Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Advances On Vovchansk

The Russian offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in the east of the country, continues to see efforts focused on the border town of Vovchansk, which has come under heavy bombardment in recent days, forcing the evacuation of several thousand residents. Previously, Russia claimed its forces had entered Vovchansk, something that Ukraine has denied.

According to the latest assessment from the U.S. think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russia is making further advances within Vovchansk. ISW has used geolocated footage to confirm recent Russian advances in the northeast and northwest of the town. At the same time, the footage shows that Russian infantry has made smaller advances to the southern (left) bank of the Vovcha River, although so far only on foot.

Meanwhile, ISW casts doubt on the claims of Russian military bloggers that the Kremlin’s forces have seized Starytsya and Buhruvatka, both located southwest of Vovchansk. Russian forces continue their attacks near Starytsya and in the direction of Prylipka (both southwest of Vovchansk) and near Tykhe (east of Vovchansk).

Ukraine still controls around 60 percent of Vovchansk, according to deputy governor Roman Semenukha. He said: “The enemy continues to try, especially inside Vovchansk, to push the Ukrainian armed forces out of the town. About 60 percent of the city is controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, meaning that the assaults do not stop.”

As the campaign in the Kharkiv region rolls on, Russian forces have already made their biggest territorial gains in a year and a half.

For now, at least, the status of Vovchansk remains contested, but by all accounts, Russia is gaining ground and appears to hold an advantage.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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Over the weekend, reports emerged suggesting that one or perhaps two Russian Navy vessels were damaged or destroyed in the latest wave of Ukrainian attacks on the Black Sea Fleet. The two vessels in question are the Project 22800 Karakurt class missile corvette Tsiklon and the Project 266M Akvamarin class minesweeper Kovrovets. Ukrainian officials have formally claimed the destruction of the latter, while Russian military bloggers report that the Tsiklon was the victim of a strike using Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles. You can read our full report here.

Reflecting the importance of Vovchansk, the town was the scene of a recent Ukrainian strike that appears to have involved the use of U.S.-supplied standoff weapons. The target in this case was the central hospital in Vovchansk, which was taken over by Russian forces and has been used by them as a base since last week.

Different open-source intelligence channels have identified the weapon used to attack the hospital as the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) or the Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER). While the JDAM-ER is an air-launched 500-pound precision-guided bomb with a range-extending wing kit, the GLSDB is launched from the ground and combines a 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb with a set of pop-out wings and a rocket booster motor.

Recently, a Pentagon account of a U.S.-supplied air-to-ground munition transformed into a ground-based strike weapon performing very poorly in Ukraine due to jamming and other factors led to widespread suspicion that the GLSDB may have proven a failure in the conflict. This may suggest that the JDAM-ER, or potentially another weapon was used to strike the hospital. The image of a winged weapon seen above does look more like the JDAM-ER than a Small Diameter Bomb.

A longer-range strike capability is provided to Ukraine in the shape of the French-supplied SCALP EG air-launched cruise missile. Multiple reports suggest that the following footage shows the interception of one of the cruise missiles by Russian air defenses, over the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine. At around the same time as the SCALP EG is engaged by a Russian air defense missile, another of the Ukrainian cruise missiles appears to impact below.

The conclusion that these weapons were used seems to have been drawn from the discovery of fragments of a SCALP EG close to the impact site.

According to unconfirmed reports, the target of the SCALP EG missiles — which are launched by Ukrainian Air Force Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft — was the Luhansk State University of Internal Affairs in the city of Luhansk.

Another Western weapon that has provided Ukraine with a much-needed long-range strike capability is the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a short-range ballistic missile that has been connected with a string of high-profile attacks on Russian targets.

So far, however, all of those targets have been on Ukrainian territory, including Russian-occupied Crimea, according to Gen. Charles Brown, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. When asked by Courtney Kube of NBC News whether ATACMS had been used on Russian territory, Gen. Brown said that he was confident that they had not.

