half the original KA-52s may have been in flyable condition at the invasion’s outset. Subtract those 35 at Oryx, then remove another 25 to 30 which have been lost since the date of his last cataloged loss. When those that are now dead on the runway are added in, it’s uncertain how many remain in flying shape is unknown. Likely no more than 50. Maybe considerably fewer.

Right now, the KA-52 remains a threat to Ukrainian front-line forces. If Russian hoards them carefully, the remaining Alligators could still take a big bite of an advancing Ukrainian force without air support at a critical time. Only Russia doesn’t seem to be shepherding these forces any more closely than anything else. When the critical time arrives, the Russian Alligator may be extinct.


Post a Comment