Ukraine Situation Report: Counteroffensive Slowed By 77,000 Square Miles Of Mines

Regardless of what happens with his counteroffensive, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the war is “not a Hollywood movie” and that Ukraine won’t negotiate with Russia until its forces have left his nation’s sovereign territory.

“No matter how far we advance in our counter-offensive, we will not agree to a frozen conflict because that is war, that is a prospectless development for Ukraine,” Zelensky told the BBC Wednesday. “Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect results now. It’s not.”

Zelensky added that while Ukraine has liberated eight villages so far, the counteroffensive was not going easily because 200,000 sq km (77,220 sq miles) of Ukrainian territory had been mined by Russian forces.

“Whatever some might want, including attempts to pressure us, with all due respect, we will advance on the battlefield the way we deem best,” Zelensky told BBC.

Ukrainian forces have made most of its progress in the southern section of the roughly 200 mile front that runs from northern Donetsk Oblast to central Zarporizhzhia Oblast, Kyiv’s deputy defense minister said Wednesday.

“The defense forces of Ukraine continue to conduct offensive actions in the Melitopol and Berdyansk directions,” Hanna Maliar said on her Telegram channel. “During the past day, they had partial success, they consolidated at the achieved boundaries and leveled the front line.”

In the east, “our defenders continue to restrain the large-scale offensive of Russian troops in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions,” she said. “Particularly heavy fighting continues in the Lyman direction in the Yampolivka and Serebryansk forestry districts of the Donetsk region. In the direction of Bilogorivka-Shypylivka, our troops conducted offensive actions and had partial success. Now they are fixed at the achieved boundaries.”

The bottom line, however, is that Ukrainian forces “gradually advance step by step,” she told Ukrainian media, according to CNN. “So one can say we are gnawing our way meter by meter.” 

And she again repeated the now-familiar theme that “the main strike is still ahead.”

The Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel acknowledged small Ukrainian gains in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

“Battles for the village of Pyatikhatki continued throughout the day in the Zaporizhzhia direction: at the moment, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine control only a small part of the buildings in the north of the village.”

Ukraine has made advances toward the village of Pyatikhatki in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Russian sources claim. (Google Earth image)

Yevengy Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group who continues to spar with Russian military leadership, offered a much more alarming take.

Pyatikhatki, he said, “is controlled by Ukrainian forces, as is the northern part of Robotyne. Urozhaine is also under Ukrainian control. Big parts have been given up by Russian forces. One day we will wake up and find out Crimea is given away.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Wednesday that Ukraine had suffered heavy losses and had no chance of success, “and they understand this,” The Washington Post reported

But he said Kyiv had not yet exhausted its offensive potential.

So much of this is shrouded, of course, in the fog of war. We will continue to keep an eye on developments and report back to you with as much detail as we can gather.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

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Noting the increasing Russian buildup of fortifications on the peninsula, National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Secretary Oleksiy Danilov urged Russians living in Crimea to flee.

“They realize that it’s only a matter of time before we come and kick them out,” Danilov said, according to The New Voice of Ukraine (NVU) media outlet. “And I would advise everyone to use the services of the facility they have today (the Kerch Bridge) as soon as possible to be safe. Whoever manages to, let’s say, come back to their homeland from where they came, they would be happy with that. They cannot escape through Ukraine.”

That bridge, Vladimir Putin’s prized $4 billion span linking the peninsula with Russia, was famously attacked last October.

Reports indicate that numerous fortification lines are being constructed between the border with mainland Ukraine and the logistical hub in Dzhankoi in the north of Crimea, according to NVU. Russian troops have been observed moving into coastal mini-hotels near the ongoing fortification construction.

The British Defense Ministry says that Russia “has continued to expend significant effort building defensive lines deep in rear areas, especially on the approaches to occupied Crimea.”

That assessment includes observations that Russia is building “an extensive zone of defenses” about nine kilometers long, a short distance from the town of Armyansk on the narrow bridge of land connecting the peninsula to Kherson Oblast.

“These elaborate defenses highlight the Russian command’s assessment that Ukrainian forces are capable of directly assaulting Crimea,” the MoD said.

Meanwhile, a Russian floating dock in Sevastopol sank, Hl Sutton reports.

What caused the sinking of that dock, known as PD-19 and near another one that sank four years ago with a submarine in it, is unknown, said Sutton.

In his tweet, Sutton said that reported explosions in Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, were unrelated to the dock sinking.

Those noises were related to training, occupation Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhaev said Wednesday on his Telegram channel.

“The reason for the loud sounds (explosions, as they say in some channels) is that the Black Sea Higher Naval School named after P.S. Nakhimov conducted a training session…using rocket-propelled bombers,” he said. “Everything is calm in the city.”

Pro-Ukrainian partisans have apparently struck again in Crimea, blowing up railroad tracks in the Black Sea port city of Feodosia in the southern part of the peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.

“In the area of ​​Feodosia, the railway track was damaged,” Crimean occupation governor Sergey Aksenov said on his Telegram channel Wednesday. “Train traffic will be restored within two hours. There were no casualties. Services are on site. I ask everyone to remain calm and trust only trusted sources of information.”