The air base of Kushchevskaya in the Krasnodar region of Russia is claimed to have come under attack again. The airfield, around 125 miles from the front lines, was reportedly struck by Ukrainian long-range one-way attack drones on the night of May 19. The attack, which is said to have involved at least three drones, damaged a Su-27 Flanker fighter on the airfield, according to Russian outlet ASTRA.

The same source states that the fighter as well as undisclosed infrastructure at the base was damaged by a fire started by the drone strike. We cannot confirm this at this time.

Other accounts claim that as many as three Flanker series aircraft were damaged or destroyed in the raid.

Satellite imagery showing the apparent aftermath of the attack is not conclusive. Before this reported latest attack, most of the aircraft from the base had been relocated in the wake of another drone raid at the end of last month.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense assessed that the previous drone strike “likely contributed to approximately 40 aircraft of different types being removed from the area and dispersed to multiple airfields further from the frontline.”

As well as being home to a training regiment equipped with Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters and L-39 jet trainers, the U.K. Ministry of Defense says the facility is also used to launch airstrikes against Ukraine, specifically by Su-34 strike aircraft using UMPK glide bombs.

There is also talk of a Russian attack on the Ukrainian airbase at Mirgorod in central Ukraine. Accounts suggest that Russia attempted to strike a pair of Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters at Mirgorod, but instead hit aircraft shelters and a building in their vicinity. The operational status of those MiGs has been questioned. We cannot verify these claims at this time.

Back in March 2022, TWZ reported on how the Russian 9K317M Buk-M3, the latest iteration of the self-propelled, medium-range Buk surface-to-air missile system was being committed to the war in Ukraine. Now, we have a video showing the explosive demise of one of these air defense systems, as the result of a Ukrainian drone strike.

In service since around 2016, the Buk-M3 is apparently a very capable system and, according to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) manual, it “outperforms even the old S-300P long-range air defense system.” The Buk-M3 employs new 9M317M missiles and electronic components to provide much-improved capabilities compared with the older Buk systems and is significantly different enough from its predecessors to warrant a new U.S. Department of Defense designation — SA-27.

A much older surface-to-air missile system that has undergone a more improvised type of modification is this Ukrainian Cold War-era 9K33 Osa-AKM (SA-8 Gecko), a short-range air defense system based on a fully amphibious six-wheeled BAZ-5937 transport vehicle. Normally, the Osa-AKM is armed with six 9M33M3 missiles in box-type containers. However, this vehicle has replaced these with R-73 (AA-11 Archer) infrared-guided air-to-air missiles. The same weapons have also recently appeared in a surface-launched adaptation onboard Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels, or drone boats.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has called into question the will of Ukraine’s Western allies to help the country defeat Russia. In a meeting with journalists, Zelensky said that Ukraine’s partners “are afraid of Russia losing the war” and would like Ukraine “to win in such a way that Russia does not lose.”

The implication is that the realities of geopolitics mean that the West is worried that a total loss for Russia in its war in Ukraine would unleash powerful and unpredictable forces that would threaten to upset the global order.

“I don’t think it works that way,” Zelensky said. “For Ukraine to win, we need to be given everything with which one can win.”

The next tweet provides a very useful overview of the extent and variety of Ukraine’s different military and paramilitary formations as they now look, bearing in mind the various reorganizations and establishment of new units and branches.

Using the database assembled by @Militarylandnet, the information is also available as a handy full-sized image, available here.

An interesting photo next, showing a Czech flying instructor wearing a wide field-of-view virtual reality set in an F-16 simulator of the kind used by Ukrainian pilots destined to operate the fighters, the first examples of which are expected to arrive in Ukraine this summer.

An ever more common sight on the battlefield is Russia’s growing and diverse fleet of highly protected ‘turtle tanks.’ This example reportedly came to an abrupt end when it ran over no fewer than six TM-62 mines simultaneously.

