Military analysts have been reporting for days that Russian forces have “paused” their offensive operations in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. But try telling that to Ukrainian fighters under fire and entrenched in defensive positions in towns and villages.
Fighting raged in at least 10 locations in Donetsk province, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday, as the Russians tried to improve their positions along a fragmented front line, apparently ahead of what is expected to be a much greater military push to seize parts of the province that they do not they control.
“The occupiers tried to take control of a section of the road” that runs between the towns of Bakhmut and Lysychansk, Ukraine’s General Staff said in an evening bulletin citing a series of clashes. Russian forces also carried out “assault operations” in several other locations, including the villages of Nagirny and Bilohorivka, the bulletin said. “Ukrainian soldiers stopped all these poor attempts of the enemy with fire and pushed him back.”
Elsewhere in the province, the bulletin said that Ukrainian soldiers “again successfully repulsed” the attack, and in another location it said: “Under the fire of Ukrainian soldiers, the remnants of the enemy forces retreated.” There was no comment from Moscow about the fighting.
Donbass, which is close to the Russian border and has been a region of heavy industry, mining and agriculture, has been the focus of President Vladimir V. Putin’s campaign in Ukraine since Russian forces failed to capture the country’s two most important cities, the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv. , at the beginning of the conflict. Donbas consists of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va., said this week that “this is a very temporary reprieve; it’s not really an operational break.” Speaking on the “War on the Rocks” podcast, he said Russian forces were still trying to put pressure, “not very successfully,” on fortified Ukrainian positions around the town of Slavyansk.
He said the next Russian advance would most likely target that city and another one further south, Kramatorsk, and that the fight for Donetsk province could last for months. He and other analysts, including Western intelligence officials, stressed that both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses and face serious manpower problems.
This week, US officials and others familiar with intelligence estimates estimated that a total of about 20,000 Russians had been killed and about 60,000 wounded. Russia has tried to recruit more soldiers with offers of large cash bonuses for volunteers, Ukrainians from separatist territories, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units.
Ukraine has also been losing significant numbers of soldiers: In June, a senior government official said the country was losing as many as 100 to 200 soldiers every day.
The army is also facing a shortage of equipment. Nearly a third of Russia’s equipment has been destroyed, according to Western officials, although the Kremlin retains a significant advantage in heavy weapons.
That has led Ukrainian officials to repeatedly push for more heavy weapons and ammunition from the West, saying they need the supplies to counter Russia’s long-range advantages. Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on Friday greeted the arrival of the first M270 multiple launch rocket system, an armored vehicle that is its most advanced artillery rocket launcher.
Mr. Reznikov said the weapon “would be good company” for the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Missile Systems, or HIMARS. The US has delivered eight and promised four more truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers. The Ukrainian military says it is using those that have arrived to attack Russian bases and warehouses behind the front lines.
Still, some analysts say Ukraine needs dozens more to effectively counter Russian artillery, and Ukrainian officials say they need as many as 300 multi-barreled launchers.