Aksenov also announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has given the 39th Separate Helicopter Regiment, station in Dzhankoy, Crimea, the honorary title of “Guards” for their work in Russia’s defense against the Ukrainian counteroffensive. You can read about the role of Russian rotary wing aviation in that fight in our widely-quoted report here.

“I heartily congratulate the personnel of the regiment!” Aksenov wrote in his Telegram channel Wednesday. “Our helicopter pilots inflict crushing blows on the enemy, bringing Victory closer. You are real heroes guys!”

Decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Russian government document)

Speaking of Russian helicopters, for Ukraine to have any success against Russian aviation, short-range air defense systems (SHORADS) will have to play a role. The work of one such system, the U.S.-donated Humvee-based Avenger systems, was captured in this video below. So far, the U.S. has promised 20 of those systems to Ukraine, some of which are already in action. You can read more about what it brings to the table in our deep dive here.

The “largest” AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, or AMRAAM missile contract to date was awarded Tuesday to RTX, formally Raytheon Technologies.

The $1.15 billion contract, awarded by the Air Force, was for AIM-120 D-3 and C-8 AMRAAM missiles, according to RTX. It provides for the production of the AMRAAM missiles, the AMRAAM Telemetry System, initial and field spares, and other production engineering support activities, according to the Pentagon.

This contract involves unclassified Foreign Military Sales to Bahrain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, which accounts for approximately 39% of the contract value, according to the Pentagon. 

Ukraine has been using the missiles in the donated National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles Systems, or NASAMS. You can read more about that here.

“This is the largest AMRAAM missile contract to date and the fifth production lot of the highly advanced missiles developed under the Form, Fit, Function Refresh, also known as F3R, which updates both the missile’s hardware and allows for Agile software upgrades, RTX said on its homepage.

Staff Sgt. Trey Riley, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Blue team, secures an AIM-120 missile onto an F-16 April 13 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Blue team battled the Red AMU team for weapons loadcrew supremacy during the quarterly competition. The Red team claimed victory this quarter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Germany is sending Ukraine another 1,000 rounds of standard 155mm howitzer shells and an unspecified amount of 155mm precision guided shells, Patriot interceptors as well as several vehicles, Berlin announced Wednesday.

The aid is part of a security capacity building initiative valued at 5.4 billion Euros for 2023 (about $5.9 billion), with additional authorizations to enter commitments in the following years amounting to 10.5 billion Euros (about $11.5 billion).

“These funds are to be used primarily for military assistance to Ukraine,” according to the German government. “At the same time, they will be used for re-filling Federal Armed Forces stocks for items delivered to Ukraine as well as for Germany’s contributions to the European Peace Facility (EPF), from which costs incurred from providing military assistance to Ukraine can be reimbursed to EU member states.”

The U.S. and European allies announced billions of dollars in new recovery assistance to Ukraine Wednesday, aimed at restoring that nation after the widespread destruction created by Russia’s full-on invasion.

The pledges were made at the two-day Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, The Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, the European Union will provide $54.5 billion in aid for 2024 through 2027, the United States will provide an additional $1.3 billion in the near term and Britain said it would provide guarantees for $3 billion worth of World Bank loans to help with the rebuilding.

But the outpouring of support amounted to only a small fraction of the $411 billion that the World Bank estimates is needed to rebuild the country, the newspaper reported.

More wild videos are emerging from the front lines.

This video shows another trench battle, with Ukrainian troops entering a Russian trench and trading fire with unseen enemy at a nearby tree line. One Ukrainian soldier is seen being hit by shrapnel on his arm, with his colleagues joking that the wound will heal before his wedding.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry (MoD) released a nearly-10-minute-long video showing the work of 68th Jaeger Brigade mortar team. The soldiers talk about firing a variety of mortars, with a range of about 2.5 miles, to “terrorize” Russian infantry.

Although sometimes “we will hit an IFV [infantry fighting vehicle] if necessary,” says one soldier.

New video has emerged that purports to show Ukrainian troops taking out a Iranian-made Shahed drone with a MANPADS.

The Ukrainian Air Force claims it shot down six Shahed drones Wednesday in the Khmelnytsky region in the western part of that nation.

This Russian T-90M tank took a licking and apparently kept on ticking. Despite apparently taking multiple hits, it continued to advance toward a Ukrainian position.

But this Russian T-80 tank suffered a different outcome. After it hit a mine, the tank stopped and its crew scrambled away. It was then apparently set upon by several Ukrainian drones and destroyed.

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) on Wednesday said three Ukrainian drones carried out a failed attempt to attack targets near Moscow.

“All the drones were overwhelmed by electronic warfare, as a result of which they lost control and crashed,” the MoD claimed. “As a result of the failed terrorist attack, there were no casualties or damage.

Two drones came down near the village of Lukino, administratively part of the city of Moscow, Russian media reported, according to The Associated Press. The wreckage of a third drone was reportedly found about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. 

This is just the latest drone attack in and around Moscow. Last month, drones attacked the Kremlin. Then not long after, the seat of Russian power came under a large scale drone attack.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there is more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.