The TM-62 features in the next tweet, too, with an air-dropped TM-62M version that was purportedly disassembled by a Russian individual, who was lucky to escape with their life. The mine is said to have been dropped by a Ukrainian Baba Yaga-type quadcopter drone. Since the mine is fitted with an accelerometer to detect movement and a magnetic influence sensor to detect metal, it should have detonated automatically once the person began to take it apart. Why that failed to happen is unclear, but they certainly appear to have been mighty fortunate in this instance.

Another armored casualty of the war is this Ukrainian M1117 Armored Security Vehicle (ASV), said to have been lost during fighting in the southern Zaporizhzhia region this month. As part of an arms package announced in late 2022, the United States confirmed it would provide Ukraine with 250 refurbished M1117 ASVs, taken from existing U.S. Army stocks under the Excess Defense Articles program.

Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, recently told The New York Times that he expects Russia to launch a new attack in the Sumy region of northeast Ukraine. “I’ve used everything we have,” Budanov said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else in the reserves.”

Further evidence of these fears being manifested is seen next, with the preparation of ‘dragon’s teeth’ fortifications for use in the Sumy region.

The Chinese-made Desertcross 1000-3 lightweight all-terrain vehicle (ATV) — dubbed the ‘combat golf-cart’ —continues to appear on the battlefield, at least in areas where Russian forces adapt their tactics toward lighter, highly mobile mechanized infantry. This footage purports to show one of the buggies falling prey to an attack by a Ukrainian first-person-view (FPV) drone.

Away from the battlefield, Russia is reportedly struggling to fill positions in other critical roles. Case in point, the country’s internal security forces, which are now said to be short of 152,000 staff. The result is an organization said to be “paralyzed” and increasingly unable to fulfill its core remit. The staff shortage has reportedly increased by 150 percent in the last six months.

Similar findings are published by the U.K. Ministry of Defense in one of its latest intelligence updates, which looks at the effect of the war on the Russian labor market in general. For example, the truck and logistics industry is currently said to be understaffed by a factor of 25 percent, according to Russian figures.

Examples next of the measures taken by the Russian Navy to protect the port of Novorossiysk, in Russia’s Krasnodar region, at the eastern end of the Black Sea. The Russian Navy has been forced to withdraw many of its major warships to Novorossiysk, in response to continued Ukrainian attacks on ports in Crimea. Clearly, however, they see that their warships and submarines aren’t even safe here.

First, satellite imagery reveals what appears to be the construction of a new anti-drone boom on the inside of the break walls in the port of Novorossiysk. This reflects the increasingly long-range attacks being prosecuted by Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels and potentially the threat from uncrewed underwater vessels, too.

Next, a pair of Black Sea Fleet Kilo class diesel-electric submarines are seen apparently in a semi-dived state while in port. This unusual measure also seems calculated to reduce their vulnerability and conspicuity, especially in the face of potential long-range aerial drone strikes.

Another round-up of FPV drones next, starting with the latest loss of a Russian T-90M tank. Once again, the FPV operator skillfully flies the drone directly into an open turret hatch.

Next, an interesting view of a Ukrainian FPV drone production line, seen during a recent visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The next compilation once again hits home the nature of the danger faced by infantry (in this case Russian) when fighting on a battlefield where FPV drones proliferate.

Meanwhile, a recent report makes the case for gamers as some of the ultimate arbiters of destructive power on the battlefield — thanks to the FPV drones that they can so expertly operate.

“The best pilot I know personally is a 21-year-old, [a] gamer since he was six,” explains a member of a Ukrainian civilian group that teaches people how to fly FPV drones under a program known as Liftoff. “If Ukraine creates a robotic army, there will be tons of gamers from across the world [including] the U.S. and Canada, who would love to be part of this unit.”

Drone-versus-drone in the next video, which shows a Russian FPV drone destroying a disabled Ukrainian uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV).

Finally, an extraordinary — and futile — method of defense against the FPV drone threat. In this case, a Russian soldier puts a large saucepan on their head as they come under attack while attempting to hide in an abandoned building. The results are predictable.

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Thomas Newdick Avatar

Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.